Professor Murmann's Blog: Radical Rethinking of Cash Management

Radical Rethinking of Cash Management

The Economist summarizes the profound implications of the financial crisis for the management of cash in firms.

SELDOM has corporate strategy been turned on its head so quickly. Barely a year ago, cash was a dangerous thing to accumulate: activist investors stalked companies, urging boards to return it to investors, to pay special dividends or to buy back shares. Ever since the 1980s the fashion had been to make companies as lean as possible, outsourcing all but your core competencies, expanding your just-in-time supplier system around the globe, loading up with debt to “leverage” your balance-sheet. Old-style defensive conglomerates, such as Arnold Weinstock’s General Electric Company, were dismantled. Companies that hoarded cash—even ones as good as Toyota and Microsoft—were viewed with suspicion.

No longer. For many big American companies, the day of reckoning came two months ago when the deepening financial crisis brought about the abrupt closure of the overnight commercial-paper market. This briefly sent even the most solid companies into a desperate scramble to find money to meet such basic obligations as paying their staff. Since then, the guiding principle for managers everywhere has been to gather up whatever cash they can find, and then do their damnedest to keep as much of it as possible for as long as possible.
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