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公司利润增长趋于停滞,这对股市来说是个可怕的消息

Shawn Tully 2019年09月08日

今年第一和第二季度的每股收益都低于去年同期水平,这是2016年1-2季度以来公司利润首次连续两个季度出现滑坡。

经济危机 – 股市走势图 – 金融和商业背景

公司利润激增从而将股价推至接近历史最高点的局面已经接近尾声。

研究机构FactSet最近的一篇报告证明了这一点,它综合了华尔街分析师对标普500指数今后每股收益的预测,并把它和这500家公司的实际盈利水平进行了对比。

FactSet发现,今年第一和第二季度的每股收益都低于去年同期水平,这是2016年1-2季度以来公司利润首次连续两个季度出现滑坡。分析师预计第三季度每股收益将大幅下降3.1%。如果情况确实如此,今年前三季度标普500指数的EPS就会减少1%左右。

FactSet的EPS数据剔除了特别费用,标普则同时记录营业利润和按照美国通用会计准则(GAAP)计算的净利润。标普的数据显示,GAAP的净利润仍然在上升,只是和此前几年的迅猛增长相比显得步履蹒跚。今年第一季度EPS曲线开始变平,今年前三季度利润仅上升了4%,远低于2018年1~9月25%的同比增速。

为更合理地探究利润走势,我们对这两组前三季度利润数据进行了平均,Factset在此期间的EPS下跌了1%,标普500指数则是上升4%。也就是说,利润增速只有1.5%左右,差不多和通胀率相当。

总体而言,标普和FactSet数据说明我们正在进入EPS持平或呈低个位数增长的新阶段,此前三年半的两位数增速已经在去年第三季度告终。这对股市来说可能是个坏消息,对美国经济来说是个危险信号,它还表明贸易摩擦的代价已经出现,而且这个代价只会越来越大。

标普500指数公司保持EPS不变或使之略有增长的唯一手段是以前所未有的规模来回购股票,这尤其让人担心当前的利润增速放缓局面。咨询机构Yardeni Research的研究显示,扣除新发行的股份,这500家公司将63%的营业利润用于回购股票。我计算的结果是,股票回购金额大约相当于其GAAP净利润的55%。也就是说,美国的龙头企业正在借助利润以每年约2.5%的速度来缩减股本。

总之,美国顶尖企业用于回购股票和分红的资金差不多相当于其净利润的95%。但众所周知,它们借了一大笔钱进行回购的依据是自身股票在当前价位上非常值得买入,而这样的观点值得怀疑,因为标普500指数的市盈率已经高达21.7倍。贷款可能占这500公司股票回购资金的三分之一左右,其余三分之二资金则是它们25%的净利润。另外,它们还保留了约三分之一的GAAP净利润,并通过新工厂和研发设施重新将其用于扩张。

在这样的背景下,不断减速的利润预示着三大问题:

• 标普500指数只能通过前所未有的股票回购让EPS保持稳定或略有增长。这就意味着总利润根本没有增长,而在总利润持平或下滑的同时,这些公司的总股本变少了。

• 为防止EPS下降,公司通过大量借款来回购股票。它们无法将新增利润进一步用于回购,原因是利润增长的不多,甚至没有增长。相反,这些公司增加了负债,同时提升了股票回购资金在利润中的占比。由于它们每年还会发行约1500亿美元新股,其中包括公司高管行使期权产生的新股,所以这些公司的杠杆率特别高。由此产生的结果就是,它们每年用来回购股票的7000亿美元资金只产生了5500亿的作用,因为另外1500亿美元抵销了摊薄效应。公司把可用资金当做防止滑坡的手段,而所有这些债务提高了它们的风险。债务还带来了新的利息负担,从而在负债不断增多之际压缩了可以还债的现金流。

• 要注意的一个要点是这500家公司还保留了大约三分之一净利润,这是用于业务扩张的再投资。但这笔留存收益带来的回报很少。这就是利润方面的根本性变化。过去几年,主要的增长动力是再投资利润产生的高额收益,往往达到20%,甚至更多。现在看来,再投资利润对这500家公司没有任何帮助,也就是说,新增权益的回报率正在向零滑落。和此前相反的是,整体每股收益的缓慢上升完全来自于它们的巨额回购。

如果回报率一直处于低水平,利润就不会增长,而且这种情况已经出现。华尔街为持续上涨的股价找出的依据就将不复存在。持平或下滑的利润无法支撑当前的高估值,股价暴跌的可能性就会增大。上述利润走势源于两大因素。第一个是周期。多年来,美国企业的商品服务产出一直在显著增长,员工数量则在减少。与此同时,它们在工资方面还很吝啬。这样,越来越多的利润到了股东而不是员工手里。在目前供给吃紧的就业市场中,工资水平迅速上升,而在经济增长背景下已经达到极限的企业也开始快速补充员工。

第二个原因是贸易摩擦——美国对数以亿计的中国商品加征10%~25%的关税。这提高了商品价格,压低了商品销量,比如我们的公司在美国销售的中国产鞋子和智能手机,它还提高了这些公司销往美国乃至全世界的产品所需的关键零部件价格。中国的报复性关税则打击了美国出口,从大豆到钢铁都是如此。如果进一步对中国以及其他贸易伙伴提高关税,美国公司就会在今后几年进入危险的未知领域,这里的资本回报率更低,利润压力很大。

总的来看,很难想象我们在美国股市中享受的幸福时光怎么才能长久地延续下去。(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

The explosion in corporate profits that lifted share prices to what are still near-record levels is ending.

