As for the all-important business sector, strong corporate profits, in particular, signal the health of this economy. Profits on an IRS income-tax basis, as reported in the national income accounts, have moved up to 10.9 percent of GDP -- the highest level since 1968. On an after-tax basis the profit share of GDP is at a post-WWII high of 8.1 percent. After adjusting for the on-again/off-again cash-expensing bonus for depreciation, after-tax profits rose 27 percent (non-annualized) in the first quarter and nearly 37 percent over the past year.
Profits are the hinge of business, and business is the backbone of jobs and the economy. With profits rising to record levels, future economic expansion is assured.
Business equipment expenditures (capex) and consumer spending have both cooled somewhat, but they certainly haven?t gone cold. Capex, after rising 18 percent annualized in the second half of 2004, increased only 5.6 percent in the first quarter, below the consensus estimate of 6.9 percent. Business inventories accumulated about $12 billion less than first estimated. And consumer spending increased only 3.6 percent, following an average 4.6 percent growth-rate in last year?s second half.
While the trade gap has narrowed, raising overall GDP growth, there are actually signs of a somewhat slower economic pace inside the basic economy. Wall Street economist Joe LaVorgna points out, however, that first-quarter wages and salaries were revised up by a huge $163 billion, with the measure growing 7.5 percent over the year-ago pace. That explains double-digit federal tax-collection returns: Lower tax-rates have expanded incomes, which are in turn throwing off more revenues. This, of course, is the Laffer-curve effect.
Core inflation is still tame, rising at 1.6 percent over the past year, about the same as the second half of last year and actually slower than in 2002. The gold price, at $418, is consistent with less-than 2 percent underlying inflation. So is the 10-year Treasury yield of 4.09 percent and a yield curve that has flattened to just over 100 basis points.