It's been a bad year for the working man. Wages grew at a lower rate than inflation. Traditional defined-benefit pensions will soon be joining drive-in burger joints and mood rings in the dustbin of American cultural history. And former old-economy giants like GM
Things have been different, however, for the rapidly growing "new economy." Unstoppable, progressive outfits like Apple
This Sunday, though, things may be different. The Old Economy will be looking for a little bit of payback. Fittingly led by a former bowling enthusiast from Motown nicknamed "the Bus," the Pittsburgh Steelers (colors: black and gold) will be facing off against a team from the heartland of the New Economy: the Seattle Seahawks (colors: Pacific blue and neon green). This one is Alcoa and Motley Fool Income Investor pick Heinz (Pittsburgh) versus Starbucks and Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Amazon.com
I'll admit that the metaphor is a bit forced. It hasn't been all bad news lately for traditional industries. Fellow Fool Rob Aronen recently wrote about the revival of iron mines in the North Country of Minnesota, which has brought a long-awaited whiff of prosperity to the region. And steel companies like Nucor and U.S. Steel have been on an amazing run over the past six months or so. Meanwhile, one of the driving forces of the new economy, Motley Fool Inside Value pick Microsoft
While the new-versus-old division is probably overstated, there's no doubt that the American economy is undergoing a critical transformation right before our eyes. Where GM once provided its workers with high wages, defined-benefit pensions, and outstanding health-care plans, companies like Wal-Mart
So what does all of this mean for investors? I think it means that we need to be more discerning than ever when analyzing companies. Interested in investing in an old economy stalwart like Alcoa? Then you should be looking at the notes to its financial statements to determine the size of its pension obligation. You prefer a hipper, more progressive company like Peet's Coffee
The irony is this: In our rapidly changing times that are crammed full of every conceivable gadget to make our lives easier, we need to take more time with our research rather than less. Jim Cramer is obviously a fine analyst and an even better entertainer, but he offers a dangerous example to investors when he makes snap judgments on companies without explaining some of the finer details. Investing in a company without looking at the financial statements is like jumping out of a plane without checking whether the parachute has been properly packed, only less dangerous.
Just because our economy is in the grips of a significant transformation, that doesn't mean you can't profit from traditional manufacturing companies. You'll just need to pay considerable attention to labor costs, pension, and health-care obligations, as well as long-term debt loads. This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will show the world that the so-called old economy has some life in it yet. A good rule gained from the past two Super Bowls is this: Go with the team that was able to give Peyton Manning fits. My Foolish prediction: Steelers 30, Seahawks 17.
For more Foolishness:
Heinz is an Income Investor pick. Amazon is a Stock Advisor pick. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Try a 30-day free trial subscription to the newsletter that best fits your investing style.
John Reeves owns shares in Alcoa. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.