According to GMO, the asset manager, profits and overall net investment in the US tracked each other closely until the late 1980s, with both about 9 per cent of gross domestic product. Then the relationship began to break down. After the recession, from 2009, it went haywire. Pre-tax corporate profits are now at record highs ”“ more than 12 per cent of GDP ”“ while net investment is barely 4 per cent of output. The pattern is similar, although less stark, when looking at corporate investment specifically.
This change is profoundly odd. Economic theory says investment is driven by profitable opportunities on one side and the cost of capital on the other. High profits suggest there are decent opportunities to make money; historic lows in interest rates and highs in the stock market mean that capital is dirt cheap. Yet investment does not follow.
“We have this strange thing that the return on capital really does seem to be high, the cost of equity capital is low, and yet we’re getting a lot of share buybacks and not much investment,” says Ben Inker, co-head of asset allocation at GMO. “It just feels a bit weird.”
Read it all (if necessary another link may be found there).