Corporate profits are booming. Biden wants that to be a campaign issue.

New government data shows corporate profits rose to an all-time high at the end of 2023, providing new ammunition for Democrats who want to refocus voter anger about price increases toward Wall Street.

The broadest measure released Thursday by the Commerce Department found corporate profits rose $133.5 billion in the fourth quarter to an annualized rate of more than $3.4 trillion, for the first time ever.

President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies did not hesitate to link the new numbers to corporate “profiteering” as they tried to make that subject into a top-tier campaign issue.

Within hours of Thursday’s release, Biden’s top economic adviser Lael Brainard promised that “with corporate profits still elevated, President Biden will continue to call on companies to pass their savings on to consumers.”

Others on the left were more blunt. Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Yahoo Finance in a statement Thursday that “giant corporations are fueling nearly half of all inflation by playing tricks on the American people.”

A recent report from a left-leaning group called Groundwork Collaborative, which is associated with the Massachusetts Senator, calculated that corporate profits drove 53% of inflation from April to September 2023.

Profit margins in 2023 are down slightly from their post-pandemic peak but they have spent recent years at persistently high levels not seen since an economic boom that followed World War II.

In the fourth quarter, non-financial profit margins did jump to end the year to a rate of 15.12%.

A charge that companies ‘pad their profits’

In his recent State of the Union address, President Biden took time to focus on the issue, saying “look, too many corporations are raising prices to pad their profits, charging more and more for less and less” as he made his case for new efforts from Washington around issues like “shrinkflation” and price gouging.

Biden actions are “powerfully important to hold these companies accountable and keep prices low for working people,” said Sen. Warren, who has emerged as a vocal advocate for Biden’s re-election efforts.

Biden’s entire tenure in office has coincided with a boom time for corporate profits by almost all measures. Various measures of corporate profits and profit margins all show a post-COVID surge in profits that has largely continued throughout his term.

The President and his allies appear to be making some headway getting attention for the issue, with a Financial Times-Michigan Ross online poll earlier this month serving as just one example of growing public antipathy to corporations.

The survey found 63% of survey respondents willing to blame price increases on “large corporations taking advantage of inflation,” a figure that was an increase from 54% seen last November. 38% of respondents, meanwhile, were willing to put some of the blame on “Democratic policies” this month.

Watch for Democratic-aligned groups to return to corporate profits even more than usual after Thursday’s news with a group called More Perfect Union previewing the message in a post: “when we say inflation is corporate greed, we mean it.”

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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