The Biggest Winners and Losers From the Work-From-Home Revolution - Kanebridge News
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The Biggest Winners and Losers From the Work-From-Home Revolution

Remote or hybrid work has become the new normal for millions of people. We are only just starting to see the impact.

By NICHOLAS BLOOM
Fri, Dec 15, 2023 11:23amGrey Clock 4 min

The fivefold increase in working from home ushered in by the pandemic is perhaps the largest change to hit U.S. labor markets since World War II. It has touched just about every manager in America, reshaped industries including real estate and business travel, and led to an exodus from city centres to the suburbs.

And working from home is here to stay—at least in a hybrid model where a commute to the office is limited to just a few days each week. Tracking detailed survey data, we see working-from-home levels were rapidly dropping from 2020 to 2022. But by early 2023 they stabilised and have remained flat ever since. Hybrid working has become the new normal for millions of professionals and managers across America.

So, it’s time to tally up the impact. Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, who are the biggest winners and losers from the work-from-home revolution?

Start with the losers

The biggest losers are likely city-centre office and retail property owners. The massive shift to home working has created a doughnut effect in major cities around the world. Millions of employees are no longer commuting every day, leaving many offices half-filled and retail stores struggling for customers. The owners of this real estate—often pension funds, family firms and endowments—have collectively lost hundreds of billions of dollars of investments.

In the long run, the sector will slowly recover as supply contracts. New construction has slowed, some empty buildings are slowly being converted to residential accommodation, and some lower-quality offices will be torn down. But recovery will take years to complete. Winter has come for the office sector. One forecast that a major leasing company shared with me was it would take until 2033 for occupancy to recover to pre pandemic levels in San Francisco—perhaps the hardest hit city.

Another loser has been mass-transit rail systems. Ridership has dropped by 30% nationally as commuters shift from a five-day commuting schedule to two or three days a week. These commuter rail systems have high fixed costs due to inflexible track and train costs, alongside rigid union-controlled labor expenses.

Large drops in ridership revenue translate into larger budget deficits. To date these deficits have been bailed out by pandemic-era federal and state subsidies. But the fear is unless public transit costs can be right-sized, once these subsidies run out they will see devastating service cuts or outright closure.

Growing up in Britain, I heard about the infamous Beeching cuts of the 1960s, which cut station numbers by 55% and devastated rail travel. I fear something similar happening to U.S. transit for 2024 and beyond unless operators and unions can align cost with revenues.

The third big loser has been big cities. American cities occupy surprisingly small spaces. For example, San Francisco is less than 50 square miles, comprising just the tip of a peninsula. So, when city-centre residents fled for the suburbs, they took their tax dollars with them.

As we know from the experience of New York in the 1970s, cities can adjust by cutting expenditures. But this will be painful and risks a hollowing out of city centres if key services like police and education are cut. Indeed, bond markets have already cut the prices of many city municipal bonds, providing an ominous signal of the budgetary struggles ahead.

But there are winners

It isn’t all gloomy, particularly for the biggest work-from-home winners: the workers. In national surveys, employees report they value the ability to work from home two or three days a week as much as an 8% pay increase. Multiplied across the roughly 70 million Americans who are currently working from home, this is a perk valued at roughly $500 billion a year. This vast dividend has benefited employees through less commuting and lower stress, alongside more personal, leisure and family time.

One recent study highlighted how the typical U.S. home-working employee spends 40 minutes more a week on child care from the time saved from avoiding the daily commute. This will have longer-run effects ranging from higher labor-force participation rates—possibly pushing up growth rates—to potentially even a fertility dividend as parenting becomes somewhat easier.

Another winner is the environment, thanks to reduced travel and energy needs. A recent study found working from home two days a week reduces pollution by about 15%. This comes from lower commuting emissions alongside additional savings from lower office energy bills. A double dividend is the reduced congestion on emptier roads, with traffic speed data from Inryx suggesting the morning commute is 10% faster.

And perhaps the biggest work-from-home winner are companies. Research finds that hybrid working three days a week in the office has a net neutral on employee productivity, while allowing firms to save on recruitment and retention costs. Firms can save money by trimming office expenses while using remote working to lower labour costs by hiring employees outside major cities.

U.S. firms made about $1 trillion higher profits in 2022 than in 2019, an increase of almost 50%. While many factors likely contributed to this, including the strong economic growth, it is notable this happened alongside the fivefold surge in working from home. Indeed, the mass adoption of hybrid working by millions of firms across the U.S. and Europe is perhaps the strongest evidence of its positive impact on profitability.

Looking further out, the biggest change will almost surely come from the new technologies we use to work remotely. When I first started working in the 1990s, working remotely meant conference calls and emailing files. Now we telecommute and share files on cloud networks.

The future likely heralds similarly large changes. In discussions with startups and tech firms, I hear about systems for holographic meetings, wall-size screens and global connectivity. This technology means working from home hasn’t just stabilised but is now moving into its longer-run phase of expansion. Ten years from now we will look back at 2023 as the beginning of the long bull market in hybrid working.

Nicholas Bloom is a professor of economics at Stanford University.



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To Find Winning Stocks, Investors Often Focus on the Laggards. They Shouldn’t.
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These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .