September is an exciting time for business. Back-to-school sales promise a boost in revenue, and tech companies are busy unveiling their newest gadgets for the upcoming holiday season. But none of this means anything if people are out of a job with no money to spend. Let's look at a few macroeconomic indicators and companies to see whether the average Joe is ready to spend some money this fall.
Are consumers comfortable?
"Severe economic discontent" is the phrase of the week -- and all of last month. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index measures consumers' opinions of the American economy, their personal finances, and the general buying atmosphere.
Personal finances continues to pull the index lower, even as Americans consider the U.S. economy and buying climate to have improved slightly since last week. It's no surprise that all indicators remain solidly in the red, considering consumers haven't responded with net positive sentiments since 2007.
If Joe's not workin', Joe's not buyin'. Jobless claims for this week fell to 365,000, a four-week low that tells an opposing story to the Consumer Comfort Index. New claims fell by 12,000, but continuing claims are still hovering around 3.32 million.
The ADP Employment Report reveals that most of the new jobs came in the retail and service sectors -- industries known for their fickle temperament. Joes finding themselves employed in these sectors most likely aren't getting paid much and could be laid off when sales cool off again before the Christmas rush. Average hourly earnings growth dropped to 0.1% last month, compared with 0.3% growth in July.
Productivity and costs
As we've seen with the Great Recession, economic recovery is not synonymous with job growth. A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals one potential reason why: In the last year, labor productivity has increased by 2.2%. Simply put, 98 workers can now do what it took 100 workers to do in 2011. So who (or what) is doing the work of those two employees?
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , a company already lauded for its logistics, bought Kiva Systems earlier this year to add robotic arms to its shipping centers. Amazon expects to improve its productivity by 300% to 400% in the coming years. The company will also add Walgreen (NYSE: WAG ) and Staples (Nasdaq: SPLS ) to its list of customers, since these corporations employ Kiva robots in their warehouses.
While Amazon might not be doling out jobs, it is creating a more efficient business that will make goods cheaper for the average consumer. Some companies, however, are struggling with efficiency and laying off employees around the nation.
In July, struggling Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) laid off 2,800 workers in a restructuring effort to save its big-box retail model. The electronics company has also closed 50 stores in an effort to cut costs by $800 million.
RadioShack (NYSE: RSH ) began layoffs at its corporate headquarters this month, where it previously employed around 1,200 employees. Both RadioShack and Best Buy are direct competitors with Amazon, but their physical-store model might not make it through the recession. Take a gander at each company's sales per employee to see just how badly Amazon trounces its electronics opponents:
|Best Buy||167,000||$50 billion||$297,886|
While these numbers aren't directly correlated with each company's efficiency, it gives investors an insider perspective on how a larger workforce is not a guaranteed ticket to more sales.
Keep an eye on Joe
In summary: Joe has a temporary job and is feeling better about the economy, but he's concerned with his financial position and isn't going on a shopping spree anytime soon. Companies recognize the value of Joe, either as a value-adding employee or as a buyer of their more efficient goods. Understanding where Joe fits into the economic recovery adds nuance to any investor's stock decisions, so be sure to keep track of his progress and make your picks accordingly.
If you think Amazon employing robots is innovative, this online retail company is just getting started. And speaking of Joe, Motley Fool Analyst Joe Magyer has prepared a special premium report outlining how Amazon can offer Joe the cheapest goods on the market and whether its business model is built to last. It comes with a full year of free updates and is available for a limited time only, so grab your copy today.