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This column was originally published on RealMoney on Feb. 23 at 4:06 p.m. EST. It's being republished as a bonus for readers.

There are times when an employer just needs able-bodied workers -- not necessarily skilled workers, but those able to do a job's heavy lifting, literally and figuratively. But finding unskilled workers on short notice often isn't easy. Addressing this market is

Labor Ready



The largest company in its market, Labor Ready estimates the market for day labor (part of the temporary-staffing services industry) at $5 billion a year. The Tacoma, Wash.-based firm estimates its share to be about 20% of that. A couple of years ago, the General Accounting Office estimated that the day labor industry has doubled in size since 1995. Labor Ready's employees work in such industries as construction, manufacturing, hospitality services, landscaping, warehousing and retail. Its labor force consists of about 600,000 temporary workers.

Size has its advantage: Clients go to Labor Ready because it has a well-known brand name in its industry. When dealing with day labor, having a known company behind the employees gives customers a sense of security and trust. It can also give the company bargaining power when dealing with small customers. Labor Ready has been able to build its brand by covering its markets with its presence. It has more than 880 branches, the vast majority of which are in the U.S., but with some in Canada and the U.K.

The stock currently trades around $25. Two guru strategies I follow, those of Peter Lynch and James P. O'Shaughnessy, indicate that this is a company worth hiring for your portfolio.

The Peter Lynch Strategy

A "fast grower" under the Peter Lynch strategy because its growth rate exceeds 20%, Labor Ready has a P/E/G ratio (price-to-earnings ratio relative to earnings growth) of 0.42. This is very good, because the strategy wants the P/E/G to be 1.0, and anything less than 0.5 is preferred.

With companies like Labor Ready, whose revenue exceeds $1 billion (Labor Ready's is $1.24 billion), the Lynch strategy caps the P/E ratio at 40. That's no problem for Labor Ready, with its P/E of 20.5.

This methodology favors companies with several years of fast earnings growth (but not too fast), because these companies have a proven formula for growth that may continue many more years. The desired range of earnings growth: 20% to 50%. Lynch considers earnings growth north of 50% unsustainable. The EPS growth rate for Labor Ready is 48.6%, based on the average of the three-, four- and five-year historical EPS growth rates.

The last criterion considered under this methodology is the company's debt-to-equity ratio. The lower, the better. And it doesn't get lower than Labor Ready's: The company has no debt.

The James P. O'Shaughnessy Strategy

The second strategy that is lining up to work with Labor Ready is the one I base on the writings of James P. O'Shaughnessy. Its first requirement is that the company have a market cap of at least $150 million; Labor Ready's is way above this at $1.3 billion.

Also desired are companies with persistent earnings growth without regard to magnitude. To fulfill this requirement, a company's earnings must increase each year for the last five years, and that's true for Labor Ready. Its annual EPS before extraordinary items for the last five years (from earliest to the most recent fiscal year) were 23 cents, 28 cents, 41 cents, 75 cents and $1.15. The strategy also looks for the price-to-sales ratio to be below 1.5, an indicator that a growth stock is still cheap enough to buy. Labor Ready's P/S ratio is 1.04.

The strategy's final criterion requires that the company's relative strength be among the top 50 of the stocks screened using the previous criterion. This provides the opportunity to buy growth stocks just as the market is embracing them. Labor Ready, whose relative strength is 76, is in the top 50 and passes this last criterion.

The demand for day labor is strong, and Labor Ready is the dominant force in this market. It's got a good reputation and a national presence, which gives it a competitive advantage, and solid financials. If your investment portfolio needs some heavy lifting, Labor Ready should be able to help.

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John P. Reese is founder and CEO of, an investment research firm, and Validea Capital Management, an asset management firm serving affluent investors and companies. He is also co-author of the best selling book,

The Market Gurus: Stock Investing Strategies You Can Use From Wall Street's Best

. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Reese appreciates your feedback.

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