Hazards ahead: The banks are a great bellwether for the economy and they are noticeably cautious.

Hazards ahead: The banks are a great bellwether for the economy and they are noticeably cautious.

Even as the dividends flowed something was missing from this year's profit reports, and perhaps more remarkably, nobody noticed.

The profits were there all right. Mostly they were better than the analysts had been expecting or, as is often the way, been led to expect, although the economy's purple patch earlier this year was a surprise.

That'll be cancelled out by GDP growth in the June quarter, to be released on Wednesday, which will probably be only half that of the March quarter.

The downsizing and sluggish sales were there too but missing in action, or perhaps inaction, and what the market normally hangs out for is some tidbit about the outlook.

After all the reported results are history and not necessarily the whole picture.

Wait, what am I saying? We've heard that bit about how challenging it is out there often enough.

And count your blessings that so many execs passed up the opportunity to be "cautiously optimistic" though maybe they're waiting for the AGMs in November with the safety of five months of the financial year under their belts.

Mind you, retribution would be swift were they to say the next 12 months will be bad.

Or take the freakishly upbeat Tatts Group, of OzLotto, Powerball and pokies fame, marked down because no amount of hyperbole could hide its fall in revenues.

Analysts don't expect much this financial year, not that they did last year either and profits turned out to be better, but this time they could be right.

It should be said they still expect earnings to rise but just by a smaller amount.

We know the economy fell into a funk after the budget and will struggle to pull out of it quickly while the dollar is so high.

As it happens the banks are a good bellwether for profits and not for the obvious reason; it's their lending that makes the economy go round.

CBA was the only bank reporting but is by far the biggest, also ANZ and NAB were kind enough to oblige with a quarterly update.

It was revealing that CBA's revenue growth slowed in the first six months this year and it wasn't alone.

It was also "cautiously positive about the outlook" and according to its chief executive Ian Narev  "improvements in the economy are likely to be gradual".

He can say that again. Hang on, he did. That's what he said last year.

ANZ reported that in the June quarter "revenue trends [were] a little softer" though there are "some signs of improvement".

At NAB "revenue growth remains" – oh dear  –  "challenging."

That leaves the profit outlook this year as nothing to write home about.

Maybe it won't matter to share prices.  With interest rates so low – and property prices so high – it's not as if there are any decent alternatives to the sharemarket around.

Especially while boards can dispense dividends because the outlook makes them loath to invest.

And at least low rates are a safety net for the market even if missing or less than fulsome outlook statements show they can't do any more to lift profits.

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