profitless prosperity
n. A form of economic growth in which businesses make little or no profit.

Example Citation:
"While it is clear that the US economy is recovering, there is a real danger that this could all be a profitless prosperity — in other words, with the economy moving, but no one really making money on it," says Larry Wachtel, a market commentator for investment house Prudential Securities.

Without question, "profitless prosperity" — a new buzzword on Wall Street — would quickly curb the grazing territory of the baby bull.
—Guy Halverson, "Git along, little dogie!," The Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 2002

Earliest Citation:
Alcoa pres W H K George says on Oct 24 that price controls are blocking 'proper return on enormous invested capital' of aluminum indus, opening session of conv of Aluminum Assn, of which he is pres; says that during this period of 'profitless prosperity' indus cannot generate sufficient return on investment to build new facilities necessary to meet growing customer demand.
—Abstract, The New York Times, October 25, 1973

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