American corporate profits appear to be "running out of steam", says Buttonwood in The Economist. They had recovered after the crisis and are close to a post-war record as a proportion of GDP.
But first-quarter S&P 500 earnings estimates were revised down by more than 4% between January and March, and profit warnings have been unusually plentiful.
Remove the effect of one-off items, such as a big write-downs the year before, and you will see that year-on-year profit growth is falling, according to Morgan Stanley Capital International. And a quick rebound looks unlikely.
Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
While revenue growth has been gradual, profit margins are near record highs and due to fall, says Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners Management. "We've had years of fixed-cost reductions by corporations and that's basically over, because they've cut to the bone."
There is scant additional scope for bolstering productivity and the labour market should gradually tighten, raising staff costs. The picturein America, which sets the tone forworld markets, isn't offset by especially strong outlooks elsewhere.
In Britainand the eurozone strong currenciesweigh on earnings. In Europe thishelps explain why profits have yet to rebound convincingly despite the economic recovery.
In many stock markets, companies derivea growing proportion of profits fromemerging economies, many of which have been slowing and undermining multinational companies' earnings through falls in their currencies.
All this adds up to a lacklustre future backdrop for global profit growth, which has already disappointed: in 2013, it reached 7%, compared to forecasts of 12% at the beginning of the year; in 2012 it hit just 2%, while the initial estimate was 11%.
Global stock markets have been "remarkably resilient" despite unimpressive earnings, soaring by 13% and 24% in 2012 and 2013 respectively, says Buttonwood.
But lacklustre earnings are now going to become ever harderfor investors to ignore which isanother reason to fear that this rally, already the fourth biggest and fifth longest for the S&P 500 since 1928, ison borrowed time.
Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.
After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.
His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.
Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.
Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland to shut another 45 branches
Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Halifax and Bank of Scotland, is set to close a further 45 branches in 2024 - find out if a branch near you is closing.
By Vaishali Varu Published
US stock trading app Robinhood launches in the UK
The low-cost trading platform has opened another waiting list for British investors - following two failed attempts to launch in this country - and is hoping to be fully operational next year.
By Ruth Emery Published