Are U.S. Companies Turning Into Scrooges?

Stocks fell today, with the Dow (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) and the broader S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) both losing 0.6%.

The macro view: In the wake of the financial crisis, have corporate executives been afflicted with a Depression-era frugality? In a report released yesterday, ratings firm Standard & Poor's suggests that U.S. firms are under-investing. In total, U.S. corporations cut investments by $175 billion during the period 2009 to 2011. The problem is particularly acute at speculative-grade companies, which have reduced capital expenditures by 20%.

Describing the underinvestment as "unsustainable," S&P warned that companies "may be exposing themselves to competitive disadvantages in product innovation, manufacturing efficiency, and technology." Time to get spending!

One company that continues to invest heavily in its business is Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) . As value maven Joe Magyer wrote recently, its "heavy investments in marketing and strengthening its logistics are widening the company's moat and masking its true earnings power." To read his full assessment of the upside in the shares, click here to request his premium report, which includes twelve months of ongoing updates.

The micro view: Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE  ) , the software company behind the popular Photoshop and Acrobat applications, reported fiscal fourth quarter earnings of $0.61 per share (ex-stock-based compensation and other items), ahead of the $0.57 consensus estimate. At $1.15 billion, quarterly revenue was flat year on year, and just edged past analysts' $1.10 billion estimate. The report, which came in after the close of the regular session, is being well received in after-hours trading: Shares were up 6.9% at 6:18 p.m.

Although Adobe has outperformed the broad market this year, the five-year chart is less impressive, with the software maker lagging the S&P 500 by nearly 25 percentage points, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq index by more than thirty points:

ADBE Total Return Price Chart

ADBE Total Return Price data by YCharts.

Perhaps, better days are in sight for long-term shareholders. On December 5th, Kelly Barlow, a partner of "constructive" activist investment firm ValueAct Capital, joined Adobe's board. As of December 4th, ValueAct owned a 6.3% interest in Adobe; it has agreed to keep the size of its shareholding below 12%.


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