Profit slump may extend into first quarter of 2002

Wall Street analysts now expect earnings to drop in the first quarter of 2002, extending the current slump in corporate profits to 5 quarters -- the worst such stretch in 30 years. Analysts projected a drop of 0.2 percent in profits for members of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index for the first quarter as of Wednesday morning, according to market research firm First Call/Thomson Financial. The day before, they expected a rise by the same amount.The projected first-quarter drop would follow shortfalls that are expected to reach 21.9 percent in the third quarter of this year and 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter. Earnings fell 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2001 and 17 percent in the second quarter.The outlook for corporate profits has worsened over the year as the U.S. economy faltered and grew even dimmer following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The projected five quarter slump would be unmatched since a drop of the same duration that began in the last quarter of 1969."All we can do is cross off the quarter ... ," said Joe Cooper, an analyst with First Call. "The pattern has been since the downturn started that analysts were forecasting recovery two quarters out." Analysts are, "still saying the second quarter of next year will be the beginning of recovery to earnings growth ... but with the way that reductions and estimates have been going (there might) be a sixth quarter of down earnings," Cooper added.Earnings reporting season for the third quarter begins in earnest Monday. Some 748 companies have warned profits will not meet expectations -- almost the same number as had warned at the same time last quarter.

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