On the face of it, the latest government update on how the U.S. economy performed in the fourth quarter looked a bit more encouraging. Growth was revised to a 1.4 percent annualized pace from a previously estimated 1 percent, and the adjustment to gross domestic product was for a good reason -- consumer spending rose more than previously thought.
Yet beyond the headline number, there is a reason for some concern. Corporate profits plunged 11.5 percent in the fourth quarter from the year-ago period, the biggest drop since a 31 percent collapse at the end of 2008 during the height of the financial crisis. For 2015 as a whole, pretax earnings fell 3.1 percent, the most in seven years, according to the Commerce Department.