Saturday, November 25, 2006


America's Corporate Highwaymen Riding For A Fall

According to the UK's Financial Times, corporate America should count its blessings. With the third quarter figures now in, earnings growth for the year is likely to approach 19 percent - far more than the 15.3 percent originally predicted. This is the 13th consecutive quarter in which earnings grew 10 percent or more. 13 quarters is three and a quarter years, for those of you whose eyes glaze at facts and figures. The Times argues whether or not this is sustainable. "Corporate America is growing much faster than the US economy. This partly because of globalisation but also because, put bluntly, capital is beating labour...Wages are not rising at anything like 10 per cent and investors have more reason to be thankful than salaried workers." Amen, I say.

However, American execs should wipe those smirks off their faces and take heed. Mutual funds maven John Hussman says that corporate profit's share of the American GDP is close to 10 percent - and that's a bad sign, he claims. For the last 44 years, whenever the profit share has exceeded 6 percent of the GDP, earnings growth over the next three years typically averaged only about 2.1 percent. Ouch!

Another reason for corporate America's luck this year has been the merciful paucity of natural disasters. With no Katrina to spoil anybody's party, insurance companies increased their earnings by more than 152 percent, accounting for 43 percent of total earnings growth overall. If insurers were not part of the picture, overall earnings growth would be only 13 percent. Such massive insurance profits just a year after America's worst natural catastrophe strikes me as almost unseemly too, like a widow giggling at the funeral. Who says insurance companies don't profit in the wake of disaster?

The Brits compare corporate America's providential good fortune with that of the Pilgrims. We at the White Collar Warrior, on the other hand, liken these dudes to another figure from centuries past - a highwayman making his getaway after robbing his victims blind. You can't run forever, my friends. The noose will catch up with you someday.

"America Must Count Its Blessings" from Financial Times

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