U.S. cuts estimates of corporate profits during 2009-2011

WASHINGTON, July 27 Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:25am EDT

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WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - Corporate America isn't doing quite as well as the government thought, a report by the Commerce Department showed on Friday.

The report, part of a regular annual revision to data on economic growth and national income, showed the government over-estimated pre-tax corporate profits by $233 billion between 2009 and 2011. Estimates on after-tax profits during the same period were revised lower by $155.2 billion.

The government said it changed its estimates for profits using information from the Internal Revenue Service, as well as data from the census and from public financial reports.

Profits still are still historically high, though in the first quarter of 2012 they backed down from the record high posted in the last three months of 2011.

In June, President Barack Obama called attention to record high profits when, in a gaffe, he said America's private sector was doing fine.

Obama later clarified the economy was not actually doing well, and Friday's data showed corporate profits aren't rising at quite the gang-buster pace previous data had shown.

The revisions, which covered 2009-2011, showed pre-tax profits rose 27 percent in 2010, rather than 32 percent, meaning that year's increase is no longer the biggest on record. Profits rose more in 2004, while the record increase was in 1955.

Last year, profits rose 7.3 percent, rather than the 7.9 percent increase initially reported.

In the first quarter of this year, pre-tax profits cooled to a $1.9 trillion annual rate from a $1.95 trillion rate in the fourth quarter. They also fell after taking into account taxes. The Commerce Department seasonally adjusted the quarterly data.

The revisions come a month after the Federal Reserve also made big downgrades in its estimates of the amount of cash held by corporations.

The Fed tracks liquid assets, such as cash, held by corporations outside of finance. In June, the central bank said it had underestimated those holdings by about $500 billion at the end of last year. Businesses were holding $1.7 trillion in liquid assets, rather than $2.2 trillion.

Moreover, the Fed's revisions showed that while corporations' cash horde grew in 2010, it stabilized in 2011.

The Commerce Department report also made revisions to its estimates for economic growth that showed the 2007-2009 recession was a little less severe than thought and the subsequent recovery more modest.

The economy contracted 4.7 percent during the recession, rather than 5.1 percent as previously estimated. Since then, total output has increased 5.8 percent, rather than 6.2 percent.

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