Flipping through a back issue of BusinessWeek, I happened upon a blurb about a T-shirt being sold by J.C. Penney
As it turns out, the T-shirt was not American made -- it was made by our neighbors in Mexico.
Begin the finger-wagging
An opportunity like this was too good to be passed up by those with a vested political interest. The issue was originally brought to the attention of the Alliance for American Manufacturing by a retired clothing manufacturer in Texas, but then quickly taken up by folks like the AFL-CIO.
J.C. Penney asserted that the issue was a misunderstanding -- the slogan on the shirt referred to the wearer of the shirt, not the shirt itself. I guess I had no idea about the level of nuance involved in T-shirt slogans these days.
Now take that finger somewhere else
There are plenty of places you can go to discuss the political implications of something like this. This isn't one of them. It's not that we don't care, it's just that we care more about what this means for your portfolio.
The struggles of American textiles and manufacturing are nothing new. In fact, even the great Warren Buffett had to learn the hard way how cutthroat that world is.
Though Berkshire Hathaway
Eventually, Buffett gave up on Berkshire's textiles and focused on buying other companies that did have a competitive and lasting business model. These were businesses like See's Candies, GEICO Insurance, and Nebraska Furniture Mart -- not to mention major holdings of stocks like Coca-Cola
Go with the flow
Supporters of American manufacturing will no doubt decry the advice I'm about to give, but investors will be best served seeking out companies that either cannot be outsourced -- you can't outsource a restaurant like Buffalo Wild Wings
I certainly don't relish the fact that there are folks around the country being hurt by the changing economic landscape. However, change is a force that's not easily stopped, and our overall economy will benefit more from embracing and harnessing the change than from fighting it tooth and nail.
Take the case of Apple
The manufacturing of the iPod, on the other hand, which simply brings together the higher-level technology and design, can be done effectively and cheaply through a manufacturing partner in China.
Combine those two parts and what you end up with is a thriving company that can hire more Americans to do high-level things like research and development, sell quality products at very reasonable prices, and deliver great results for its investors.
Made right here on Earth
Regardless of what J.C. Penney says, the hypocrisy of selling a Mexican-made shirt that says "Made in America" is not lost on me. However, I don't think that investors can afford to be quite so picky about how a company chooses to take advantage of the global marketplace.
My fellow Fool Todd Wenning put pen to (digital) paper yesterday, urging that investors start buying American again -- that is, stocks of American companies. I agree 100% with Todd, but also believe that investors will be best served by showing preference to companies that are leveraging the competitive advantages of other countries to become even more efficient and profitable themselves.
Speech is free in this country, so let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Don't stop here! Be sure to also check out:
Apple and Berkshire Hathaway are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. American Express, Berkshire Hathaway, and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Buffalo Wild Wings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. The Fool owns shares of American Express, Berkshire Hathaway, and Buffalo Wild Wings.
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, American Express, and Coca-Cola, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy would like to see what an outsourced restaurant would look like.