Thirty-five big U.S.-based multinational companies added jobs much faster than other U.S. employers in the past two years, but nearly three-fourths of those jobs were overseas, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
Those companies, which include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., International Paper Co., Honeywell International Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc., boosted their employment at home by 3.1%, or 113,000 jobs, between 2009 and 2011, the same rate of increase as the nation's other employers. But they also added more than 333,000 jobs in their far-flung—and faster-growing— foreign operations.
The companies included in the analysis were the largest of those that disclose their U.S. and non-U.S. employment in annual securities filings. All of them have at least 50,000 employees. Collectively, they employed roughly 6.4 million workers world-wide last year, up 7.7% from two years earlier. Over the same period, the total number of U.S. jobs increased 3.1%, according to the Labor Department.
The data show that global companies, aided by overseas revenue, are faring better than purely domestic companies during the economic recovery. Nearly 60% of the revenue growth between 2009 and 2011 at the companies in the Journal's analysis came from outside the U.S.
Partly as a result, these companies are more likely to focus their resources and people outside the U.S. The nation's largest private-sector employer, Wal-Mart, added 100,000 jobs outside the U.S. last year; its head count in the U.S. has been flat at 1.4 million since 2007.
Economists who study global labor patterns say companies are creating jobs outside the U.S. mostly to pursue sales there, and not to cut costs by shifting work previously performed in the U.S., as has sometimes been the case. "If you want to capture market share in China, you're going to have to hire lots of locals," says Arie Lewin, a professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business who has studied outsourcing and offshoring. "You just can't export that stuff."
Jobs added overseas "are not necessarily at the expense of U.S. workers," adds Martin Baily, of the Brookings Institution, a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton. Baily says it is "almost inevitable" that the biggest and most successful U.S. companies would look beyond the nation's borders.
Where American companies are creating jobs is a hot political issue. President Barack Obama has proposed tax benefits for companies to create jobs in the U.S., and tax penalties for those with large operations in other countries. His tax-overhaul plan--which has no real chance of passing Congress this year--would require, for the first time, that U.S. companies operating overseas pay a minimum tax on their foreign earnings.
Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, say excessive taxes and regulations are driving jobs overseas. Romney has suggested cutting the nation's 35% corporate tax, which he calls, "among the highest in the industrial world," to 25%, lower than the 28% Obama has proposed.
Of the 35 companies in the analysis, 16 added jobs both in the U.S. and abroad, while six of them cut both domestic and international jobs.
Seven companies reduced their workforces in the U.S., while expanding them elsewhere. They include International Paper, which has restructured as Americans use less office paper and demand rises overseas.
At the end of 2008, more than two-thirds of its 61,700 employees at the 114-year-old industrial stalwart were in the U.S. Since then, International Paper has closed U.S. mills and bolstered its packaging division through acquisitions in the U.S. and Asia.
Its total workforce--61,500 at the end of last year--hardly changed. But the location of those employees changed a lot, with 8,000 fewer in the U.S. and 8,000 more in other countries. So did International Paper's revenue.
Sales in the U.S. and Europe in 2011 were nearly unchanged from 2008. But revenue from Asia more than doubled over the period to $1.8 billion.
"We focused on capturing emerging-market growth of our core product lines by investing globally, while in the U.S., we doubled down in corrugated packaging where we see real opportunity," says Tom Ryan, an International Paper spokesman. He says the company's U.S. workforce has grown in 2012 with its acquisition of Temple Inland Inc.
The Journal's results are consistent with more extensive surveys by the U.S. Commerce Department, which found that U.S.-based multinational companies added jobs in the U.S. between 2004 and 2010, but added far more jobs overseas. That partly reversed the trend between 1999 and 2004, when the department said U.S.-based multinationals cut jobs in the U.S. while adding them overseas.
The biggest job losses in the earlier period were among manufacturers. More recently, some big manufacturers, including Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co., have been expanding U.S. operations.
In its earnings report Wednesday, Caterpillar said it had added 6,500 U.S. jobs in the past year, along with 7,200 outside the U.S., to meet strong global demand for its mining equipment.
Excluding its NBCUniversal unit, which it sold last year, GE says it has added 14,000 jobs in the U.S. since 2009. GE has expanded U.S. factories that make appliances, locomotives and other products.
Overall, U.S. manufacturers have added 470,000 jobs since January 2010, after cutting nearly five million jobs over the prior decade.
Other companies report stable U.S. employment as they expand abroad. Diversified manufacturer Honeywell added 11,000 jobs outside the U.S. over the past two years, while U.S. employment shrank to 53,000, from 54,000. Over that period, Honeywell's overseas sales rose 28%, more than twice as fast as the 12% increase in U.S. sales.
A Honeywell spokesman says the company expects half of its revenue growth in the next five years to come from emerging markets such as China and India. "We must invest in building strong leadership teams and [research and development] and production capabilities where the growth is and our customers are," he says. Historically, economists say, overseas hiring supported U.S. jobs in areas like sales, engineering and management. When Wal-Mart hires employees for new stores in China, it also needs more human-resources personnel at its headquarters in Arkansas, says Matthew Slaughter, associate dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.
But Slaughter and Baily, the ex-Clinton adviser, say they worry that the relationship is weakening as U.S. companies shift more investment abroad. The Commerce Department estimates that roughly a third of spending on plants and equipment by U.S.-based multinationals went outside the U.S. in 2009, up from one-fourth of the total in 1999.
Publicly traded companies are required to disclose their total number of employees in their annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC doesn't require them to disclose how many of the jobs are in the U.S. An SEC spokesman says the rule probably dates from 1970s. The spokesman says he knows of no discussions about requiring disclosure of U.S.-based jobs.
At some companies, U.S. jobs are falling prey to technology, as well as global business trends. UPS delivered a record average of 15.8 million packages a day last year, slightly more than its previous record of 15.7 million in 2007. But shipping patterns changed: international traffic rose 26% from 2007, while shipments in the U.S. declined 3%.
UPS reorganized its U.S. operations to eliminate some management jobs and revise its route map. It also installed keyless remote entry systems on all its U.S. trucks. UPS says the keyless systems save drivers three seconds at every stop, the equivalent of six minutes per driver per day, or $70 million a year. As a result, it can handle more U.S. shipments "without adding as many people as we might overseas," says spokesman Norman Black.
With its streamlined operations, and reduced domestic traffic, UPS cut its domestic workforce by 17,000 employees over the past two years, to 323,000. Outside the U.S., it added 7,000 jobs, to 75,000, not counting its planned acquisition of TNT Express NV of the Netherlands.
Those figures exclude seasonal hiring, which hit 55,000 jobs at the peak of the 2011 holiday season.
"This is a business you can only go so far with technology," Black says. "At a certain point, when volume starts to climb, we do add people."
This story first appeared on WSJ.com
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