Quarterly profits and revenue at big American companies are poised to decline for the first time since the recession, as some industrial firms warn of a pullback in spending.
From railroads to manufacturers to energy producers, businesses say they are facing a protracted slowdown in production, sales and employment that will spill into next year. Some of them say they are already experiencing a downturn.
“The industrial environment’s in a recession. I don’t care what anybody says,” Daniel Florness, chief financial officer of Fastenal Co. , told investors and analysts earlier this month. A third of the top 100 customers for Fastenal’s nuts, bolts and other factory and construction supplies have cut their spending by more than 10% and nearly a fifth by more than 25%, Mr. Florness said.
Caterpillar Inc. last week reduced its profit forecast, citing weak demand for its heavy equipment, and 3M Co. , whose products range from kitchen sponges to adhesives used in automobiles, said it would lay off 1,500 employees, or 1.7% of its total, as sales growth sagged for a wide range of wares.
The weakness is overshadowing pockets of growth in sectors such as aerospace and technology.
Industrial companies are being buffeted on multiple fronts. The slump in energy prices has gutted demand for drilling equipment and supplies. Economic expansion is slowing in China and major emerging markets such as Brazil, which U.S. companies have relied on for sales growth. And the dollar’s strength also has eroded overseas profits.
The drag on earnings and sluggish growth projections for next year come as the Federal Reserve considers raising interest rates for the first time in nine years, and could add momentum to those in favor of postponing any rate increase until next year.
Profit and revenue are falling in tandem for the first time in six years, with a third of S&P 500 companies reporting so far. Analysts expect the index’s companies to book a 2.8% decline in per-share earnings from last year’s third quarter, according to Thomson Reuters.