Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More on Corporate Profits

Back in September of last year, I showed this chart outlining that corporate profits as a percent of GDP were approaching a three-standard deviation event. Since that time, the relationships has gotten even more extended hitting an all-time high.

Which brings me to this morning's tweet from PIMCO's Bill Gross:
Simple formula: US profit growth rate = (real GDP x 5) – 10. No “ka-ching” at 2% or less GDP growth.
I appreciate the insight that profits can be thought of as being leveraged to economic growth (hence the wide fluctuations), but struggling to see why nominal profit growth would have a relationship with a real (after inflation) economic growth or why those specific numbers (why 2% real and not 2.5% real?) were used.

Anyhow... I was interested enough to see what this equation looked like using actual data, so I put together the below chart going back 60 years against corporate profits, as well as against my old simple standby of using nominal economic growth (my preferred long-term measure for corporate profits as simple math tells you that corporate profits can't grow faster than the economy over the long term or else they'd be bigger than the economy itself - hence profit growth tends to mean revert relative to nominal growth).

The chart...

What do we see?

Well corporate profits are basically right on trend (a surprise to me), but nominal growth is well below trend and the PIMCO formula (the formula based on 2% real growth) is WAY below trend, indicating corporate profits are significantly above trend (by that record 30% level relative to nominal growth and an off the charts 200% relative to the PIMCO formula).

Seems like the old nominal GDP standby has historically been more reliable, but I will be thinking more about the insight that corporate profits are leveraged to (and in need of) specific levels of economic growth. If anything, this may indicate earnings are potentially more stretched than I previously thought.

For those interested, there was a great piece by GMO on the topic of extended profits a few months back.

Source: BEA