Aug 31, 2018

Corporate profits aren't as great as you think (and might not last)

Data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Companies had a stellar second quarter: profits rose more than 16 percent from last year, according to the Commerce Department. That's great news, right?

Reality check: Look at corporate profits as a share of the economy. That figure is nowhere near its 2012 high point. In fact, the number has not changed that drastically in the last few years.

What's next: The rosy earnings season helped propel stocks to record highs, but some market watchers think the good times won't last. "I really think the big story 6 to 9 months from now is going to be the colossal decline in earnings growth," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at The Leuthold Group, a research firm.

Here are a few factors that might derail the corporate boom:

  • Waning tax cut benefit: Tax cuts automatically boost earnings, but it's much harder for them to boost earnings growth.
  • Rising rates: Consumer spending sent inflation to a six-year high, which makes more of a case for the Federal Reserve to continue its plan to raise interest rates. The luxurious years of low corporate borrowing costs might be coming to an end.
  • Tariffs: Fears of an escalation of the trade war were a common theme this quarter. Jack Daniel's maker Brown-Forman trimmed its earnings forecast for the year, thanks to the trade war. Retailers, too, are monitoring the situation closely.

Go deeper

The S&P 500 could be overvalued

The New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 8. Photo: Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images

The S&P 500 is too rich on a number of levels, according to calculations in a new paper from Ned Davis Research that examines the index's price to earnings, profits and price to sales.

What's happening: Not only is the benchmark stock index's current P/E ratio "well above fair value," S&P companies' prices relative to sales is at a record high, “well in excess of what they were in 2000 or 2007 at those peaks,” Ned Davis, the company's senior investment strategist, says in a note to clients.

Go deeperArrowJan 9, 2020

Wall Street has its best year since 2013

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Wall Street had its biggest annual gain in six years — with the S&P 500 rising 29% and the Nasdaq Composite rising 35% in 2019. The Dow lagged behind other indices, but saw its biggest yearly gain since 2017.

Why it matters: U.S. stocks rebounded from 2018's year-end meltdown to log impressive gains, despite uncertainty stemming from the trade war and a slowdown in economic growth.

Middle East tensions could spark a big year for defense stocks

Data: Money.net; Chart: Axios Visuals

Defense sector stocks have predictably seen major buying since the killing of Iran Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in particular Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

Why it matters: The gains may not be temporary, analysts say.

Go deeperArrowJan 8, 2020