Investment and Economic Activity

Read this chapter to examine factors that determine private investment and its link to output within the macroeconomy. Private investment plays an important role in the short run by influencing aggregate demand, and in the long run by influencing the rate of growth of the economy.

14.2 Determinants of Investment

Case in Point: Assessing the Impact of a One-Year Tax Break on Investment

The U.S. economy was expanding in 2004, but there was a feeling that it still was not functioning as well as it could, as job growth was rather sluggish. To try to spur growth, Congress, supported by President Bush, passed a law in 2004 called the American Jobs Creation Act that gave businesses a one-year special tax break on any profits accumulating overseas that were transferred to the United States. Such profits are called repatriated profits and were estimated at the time to be about $800 billion. For 2005, the tax rate on repatriated profits essentially fell from 25% to 5.25%.

Did the tax break have the desired effect on the economy? To some extent yes, though business also found other uses for the repatriated funds. There were 843 companies that repatriated $312 billion that qualified for the tax break. The Act thus generated about $18 billion in tax revenue, a higher level than had been expected. Some companies announced they were repatriating profits and continuing to downsize. For example, Colgate-Palmolive brought back $800 million and made known it was closing a third of its factories and eliminating 12% of its workforce. However, other companies' plans seemed more in line with the objectives of the special tax break – to create jobs and spur investment.

For example, spokesman Chuck Mulloy of Intel, which repatriated over $6 billion, said the company was building a $3-billion wafer fabrication facility and spending $345 million on expanding existing facilities. "I can't say dollar-for-dollar how much of the funding for those comes from off-shore cash," but he felt that the repatriated funds were contributing to Intel's overall investments. Spokeswoman Margaret Graham of Bausch and Lomb, which makes eye-care products and repatriated $805 million, said, "We plan to use that cash for capital expenditures, investment in research and development, and paying nonofficer compensation".

Analysts are skeptical, though, that the repatriated profits really contributed to investment. The New York Times reported on one study that suggested it had not. Rather, the repatriated funds were used for other purposes, such as stock repurchases. The argument is that the companies made investments that they were planning to make and the repatriated funds essentially freed up funding for other purposes.