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Pink Slips Coming to Wall Street, but Other Sectors May Avoid Layoffs, UBS Strategists Say

After years of downsizing, many larger companies are appropriately staffed; headcounts in line with future revenues. Based on a survey of industry sector analysts, more than half of companies in the S&P 500 index are not likely to reduce staff.

September 25, 2008
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Outside the financial sector, employment at large companies may hold up better than some expect, UBS strategists are suggesting.

Based on a survey of industry sector analysts at UBS, more than half of large companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index are not likely to reduce staff.

Companies in the energy, materials, nuclear utilities, engineering and construction sectors are even understaffed—and have aging workforces to boot. Thus, those businesses may need to hire people, UBS strategists including Thomas Doerflinger and David Bianco wrote Wednesday, September 24.

The strategists noted one important caveat: Employees of the S&P 500 companies make up only 13 percent of the American workforce, and smaller businesses may indeed be hurt by the credit crunch. Still, the strategists wrote, “to the extent analysts are correct … this is positive for profit margins because it implies companies do not have headcounts that are out of line with future revenues.”

The U.S. unemployment rate has been rising and hit 6.1 percent in August, and UBS economists expect it to reach 6.9 percent in the second quarter of next year. If unemployment were to go much higher, though, to the “harrowing highs” of 9 percent seen in the early 1970s and 10.8 percent from 1981 to 1982, they said, “this would depress GDP and severely compound the woes of the financial sector.”

Judging from the analysts’ responses to the survey, only larger companies in 15 industries—including financials, restaurants, autos, machinery, paper and tobacco—may have to downsize soon.

Other companies, those that analysts say have just the right number of employees, have already taken steps to trim the ranks. Home builders and airlines top that list.

Indeed, years of restructuring and downsizing by U.S. businesses may help mitigate unemployment during the latest economic downturn. “Corporate America is much leaner and meaner after 25 years of intense foreign competition,” Doerflinger and his associates wrote, citing higher productivity growth. That leanness is a “key difference from 1974 and 1982.”

Filed by Hillary Johnson of Financial Week, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.


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