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.
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