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经济学人:鸣金收兵 美国公司的利润可能已达到本周期内的最高值

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Buttonwood

梧桐树专栏
Sound the retreat
鸣金收兵
Profits in America may have peaked for this cycle
美国公司的利润可能已达到本周期内的最高值
ARE corporate profits at last running out of steam? The lead-up to the first-quarter results season on Wall Street was marked by an unusually large number of profit warnings, such as that from Chevron, an oil group. According to Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, earnings estimates for S&P 500 companies were revised down by 4.4 percentage points in the first quarter.
公司的利润最终失去势头了么?即将到来的华尔街第一季度财报季中,包括石油集团雪福龙在内的异常多的盈利警告成为了显著特征。根据投行摩根史坦利的说法,第一季度标普500指数成分股公司的盈利预期被调低了4.4个百分点。
As is the custom, having lowered the bar, companies will now beat those revised forecasts, allowing Wall Street analysts to proclaim a “successful” results reason. But when one removes the effect of exceptional items, American profits are now falling, not rising, according to data from MSCI.
按照惯例,各公司降低了标准后,现在能击败了那些调低的预测值,并使得华尔街分析师们纷纷赞扬这个“成功的”财报季。但根据来自MSCI的数据,一旦排除掉那些例外事项的影响,美国公司的利润现在正在下滑,而非上升。

In a sense, this is about time. The recovery in American corporate profits since the recession has been remarkable: they are close to a post-war high as a proportion of GDP. Bulls have a number of arguments why this is a lasting, not cyclical, phenomenon. Economic power has shifted from labour to capital thanks to globalisation, they say; companies can move production to parts of the world where wages are lower. But if that effect is so strong, why aren’t profits as high elsewhere? In Britain the return on corporate capital is below its post-1997 average.

从某种意义上讲,现在确实到时候了。自经济衰退以来,美国公司的利润复苏取得了显著进展:其占GDP的比重已接近了二战之后的最高值。对行情持乐观态度的人们有着一大堆的理由来解释为何这是一种持续性现象,而非周期性现象。他们表示,全球化使得经济实力从劳动力转移到了资本;公司可以把生产转移到世界上那些工资更低的地区。但是,如果这种效应如此强烈,为何其他地区公司的利润没有这么高?英国的资本收益率已低于其1997年以后的平均水平。
An alternative, but related, line of reasoning is that foreign profits have boosted the earnings of companies in the S&P 500, making the relationship with domestic GDP less relevant. America may still be running a trade deficit but its global champions, the argument runs, are raking in the money overseas. Research by Audit Analytics found that the amount of profits held abroad and not repatriated nearly doubled to 2.1 trillion between 2008 and 2013.
另一种与此有关联的推测在于,国外利润提升了标普500指数成分股公司的总体收益,使得后者与国内GDP的相关性更低。美国可能仍存在贸易赤字,但是如本观点所说,其国际领军企业在海外赚了不少钱。Audit Analytics研究发现,2008-2013年间,海外获得且尚未汇回的利润数达到了2.1万亿美元,几乎翻了一番。
But where will American multinationals make so much money in future? Not in either Europe or Japan, where the economies have barely grown in recent years. Emerging markets might seem more promising, but their economies have been slowing, as companies like Diageo, a drinks producer, and Cisco, a tech-components group, have reported. Several developing economies have seen their currencies fall sharply too. It seems unlikely that American multinationals are going to get a further spurt of profits from this source.
但是,将来美国的跨国公司还能从哪儿赚到这么多钱呢?不会是欧洲或是日本,因为近些年它们的经济几乎没有增长。新兴市场可能看上去更有前景,但鉴于诸如饮料生产企业帝亚吉欧和技术元件集团思科等公司已经发布的数据,它们的经济也已放缓。一些发展中经济体也已目睹了本国货币大幅下降。似乎美国的跨国公司不可能再从这个源头得到进一步的井喷式利润增长。
In any case, the global data do not bear out the overseas-profit argument. Just as in America, there have been regular disappointments. In 2012, according to Citibank, global profits growth was just 2%, compared with initial forecasts of 11%. At the start of 2013 profits were forecast to rise by 12%; the actual increase was 7%.
无论如何,全球的数据并不支持“海外利润”理论。正如在美国,也已出现了常见的令人失望的结果。根据花旗银行结论,2012年全球利润增长率仅为2%,相比之下,初步预测可是到了11%。2013年初,利润预测增长12%,但实际增长仅为7%。
The stockmarket has been remarkably resilient in the face of these setbacks. In 2012 global equities rose by 13%; last year they managed 24%. In part, that is due to optimism about the economy’s future trajectory. The euro-zone crisis has disappeared from the headlines while the American economy has been showing signs of returning to healthy growth.
面临着这些波折时,股市已表现出极强的弹性。2012年全球股票增长了13%;去年增长了24%。在某种程度上,这要归因于对经济未来发展轨迹的乐观情绪。欧元区金融危机已从新闻头条上消失,同时美国经济也已出现了回归健康增长的迹象。
But it is also down to supportive monetary policy. Short-term interest rates have not budged for the past two years (in the developed world) and government-bond yields have been close to historic lows. Investors have accordingly turned to the stockmarket in search of higher returns. Low interest rates have also played their part in keeping profits high, by reducing borrowing costs and by encouraging companies to use their spare cash to buy back stock, thereby increasing earnings per share.
但它同样是支持性货币政策所起的作用。过去两年短期利率一直没有变化,政府债券收益率也接近了历史最低水平。投资者相应地转向股票市场寻求更高回报。低利率通过降低借款成本、鼓励公司使用闲置资金回购股票,在提升利润方面起到了一定作用,也由此提高了每股收益。
However, buying back shares suggests a certain lack of imagination on the part of chief executives, or a lack of profitable projects to back. That remains an odd aspect of the profits boom: in theory, if the return on capital is high, one would expect a lot of capital to be invested. The resulting competition would eventually cause profits to fall. The process acts as a natural check on profits growth, but has yet to occur this cycle.
然而,回购股票表明了首席执行官在一定程度上缺乏前景设想,或公司缺少需要支持的盈利项目。利润丰厚的现象中仍存在一个奇怪之处:理论上,如果资本收益率很高,人们将期望能拥有大量可供投资的资本,由此导致的竞争将最终导致利润下滑。这一过程是对利润增长率的一种自然而然的检验,但本周期内尚未出现。
Instead, chief executives are turning to that old device for boosting sluggish profits: takeovers. According to Thomson Reuters, the global value of mergers and acquisitions in the first quarter was 36% higher than in the same period of 2013. The right takeover can result in cost cuts through economies of scale—although in the long run, the academic evidence in favour of takeovers is mixed.
相反地,首席执行官们正在转向“收购”这一陈旧手段来刺激缓慢增长的利润。根据汤森路透的结果,第一季度全球的并购价值比2013年同期高出了36%。适宜的收购能通过规模经济实现成本削减——但是长远来看,支持收购的学术证据比较混杂。
A takeover boom is a classic signal of the final stages of a bull market, a sign that financial engineering has taken over from genuine business expansion. And that is hardly a surprise: the current rally is already the fourth-largest and the fifth-longest-running since 1928.
收购热潮是牛市最后阶段的一个典型信号,这一信号表明,金融运作已经接替了真正的业务扩张。而且这不奇怪:当前这已经是1928年以来第四次最大规模、第五次持续时间最长的反弹了。
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