By George Anders
The U.S. stock market's skid the past month has been accompanied by bursts of gloomy news from most directions, with one curious exception: what U.S. companies are saying about their earnings outlooks.
In August, just 138 companies reduced earnings forecasts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That's 38 percent less than the usual tally for August. Meanwhile, Macy's Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and 93 other companies boosted their forecasts.
It's hard to imagine what inspired this relatively sunny outlook. Last month's headlines were teeming with worrisome news about the jobs outlook, the federal government's credit rating, European debt talks and the overall pace of U.S. economic activity. For August, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index tumbled 5.7 percent.
It could be that corporate leaders believe their tight rein on costs will boost profits even if revenue growth is meager. Alternatively, executives might think the U.S. economy will avoid the possible downturn that worries many economists, analysts and investors.
Unfortunately, there's also a simpler explanation. The optimistic corporate chiefs might be wrong.
(George Anders is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board)-0- Sep/06/2011 19:07 GMT