Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fueling the Bull Market

As the stock market continues to soar, it is attracting more money into stocks. That’s what usually happens during meltups. I think the market may be in the early stages of a meltup. I will call it a “meltup” if my 2018 year-end target of 3100 for the S&P 500 is reached within the next 3-6 months rather than the next 12-18 months. To some observers, reaching 3100 by the end of next year may appear to be a meltup since it would mean that the S&P 500 would have risen 51.7% over the three years 2016-2018.

Maybe so, but let’s see whether earnings continue to rise rapidly, providing fundamental support for the stock gains so far and in the year ahead. A cut in the corporate tax rate, effective next year, along with continued deregulation should bolster profits. So should a continuation of the global synchronized boom.

Meanwhile, the flow-of-funds case for a meltup is mounting as more hot money pours into equity ETFs. Over the past 12 months through October, equity ETFs attracted a record $375.6 billion of net new money. Admittedly, some of that money might have come out of equity mutual funds, which had net outflows of $51.7 billion over this same period. Collectively, equity mutual funds and ETFs had net inflows of $323.9 billion, the best such pace since September 2014.

So far, the exuberance for stocks reflected in equity fund inflows is supported by the exuberance of industry analysts about the outlook for S&P 500 revenues and earnings. The weekly “squiggles” data for revenues and earnings show that industry analysts are turning increasingly bullish on the outlook for S&P 500 earnings. They are projecting earnings gains of 10.9% this year, 11.4% next year, and 10.1% in 2019. Presumably, these numbers don’t fully reflect the likely big positive impact of a cut in the corporate tax rate next year.

If that happens before the end of this year, analysts may wait until Q4 earnings calls during January to get some guidance from company managements on how tax reform will impact their earnings estimates on balance. These calls are likely to be relatively bullish, driving stock prices higher early next year. Forward earnings is up to a record $145.06 per share, 13.2% above the four-quarter-trailing sum through Q3.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Proprietors’ Income Matters

Almost always ignored in discussions of corporate profits is proprietors’ income, which is included in personal income on a pretax basis. It is up 2.7% y/y and in record-high territory. A comparison with pretax corporate profits shows that proprietors’ income recently has approximated 60% of corporate profits. Here are some definitions from the National Income and Product Accounts:

(1) “Nonfarm proprietors’ income measures the income, before deducting income taxes, of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and other private nonfarm businesses that are organized for profit but that are not classified as corporations. Sole proprietorships are businesses owned by a single individual. Partnerships include most associations of two or more of: individuals, corporations, noncorporate organizations that are organized for profit, or of other private businesses. Other private businesses are made up of tax-exempt cooperatives, including credit unions, mutual insurance companies, and rural utilities providing utility services and farm marketing and purchasing services.”

(2) “Unincorporated businesses … are able to move assets freely between business and personal accounts with little, if any, reporting requirements, and tax liabilities are not separated between unincorporated businesses and their owners. In fact, the income of unincorporated businesses is generally reported on individual income tax returns; while compensation paid to employees is separately reported, the income of the business is not distinguished from the labor of the business owner and therefore reflects the incomes that accrue as a result of the owner’s own labor and entrepreneurship. Similarly, dividend and interest incomes are separately reported but do not distinguish between business and personal receipts.”

(3) “Reflecting the concepts of national economic accounting, nonfarm proprietors’ income in the NIPAs is defined as that arising from current production.”

Obviously, the wellbeing of small unincorporated businesses is an important contributor to the wellbeing of the overall economy. Corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships all are likely to increase their payrolls and expand their capacity when their profits are rising. They are likely to retrench when their profits are falling.

We soon should find out whether the Republicans’ tax reform plans include substantial benefits, not only for corporations but for other businesses as well.