A war chest is a metaphor for any collection of tools or money intended to be used in a challenging or dangerous situation. Historically, it referred to the chest located in the homes or barracks of soldiers, in which the soldier kept arms and armor. In the modern era, it more often refers to a collection of funds (or less occasionally special tools or equipment) intended to allow a person or organization to get through a situation that requires much more readiness or money than usual.
In arms and armor, a war chest is a container for the personal weapons and protective gear of a citizen-soldier, kept in the household, and is the origin of the term. The term's modern meaning originates with the medieval practice of having a chest, literally, filled with money to open in time of war.
In politics, a war chest is funding obtained from donors well in advance of a campaign, usually accumulated by an incumbent for either re-election or to contest a more advanced office, or provided by a wealthy candidate to their own campaign. The possession of such excess funds may discourage otherwise viable candidates from a primary or general election challenge.
Today companies can use accumulated cash or rely on quickly raised debt which costs less to carry when you don't need it. This is not always a reasonable substitute, as the credit available to a company typically drops as a result of the same actions that require the war chest to be opened.
Companies can redistribute their war chests to shareholders by issuing larger or special dividends, or more commonly through share buyback operations. Companies do this because if actually held in cash, the companies will be earning a low rate of return in the money markets, whereas they could be using the funds to invest in more profitable projects. If they continue not to invest the funds, shareholders may sell the company's shares and make it vulnerable to a takeover. This would place the current management's jobs at risk.
In professional sports
Similar terms are also referred to as surplus cash, cash reserves, emergency reserves, acquisition funds, rainy day funds, or undistributed earnings within different contexts.
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