Tax reform has incentivized companies to return their offshore cash to the U.S. This could create opportunities for U.S. investment grade bonds.
The list of U.S. companies planning to move their offshore cash reserves back home is growing1 – as is speculation about what they will do with that money. Two activities we expect to see less of are bond purchases and bond issuance, which could impact the U.S. investment grade market in a variety of important ways.
Billions of dollars could return to the U.S.
December’s historic tax reform sharply reduced the U.S. tax rate on foreign earnings (from 35% to 15.5% on liquid assets and 8% on illiquid assets), which could lead to as much as $1.5 trillion coming back onshore, according to Invesco Fixed Income estimates.
U.S. companies currently hold around $3 trillion in unremitted foreign earnings, according to our analysis. While estimates vary widely,2 we believe around half is held in illiquid “operating assets” (such as plants, equipment and intellectual property) and the other half is held in high-quality, short-term assets (such as U.S. Treasuries, corporate bonds and asset-backed securities).
Billions of dollars currently held in short-term assets are expected to be repatriated to the U.S., and that money is likely to be spent in a variety of ways: to honour tax obligations, reduce debt, reward shareholders, increase capital expenditures, pursue mergers and acquisitions, and/or benefit employees. This could have a significant impact on the investment grade bond market:
- Potential impact on short-term bonds.Going forward, we expect companies to purchase fewer short-term investment grade bonds with their overseas cash, as they prepare to bring that cash back to the U.S. We have already seen some evidence of weaker demand for recent new bond issues.3 However, we do not expect repatriation to lead to wholesale selling of short-term investment grade bonds, partly because companies are eligible to stretch tax payments over several years, giving them time to wait for their bonds to mature before bringing the cash to the U.S.
- Potential impact on longer-term bonds.We may also see a reduction in the issuance of longer-term investment grade bonds. As companies bring cash onshore, there could be less incentive to issue debt and, therefore, a lower supply of intermediate and longer-term bonds. All else equal, a lower supply of those bonds could cause longer-term credit spreads to tighten.
The net result of less demand for shorter-term bonds and reduced supply of longer-term bonds may be a flatter investment grade yield curve.
Over the longer term, we would expect these effects to fade, as shorter-term investment grade yields appear relatively more attractive over time, garnering investor demand. In the near term, however, we are cautious on shorter-term corporate bonds, for reasons discussed above, and biased toward intermediate to longer-term corporate bonds. We are keeping in mind, however, that future market volatility could provide attractive opportunities on the shorter end of the investment grade yield curve, and we would consider those as potential tactical opportunities.
With a current weighting of approximately 26%4 to U.S. investment grade corporates in Invesco Global Bond Fund, we are watching this space closely.
To learn more about our Fund, visit InvescoGlobalBond.ca