Corporate profits are at all-time highs and bond rates in the Treasury market are virtually at record lows. That’s a good combination for stocks, and it helped trigger a 255 point rally in Wednesday’s trading. What’s more, a surprisingly positive read on the ISM August manufacturing report delivered a strong blow to the double-dip recession pessimism that has plagued investors for many months.
Without question, the jobs picture is going to remain cloudy. There’s just too much uncertainty over the economy and the tax-and-regulatory threats coming out of Washington. Businesses can’t be sure about the costs of hiring. Meanwhile, over in housing — our other weakest sector — an inventory glut threatens further price declines.
But make no mistake about this: Businesses, at least the publically owned ones, are in very good shape. U.S. firms scored a record $1.2 trillion in profits during the second quarter and are sitting on roughly $2 trillion in cash. Our private-sector companies are resilient, and they have recovered significantly from the economic plunge.
And while their hiring is still behind schedule, they have begun the process of investing in equipment, software, and other capital goods. Business investment in the June quarter rose 16 percent above year-ago levels. This is all to the good. Healthy businesses are crucial to the stock market as well as the overall economic outlook.
In fact, since 2001, business profits have doubled, even while the stock market dial has hardly moved. If Washington can just keep its paws off of business and let market processes work, firms will continue to prosper domestically and internationally and will eventually pick up their hiring.
I hate to sound too much like Calvin Coolidge, who after Reagan is my favorite 20th century president, but the business of America is business.
Yes, when second-quarter GDP came out last week, the revised 1.6 percent growth number was universally derided as a step on the road to a new recession. But not so fast.
In a blog titled “What Everyone Missed in the Revised GDP Data,” brilliant Washington economist Alan Reynolds noted that real gross domestic purchases, which are purchases by U.S. residents of goods and services wherever produced, actually increased 4.9 percent annually — a full percentage-point stronger than the first-quarter results. Reynolds blamed a government accounting miscue over falling import prices for a misread on the trade deficit that subtracted about 4 percentage points from GDP.