Gap between non-energy profit margins and real GDP growth is about as
large as in any non-recessionary period
TORONTO, March 31, 2015 /CNW/ - Corporate profit margins in Canada hit a
27-year high in the fourth quarter and, while some erosion from a
softening economy is likely, margins are expected to remain strong,
finds a new report from CIBC World Markets.
The average profit margin of all non-financial corporations rose to 8.2
per cent of sales in the fourth quarter of 2014. Even excluding the
recently hard-hit energy sector, profit margins are currently at their
highest in almost three decades, 7.6 per cent.
Furthermore, the gap between non-energy profit margins and real GDP
growth is about as large as in any non-recessionary period in the past
25 years, the report says.
"By all measures, higher corporate profit margins are here to stay,"
says Benjamin Tal, Deputy Chief Economist, CIBC, who authored the
report. "Some of the structural forces that helped to elevate the
trajectory of corporate profitability might start to fade in the coming
years, but for the here and now, profit margins are fully supported by
Mr. Tal notes that while corporate profit margins fluctuate with the
economy, historically they have tended to average less than 5 per cent.
However, he argues that structural changes over the last decade have
moved that average to over 6 per cent.
"There are no shortage of explanations for such an upward structural
trajectory - globalization, innovation, lower cost of capital, high
barriers to entry, and reduced bargaining power of labour - to name
just a few," says Mr. Tal.
Mr. Tal points out that profit margins are largely assumed to be one of
the most mean-reverting series in finance and the concept of margin
mean revision is deeply embedded in investors' equity valuation models.
The rationale here is simple, he says. The theory is, above-average
margins must attract competition and investment, which in turn, can
reduce overall profitability.
"Margins might be mean reverting, but it is possible that the mean has
enjoyed a structural shift up," he says. "Margins might go down in the
coming year or two, but not as much as the headline numbers suggest."
The rise in profit margins over the past two decades came despite the
headwind from a less favourable sectoral composition, he says. The
share of high-margin industries, such as manufacturing, transportation,
agriculture and forestry, has fallen notably, while low-margin sectors,
such as retail trade and construction, have gained ground.
However, the upward trajectory in margins since 2001 has been widely
based, supporting the assessment that the driving forces for a higher
mean are structural, the report says. Average profit margins are above
their long-term average in all sectors but one - mining and quarrying.
Even within the context of a structural upward trajectory, the rise in
margins over the past two years has been relatively strong, with
margins expanding by almost a full percentage point since 2012, the
This is due to two factors, softening labour costs and a sinking loonie.
The pace of growth in labour costs dropped sharply from 3.5 per cent in
2012 to 1 per cent in 2014, while the Canadian dollar has depreciated
nearly 25 per cent.
"No less than one third of Canadian GDP last year was produced by
sectors with falling labour unit costs," Mr. Tal says. "But, more
important is the lift companies are getting from the loonie's demise."
He estimates the depreciation in the value of the dollar is responsible
for "no less than a full percentage point increase in average profit
margin since 2012."
The impact of the loonie's decline though is far from uniform, the
Export sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, are the biggest
beneficiaries, with sub-sectors in the latter like wood products, pulp
and paper, motor vehicles, electrical equipment, clothing, textile and
basic chemicals leading the way. The lift to profit margins in the
transportation industry is mostly in rail and truck sub-sectors, while
air transport is marginally negative.
The complete CIBC World Markets report is available at: http://research.cibcwm.com/economic_public/download/if_2015-0331.pdf
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SOURCE CIBC World Markets
For further information:
Benjamin Tal, Deputy Chief Economist, CIBC World Markets Inc. at (416) 956-3698, firstname.lastname@example.org or Caroline Van Hasselt, Director, External Communications and Media Relations, at (416) 784-6699 or email@example.com.