According to the Labor Department, there were 5.8 million job openings a few months ago, matching the all-time high set in July 2015. That’s an encouraging sign. Whenever a company puts out a “Help Wanted” ad, it sends a signal that business is good.
Of course, job creation also puts more disposable income in the hands of consumers, which account for two-thirds of the nation’s GDP. So I like the fact that HR departments are busy conducting interviews to fill positions.
But let’s face it, salaries can also be a big financial drain on a business. The average entry-level accountant earns $48,000 a year. A new recruit for the marketing department will run $45,000. And a new computer hardware engineer will make $66,000.
These are median national figures, with salaries escalating in certain regions and for those with more experience on their resume. And let’s not forget about healthcare, pensions, payroll taxes and bonuses.
Some large companies have tens of thousands of workers on the payrolls, the equivalent of a small city. So you can see how labor is typically one of the biggest expenses chipping away at profit margins. Don’t get me wrong, any organization is only as good as its people. Still, it’s important to best utilize the workforce.
You’ll commonly find wages grouped with rent, utilities and other operating overhead on the selling, general and administrative (SG&A) line. As investors, we understand the importance of this expenditure, but ideally want to see it stable or declining over time as a percentage of sales.
National retail chain Target Corporation (TGT) spent $14.7 billion on SG&A last year, or 20 cents from every dollar of sales. That’s an improvement from the prior year when SG&A ate up 21% of sales. It’s also in line with rival Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) which commits 20% of sales to this particular category.
Such ratios vary from industry to industry, so be careful not to compare a retailer with, say, a healthcare provider. But regardless of the business, management is always under pressure to keep these expenses as thin as possible.
That’s where employee productivity comes in.
Were you responsible for bringing in over a half-million dollars in revenue to your employer last year? If not, then you may have spent too much time on social media sites or checking your fantasy league team.
I’m only joking. But in all seriousness, the average employee at an S&P 500 firm accounts for $795,000 in yearly revenue, according to S&P Capital IQ.
Some companies do much better…
Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD) has a relatively small workforce of 7,000 personnel. Yet, the biotech giant brings in $32 billion in annual sales — or $4.5 million per worker. Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) is raking in $2.0 million per employee, and Apple Inc. (AAPL) is getting $3.3 million.
These businesses are getting a lot of bang for their buck when it comes to optimizing labor expenses. And it’s no coincidence that they have also been among the market’s biggest winners over the past decade.
I’m a big fan of efficiency, whether it involves getting the most out of each employee or earning the most from each dollar of deployed capital. Anytime a company can do more with less, it gets my attention.
Suppose Manufacturer ABC generates $500,000 in sales per worker and Manufacturer XYZ can only manage $400,000. Then XYZ would need 1.25 workers to reach the same level of sales as one worker at ABC. From another perspective, ABC only needs 0.8 workers to match one worker at XYZ.
In the real world, these companies could be making very different products that sell for very different prices. Still, all things equal, I would have to give the edge to the business that can squeeze more revenues from each worker.
That’s part of the reason why I love a company like Royal Gold, Inc. (USA) (RGLD). The precious metals company has a tiny staff of just 19 employees, yet generates $350 million in annual sales ($19 million per worker). By itself, that productivity isn’t necessarily a reason to buy (especially when gold prices are falling), but it’s a very attractive attribute nonetheless. With fewer paychecks to hand out, the company has been able to raise dividends for 15 consecutive years.
With all this in mind, the table below highlights several standouts that haul in anywhere from $3 million to as much as $17 million per employee.
And as you can see, that leaves plenty of cash on the table for above-average dividends.
As with any metric, you shouldn’t look at revenues-per-employee in isolation, but rather in conjunction with other factors. If for no other reason, it tells us nothing about the bottom line. After all, revenues don’t always translate into profits.
This screen turned up several dozen potential candidates, most of which were concentrated among names in the energy (both upstream production and downstream refining), real estate, and business development company (BDC) sectors.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I currently own three of these stocks in my High-Yield Investing portfolio. That’s what you get when you constantly analyze the market from every possible angle to find the world’s best high-yielding investments.
The companies listed in the table above are definitely a good starting point for research, but if you’d like to get the names and ticker symbols of my absolute favorite high-yield investments, then I invite you to click here.
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