US Q2 earnings boom may not last much longer

US corporate profits jumped in the first half of 2017, but future gains could be challenged by sluggish American economic growth and insufficient progress on key reforms in Washington.

Companies in the S&P 500 notched an average 10 percent rise in second-quarter profits, according to FactSet. That jump was led by technology and banking sectors, as well as energy, which benefited from much higher oil prices compared with the year-ago period.

But analysts warn of more difficult year-on-year comparisons in the coming quarters for energy earnings.

"The oil story is almost played out," said Stephen Gallagher, an economist at Societe Generale.

Gallagher said financial stocks also are likely to see slowing growth in earnings growth, although technology should have more sustained gains.

Another concern is that the US economy has not accelerated as much as hoped, even though it has performed adequately.

US unemployment stands at 16-year lows, but economic growth has been well below the three percent targeted by President Donald Trump.

"Growth in the first half of the year averaged 1.9 percent, but fell short of expectations for the surge in growth that financial market participants expected after the election," economist Diane Swonk said.

- Murky outlook in Washington -

Analysts say the lack of progress on Trump's legislative agenda is limiting economic growth.

JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon said last month it will be difficult to accelerate US growth much above the 1.5 to 2.0 percent trend pace if it fails to come together in favor of pro-business policies.

"We have become one of the most bureaucratic, confusing litigious societies," he said. "It would be much stronger growth had we made intelligent decisions to end that gridlock."

Trump has eliminated some regulations, but the White House thus far has failed to unveil the promised plans for key projects such as enhanced public infrastructure spending or a comprehensive tax reform plan.

Nor has Trump said whether he will reappoint Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve. National Economic Council director Gary Cohn also is in the running for the job.

"There is a lot of uncertainty," Swonk said. "It is unnecessary noise, which is deafening at times, and might dampen growth."

The murky outlook means companies are not redeploying their profits into their core businesses, she said.

"At two percent growth you just don't have the commitments to the future in terms of investment," Swonk said.

"The profits are being redeployed in stock buybacks and dividends, which is good for the stock market, but fundamentally does not set up a foundation for growth going forward."

- European demand -

US companies have boosted profits by cutting costs. They also have benefited from a pickup in demand in key markets, including Europe.

"We heard a lot in second quarter (earnings) calls not only that the European consumer was doing better, but also that US companies with international operations have become more competitive because the dollar has been weaker," said Maris Ogg, president of Tower Bridge Advisors, an investment management firm.

But "It's a double-edged sword," Ogg said. "As time goes on, if the US companies pick up a little bit of market share, that will slow down the recovery we've seen in the last six months in Europe."

But if the weak dollar boosts multinationals like McDonald's and Boeing, it does nothing for smaller US-focused companies that do not operate overseas.

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Wenger braced for knife-edge Arsenal season

Arsene Wenger brokered a fragile truce with Arsenal's dissenting fans by winning the FA Cup, but has little margin for error ahead of Friday's Premier League opener against Leicester City.

Last season was by far the most difficult of Wenger's 21-year tenure as manager, with Arsenal's on-pitch travails exposing him to furious protests from sections of the club's support.

Having ended months of speculation by signing a new two-year contract, he is looking forwards and says that if the team put on a united front, the fans will fall into line behind them.

"A lot (of the trouble) was created by my own situation. Maybe I made a mistake," Wenger said after Arsenal beat Chelsea on penalties in last weekend's Community Shield.

"Overall I believe that it's down to us. The trend has always to come from the team."

Undermining Wenger's quest for harmony is the uncertainty surrounding several first-team players.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere are among the players whose contracts expire at the end of the season.

Sanchez in particular has been the subject of intense speculation about his future amid reported interest from the big-spending duo of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

The Chile forward missed pre-season after being granted extra time off following the Confederations Cup and has been ruled out of Friday's game due to an abdominal strain.

That Wenger is not going into the new campaign with the fans still at his throat owes much to Arsenal's strong finish to last season.

After Wenger belatedly adopted a 3-4-2-1 formation -- a tactical trend sparked by champions Chelsea -- Arsenal won seven of their last eight league games and stunned Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final.

They defeated Chelsea again when the teams renewed acquaintances at Wembley in last Sunday's Community Shield, winning a penalty shootout 4-1 after a 1-1 draw.

- Iheanacho ready for action -

As well as the silverware, Arsenal's supporters have also had a major signing to celebrate after Wenger broke the club's transfer record to sign prolific French striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon.

The 26-year-old set Arsenal back an initial fee of £46.5 million ($60.3 million, 51.5 million euros) and is expected to lead the line, flanked by Sanchez and Ozil.

Ozil is a doubt against Leicester, however, along with Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi, while Laurent Koscielny is suspended. Gabriel and Santi Cazorla are definitely out.

For the first time since 1997, Arsenal are going into a season without Champions League football and Wenger has pledged to rest players in the Europa League.

He has said he intends "to focus completely on the Premier League", but if such an approach fails to yield a title challenge, he can expect the protests to ramp up quickly.

After going into last season as defending champions, only for a close shave with relegation to cost manager Claudio Ranieri his job, Leicester are targeting stability under Craig Shakespeare.

They have spent over £50 million, strengthening each squad department with moves for goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, centre-back Harry Maguire, midfielder Vicente Iborra and striker Kelechi Iheanacho.

Spaniard Iborra has been ruled out of the trip to the Emirates Stadium with a groin strain and joins centre-back Robert Huth and midfielder Danny Drinkwater on the sidelines.

But 20-year-old Nigeria starlet Iheanacho, signed from Manchester City last week, has been passed fit after sustaining a knock in a friendly against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

"You've got the season ahead to look forward to and everyone's raring to go," said captain Wes Morgan.

"We've got our first game this Friday coming and we can't wait to get started."

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