That’s the evidence from a recent report issued by FactSet, the research firm that compiles Wall Street analysts’ estimates of future earnings-per-share for the S&P 500, and compares those predictions to what the 500 actually achieves.

FactSet found that EPS declined in both the first and second quarters of 2019 versus the same periods last year, marking the first consecutive, two-quarter retreat since Q1 and Q2 of 2016. Analysts expect a substantial fall of 3.1% for the Q3. If that forecast is correct, the earnings-per-share for the S&P 500 will slide by around 1 percentage point through the first three quarters of this year.

While the FactSet data eliminates special charges in calculating EPS, S&P records both operating and GAAP net income. Its data shows that GAAP earnings are still growing, though at a crawl compared with the headlong sprint over the last few years. The curve started to flatten in Q1, and over the first three quarters of this year, profits have expanded at just 4%, down from the 25% romp from from the January to September period in 2018 versus 2017.

To get a reasonable take on how profits are faring, we’ll average the two readings for the first three quarters: the FactSet decline of 1%, and the S&P’s 4% positive figure. That formula suggests growth in the range of just 1.5%, about equal to inflation.

Taken together, the S&P and FactSet data suggest we’re entering a new era of flat or low-single digit growth in EPS, following three-and-half years of double-digit increases through last year’s September quarter. That’s potentially bad news for stocks, a danger signal for the U.S. economy and a sign that the trade war is already begun exacting a toll that can only be expected to grow.

The slowdown is particularly worrisome because the S&P stalwarts have only succeeded in keeping EPS flat or rising slightly by repurchasing shares at record rates. According to research by Yardeni Research, the 500 are now spending the equivalent of 63% of their operating earnings on buybacks, net of newly issued shares. By my reckoning, that equates to roughly 55% of their GAAP net profits. Hence, America’s largest companies are marshaling that cash to shrink their share count by around 2.5% a year.

All told, America’s largest companies are paying out a sums equal to something like 95% of their net profits in repurchases and dividends. But it’s well known that they’re borrowing a big chunk of the buyback cash on the pretext that their stocks is a great buy at current prices, a questionable view since the S&P is selling at an expensive price-to-earnings multiple of 21.7. It’s likely that the 500 are using borrowed money for around one-third of the repurchases, and funding the rest with 25% of net profits. They’re also retaining around one-third of GAAP earnings, and plowing that money back into expansion via new plants and R&D facilities.

Given that backdrop, the flagging earnings picture points to three big problems:

• The S&P is only able to keep EPS flat or rising a touch by buying back shares at rates never before witnessed. That means total profits aren’t increasing at all; a flat or declining total are being split among fewer shares outstanding.

• To keep EPS from declining, companies are borrowing heavily to repurchase shares. They’re not able to fund the extra buybacks with rising profits because profits aren’t rising much if at all. Instead, they’re taking on more debt, and using a bigger share of their earnings, to pay for repurchases. The leveraging is especially severe because they’re also issuing around $150 billion in shares each year, including shares arising from newly-vested options from awards granted to the corporate brass. As a result, they’re spending $700 billion a year to reduce their share counts by the equivalent of $550 billion, since the other $150 billion goes to offsetting dilution. Adding all that debt makes companies riskier by sapping the cash available to cushion a downturn. It also exacts a burden in higher interest payments––curbing the cash flow that services their increasing debt.

• It’s important to note that the 500 are still retaining something like one-third of their net profits, money they’re re-investing to expand their businesses. But they’re earning minuscule returns on those dollars of retained earnings. That represents a fundamental shift in the profit picture. Over the past several years, the main driver was huge gains, often 20% or more, on profits plowed back into the business. Now, it appears that the 500 are getting no help from reinvested earnings, meaning returns on newly-added equity are trending towards zero. Instead, it’s the buyback splurge that accounts for all the entire, sluggish advance in earnings-per-share.

If those rates of returns stay low, and the shift is already underway, profits won’t grow. Wall Street will lose its rationale for ever-rising share prices. Flat or falling profits won’t support today’s rich valuations, raising the chances of a severe downdraft. That profit trend has two main causes. The first is cyclical. For years, U.S. enterprises produced a lot more goods and services with fewer people, and at the same time, skimped on wages, so that more and more gains went to shareholders rather than workers. In today’s tight labor market, wages are rising briskly, and companies, stretched to the limit in an expanding economy, have rapidly padded their workforces.

The second reason is the trade war that’s imposed tariffs of 10% to 25% on tens of billions of the Chinese imports. That’s raising prices, and lowering sales, for the Chinese shoes and smart phones that our companies sell in the U.S., and inflating prices of the components essential to the products they offer here and around the world. The levies China has imposed in retaliation are hammering our exports of everything from soybeans to steel. If the move towards erecting tariff walls, not just on China, but other trading partners as well, becomes entrenched, U.S. companies face perilous, uncharted territory of lower returns on capital, and intense pressure on profits, for years to come.

Taken together, it’s hard to see how the heady times we’ve enjoyed in the stock market continue much longer.

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