First, when people say that U.S. corporations have “brought money home” they’re referring to dividends overseas subsidiaries have paid to their parent corporations. These did indeed surge briefly in 2018, as the tax law made it advantageous to transfer some assets from the books of those subsidiaries to the home companies; these transactions also showed up as a reduction in the measured stake of the parents in the subsidiaries, i.e., as negative direct investment (Figure 1).

But these transactions are simply rearrangements of companies’ books for tax purposes; they don’t necessarily correspond to anything real. Suppose that Multinational Megacorp USA decides to have its subsidiary, Multinational Mega Ireland, transfer some assets to the home company. This will produce the kind of simultaneous and opposite movement in dividends and direct investment you see in Figure 1. But the company’s overall balance sheet – which always included the assets of MM Ireland – hasn’t changed at all. No real resources have been transferred; MM USA has neither gained nor lost the ability to invest here.

If you want to know whether investable funds are really being transferred to the U.S., you need to look at the overall balance on financial account – or, what should be the same (and is more accurately measured), the inverse of the balance on current account. Figure 2 shows that balance as a share of GDP – and as you can see, basically nothing has happened.



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