If the Economy Is Shaky, Why Are Company Profits Still Strong?

In its earnings report, Ally Bank, a big auto loan maker, provided data on past-due auto loans in the second quarter for borrowers at a range of income levels. Past-due loans were either at or close to prepandemic levels for borrowers with lower incomes.

Ally declined to provide the same data for earlier quarters, making it impossible to know how quickly past-due loans might have risen. On its earnings call, Jenn LaClair, Ally’s chief financial officer, said, “We have continued to invest in talent and technology to enhance our servicing and collection capabilities and remain confident in our ability to effectively manage credit in a variety of environments.”

Some analysts think the pullback in spending could spread to wealthier households.

“You’re going to see it go up the income scale as the year unfolds with people sitting there, saying, ‘I’ll go without rather than spend this much on that’ or ‘I’ll trade down to something more affordable,’” said Mr. O’Rourke, the JonesTrading strategist. He added that he was waiting for earnings from Macy’s and Nordstrom, which are scheduled to report in August, to see if that was happening.

The concern is that the heavy summer spending that has recently bolstered the earnings of the hospitality industries and the airlines is not sustainable. “There’s a faction of the market that’s quite convinced that when we get to the fall and the bills from the summer spending come home to roost, the consumer will be in a much trickier spot,” Mr. Barnhurst of PGIM said.

An exchange this earnings season reveals how chief executives and companies can keep the economy going, even when they fear that a downturn may be at hand.

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, warned in May that storm clouds were gathering over the economy. On JPMorgan’s second-quarter earnings call, Mike Mayo, an analyst at Wells Fargo, asked Mr. Dimon why the bank had committed to investing such large sums this year if things could turn dire.

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