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Companies have been notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to spending their cash. Sure, dividends and share-buybacks are on the rise, but companies have been notoriously reluctant to spend money on expansion activities.

"Company managers are still hesitant when it comes to investing," said the folks at Brockhouse Cooper, in a note, adding that they prefer to keep massive amounts of cash instead of investing in expansion. "This is negative for the economy but also a red light for investors in these companies."

According to their figures, capital expenditures have only just returned to pre-recession levels of 2007, while internally generated funds have kept rising to record levels. This has created a financing gap that is wider than previous expansions. Indeed, capital expenditures are just 76 per cent of internally generated funds.

The reason companies are reluctant to spend on expansion, they argue, is because they have been highly profitable. Simply put, there has been no driver. But that might be changing now, with profit margins starting to turn lower throughout the world.

"In other words, if companies want to grow their earnings, they have to focus on growing the top line, which involves capital expenditures," Brockhouse Cooper said. "The expansion now depends on whether or not companies invest their excess cash."

Companies that are already spending money to make money might have an edge. Therefore, Brockhouse Cooper conducted a stock screen among S&P Global 1200 companies, looking for names that have increased their capital expenditures relative to sales by more than 20 per cent over the past year and have grown their operating margins by the same amount.

Apple Inc. made the list. Among the other names: Boeing Co., Whirlpool Corp. Fluor Corp. and Vivendi SA. There were also a number of Canadian companies: Brookfield Asset Management Inc., Agrium Inc., Penn West Petroleum Ltd., Kinross Gold Corp. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

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