Caterpillar Leads the Dow Jones While S&P 500 Hits Record High


The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  is flat following multiple positive reports on the economy, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) has hit a new all-time high. Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) is leading the way among Dow stocks after the company walked away unscathed from a Senate committee hearing on its tax practices.

There were two major economic reports today:

Report

Period

Result

Previous

ADP National Employment Report

March

191,000

178,000 (r)

U.S. Census Bureau factory orders report

February

(1%)

1.6%

The key metric here is the ADP private-sector jobs report. Last month's report had investors worried, as ADP reported just 139,000 jobs added in February. With more data collected, ADP revised February's jobs growth up by 39,000 to 178,000. ADP also reported an initial estimate of March private-sector jobs growth of 191,000.

ADP Change in Nonfarm Payrolls Chart

ADP Change in Nonfarm Payrolls data by YCharts.

While both are positive signs for the economy, the truth of the matter is that besides some minor fluctuation, monthly jobs growth remains steady around the 180,000-190,000 level, in line with the slow growth of the overall economy. On Friday the government reports its nonfarm payrolls report, which will give us more data on the jobs market. While investors will study the report closely, I fully expect the story of slow growth to remain unchanged.

Today's Dow leader
Today's Dow leader is Caterpillar up 1.8% after Caterpillar executives testified before the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on the company's offshore tax practices. In a situation similar to whatApple faced last year, Caterpillar executives were called before Congress by Chairman Dan Levin (D-Mich.) to defend the company's moving of profits abroad to pay lower tax rates. Chairman Levin believes Caterpillar stiffed the government on $2.4 billion in U.S. taxes over 13 years by moving profits to a subsidiary based in Switzerland. While basically the full committee believed Apple was in the wrong last year, this time Senator John McCain and others were on Caterpillar's side.

The U.S. tax code taxes U.S. companies on their foreign profits, but only when those profits are returned to the U.S. This, combined with the fact that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, has led companies to leave nearly $2 trillion dollars worth of profits abroad. Tech companies and pharmaceutical companies are the largest holders of foreign profits, though it should be noted that General Electric holds the largest amount of overseas profits at $110 billion. After three years of work, Rep. Dave Camp finally released his plan to reform the tax system, which would close the loopholes companies use and remove the incentive to keep foreign profits abroad. You can read more about the Tax Reform Act of 2015 here.

Caterpillar appears to done well at the congressional hearing. Like Apple before it, the company acknowledges that its tax practices effectively move profits abroad but notes that it's acting in line with the current U.S. tax code. Caterpillar's Julie Lagacy said as much: "I want to emphasize, Caterpillar complies with the U.S. tax laws and we pay everything we owe."

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