Sovereigns across the ocean seemed poised to go bankrupt. Families across America were earning less than they did before. And people in cities around the world took to the streets to protest the inequalities of our current economic system. Yet for all the discontent elsewhere, 2011 was a great year to be an American corporation, as corporate profits rose and taxes fell.
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, net income for companies in the benchmark S&P 500 index has risen 12.5 percent since 2007 to $612 billion. As wages have also fallen, corporate profits' share of the nation's GDP has exceeded 10 percent, a historical high-water mark.
Corporate taxes for those same companies, on the other hand, fell 51 percent from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2011, to $181 billion. Cash taxes were so low for that period, many major companies spent more lobbying Congress for lower taxes than they did paying actual taxes.
Corporate bankruptcies also occurred with relatively low frequency in 2011, as cheap financing allowed even struggling companies to avoid being overwhelmed by their debts.
The party is expected to last into next year. David Kostin, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, predicts the earnings for S&P 500 companies will rise by 3.5 percent next year. Most market forecasters for major banks are even more bullish than that.