These 12 Companies Put the Most People to Work

Walmart is the biggest employer, by far, with 2.2 million total employees.  Eileen Blass,
Walmart is the biggest employer, by far, with 2.2 million total employees. Eileen Blass,

If Labor Day is a celebration of the worker – these companies have lots to celebrate. But it turns out – so do investors.

There are 12 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, including retailer Walmart (WMT), restaurant McDonald’s (MCD) and grocery store Kroger (KR), which have 300,000 or more total employees – making them the largest employers, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Capital IQ. Data are through the company’s most recently reported annual results.

Here’s where things get even more interesting. Despite recent wage pressures this year – including hikes in minimum wages in several states – investors who bet on these big employers are actually beating the market. A custom equal-weighted index of the largest 12 employers is up 4.5% over the past year. That’s a surprisingly solid performance given that the Standard & Poor’s 500 is down 2.2% during that same time period.

The biggest stock market winner among the big employers is Kroger. The company, which counted 400,000 total employees in its most recent fiscal year – has seen its stock rocket nearly 35% over the past year. The company has been boosting its profit at a healthy clip – including a 15% jump in adjusted profit in the most recent quarter. Not bad for a mass-market grocery chain. And analysts expect adjusted profit to gain another 11% in the current fiscal year.

Walmart is the largest employer – by far – but it hasn’t been a stock market success as the other companies with large headcounts have been on average. Walmart counts total employees of 2.2 million – which is five times greater than the second largest employer, McDonald’s at 420,000. But the company’s struggles in reinvigorating growth is a challenge it hasn’t shown investors it can combat, yet. The stock is down 15% over the past year. Analysts expect the company’s adjusted profit to fall another 10.7% in the current fiscal year. The company has warned investors that higher labor costs are a concern.

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Source: USA Today | Matt Krantz

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