It’s become conventional wisdom that the U.S. labor market has an awful lot of embedded slack. Wage growth remains anemic, and millions of Americans are still looking for work, fully six years after the last recession ended.
But the conventional wisdom is wrong. For employees with the right set of skills (and typically a college degree), we have already reached what economists call “full employment.” That was the message that Stanley Fischer, the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, noted in a round of interviews with Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal , and others in early August.
Indeed the job market is far tighter than many might think. The Federal Reserve has found that over long periods, roughly 2.0% of college grads are without work, on average, at any given time. By their measure, that figure is closer to 1.0% right now, indicating a current adjusted unemployment rate in negative territory.
Here’s the remarkable thing about the current employment picture: The construction industry, which is heavily dependent on the housing sector, remains weak, but is finally getting stronger as housing starts begin to build steam.
Housing starts have been very strong recently, hitting an almost eight-year high in July.
New home construction jobs are typically well-paying, and are bound to pull workers from factory jobs back to construction sites.
Even among 16-19 year-olds, which are most affected by labor market slack, the trend is rapidly improving. This group saw unemployment rates spike above 25% in 2009 and 2010, but the current rate stands at 17.5%, just two percentage points above the levels seen during the 2000’s, when the economy was at full steam.
The key takeaway: a tight job market is about to get even tighter. And that should lead to a significant amount of job-hopping, forcing employers to fill positions as vacancies are created.
Writing in the July 20, 2015 issue of StreetAuthority’s High-Yield Investing , my colleague Nathan Slaughter noted that “there are currently 5.4 million job openings nationally. That represents one available position for every 2 job hunters, a sharp improvement from the depths of the recession, when there were nearly 7 candidates for every one job opening.”
In his newsletter, Nathan recommended shares of a real estate investment trust (REIT) that should benefit from a fuller employment picture. This REIT currently sports a 4.9% dividend yield.
I have two favorite staffing stocks that I would add to the mix. In terms of web-based employment sites, I remain a big fan of Monster.com (NYSE: MWW ). I compared this stock to the much more popular investment — LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD ) — roughly 18 months ago and concluded that a “stunningly large valuation gap that remains between these two companies means much greater potential upside exists with the underdog (Monster) and not the top dog (LinkedIn).”
While it took a while for investors to take note of how cheap this stock is, Monster.com is finally getting attention, with shares rising roughly 70% this year. Yet this stock is still quite inexpensive. For example, the enterprise value-to-revenue figure stands at 1.15, which is quite low for a dot.com stock. For LinkedIn, that multiple stands at 8.90.
This stock is also timely: Monster.com has beaten profit forecasts for two straight quarters, and forward estimates continue to rise. As I have noted in the past, companies that begin to exceed forecasts tend to do so for an extended period, as analysts are slow to catch on.
I’m also a fan of Kelly Services, Inc. (Nasdaq: KELYA ), which focuses on temporary staffing and full-time placement services in a range of highly-skilled trade positions. This is a deep value stock: tangible shareholder’s equity of $754 million greatly exceeds the market value of $557 million. Shares also hold appeal in the context of earnings as well, trading at around 12 times projected 2016 profits, roughly 80% of the broader market multiple.
Risks to Consider: The surging dollar, coupled with a slowdown in key emerging markets like Brazil and China, is creating a tough environment for exporters, which may dampen hiring trends .
Action to Take: Although wage gains have been limited in recent years, a tightening employment picture is likely to lead employers to raise salaries — to retain existing employees and attract new ones. That should lead many consumers to feel out the job scene for new prospects, which should lead to rising demand for headhunters, bolstering these stocks.
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