Apple and others bringing home foreign cash may be a big enough force to boost the US dollar

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch currency strategists expect U.S. companies bringing home, or repatriating, foreign profits under the new tax law could actually drive the dollar higher.
  • The companies would be swapping some of their holdings from local currencies to U.S. dollars and that could drive about $400 billion in inflows, the strategists estimate.
  • They also expect companies to move sooner rather than later, and a lot of this activity will take place in the first quarter, as other companies follow the lead of Apple.

The dollar index is down about 10 percent in the past year, but it may be about to get a slight pickup from corporate America.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch currency strategists expect to see other companies follow the lead of Apple and announce plans to bring home cash they have been hoarding overseas. That could boost the dollar as companies move money out of local currencies and into dollars.

Apple has $250 billion overseas, and it announced plans to pay taxes of $38 billion on money it holds offshore.

Bank of America equity strategists, in a separate note Thursday, said there is $1.2 trillion overseas cash in non-financial companies, and tech companies and health care are two sectors where there will be a lot of cash returned. Repatriation of foreign profits has been mandated as part of tax reform legislation, and the BofA currency strategists said they expect companies to move sooner rather than later to bring it home.

To be sure, some strategists do not see much currency impact because, they argue, these companies already have this foreign money in dollar-denominated assets. Plus, the companies are not required to bring the money they repatriated physically home.

But Bank of America predicts they will and sees up to $400 billion worth of U.S. dollar flows.

"Repatriation of accumulated earnings held overseas in local currency by US corporates the result of tax reform passage could result in up to $400 [billion] worth of USD inflows according to our estimates. We do not expect corporates to wait despite the open-ended nature of the foreign tax liability and expect these inflows to be concentrated particularly in 1Q," the currency strategists wrote in a note Thursday.

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