It’s a big bag, if a mixed one, for the financial markets and for technology companies today.
Overall, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 42 points, buoyed somewhat by (finally) some good economic news. Check out Monday’s housing sales numbers, which unexpectedly rose off of record lows. Also, a key index of economic indicators (the Conference Board’s economic health index) also came out today and – surprise – showed the first gain in six months. Lastly, the Reuters/Jefferies CRB index of commodities has spiked upward by 5.5% - another recent high – as investors begin to make what looks like a move back into commodities.
Tech industry employees are also starting to get some direct help. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican, is annoyed that when Microsoft announced 5,000 layoffs last week, the computer giant kept much of its overseas staffers safe and focused its job cuts on Microsoft employees here in the U.S.
Today, Grassley’s office released a letter the Senator wrote to Microsoft recommending that Microsoft back off on its U.S.-weighted layoff strategy. In that letter, Grassley said "I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan." . . . “"Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times."
Grassley didn’t screw around with any Microsoft underlings, sending his letter directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Grassley, despite being in the GOP minority, still wields political clout as the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. In specific, Grassley plays a big role in determining how many H-1B visas are granted - documentation that allows foreign workers to come work in the U.S. Microsoft is a huge fan of such visas, as the company is heavily dependent on such visas for its work force. If Grassley wants to, he can make life difficult for Microsoft in that regard, so you have to wonder how Microsoft will respond to his letter.
Lastly, the National Association for Business Economics is out with a report signaling the worst economic climate since 1982. According to the NABE, 39% of NABE's forecasters predicted job reductions through attrition or "significant" layoffs over the next six months, up from 32 percent in the previous survey in October. The NABE says that roughly 45 percent in the current survey anticipated no change in hiring plans, while roughly 17 percent thought hiring would increase.
The report isn’t exactly bullish on future job growth. "Job losses accelerated in the fourth quarter, and the employment outlook for the next six months has weakened further," said Sara Johnson, NABE's lead analyst on the survey and an economist at IHS Global Insight.
On the technology front alone today, big pharma’s Pfizer and telecom giant Sprint announced big layoffs, each cutting 8,000 jobs. And last week, Microsoft, as mentioned above, announced it would slash 5,000 jobs and Intel said it would cut 6,000 more positions.
Yikes. The first quarter of ’09 just can’t end fast enough.