On Friday, we will learn more about the health of the economy when the jobs report is released. Given the skittishness of investors, the market will be paying close attention to these important numbers. A double-dip recession appears to be the prediction du jour. Stocks are likely to trade lower if the number of new jobs created in August fails to impress.
The selling would be justified given the reliance of the economy on the consumer. A healthy job market is critical to the future growth of the economy. Not only will more workers result in more spending, but it also will pressure wages higher. We need jobs, plain and simple.
The job market also is critical to the success of businesses that cater to making the employment market work more efficiently. Everything from placement to networking depends on a strong job market to fuel profit growth. High unemployment has had a negative impact on many job market stocks. Some stocks are now so cheap as to be attractive buying opportunities. Others are to be avoided.
Depending on your view of the job market, you might want to consider these five stocks:
Before there was LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), there was Monster (NYSE:MWW). The online job application company is one of the few survivors of the dot-com bubble. Back in the day, Monster was known for spending wildly to build its business. Today, the company must be more judicious in how it allocates its marketing dollars.
Investors demand more, and Monster is attempting to deliver the goods, but high unemployment does not help matters. The stock was up more than 8% on Monday. Before that gain, shares were down nearly 70% since the start of the year.
From an operating perspective, the company is fighting hard to meet expectations. The company has beat analyst estimates in the past two quarters. For the current year, Monster is expected to make a profit of 43 cents per share. That number jumps 74% in the following year to 75 cents per share. Investors can buy the stock for just 18 times current-year earnings estimates. That seems like a reasonable risk irrespective of where employment goes from here.
The new kid on the block in the job market is LinkedIn. The social networking company has become a go-to site for any business executive or worker of any kind. It is a way to see and be seen. Whether the business model can profit on a consistent basis without infringement from competition remains to be seen.
As with all new things, stock market investors are absolutely giddy over the prospects for LinkedIn. When the stock went public, demand for shares greatly exceeded supply. The Wall Street game at its best helped LinkedIn raise capital while offering big gains for those with the good fortune of receiving shares on the offering. Those that had to buy in the open market might not be so fortunate.
LinkedIn shares have cooled a bit since the stampeding across the $100 threshold, but they still are pricey. Wall Street expects the company to make a very small profit in the current year and 32 cents per share in the following year. At current prices, LinkedIn trades for 264 times 2012 fiscal year earnings estimates. That is too steep regardless of where employment figures go from here.
Robert Half International
If LinkedIn does manage to do all it is hyped to do, one of the businesses that would be hurt by that success would be traditional placement firm Robert Half International (NYSE:RHI). I wouldn’t be concerned. In fact, think of LinkedIn as a tool that will help the placement workers at Robert Half fill positions for employers searching for workers.
I’d be more worried about high unemployment. Fewer jobs mean fewer contracts for Robert Half. No wonder shares of RHI have lost more than 30% since peaking earlier this year. The selling is mostly speculation. On an operating basis, the company has beaten estimates in each of the last four quarters.
For the current year, Wall Street is looking for the company to make $1.01 per share. In 2012, the estimate for profits is $1.53 per share. Investors can buy that 53% growth for just 23 times current-year estimates of earnings. If unemployment drops, it is likely the Wall Street estimates will be too small. This is one job stock investors can buy today.
One of the beneficiaries of high unemployment is the for-profit education industry. For workers looking to distinguish themselves in a competitive market, education can be the difference between having a job or not. Stocks in the sector have enjoyed significant gains as the job market struggles.
Those gains are smaller today since the July market correction began, but even so most stocks in the group are higher. Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL) is up approximately 35% since shares bottomed late last year. The stock is down 10% since July 22, taking some of the steam out of the valuation. Given that the market is expecting a double-dip recession, such a state would be good for Apollo in that unemployment will stay at current levels or higher.
At current prices, Apollo trades for less than 10 times current-year earnings estimates. If unemployment numbers disappoint, look for the stock to rally as earnings estimates are likely to increase. I’d be a buyer on this stock that will do well if the job market does poorly.
On the surface, one would think high unemployment would hurt a placement firm like Kelly Services (NASDAQ:KELYA), but digging a bit deeper, one might find opportunity. The job market is changing. Contract work is on the rise. Companies unwilling to commit to the long term prefer to go the temporary route. That trend should help a company like Kelly Services.
Investors are skeptical and currently are trading Kelly Services on the superficial expectation of lower revenue and profits due to persistently high unemployment. Shares are down 10% since July 22 but have gained 10% from the time the company reported operating results on Aug. 9 that beat analyst estimates by a whopping 23 cents per share.
Clearly, from an operational perspective, business is strong at Kelly Services — with or without high unemployment. For the full year, Kelly analysts expect the company to make a profit of $1.52 per share. In the following year, that number increases by 21%. Investors can buy that growth for just 10 times current-year estimates. That is dirt-cheap considering expected growth. From a valuation perspective, KELYA is a stock to own.
Jamie Dlugosch does not own any of the aforementioned stocks.