It's earnings season and we all know what that means. Companies are releasing their results from the previous three months and investors are getting busy either celebrating or freaking out over the few-cent differences between Wall Street analyst predictions (aka guesses) and what actually gets reported.
So far there's been more celebrating than not as three-quarters of the S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings have hopped Wall Street's bar. Depending how cynical you are that's either a positive sign for the U.S. economy or a sign that analysts have been setting their expectations too low.
Investors will of course be interested in what happens at the companies they own, but some companies are offering up tidbits that we should all find quite interesting as indicators of economic health. Let's take a look at a few examples of what I'm talking about.
- Storage giant EMC
(NYSE: EMC)included this in its guidance: "2010 GAAP and non-GAAP research and development ("R&D") expense is expected to increase between 18% and 19% over 2009."
- Glass specialist Corning
(NYSE: GLW)upped its forecast for 2010 capital spending to $1.2 billion and said it will probably spend $2 billion in 2011. That's after spending a mere $890 million in 2009. Sure, some of that spending will go overseas to projects like its factory expansion in Taiwan, but it also just recently announced an expansion of its Kentucky plant.
- Investors were disappointed when Procter & Gamble's
(NYSE: PG)earnings missed expectations. But why did profit come in light? A big part of the reason was a near-$1 billion bump in selling, general, and administrative expenses -- much of which went to marketing. That increased spending is expected to continue as the company has "plans to continue strong investment levels in innovation and marketing support."
(NYSE: T)investors saw less cash hitting the company's bank account after the first six months of the year as capital expenditures increased to $8.2 billion from $7.4 billion in 2009. Second-quarter spending growth was even more brisk at more than 20%.
- In its earnings report, construction and mining maven Caterpillar
(NYSE: CAT)announced that it will expand U.S. production through a new excavator facility and new capacity for mining trucks and shovels. The company has already revealed plans for a $426 million plant in North Carolina for mining trucks, while the forthcoming excavator plant is expected to bring capacity in Japan back to the U.S.
Are you seeing what I'm seeing here? Many second-quarter reports are showing strong signs that companies are willing to spend again. In the past couple of quarters we've heard a lot about cost-cutting and squeezing more profit out of tighter sales. That may be fine and dandy if you want to be a penny ahead of Wall Street's estimates, but it doesn't help much when it comes to the health of the economy.
Spending, on the other hand, particularly when you see companies willing to spend at the expense of their margins, well, that could actually do us some good.
From corporate pockets to the economy
How exactly does it help? Take EMC's boost in research-and-development spending, for instance. It spends R&D money in four primary areas: people, facilities, materials, and travel. In 2009, EMC spent $1.6 billion on R&D, so an 18% increase would mean an additional nearly $300 million spent either on employees or goods and services from outside vendors.
Increased spending on employees means current employees will have fatter paychecks or the company may be hiring new workers. Either way, that smells like good news for good ol' consumer spending. Meanwhile, shelling out money to outside vendors might encourage those companies to hire or otherwise invest in growth.
We could tell a similar story with the marketing spending at P&G, the capital spending at AT&T, or Caterpillar's new factories.
I have to give credit where credit's due and while I've often given Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner flack, he highlighted the increase in business spending in a recent op-ed for The New York Times.
But you don't need to listen to Geithner to get confirmation that this business spending is for real. Just take a look at the earnings reports for companies that you'd expect to be on the receiving end of increased business spending. Commercial equipment companies like Emerson Electric
A "V-shaped" recovery this isn't, but it's funny to me that lots of folks seem to be missing the signs of a recovery.
Think I'm absolutely off my rocker? Head down to the comments section on this page and tell me how it is.
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Emerson Electric and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor choices. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of AT&T, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool or on his RSS feed. The Fool's disclosure policy assures you no Wookiees were harmed in the making of this article.