Leo Haviland provides clients with original, provocative, cutting-edge fundamental supply/demand and technical research on major financial marketplaces and trends. He also offers independent consulting and risk management advice.

Haviland’s expertise is macro. He focuses on the intertwining of equity, debt, currency, and commodity arenas, including the political players, regulatory approaches, social factors, and rhetoric that affect them. In a changing and dynamic global economy, Haviland’s mission remains constant – to give timely, value-added marketplace insights and foresights.

Leo Haviland has three decades of experience in the Wall Street trading environment. He has worked for Goldman Sachs, Sempra Energy Trading, and other institutions. In his research and sales career in stock, interest rate, foreign exchange, and commodity battlefields, he has dealt with numerous and diverse financial institutions and individuals. Haviland is a graduate of the University of Chicago (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Cornell Law School.


Subscribe to Leo Haviland’s BLOG to receive updates and new marketplace essays.

RSS View Leo Haviland's LinkedIn profile View Leo Haviland’s profile

AMERICAN CORPORATE PROFITS AND THE S+P 500 (c) Leo Haviland August 1, 2012

In recent decades, the overall United States debt outstanding relative to nominal GDP has substantially increased. America’s national willingness to accumulate debt (borrow and spend) generally has played an important role in the generation of its economic growth. It of course is not the sole factor. This national debt increase thereby has tended to boost (be a bullish factor for) equity prices, at least up to now. A significant cut in America’s debt burden (deleveraging) probably will promote a decline in the nominal after-tax profit to GDP ratio from current elevated levels. This reduction also may encourage a slowing of after-tax profit rises, or even encourage an actual decline in profitability levels. These processes in turn probably would be bearish for US equities. Debt levels and trends are not the only factor influencing US GDP, corporate profits, and stock levels and patterns. Will American corporate profits forever keep rising? History is not destiny, but they often have declined.

Besides, growing debt does not inevitably guarantee economic health, corporate profitability, or soaring stocks, whether in America or anywhere else. Sustained Federal Reserve monetary easing buys time and sells hope, but it does not solve the US national debt problem. History reveals that at some point more and more national debt can generate grave problems. America probably is at or very near the danger level from its current and near-term debt situation, not just over the so- called long run horizon.

Let’s place American after-tax profits in the context of economic output. The average United States yearly ATP level relative to nominal GDP from 1946 to 2011 is about 6.2 percent. However, during the marvelous Goldilocks economy, and even up to the present despite the ongoing worldwide economic crisis, this indicator has been remarkably strong. Recall lows of

3.1pc in 1986 and just under 5.0pc in 2001. Before the 2004 to the present period, the last high over eight percent was 1950’s 8.6pc. From 1951 through 2004, it exceeded seven pc only three times (1978, 1979 and 2004). Over 2004-2011’s span, the average jumped to 9.0 percent.

The ratio in 2004 was 7.8pc, rising to 9.7pc in 2005 and 10.1pc in 2006. Calendar 2006 thus established a new pinnacle (going all the way back to 1929 not just 1946). In the year the global financial crisis emerged, 2007, it remained high, at 9.2pc. Even in 2008’s savage US and worldwide downturn, accompanied by the plummeting S+P 500, ATP relative to GDP were almost 7.4pc. The S+P 500 reached a major low on 3/6/09 at 667. In 2009, that ATP/GDP relationship was 8.4pc. What about the fairly sunny recovery years thereafter? The ATP total for 2010 bordered ten pc of nominal GDP, with 2011 elevated at 9.8pc.

What was the ratio of ATP for first quarter 2012 relative to GDP? Nominal 1Q12 GDP was about $15.48 trillion (annualized). Corporate profits were about $1.67 trillion (annualized). This is about 10.8pc of 1Q12 nominal GDP, thus marching beyond 2006’s joyous Goldilocks Era height to establish a new record height for that measure.

Though 2Q12’s earning reporting season has not ended, news reports suggest the nominal ATP level is approximately in line with 1Q12’s, and maybe even a couple of percentage points higher. US 2Q12 nominal GDP inched up to about $15.60 trillion from 1Q12’s $15.48tr. Thus the nominal ATP/GDP ratio probably remains around record levels.

Alongside these lofty 2012 profit levels, the S+P 500 attained new highs relative to its 2009 abyss (4/2/12 at 1422, 5/1/12 at 1415). These spring 2012 levels neighbor the S+P 500’s final summit at 1440 on 5/19/08, though they remain quite a bit beneath the major high on 10/11/07 at 1576.

An army of intertwined variables interrelate to propel the S+P 500 up, down, or sideways. However, suppose ATP slide lower relative to first half 2012 heights and that the ATP to GDP relationship retreats to fairly near the long run 6.2 percent average. All else equal, this probably will be a bearish factor for the S+P 500.

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this market essay as a PDF file.
American Corporate Profits and the S+P 500 (8-1-12)


Recent historically high nominal United States corporate profit levels are a key factor inspiring many to buy and hold US stocks. Bullish forecasts regarding future net earnings, especially when such predictions extend out to misty medium term or murky long run time horizons, sustain and bolster this enthusiastic ownership. In turn, stock rallies sometimes boost optimism regarding potential corporate profitability and overall economic growth, for many have faith that equity marketplaces are forward-looking indicators for “The Economy”.

Has the US entered a blessed New Era of very high corporate profitability that will stretch happily out into the indefinite future? Probably not. Has America revived the wonderful time of the Goldilocks economy? Probably not. Higher nominal corporate profits and ascending nominal stock prices, when accompanied by rising nominal GDP, can assist national confidence and encourage spending in the short term. However, since the nominal levels are not the real (genuine) ones, they do not translate into an equivalent amount of real and permanent prosperity.

Yet even if very elevated corporate profitability does not continue, what may have caused a sustained notable upward shift relative to long run history in the ratio of nominal US corporate profits to nominal GDP? To some extent, it reflects corporate cost-cutting measures and other battles to improve efficiency. The easy money policies of the Federal Reserve Board (sustained low interest rates; money printing) and its allies and massive deficit spending (stimulus) perhaps play roles. But picture the context of sluggish to declining real US household income, still-damaged consumer balance sheets, high unemployment, weak housing prices, and very low consumer confidence. With that domestic (home) background, high US nominal corporate profits- and especially a more elevated nominal profit versus GDP ratio- also arguably reflects economic globalization trends and profits captured from overseas. If so, then relatively high American corporate profits do not entirely reflect (do not fully represent) actual overall US prosperity (“Our Economy”), merely that of many of its corporations.

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this market essay as a PDF file.

US Corporate Profits- Patterns and Perspectives (11-1-11)