Business

Americans take less vacation time

Futurists in the 1970s predicted that, by now, technology would have so shrunk our workloads that we’d all be paddling about in a leisure-and-vacation playland. How wrong they were.

“Vacation season is upon us, and a new survey by employment firm Hudson says more than half of American workers fail to take all their vacation days,” BusinessWeek (May 21) reports. “Thirty percent say they use less than half their allotted time. And 20 percent take only a few days instead of a week or two.”

Among so-called extreme jobholders — what author Sylvia Ann Hewlett calls the professional class upper crust — 42 percent claim they have to cancel vacation plans “regularly.” Americans take even less vacation than the Japanese, the people who gave rise to karoshi — the phenomenon of being worked to death. The always-available executive is dangerous, BusinessWeek says. That kind of chief executive “subtly undermines” employees by telegraphing that they are “incapable of running things on their own.”

Top bosses

It’s the time of year when magazines and newspapers rate and rank companies, products and especially people based on how well they performed in the latest year or years. One of the choice lists is the Forbes (May 21) selection of 10 “best performing bosses,” which this year includes Jeffrey S. Lorberbaum, chief executive of Mohawk Industries. Forbes notes that the shares of the nation’s second-largest carpet maker were up 14 percent as of press time, and sales of $7.9 billion were up 19 percent. Among Lorberbaum’s peers on this prestige CEO list are Jeffrey Bezos of Amazon.com, Margaret C. Whitman of eBay and Nordstrom’s Blake W. Nordstrom.

Mergers may set record

Global merger activity has reached giddy levels last seen in the dot-com era, prompting markets to party like it’s 1999 again. The bankers and lawyers who work on these deals have braced themselves for the kind of post-2000 hangovers they thought were coming. Instead, The Economist (May 18) says, “glasses were refilled, the music cranked up and the guests were invited to dance through the night.” Some $2 trillion of deals have been unveiled so far this year, putting it on track to smash the record set in 2006 by 60 percent or more.

Such bold forays have been encouraged by soaring stock markets, the magazine explains.

The Dow Jones industrials have hit new highs with unusual frequency. China’s markets have surged on record trading volumes, despite efforts by officials to talk them down. So euphoric is the mood that even acquirers, usually penalized on the expectation that they will overpay, are seeing their share prices jump.

To cap it all, The Economist says Warren Buffett, not normally one to follow the crowd, is prepared to spend as much as $60 billion on the right deal, far more than the investor has ever forked out on a single acquisition.

Overseas sales aid profits

Strong demand overseas is helping boost corporate profits, despite U.S. domestic weakness, Barron’s (May 14) reports. “This should give larger, export-driven stocks an advantage over small, U.S.-dependent ones,” the financial weekly adds. Among companies that generate most of their sales outside the United States are Caterpillar, 3M, McDonald’s, IBM, Nike and Colgate-Palmolive.

According to Barron’s, the worldwide spread of capitalism has had an impact on which industry groups outperform the markets in this global scene. Where big manufacturers once topped the performance lists, now it’s investment banks, asset managers and commodities producers, reflected in the publication’s latest survey of 500 U.S. and Canadian companies. This year’s top five: Goldman Sachs, Franklin Resources, Apple, Terex and Paccar.

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