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Disturbing Comparison: Corporate Profit Margins versus Employee Compensation

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    November 18, 2014

    Yesterday’s collection of Advisor Perspectives articles particularly caught my attention: Why Jeremy Grantham is Right about Corporate Profit Margins by Baijnath Ramraika and Prashant Trivedi. The article includes a number of fascinating graphs, the first of which is a snapshot of US Corporate Margins since 1947 calculated by dividing Corporate Profits after Tax by Gross National Product.

    The article inspired me to produce a chart of the Profit-to-GNP ratio, but with an added and rather sobering overlay: Employee Compensation (wages and salaries), which I’ve likewise divided by GNP. Here it is.

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    If indeed corporate profits are mean reverting, a view supported by the authors of the Advisor Perspectives article, we see that this metric can spend many years at wide variance from the trend. Employee Compensation, however, has had a distinctly downward trend since its peak in 1970. The only conspicuous exception to the trend was the bubble period associated with the Irrational Exuberance that began in the mid-1990s.

    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author

    My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.

    My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.

    Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool article attests.


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