Key reasons for last year’s sluggishness was a plunge in oil prices and other commodities prices, that added to the struggles of China as it attempts to transition its economy away from manufacturing exports to developing its services industry.
As a result, major U.S. firms dependent on China and commodities markets have surprised in the first quarter of this year.
For example, Caterpillar crushed earnings estimates and posted its first year-over-year sales increase in more than two years. The Dow component’s Asia Pacific sales rose 12 percent “primarily due to an increase in construction equipment sales in China resulting from increased infrastructure and residential investment,” according to a release.
In the first quarter of last year, Caterpillar’s Asia Pacific sales dropped 23 percent.
U.S. banks have also posted strong first-quarter earnings, helped by rising interest rates, improving global growth and increased trading revenues. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley reported large earnings beats that contributed substantially to the S&P 500’s earnings growth in the first quarter, according to FactSet’s Butters.
Overall S&P 500 earnings per share growth is on track for an increase of more than 12 percent for the first quarter, the greatest since the third quarter of 2011.
Other factors helping earnings and overseas economic growth are softness in the U.S. dollar and stabilizing oil prices.
The greenback has traded mostly lower this year after sharp gains in 2014 and 2015 that cut into overseas profits.
Meanwhile, oil recovered from a low below $30 a barrel hit last February to trade in a range near $50 a barrel. U.S. crude is up about 7 percent over the last 12 months.
To be sure, there’s another reason why earnings look so good: A year ago, they were pretty bad.
Last year’s poor results for S&P 500 companies overall, including four straight quarters of earnings decline, set a low bar for companies to overcome. Matching improved growth in coming months may be more difficult.
But they continue to grow at a healthy pace with help from the globe.
“We have been more focused on improving global growth than on the ‘Trump trade,'” hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, who’s doubled the market’s return over the last two decades, told clients in a Thursday letter obtained by CNBC.
“Although S&P earnings were flat over the past three years,” the Third Point manager said, “we are expecting earnings growth to drive gains and cyclical names to get a tailwind from U.S. policy shifts this year.”
— CNBC’s Scott Wapner and John Melloy contributed to this report.