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U.S. companies are bringing cash home, but not as much as President Trump predicted

President Donald Trump expects more than $4 trillion in overseas corporate profits to flow back to the U.S. soon. Some experts say that's an unrealistic amount. Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

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Part of the tax law that was passed last year attempted to encourage U.S. companies that were holding earnings abroad to bring money home. Maybe companies might hire workers, increase wages or build factories.

We are well into 2018 and we are starting to see some repatriation.

President Donald Trump said in August he expected more than $4 trillion in overseas corporate profits to come flowing into the United States very soon. That’s an unrealistic amount, said Michaele Morrow, associate professor of accounting at Suffolk University.

A more realistic number to aim for might be closer to $2.5 trillion, according to the Tax Foundation.

In the first half of the year, about 20 percent of that, or $465 billion, has come into the United States, according to the Commerce Department.

“Those are large numbers and represent a significant fraction of what profits overseas have been,” said Mihir Desai, a professor in Harvard’s business and law schools. The number could have been bigger, he said. “The law was very hastily written, so there has been a great deal of confusion over how these things might actually work, and the regulations haven’t even been finalized.”

All that money — the trillions that U.S. companies have earned abroad — it’s not sitting in a vault somewhere.

“A lot of it is in plants and equipment. It’s not things that companies can bring back,” said Nicole Kaeding of the Tax Foundation.

Also, U.S. companies aren’t just thinking about taxes when they keep money overseas, Morrow said.

“They’re also considering things like, ‘What’s my supply chain and who’s my customer and what’s my labor cost in another country?” she said.

And companies bringing money to the United States will need a reason for doing so — maybe an investment or a strategy to use the money here, and those may take time to find.

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