The largest overnight package carrier, which at any moment has 6% of U.S. GDP and 2% of world GDP in its system, doesn't have a clear signal to offer on which way the holidays will go. It is hiring holiday workers at a pace slightly below its norm. And it predicts a long, slow recovery.
UPS shares reflect the caution. They have climbed 16% this year, slightly less than the 18% climb of the S&P 500. Investors greeted the company's Oct. 22 earnings report with a yawn, as shares closed that Thursday at $57.10, exactly the same price where they closed the day before. Shares were trading Tuesday morning at $54.26, down 26 cents.
On the company's earnings call, CFO Kurt Kuehn said the holiday outlook from customers is unclear, with a "wide divergence of opinions. We're seeing some of the brick-and-mortar players be fairly conservative, but of number of dot-coms see substantial increases." He said UPS will hire about 50,000 temporary holiday employees, "a little below what we normally do."UPS won't say how many holiday temps it hired last year, when it was busily cutting employment, but in 2007 it hired about 60,000. Holiday hires typically are recruited at various sites including the UPS Web site. Normally, the fourth quarter is the company's most profitable: in the fourth quarter of 2007, net income was a record $1.1 billion.