Kathleen Madigan had an important post on Friday, showing financial profits roaring back to more than 30% of all domestic US profits. As she says, “that’s an amazing share given that the sector accounts for less than 10% of the value added in the economy” — and makes it “hard for banks to cry poverty” when it comes to things like debit-card interchange legislation.
Madigan gave us the percentage chart, which shows the finance industry taking an even greater share of total corporate profits than it did during most of the boom year of 2006.
But I wondered: how much of this is a function of generally lower profitability overall — a question more of a low denominator than a high numerator? So I went along to the BEA website and put together this chart:
The blue line is total domestic profits. The green bars are the massive profits made by the Federal Reserve — an incredible $233 billion in 2010 alone. But as you can see, those Fed profits are dwarfed by the red bars, which are private-sector financial profits. Those dipped into negative territory just once, in the fourth quarter of 2008, and in the fourth quarter of 2010 reached $379 billion — bringing the total for the year to more than $1.3 trillion.
What this chart says to me is that nothing has changed, and nothing is going to change. Banks are still extracting enormous rents from the economy, and profits which should be flowing to productive industries are instead being captured by financial intermediaries. We’re back near boom-era levels of profitability now, and no one seems to worry that the flipside of higher returns is higher risk. Any dreams of seeing a smaller financial sector have now officially been dashed. And the big rebound in corporate profits since the crisis turns out to be largely a function of the one sector which we didn’t want to recover to its former size.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
US financial profits
From Felix Salmon