I know I raised some eyebrows a few months ago when I wrote that the economy was turning around (“Here Comes the Recovery!“). While lots of folks commented that they, too, were experiencing a resurgence in their business over the past few quarters, there seemed to be just as many naysayers who saw only dark clouds ahead. With the recent news that gross domestic product grew at a less-than-expected 2.4 percent in the second quarter (down from a revised 3.7 percent in the first quarter), the naysayers (including economists) who are predicting a double-dip recession are getting louder than ever.
I can tell you that I remain bullish on the recovery, especially as it applies to our company, SRC Holdings. For example, Guildmaster, our home furnishings division, closed out a record-setting July, which is historically the industry’s toughest month for sales. Last year, the company lost $110,000 for the month. This July, it turned a profit for the month for the first time in company history. And given the response it received at the recent industry trade show in Atlanta, we expect those results to continue for the rest of the year.
Sales are improving throughout every division of our business. Things are going so well, in fact, that we have been on something of a hiring spree to keep up with demand. Total United States employment at SRC is now 884 — up from 658 in July of last year. This gives me hope that other companies will begin hiring aggressively.
But, I have to admit how frustrated I am by all the contradictory news out there these days. It’s as if most people see the glass as half empty no matter what the evidence. Growth may have been slower than expected in the second quarter, but it was still growth. It sometimes seems as if we want to kill the recovery before it has a chance to gain momentum.
I wonder why we don’t focus more on all the good news out there these days. Take, for example, the news that second-quarter earnings at Caterpillar jumped 91 percent over the previous year while revenues were up 31 percent. After several years of painful job cuts, the manufacturer has begun to hire again.
Another example comes from the trucking industry, where Mark Pigott, the chairman and chief executive of Paccar, which manufactures trucks under brands like Peterbilt and Kenworth, recently outlined the good news he sees both for his company and the industry. In an earnings call with analysts, Mr. Pigott said that you can track the progress of the trucking industry by three measures: sales of parts and services, values of used trucks, and orders for new trucks. He said that through the first six months of the year, sales of parts and services are up 10 percent to 15 percent, prices for used trucks are up 10 percent, and orders for new trucks are up 30 percent.
These bits of good news were echoed by other positive earnings reports from lots of other companies, including Dupont and Microsoft. Yet, when you tune in to the news each day, you seem to find far more stories that focus on the potential downside. I feel like I’m always reading headlines like these:
“Can this earnings season keep up its winning streak?”
“Housing sales up, but still weak.”
“Chinese spending can’t save the economy.”
“Is there anything else Bernanke can do?”
Granted, hiring has yet to pick up steam and companies have been using their gains to shore up their balance sheets. But the fact that any company is still around let alone thriving after steering itself through all the storms of the past few years should be considered a positive thing. We should be celebrating these companies rather than dwelling on what they aren’t doing. It’s like we’re playing a game of Ping-Pong, where there is a constant back and forth between good and bad news. Rather than celebrate our victories, we seem to worry about our next loss.
I think part of the reason for the confusion is that there are more economic indicators than ever for people to follow. They seem to change on a daily or even hourly basis. One of the problems is that nobody seems to have faith in any of the numbers, which adds to the feeling that the glass is half empty.
But, when you talk to businesspeople — rather than just the academics, politicians or financiers — a different story starts to emerge. That’s what Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, says he did before making his recent positive comments about the recovery. I saw Mario Gabelli, the investor, say on television that if you want to get the real story behind the economy, you should talk to leaders from businesses of all sizes, large and small. Too often, though, we read stories that ignore the folks with their boots on the ground.
The point is that we won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of a recovery until we begin to shift our vision, to stop looking back and worrying about how bad things were and begin looking forward and recognizing that things are turning around. Recoveries are fragile and we need to celebrate our victories to build on that momentum.
I’m interested in hearing from you. How do you see the world these days?
Jack Stack is the founder and chief executive of SRC Holdings in Springfield, Mo. SRC is a collection of 37 businesses and 1,200 employees who make, among other things, racecar engines and home furnishings.
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