It has long been believed that traders on Wall Street are thrilled when a company announces a round of job cuts. However, a recent study conducted by Bank of America challenges this notion. According to research led by Savita Subramanian, analysts examined earnings transcripts of various companies to gauge the effect of the word "layoff" on investor sentiment. Surprisingly, the study revealed that the more a company mentions layoffs during their earnings call, the worse their returns tend to be relative to their industry group.
For instance, a company that mentioned the word "layoff" ten times during their call experienced a daily underperformance of 1.7% compared to their industry peers. Interestingly, the decline in performance was most pronounced on the seventh mention of layoffs. This finding suggests that investors may have concerns about the prospects and stability of companies that heavily focus on job cuts.
However, it's worth noting that Wall Street does favor companies with fewer employees relative to their sales. Bank of America's research found that labor-light companies tend to outperform their more labor-intensive counterparts based on an analysis of employees-to-sales ratios.
While mentions of layoffs have been increasing, particularly in the financial sector, experts attribute this trend to seasonality rather than a significant shift in corporate downsizing. Furthermore, the magnitude of layoffs mentioned is much smaller than what was observed in previous years.
Looking ahead, Bank of America strategists predict an upcoming earnings upcycle in 2024. As a result, they believe that the peak corporate layoff cycle has likely already passed. The job market remains strong and robust despite these fluctuations.
It's important to note that the S&P 500 index has experienced significant growth over the past 52 weeks, with a 21% increase and reaching a new record high as of Friday.
In conclusion, while job cuts might appear enticing to traders on Wall Street, the research conducted by Bank of America indicates that repeated mentions of layoffs during earnings calls can negatively impact a company's returns. The preference for labor-light companies also highlights the importance of balancing workforce productivity with investor sentiment.