[A-List] Bulging Profits in U.S. Often Originate Overseas
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Mon Aug 6 21:16:49 MDT 2007
Corporate profits from American operations are still well below where
they were in the 1960s, when viewed as a percentage of G.D.P. But
the dividends paid to company owners are in record territory. And the
share going to employees has risen slightly after approaching lows set
in the early 1990s.
American companies are earning more and more of their money overseas
-- 29 percent in the first quarter of this year, or more than four
times the share in 1960. Those foreign profits have risen more than
four times the share in 1960. Those foreign profits have risen more
rapidly than domestic ones in every decade except the 1980s.
August 4, 2007
Off the Charts
Bulging Profits in U.S. Often Originate Overseas
By FLOYD NORRIS
AMERICAN companies have been very profitable in recent years — but not
necessarily because of the American economy.
Government estimates indicate that profits of companies operating in
the United States — whether American or foreign — have risen at an
average annual rate of 7 percent in the current decade.
That is not bad, and in fact is slightly higher than the gains of the
1980s or 1990s, as shown in the accompanying charts. The figure is
lower than the 7.5 percent rate of the 1970s, but it is worth
remembering that these figures are not adjusted for inflation, which
was higher then.
But government figures also indicate that the profits of American
companies from their overseas operations have been growing at a much
faster pace of 13.7 percent in the current decade, nearly twice the
rate in this country.
To some extent, such figures may be questioned because some companies
arrange their operations to maximize profits in low-tax jurisdictions.
But they also reflect the strength of the economy in much of the
world, particularly Asia.
In recent years, there have been frequent comparisons of overall
profits of American companies with the wages of American workers — and
the profits have appeared to be doing much better. But the figures are
distorted by inclusion of the overseas profits, and thus may overstate
One chart with this article shows domestic profits — the profits made
by companies in America, regardless of where the company is based — as
a percentage of the country's gross domestic product. Next to it is a
chart showing the percentage of G.D.P. that goes to wages and salaries
of workers in private industry.
At its recent peak in the third quarter of 2006, the share going to
profits was 10.1 percent, the highest since 1968 but well below the
peak of 11.7 percent reached in 1966. In the first quarter of this
year, the latest figure available, the figure was down to 9.2 percent,
which may reflect the slowing of the American economy.
The share going to workers — based on figures that include neither
benefits nor the employer's Social Security contributions — hit a
10-year low of 34.2 percent in the second quarter of last year, but
has since edged back above 35 percent in the first two quarters of
this year. Business seems to have weakened, but so far few companies
have cut back on employment.
Another chart shows the percentage of profits of companies based in
the United States that came from other countries. In the 1960s, when
the American economy was much less open to the world, about 7 percent
of profits came from overseas. By this year's first quarter, that
share was up to 29 percent.
The figures that have really soared to unprecedented heights are the
ones that may be most important to investors — the cash sent out to
them by companies. The government reports that in the first quarter of
2007, dividends and share buybacks equaled 5.1 percent of G.D.P.,
twice the proportion during the late 1980s.
The figure is still below the 5.4 percent recorded in the last quarter
of 2004, but that number was an aberration caused by Microsoft's
payment of an extraordinary dividend of $32 billion.
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