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Nobody in Corporate America wants to go back to 2009, but by one measure companies are there right now.
Based on the 291 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 that have reported earnings so far â¿¿ along with estimates for the rest â¿¿ S&P Capital IQ expects overall profits to decline by half a percent from the same period a year ago. That would be the first time that profits have shrunk since the third quarter of 2009, just after the Great Recession. Analysts are predicting that earnings will shrink 0.3 percent for the third quarter, too.
Revenue for those 291 companies has increased just 2.3 percent, compared with a 10-year average of 7.1 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ.
Worse, companies are getting more pessimistic about the rest of the year.
Companies that should benefit from a recovery are instead getting ready for a slowdown. UPS, the world's largest package delivery company, said it expects the global economy to get worse before it gets better. It lowered its profit forecast for 2012. Cisco Systems said it will lay off 1,300 people and warned that revenue for the current quarter will grow much less than expected. Chemical maker DuPont said this year's profits will be at the low end of its expectations because of uncertainty about the economic outlook.
The last recession ended in June 2009, but the U.S. economy remains unusually sluggish this far into the recovery. It grew at an annual rate of just 1.5 percent from April through June. Unemployment remains above 8 percent.
"The economy is bordering on stall speed," said Kurt Reiman, a strategist at UBS.
To be sure, some companies are reporting profit growth. Caterpillar's quarterly profit jumped 67 percent, and the maker of big construction equipment boosted its outlook for the year. Boeing reported a better-than-expected 3 percent increase in profits as it delivers more planes.