Remember the $2 trillion US corporate cash mountain that you have heard so much about? Well, it is finally starting to shrink. Have they started reinvesting profits in America? Are they hiring more people? Did they finally get those tax breaks they were begging for? Have they dramatically increased dividends and share buy backs or returned to acquisitions to boost earnings?
Well, not exactly. The cash mountain is shrinking, but for all the wrong reasons. They are just not earning as much money as they used to. According to data released by S&P Capital IQ, US corporate cash flow turned negative in Q1, 2012 for the first time since 2008. It almost certainly worsened in Q2.
The harsh truth is that earnings are falling because of collapsing revenues, which at the rate reported so far in this season look to come in at about 1% YOY. Adjust for inflation, and these figures turn negative. This means that the 5.4% YOY earnings growth we are seeing, which I predicted all the way back in my January annual asset revue, are being achieved through aggressive cost cutting.
Managers aren’t hiring more, they’re firing more, which explains our stubbornly high headline 8.2% unemployment rate. This can’t last. You can only eat your seed corn for so long before you go hungry.
This deterioration, which has been under reported and unappreciated, has economists slashing their forecasts for US GDP growth. It is clear that consumers are returning to their bomb shelters. I recently chopped my own forecast from 2% to 1.5%, and even that could start to look high in a matter of weeks. All of this sets up the scenario which I have been pounding the table about in my strategy seminars in Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Zermatt, which I have entitled “The Crash of 2013”.
None of this makes a convincing case for buying equities right now. It makes the current 14 multiple for the S&P 500 look positively pricey. If there was ever a case for selling rips in the indexes it is now. Keep your fastest finger on your mouse ready to buy puts on the (SPX), (IWM), and (QQQ), and the bear ETF (SDS), and (SH).
US Companies are Eating Their Seed Corn