Financial markets have been reeling as investors grow more concerned about the economy: An S&P downgrade of the full faith and credit of the United States, dismal GDP data, and ongoing weak employment data trends are just some of the issues contributing to the recent turmoil. What has so far received very little attention in 2011 are the incidents of corporate layoff announcements, especially this summer.
The announcements are almost always tied to restructuring of companies, but you can’t have that many big companies simultaneously hiding behind this excuse. What is obvious as a sore thumb is that the weak economy is continuing to hurt business fundamentals, forcing companies to pare down their head counts. Economists also know that there is a difference between furloughs and layoffs. Layoffs generally imply that businesses are anticipating a longer period of slowness. When you see this many layoffs at this many companies at once, the obvious answer is that a system wide weakness is not just present — it is building.
This trend comes at a time when corporate balance sheets are stronger than ever, with many buying back stock and increasing dividends. Interest rates are close to record lows again. The gridlock over the debt ceiling and budget deficits further motivated companies to sit back and not hire. The growing sense is that the new round of layoffs at the major companies may be followed by more layoffs at rival companies.
How long can that last if the economy keeps sliding? From Borders to Research In Motion, to Cisco, pharmaceutical companies, banks, and Wall Street firms — all are getting pushed out the door. Meanwhile, economic indicators are getting worse rather than better. If the numbers get any softer, don’t be surprised by more layoff announcements. At a minimum, this will keep the larger corporate employers from having to make new hires.
The Layoff Kings of 2011
Borders Group is now bankrupt and the last of the workers are solely conducting store-closure sales. All stores were being closed, and more than 10,000 workers are wondering if they can get a job at a library or another book store. While particularly in Borders’ case, the shift to digital may be partly to blame, along with with poor management, but the economy is certainly also playing its part in curbing consumer purchases.
Boston Scientific Inc. (NYSE: BSX) announced plans in July to trim an additional 5% to 6% of its workforce. This puts the layoffs between 1,200 to 1,400 employees through the end of 2013. The aim is to cut $225 million to $275 million from the yearly operating costs. Sadly, this is at the same time the company is expanding its China workforce.
Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) has recently announced it would lay off 6,500 employees, or 9% of its full-time workforce. The company aims to trim about $1 billion from its operating costs. But some question whether this is enough, so this number could increase. Consequently, news outlets have claimed that as many as 10,000 layoffs will be announced. This “rebalance” is going to be somewhat system wide and affect many management positions, including about 2,100 who accepted early retirement packages.
Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) is not imminently sending its workers home packing, but it announced in late July that about 2,000 workers — out of its more than 80,000 workers — have accepted voluntary buyouts as the carrier trims flights. Whether the latest drop in fuel matters or not is up in the air (no pun intended).