Earlier I mentioned that the financial crisis and Great Recession led to consolidation in the banking sector. That’s also true outside the banking sector. Over the past year, corporate mergers have returned with a vengeance, up 19%. While still below the heights of the bubble years, this tendency toward mergers and acquisitions has been the repository for all that excess cash corporations have been sitting on. Rather than channel it into investment and job creation, they’ve been using it to buy out competitors. This has actually reduced overall employment at the new merged companies.
Some corporate mergers this year have been shadowed by fears of layoffs.
Shareholders of United Airlines and Continental Airlines in September approved a merger between the two companies that would form the world’s biggest airline. Executives have hinted that there will be job cuts when the airlines combine operations but so far haven’t provided any numbers.
Abbott Laboratories announced in September it would cut 3 percent of its workforce, or 3,000 jobs, after its $6 billion purchase of Solvay’s pharmaceuticals division, an acquisition that closed in February. The company said it will close Solvay’s former U.S. headquarters for its pharmaceuticals unit in Marietta, Ga., by the end of next year.
And Oracle, after paying $7.4 billion to acquire Sun Microsystems, indicated in regulatory filings in June that it needed to spend more than expected on workers’ severance payments, between $550 million to $650 million, associated with the purchase. The company did not say how many jobs would be cut.
Another sidelight of this is that these merger deals typically get handled by investment banks, bringing more money to Wall Street.
If the economy rebounds in 2011 as some analysts predict, we can expect more spending on mergers and actual hiring, to meet increased demand. However, because these acquisitions are happening on a global scale, much of the hiring increase could flow overseas as well.
More than half of the 15,000 people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were outside the U.S. UPS is also hiring at a faster clip overseas. For both companies, sales in international markets are growing at least twice as fast as domestically.
The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8 percent last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.
But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute’s senior international economist.
Increasingly, multinational corporations create jobs in other countries to sell products to emerging markets like China and Brazil. They don’t see the same demand in America that they do in these other markets, and the worker talent level there is also high. With growth and hiring flowing overseas, it’s unclear where that leaves American workers.