Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Michigan’s largest public companies ‘encouraged’ by second-quarter rebound

Michigan’s largest public companies ‘encouraged’ by second-quarter rebound

August 30, 2021
Bridge Michigan 
Aug. 30, 2021
David Wilkins 

Michigan’s largest publicly traded companies have mounted a strong comeback since the COVID-19 pandemic sent them reeling last year.

The latest corporate financial filings from the state’s biggest employers show their revenues in the second quarter (Q2) of this year rebounded to levels achieved in the same period in 2019 — before the coronavirus devastated the global economy.

Combined, revenues for 30 of these firms dropped 40 percent last year — from $128 billion in Q2 2019 to $77 billion in Q2 2020 — then rose 60 percent to $123 billion this year.

Many of the companies have demonstrated optimism that the recovery will continue by reinstating share buybacks, increasing dividends, paying down debt, and issuing improved financial outlooks for the remainder of the year.

“We’re encouraged by the healthy sales pipelines and new wins we’re seeing across all of our businesses,” Peter Quigley, CEO of Troy-based staffing company Kelly Services, said in a statement. “Our reinstatement of a dividend for the quarter reflects the progress we’re making . . . and our confidence in the economic recovery.”

On Kelly’s quarterly call with industry analysts, Quigley noted that “the temporary labor market is approaching pre-COVID levels, the unemployment crisis in the US has eased with three months of strong job growth, and demand for staffing and other workforce solutions continues to grow.”

Michigan’s recovery mirrors the national picture: in Q2 2021, U.S. economic output surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Gabe Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan, said the U.S. government’s $5.2 trillion fiscal response to the pandemic bolstered household incomes and helped fuel the recovery — but the comeback is not complete.

“We have had a strong recovery so far. Big business has done well,” Ehrlich said. “That’s great news, but it’s not the whole picture. Small businesses have had a harder time during the pandemic and there is still a jobs shortfall.”

The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.8 percent in July but, compared with February 2020, the labor force has shrunk by 213,000 people and 256,000 fewer Michigan residents are working, according to data from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some people who left the labor force during the pandemic won’t return to work, Ehrlich said, including individuals who retired earlier than they planned and women who quit to care for children and manage other family responsibilities.

Meanwhile, some Michigan-based public companies are concerned that the recovery is susceptible to inflation, supply chain vulnerabilities, and the resurgence of COVID.

The international microchip shortage is particularly concerning to the auto industry. Ford reported that its quarterly profits fell by half largely due to the shortage of computer chips, and GM CEO Mary Barra said the impact on production will likely extend into 2022. Production shutdowns cost Cooper Standard, a supplier based in Northville, $200 million in Q2.

As consumer demand drives the economic recovery, supply chain issues will continue to create bottlenecks — and this disconnect between demand and supply is expected to cause moderately higher inflation, Ehrlich said.

Economists are optimistic about blue collar employment, he added, noting that the construction sector is strong, logistics jobs are rebounding, and the warehousing and utilities sectors have surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

Hiring for jobs requiring a college degree will be less robust than the blue-collar segment, he said, but better than the service sector. Bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues may continue to struggle as working-from-home and reduced business travel become the norm.

“Due to COVID and how it’s changed the way we do business, (the hospitality sector) remains at risk,” said Ehrlich, who directs the U-M Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics (RSQE).

Overall, forecasts suggest the U.S. economy won’t fully rebound until at least the end of 2023. “Closing that last-mile gap is going to take some time,” he said.

The revenues of the 30 companies cited above show variations by industry sector:

  • Automotive: At GM, Ford, Gentex, Lear, Visteon, Meritor, and Cooper Standard, Q2 revenues nearly rebounded to 2019 levels. At Gentherm, Borg Warner, and Penske Automotive, they surpassed them by 75 percent to 95 percent.
  • Office Furniture: Herman Miller and Steelcase fell short of 2019 levels by 7 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
  • Food: Kellogg’s and SpartanNash, a grocery distributor and retailer based in Byron Center, did not experience a Q2 pandemic dip in 2020. Their revenues were flat across the second quarters of 2019, 2020, and 2021.
  • Fast Food: Grand Rapids-based Meritage Hospitality Group operates more than 300 Wendy’s and other restaurants in 16 states. Its revenues were flat in Q2 2020 and grew 20 percent this year. Domino’s second-quarter revenues grew 13 percent in 2020 and 9 percent this year.
  • Footwear: Wolverine Worldwide, whose brands include Merrell, Saucony, and Sperry, saw Q2 revenues drop from about $570 million in 2019 to $350 million last year – and climb to $630 million this year.
  • Financial Services: Ally Financial and Flagstar delivered steady Q2 growth in both 2020 and 2021. For Ally, quarterly revenues climbed 11 percent in 2020 and 19 percent in 2021. Flagstar was up 80 percent last year and 27 percent this year.
  • Building Supplies: Masco and Universal Forest Products were flat in Q2 2020 and grew revenues  22 percent and 125 percent, respectively, this year.

Rounding out the list ( all results are Q2 revenues for 2019, 2020 and 2021):

  • Dow (chemicals): $11 billion, $8.4  billion, $13.9 billion.
  • Whirlpool (appliances): $5.2 billion, $4 billion, $5.3 billion.
  • Stryker (medical devices): $3.7 billion, $2.8 billion, $4.3 billion.
  • Universal Logistics (transportation and logistics): $383 million, $258 million, $423 million.
  • Kelly Services (staffing): $1.4 billion, $975 million. $1.3 billion.
  • Perrigo (consumer self-care products):  $1.1 billion, $949 million, $981 million.
  • Trimas (consumer goods): $191 million, $200 million, $219 million.
  • Neogen (food and animal safety): $110 million, $109 million, $127 million.
  • Sun Communities (manufactured housing communities, RV parks, and marinas): $312 million, $303 million, $604 million.

While most of Michigan’s publicly traded companies are heartened by the comeback, they also are acutely aware that COVID remains a cloud on the economic horizon.

“The most important thing from here,” Ehrlich said, “is what the pandemic is going to do. It’s still in the driver’s seat.”

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