KFY: Global Unemployment Shoe Drops

Includes: AGG, DIA, HSII, KFY, SPY
by: Judy Weil

Korn/Ferry International (NYSE:KFY) is an executive recruitment firm, with global offices in 39 countries. Probably a good place to learn firsthand about global employment trends. From its FQ209 conference call:

Only a few weeks ago we were producing 50% more revenue with 20% fewer employees than at the last cycle. Unfortunately, however, we’re having to eliminate 15% of our global employee base, approximately 400 individuals.

In Korn/Ferry’s history prior to this there’s been five recessionary periods. In four of them the business was down about 8% or 9% and then rebounded 20+%. The last recession the business absolutely fell off and plummeted 60% or so over the course of several months. Over the last really four or five weeks, and I’m sure you see this, businesses have just stopped. They have curtailed spending and very much had an inward focus.

Q: And then November, how far are you down year-on-year?

A: Year-on-year it’s pretty drastic. You’re in the 40% to 45% range.

Q: Is it that multinationals are not creating new positions and is there some kind of multiplier effect where if the new product manager isn’t established in Shanghai, then the person who was going to take that job doesn’t need to leave their job and create a vacancy and kind of the ripple effect that those growth positions create or is it simply not replacement and performance-based changes that you’re seeing?

A: In the last four weeks I’ve been in Mumbai, Delhi, Tokyo, New York twice. You can go to your local grocery store; you can go to your local car dealer... You’ve got companies now that have curtailed spending, have curtailed CapEx, have indiscriminately started to let go of staff, you’ve got that vicious cycle right now. It’s really across the board.

Net new borrowings in the US in either companies or households have decreased by 2/3, by $1.4 trillion over the last year. If that trend continues, if you have $2 trillion to $4 trillion of contraction over the next two years, you’re looking at 300 to 700 bips off trend GDP.

Latin America and Asia were doing relatively well until now:

Q: Asia and Lat Am are the weakest in terms of year-on-year declines. Is that surprising to you given that the epicenter of the crisis has been in North America?

A: I think over the last five weeks you have to think of the world differently… We live in an interdependent world and from Iowa to Iceland to Spain to Shanghai the world is indeed flat. Consumer spending in the United States is three times the Chinese economy... Over the last few weeks, the speed and severity of companies really looking inward has been dramatic

[In] the Asia Pacific region, sequentially there was a pretty dramatic decline in financial services as you might expect. It’s held up fairly well for us in that region till now and you’re really starting to see the effect of the deteriorating financial services market there.

Q: Within the geographies of China and India, what are you seeing outside of financial services in terms of demand? ...Is it more of a sense of [temporary] shock… or are you getting the sense from some of your clients that things are materially different and will continue to be different for some protracted period of time?

A: Whether it is Shanghai and Beijing or Mumbai and Delhi, it is fairly broad based. There is obviously some positive news in terms of education and life sciences and health care.

You’ve got the holiday period around the world… through the end of December. We have a lot of activity, a lot of proposal activity… Even though our workforce is extremely positive and hopeful about the level of new business in January, it’s hard to determine what is going to happen in January. Clearly there’s a seasonal piece of this but it’s much more profound than just that.