Global equity markets continued their positive start to 2019 last week, with a 2.8% rise in the MSCI Developed World Index and a 3.7% rise in Emerging Markets.

Intriguingly Andrew Lapthorne over at SocGen reports that among the strongest sector performers so far this year have been those that have seen the biggest corporate earnings downgrades, with the likes of US Autos up 9.1% so far in 2019.

We’ll have to wait a few more weeks before we understood what the full Q4 earnings numbers tell us about overall US corporate profitability but what we can say is that US corporate P&Ls were in fine shape last year, in 2018 – or at least that’s what S&P Dow Jones’ Howard Silverblatt reveals in his 2018 sum up.

He’s been looking back on the numbers coming through for the bell weather index, the S&P 500, and it has to be said that overall corporate earnings, sales and dividends look to be in good shape.

Lets’ start with earnings.

For Q3 2018 where reporting which has now finished, 382 of the 497 reported issues beat their operating earnings estimates, 75 missed them and 40 met expectations.  On the sales front, 302 of the 494 issues beat sales expectations, as they set a new record, posting a 2.0% gain over Q2 2018 and up 10.7% over Q3 2017. Looking at the early run of numbers for last quarter (4) of 2018, 13 have so far beat their estimates, 2 have missed and 2 met, with 8 of the 17 beating on sales. Overall according to Silverblatt, “the Q4 2018 estimate is expected to decline 2.3% (up 19.4% year-over-year), as full-year 2018 operating earnings are expected to post a 26.1% gain over 2017 (with taxes getting most of the credit), while 2019 estimates are pointing to a 9.4% gain over 2018.”

Two last stand out numbers. According to S&P Dow Jones, Q3 2018 buybacks set a record at USD 203.8 billion (USD 446 billion for the 12-month period). Equally impressive, Q4 2018 dividends set a record at USD 119.8 billion and an annual record of USD 456.3 billion (versus USD 419.8 billion for 2017), supported by savings from lower taxes. The table below shows that overall the average dividend increased by 13.48% in 2018, the best number since 2014 but well down on the numbers following the global financial crisis.