Improving Economy to Support Business Services Stocks

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Stocks in the Business Services sector have been strong performers of late, reflecting the group’s favorable fundamentals, which we have listed below. This should give readers a good sense of the factors, expected to help these stocks over the near- to medium-term.

Labor Intensive: The sector, which offers intangible products, has immense employment opportunities as it requires both skilled and unskilled labor for its smooth functioning.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in December was 4.1% with non-farm payroll employment increasing nearly 0.1 million in the month. Unemployment was 4.1% for three straight months. Jobs were added in health care, construction and manufacturing sectors. Unemployment decreased 60 basis points since December 2016. The professional and business service industry added 0.02 million jobs in December.

In 2017 payroll employment grew 2.1 million versus growth of 2.2 million a year ago.

Ushering in more good news for the sector, President Trump has hinted at creating more domestic employment. Trump had shown his discontent about moving jobs outside the United States during the election campaign. He said, “I just want to let all of the other companies know that we’re going to do great things for business. There’s no reason for them to leave anymore.”

Per the Federal Reserve, unemployment is expected to be 3.9% in 2018 and 2019.

Business reports indicate that the two most populated countries, China and India, are together expected to create 300 million placements in the global job market by 2030.

Asset-Light Business Model : By virtue of the nature of its operations, these companies provide services instead of products to others. This, in turn, frees them from producing goods that would otherwise need manufacturing facilities. As a result, business services do not have inventory or stock and thus, do not have to bear costs for such items.

Moreover, services can be tailor-made for any situation. This is not possible or feasible for something tangible.

Global Reach: Companies can reach consumers or prospective buyers across the world when Advertising & Market Services and Direct Marketers act on behalf of such firms in informing consumers about new products or added features in existing products. Thus, these service providers help in widening a company’s customer base and maintaining a better retention ratio alongside opening the door to international trade.

A key development in this regard has been noticed in the banking space. Online banking for transfer and collection of money from anywhere in the world, mobile money transfer and ATMs are fast gaining traction. The Western Union Company (WU) and MoneyGram International Inc. (MGI) are among those that continuously offer cutting-edge services via electronic channels to ensure smooth fund transfers. Fund transferors are also forming alliances with banks and mobile operators to launch their services.

Mobile payment is gaining popularity owing to its convenience and round-the-clock accessibility. We expect this channel will see a faster adoption rate than any other electronic channel. Western Union’s Vigo and OrlandiValuta branded services are available through a network of more than 550,000 agent locations in 200 countries and territories and over 100,000 ATMs.

Importantly, 90% of those locations are outside the United States. The company plans to add retail locations and more account-based options. MoneyGram has 350,000 agent locations across 200 countries and territories.

The companies are continuously pursuing online money transfer growth initiatives. While MoneyGram launched MoneyGram MobilePass and MoneyGram Kameleon in 2016, a new digital money transfer service, Western Union, introduced WU Connect, which allows it to offer cross-border money transfer services on third-party platforms.

A large portion of the world market remains underpenetrated. With the strategic introduction of money transfer in these markets, service providers should enjoy ample business opportunities.

In addition, a continued shift toward electronic forms of payment from paper-based forms has created a dependence on plastic money or debit and credit cards. This has encouraged card processors to ramp up their growth profile. Visa Inc. (V) and MasterCard Inc. (MA) are among the companies, well placed to benefit from the tailwinds, riding on their respective fundamental strengths.

Cost Effective : All business operators prefer to minimize cost of operation and maximize margins. This sector offers cost effectiveness to companies that opt for services that would otherwise be far more expensive.

With specialized services, these providers reduce operational cost and in turn, lower the overall cost of companies. Notably, a higher number of companies opting for such specialized services would increase volumes for service providers. This would eventually lead to services at lower costs and a further reduction in costs for companies, thereby fueling margin expansion.

Our data shows that Business Services margins have consistently grown in the past few quarters, and will likely retain the momentum in the next few quarters too. Importantly, Business Services margin expansion is better than that of the S&P 500 Index.

Gaining from Stronger Currencies : Companies in countries with stronger currencies can gain if their jobs or services are done by companies from countries that have comparatively weaker currencies. This is because these companies would get to spend less and thus gain from currency translation. In turn, this would lower the cost of goods or services and favor margin expansion.

Specialized Service: The industry offers specialized services based on the latest technologies. This is crucial for security and consulting services. To safeguard data, companies are compelled to engage security service providers, which need the latest and most efficient technologies to persuade clients and win business contracts.

Also, increasing mergers and acquisitions across the globe have been improving the prospects of legal service providers. Consulting is another wing of this industry that is rapidly gaining traction.

Business complexities are on the rise and companies are opting for expert advice before entering into any new venture rather than risking losses by trial and error. Thus, this service sector looks promising due to its indispensability to companies that are struggling to survive in a competitive market.

Bottom Line

The U.S. economy is now improving and population continues to increase in the nation. This sector, being labor intensive, involves lower capital investments and confidently addresses the issue. While emerging nations are becoming important destinations for business services, these economies pose challenges to employment growth in developed economies.

Given the inherent strengths, the business service sector has enough steam left to drive the engine toward growth.

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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