Retailers Offer Free College to Attract Workers
Target Follows the Trend
Target (TGT) is joining a growing list of national retailers which are offering college reimbursement to attract workers in a competitive labor market. Due to childcare issues brought on by the pandemic, concerns about the Delta variant, and other factors, retailers across the country are having difficulties attracting workers.
In response to these trends, companies like Walmart (WMT), Starbucks (SBUX), and Chipotle (CMG) are raising the minimum wage they pay and footing the bill for undergraduate and graduate degrees. Walmart, which is the biggest employer in the US, announced just last week that it will cover the cost for college tuition and books for all its full- and part-time US associates.
Target Partners With Over 40 Schools
Beginning this fall, Target said it will pick up the bill for tuition, fees, and textbooks for employees who choose to earn an undergraduate degree at over 40 participating colleges and universities. Target will pay up to $10,000 per year for employees pursuing a graduate degree at one of the qualifying institutions.
The benefit kicks in on the first day of employment. Target will cover the entire cost to earn a degree in 250 areas which align with the goals of the company. Target will pay up to $5,250 for undergraduate degrees outside of these areas. Target is investing $200 million in the program over the course of four years.
Some of the colleges and universities participating in Target’s program include University of Arizona, University of Denver, and a number of historically Black colleges and universities. Employees can choose courses to earn a high school diploma, prepare for college, take English learning classes, pursue a certificate, attend boot camps, and earn associate, undergraduate, and graduate degrees.
Target is not alone in using this strategy to attract employees. Constraints in the labor market are not expected to end any time soon. It will be interesting to see if offering free college will help these retailers attract the workforce they need.
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Yields Racing Lower
A Weekly Column With Liz Young
Every week, SoFi’s Head of Investment Strategy shares her economic and market insights in order to help empower readers to take a more active role in their financial futures. This week, see what Liz has to say about yields racing lower.
The Highest Low
At the end of July, the dividend yield on the S&P 500 sat at 1.33%, its lowest level since 2001. The US 10-year Treasury yield closed at 1.17% on August 4th, lower than the levels seen after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/2009. To revisit a concept from my last column about how investors should consider three objectives—preservation, income, and growth—when building a portfolio: those who are prioritizing income right now are left with a set of uninspiring options.
It’s All Relative
Investing success is frequently gauged by performance relative to a benchmark or an alternate option. If we put these yield readings in the context of “what’s the other option?,” we come away with perhaps a bit more inspiration.
As far as equities go, the S&P 500 may only be offering a 1.33% dividend yield, but since the market bottom on March 23, 2020, the index has kicked out a price return of 97%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq had a stronger price return at 115% over that same period, but its dividend yield is less than half that of the S&P 500 at 0.64%. The small-cap Russell 2000 Index offered a price return of 119% for the period, and has a current dividend yield of 1.11%.
In other words, even at 1.17%, the 10-year Treasury offers a higher yield than small-cap stocks with arguably much less risk.
Additionally, the Nasdaq has produced more price return than the S&P, but leaves much to be desired as far as income is concerned, compared to the S&P, the 10-year Treasury, and the Russell 2000.
The five largest names in the Nasdaq and the S&P are exactly the same. If you’re searching for exposure to those “big cap tech” names, you can get it in the S&P just as well as in the Nasdaq.
Bottom line: if an investor is focused on income, the S&P 500 wins compared to these options. If they are focused on growth potential, the S&P 500 still looks pretty attractive on a risk-adjusted basis compared to the other equity options.
Relatively speaking, a 1.33% dividend yield on the S&P 500 isn’t that bad.
But Where Does It Go From Here?
The long-term average dividend yield is roughly 1.99%, which may sound quite attractive at the moment. And if you believe that measures eventually revert closer to their long-term averages, you might expect it to rise from here and be excited by the prospect. However, one of the ways the dividend yield can rise is by a fall in the index (dividend yield = dividends / index level).
That’s not a great alternative. It helps to look at results on a “total return” basis (price return + income). Income is at historic lows, but price return has more than pulled its weight since last March. Let’s be careful what we wish for even if we’re income investors. I’d rather have dividend yields at this historically low level than experience a material drop in the index.
Airlines Bet on a Business Travel Rebound
Delta and Southwest Add Business Travel Flights
Delta (DAL) and Southwest (LUV) are among the airline operators gearing up for the return of business travelers this fall, despite an uptick in COVID-19 cases spurred on by the Delta variant of the virus. With consumer travel waning slightly, airlines are overhauling their routes to better accommodate business travelers in hopes they will finally return to the skies this fall.
Delta Air Lines is adding flights to New York, Boston, and other business hubs and reducing flights to popular vacation destinations. Southwest is also restoring some of its routes for business travelers and launching deals and discounts in September to keep vacation travel from declining.
Summer Vacation Travel Coming to an End Soon
Typically, vacation travel slows as summer comes to a close and business travel tends to pick up. Whether or not that trend plays out this year will be important for airline operators and their investors.
The airline industry relies on the corporate market for a large portion of their sales. Close to 2.24 million people went through security at US airports this past weekend—a new pandemic high. Airlines are hopeful that business travel will pick up when the summer vacation season ends. Despite the threat of the Delta variant, many industry leaders are optimistic this will happen. Airline operators say companies are beginning to spend on travel again, albeit slowly.
Delta Variant May Derail Plans
Though airlines are hopeful that corporate travel will tick up in the fall, the Delta variant of COVID-19 may hamper the rebound. Local governments and big companies are renewing mask requirements, even for vaccinated people.
These developments are leading some companies to rethink return-to-office plans. Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) are among the big companies delaying when workers are scheduled to go back to the office. Airlines are hopeful that business travel will recover in the fall, but it will depend on what unfolds with respect to the Delta variant.