Should companies with higher profit margins pay employees better?
With the stock market reaching new heights daily, companies’ profit margins at multi-decade highs, and falling unemployment, many Americans may be wondering when they will start to see the benefits of the U.S. economic recovery. For many workers, wages have remained stagnant even as the economy is making positive strides.
A number of America’s most successful companies employ large numbers of low-wage workers. These workers are hired to staff stores, call centers, and restaurants. These workers are typically paid hourly, and oftentimes earn little above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Oftentimes, these employees serve as the face of their companies and spend most of their workday interacting with consumers.
Not all employees at these companies are paid modest salaries. While customer account executives at Comcast earn $13.26 per hour on average, according to Glassdoor.com figures, stars of the company’s NBC television network shows were paid hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year. And while the average attractions cast member at Disney’s parks and resorts earned just $16.39 per hour, Disney also employs far higher-paid workers at its ABC and ESPN television networks.
Recently, a number of these companies have chosen to use their resources for massive deal making. In February, Comcast announced a deal to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion in stock value. In May, AT&T agreed to acquire DirecTV for $48.5 billion. Regulators have yet to approve the deals. Last year, Verizon signed on to an even bigger deal when it bought out British telecom Vodafone’s 45% stake in Verizon Wireless for $130 billion.
Of course, companies may not necessarily have an obligation to pay their employees a higher wage. If the recent spate of mega deals is any indication, companies can spend huge amounts to help provide better returns to their shareholders.
However, many argue that companies still spend too much in executive compensation. Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts earned more than $31 million last year in salary, stock options and awards, and other benefits. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, received more than $100 million in total compensation from 2011 through 2013. Outsized salaries like these appear especially disproportionate when compared to low-wage workers.
Based on data provided by Capital IQ on S&P 500 companies, 24/7 Wall St. identified corporations with high operating income, high operating profit margins, and major one-year growth in operating income. In order to be considered, companies had to be in a customer-facing industry and have a large number of low-wage workers. We excluded financial companies, such as banks and thrifts, because the data we used to measure profitability is inadequate for judging the industry’s performance. Employee totals by company are from Yahoo! Finance. CEO pay is from filings submitted by public companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Figures on compensation are from Glassdoor.com and are self-reported by users to the website.
1. Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)
> 1-yr. stock price change: 48.3%
> 5-yr. stock price change: 359.9%
> Total employees: 51,200
> Total CEO compensation: $14.2 million
ime Warner Cable is one of the nation’s largest telecom companies, with revenue of more than $22 billion and operating income of $4.6 billion last year. Although Time Warner Cable is not growing especially quickly, it continues to generate large amounts of cash from its operations and return profits to shareholders. The company’s stock has been one of the S&P 500′s better performers over the past twelve months, up 48.3% in that time. Some of the stock price rally is the result of the company’s deal with Comcast, which agreed in February to acquire Time Warner Cable. The merger will combine the nation’s two largest cable operators. But while shareholders reap the benefits of the deal, many employees may be left in the lurch as a result. Part of the deal’s appeal is an estimated $1.5 billion in savings from operating efficiencies, which may include job cuts. According to Glassdoor.com, the average customer service representative at Time Warner Cable makes just $11.85 an hour, and the average inbound sales representative earns just $11.41 an hour.
2. Public Storage (NYSE: PSA)
> 1-yr. stock price change: 12.7%
> 5-yr. stock price change: 156.7%
> Total employees: 5,200
> Total CEO compensation: $9.2 million
Public Storage owns more than 2,200 self-storage facilities across the U.S. and Europe. Because of its low-cost business model, Public Storage recorded a nearly 50% operating margin in its latest fiscal year, higher than nearly all other companies in the S&P 500. Its earnings were actually higher than its operating income because of the earnings it recorded from its investments in Shurgard Europe, a European storeage company, and PS Business Parks, a U.S. commercial real estate company. While highly profitable, Public Storage pays the average relief manager just $10.57 per hour, and the average property manager only $10.50 per hour, according to Glassdoor.com.
3. Michael Kors Holdings Limited (NASDAQ: KORS)
> 1-yr. stock price change: 49.7%
> 5-yr. stock price change: 290.3%
> Total employees: 9,184
> Total CEO compensation: $7.6 million
Michael Kors’ retail operations have grown rapidly in recent years, with comparable store sales up 26.2% last year, due largely to increased sales of accessories and watches.The company also added more than 100 new stores in most recent fiscal last year. Alongside the expansion, total operating expenses increased considerably during fiscal 2013 by about $331 million. As a percent of revenue, however, the company’s operating costs actually declined. While the overall dollaramount allocated to salaries increased from the previous fiscal year, Kors sales associates are paid an average of just $10.37 per hour, according to Glassdoor.com, although they can also earn commissions.
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