Q4 Corporate Profits Sink - Thank Goodness For Wall St.

By: Paul Kasriel | Thu, Mar 29, 2007
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The important new information in the Commerce Department's third guess at last year's fourthquarter GDP was its first guess at the same quarter's corporate profits. Commerce guessed low. Before-tax profits adjusted for inventory valuation and capital consumption turned negative sequentially, submerging 0.30% (not annualized) in Q4:2006. In fact, after a Q1:2006 surge of 12.60%, corporate profit growth was downright anemic in the last three quarters of 2006, as was real GDP growth (see Chart 1 below). With volume growth slowing and labor costs rising, it is no wonder that profits growth is now struggling. It is doubtful things will turn around soon unless Circuit City's plan to effectively cut the salaries of many of its employees becomes the norm.

Chart 1

With profit growth slowing sequentially last year, why do you think the stock market performed as well as it did? Do you think it might have had something to do with the massive "retirement" of corporate equities? With profit growth slowing, how did corporations fund these massive buybacks? By stepping up their borrowing relative to their capital expenditures, of course (see Chart 2). Current equity bulls better hope that "liquidity" continues in the credit markets so that corporations can continue to retire their equities.

Chart 2

The fourth-quarter contraction in corporate profits would have been worse had it not been for Wall Street's profits and profits of U.S. corporations earned abroad. Profits of domestic nonfinancial corporations declined 6.63% in the fourth quarter while profits of domestic financial corporations and profits earned from abroad increased 4.32% and 15.90%, respectively. The creation of mortgage-related financial instruments has been a money machine for Wall Street in this expansion. Now that mortgage credit growth is in a steep decline, Wall Street will have to find another money machine. I have complete confidence it will.

The revisions to fourth-quarter real GDP were minor - a little less private fixed investment, including both residential and nonresidential, fewer imports and a little more inventory building. Domestic demand, excluding inventories, grew at an annualized rate of only 1.92% in the fourth quarter and averaged a puny 1.8% in the three quarters ended Q4:2006 (see Chart 3). The first quarter is not going to be any better, probably worse! Details of the GDP revisions are shown in the table below.

Chart 3



Paul Kasriel

Author: Paul Kasriel

Paul L. Kasriel
Director of Economic Research
The Northern Trust Company
Economic Research Department
Positive Economic Commentary
"The economics of what is, rather than what you might like it to be."
50 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60675

Paul Kasriel

Paul joined the economic research unit of The Northern Trust Company in 1986 as Vice President and Economist, being named Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research in 2000. His economic and interest rate forecasts are used both internally and by clients. The accuracy of the Economic Research Department's forecasts has consistently been highly-ranked in the Blue Chip survey of about 50 forecasters over the years. To that point, Paul received the prestigious 2006 Lawrence R. Klein Award for having the most accurate economic forecast among the Blue Chip survey participants for the years 2002 through 2005. The accuracy of Paul's 2008 economic forecast was ranked in the top five of The Wall Street Journal survey panel of economists. In January 2009, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes cited Paul as one of the few who identified early on the formation of the housing bubble and foresaw the economic and financial market havoc that would ensue after the bubble inevitably burst. Through written commentaries containing his straightforward and often nonconsensus analysis of economic and financial market issues, Paul has developed a loyal following in the financial community. The Northern's economic website was listed as one of the top ten most interesting by The Wall Street Journal. Paul is the co-author of a book entitled Seven Indicators That Move Markets.

Paul began his career as a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He has taught courses in finance at the DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Paul serves on the Economic Advisory Committee of the American Bankers Association.

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