Highlights From Another Strong Earnings Season

Corporate America delivered another outstanding earnings season. S&P 500 Index earnings are tracking to an 8.2% year-over-year increase for the third quarter with just a handful of companies left to report. Excluding the impact of hurricanes within the insurance group, corporate America produced its third straight quarter of double-digit earnings growth. The amount of upside to earnings estimates was slightly below average in the quarter, but we consider the season a success given the strong upside to revenue forecasts, along with generally upbeat outlooks from corporate management teams

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Productivity Pickup

Productivity for the third quarter of 2017 rose 3.0%, the largest one quarter increase since the third quarter of 2014 and over double the average quarterly growth rate since the start of 2009. This surge is significant, as a lack of productivity growth has been one of the main factors that has kept U.S. economic growth, as measured in gross domestic product (GDP), to an average of just 2.2% since the end of the Great Recession. In fact, the five-year average of productivity growth has been under 1% since the fourth quarter of 2014. Dating back to the start of record keeping in 1947, 1981 to 1983 was the only other period with productivity growth as slow. While productivity can fluctuate quite a bit from quarter to quarter, supporting evidence from increased spending on capital goods and the slow continued unwinding of labor disruptions from the Great Recession lead us to believe that a return to a healthier rate of productivity growth may be here to stay.

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President Trump’s First Year

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s Election Day victory. The period since the president was elected has been one of the best ever for U.S. stock markets. The 28.5% rally in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow) one year after the election ranks 4 out of 31 overall among one-year post-election rallies for U.S. presidents since the inception of the Dow in 1896 [Figure 1] and is one of the best performances since World War II (WWII). The best? President Coolidge during the Roaring Twenties. The worst? Woodrow Wilson’s second term during WWI.

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Tax Reform Timeline

House Republicans released the initial version of their tax reform bill on Thursday, November 2. After months of aspirational outlines and frameworks devoid of detail, this was the real thing: 400+ pages of proposed legislation covering all of the details, including difficult decisions about eliminating some existing tax benefits so that the bill would not add more than $1.5 trillion to the current deficit—the limit set previously in the budget bill. While the final bill will look different from the House’s first effort, this was an important step forward. Here’s our look at the path ahead.

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MLP Weakness Appears Overdone

Master limited partnership (MLP) weakness appears overdone. The Alerian MLP Index has lost 9.3% in 2017 year to date, well behind the S&P 500 Index’s 17.5% return and even the energy sector’s 6.3% loss. More recent performance is particularly surprising given the 30% rally in WTI crude prices since June 21, 2017 — the Alerian MLP Index has been flat over that roughly 4.5-month period, while the S&P 500 has returned 7%. In an environment where many investments look stretched, this is one that has lagged behind and could offer potentially more upside. Here we discuss several reasons the group has struggled and make the case that it may be due for a turnaround.

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