The Recovery Has Stalled, but the Technochasm Has Not

According to the Federal Reserve, all is good … including the prospect of rising inflation.

A detail shot of the Federal Reserve building.

Source: Shutterstock

“I am encouraged to see the rise in market indicators of inflation expectations,” Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin told Reuters last week. “That is what we are trying to support.”

“The ingredients for higher inflation are in place,” St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said to another reporter last week. “You have very powerful fiscal policy in place and perhaps more to come.”

While inflation sounds bad to our ears at first blanche — it means paying more for your groceries, after all — what the Fed is trying to avoid here is a sinking economy and deflation.

So far, so good. No economic black holes or deflationary abysses.

From 30,000 feet, the U.S. economy looks pretty good.

But what about the ground-level view?

In December, we lost around 140,000 jobs. While it’s the first time we’ve lost jobs since April, it’s the sixth straight month in which hiring is down from the previous month.

In other words, the recovery that began in mid-March may be stalling.

The U.S. economy lost 22 million jobs early this year. Here’s what that looked like.

Since then, we’ve regained only about half of that back. Unemployment remains stuck at around 6.7%.

With the coronavirus making yet another surge, unemployment could rise once again. If that happens, we could be looking at a second COVID-era recession.

When you look at the Fed’s optimism and the stalled-out recovery side by side, what you’re looking at is a gap … a wealth gap.

Those who can use technology to work from home — and folks invested in such high-tech companies — are mostly doing fine. Meanwhile, most other folks are just getting by or slipping behind.

So today, let’s take a look at how the pandemic and its accompanying recession(s) affect some Americans more than others.

And at how you can make sure you stay on the right side of that gap …

An Unusual Jobs Report

That December report says that most of the job losses were among low-income workers and heavily concentrated in the service and tourism and hospitality sectors.

According to research from economists at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and Georgetown University, employment among the lowest-paid one-quarter of Americans has sunk nearly 12% since February 2020. But among the highest-paid quarter, employment has declined just 3.5%.

Nearly 500,000 people who work at restaurants and bars, theaters, hotels, casinos, and hair and nail salons lost their jobs in the period studied in December. State and local governments and schools and universities also cut jobs.

That’s unusual.

Typically in a recession, layoffs strike a broad array of industries — both those that employ higher- and middle-income workers and those with lower-paid staff — as anxious consumers slash spending.

Instead, much of the rest of the economy is healing, if slowly and fitfully. Factories are cranking out goods and have added jobs every month since May. Home sales have soared, fueled by affluent people able to work from home who are looking for more space. That trend has, in turn, bolstered higher-paying jobs in banking, insurance and real estate.

According to the December jobs report, construction gained 51,000 jobs, financial services 12,000, and transportation and warehousing companies nearly 47,000.

However, COVID-19 showed us that some 42 million Americans possess no techno-centric safety net. They cannot simply convert their bartending job, for example, into telecommute mode and serve virtual drinks until cyber-closing time. There is no need for theater ushers and concession stand workers when no one is at the theater.

Once the COVID-19 epidemic struck, nearly every industry or profession that involved direct human interaction found itself face to face with a shutdown order … and zero revenues.

Meanwhile, every individual who could shift to some sort of work-from-home lifestyle did so. Quite obviously, the types of businesses and professions that can operate out of a home office tend to be more technology-based than those that can’t.

Our economy will always feature a wide array of enterprises — some of which require intense human interaction, and some of which require no interaction whatsoever.

A restaurant will always be a restaurant. It can’t ever be a video game. A music festival will always be a music festival — never an iPhone app.

In other words, the Technochasm does not imply that any one profession or industry is better than another.

It merely highlights the vulnerability of non-tech-based professions and industries, relative to their tech-enabled counterparts.

And the reason why so much of the “smart money” invests in those tech-based industries …

“Old School” Success With “New School” Tools

Of course, a lot of this will turn around once the COVID vaccine is distributed and our economy returns to normal … probably later this fall.

However, the virus is transforming consumer spending habits.

Many of us are cooking more at home instead of going out to restaurants … and we’re having those groceries delivered. We’re moving our money from banks to fintech accounts. We’re reducing business travel. We’re seeing our doctors online.

Some of these habits will stick around even after the economy has regained its footing. That trend will likely further widen the economic inequalities that have left millions of Americans unemployed.

While Fortune 500 tech companies are doing great, thousands of small businesses are closing their doors forever.

All that is the Technochasm.

Yet, even while all this is happening, many tech-savvy companies are growing fast.

For example, even though the coronavirus pandemic dealt a setback to the physical retail operations of Nike Inc. (NYSE:NKE) and Lululemon Athletica Inc. (NASDAQ:LULU), the shares of all three retailers are now trading at or near all-time highs.

That’s because each of these companies has developed robust direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales channels that generated strong sales through the worst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Nike’s DTC division, Nike Direct, produced more than a third of the company’s global sales last year. And Nike expects to boost DTC sales by at least 50% over the next two years. Its stock has soared 42% over the last 12 months and is trading within a whisker of its all-time high.

Lululemon may be the poster child of DTC know-how. It was one of the first major retailers to emphasize online sales in conjunction with a network of physical stores. The company has created a vibrant DTC sales and is reaping the rewards of that forward-looking strategy.

DTC sales account for more than half of the company’s revenue. Its stock has soared nearly 50% over the last year.

For perspective, the S&P 500 Index is up just 17% over the past year.

You see, no matter how “old school” an industry might be, companies within that industry can still put themselves on the winning side of the Technochasm, simply by applying technology intelligently.

We are seeing firsthand just how essential technological prowess has become for most companies. The Technochasm is gaining strength, and as it sweeps through the global economy, it will continue to reward technologically savvy companies.

And it will visit destruction on those that are slow to adapt.

That’s why I put together theTechnochasm Summit … to highlight a select group of small, fast-growing tech companies with exceptional growth potential.

One of the most important things you must remember is that disruptions almost always happen from the outside. It’s rarely the big, established companies that disrupt entire industries — and make people rich, in a very short amount of time.

That’s why during that summit I featured small, disruptive companies that are operating in a variety of industries.

You can check it out here.

On the date of publication, Eric Fry did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.

Eric Fry is an award-winning stock picker with numerous “10-bagger” calls — in good markets AND bad. How? By finding potent global megatrends … before they take off. And when it comes to bear markets, you’ll want to have his “blueprint” in hand before stocks go south.

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