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How to Make the Labor Shortage Work for You

This column is part of the Heard on the Street stock-picking contest. You’re invited to play along with us here.

Few things are ever certain beyond death and taxes. Recently, however, the level of uncertainty tormenting markets has been even higher than usual. Inflation is high, the Delta variant is rampant and President Biden’s economic agenda hangs by a thread.

Yet one thing we can say confidently about the economy right now is that companies really, really need workers. And that seems likely to be true for a while—barring a truly catastrophic Delta outbreak this fall.

Staffing companies such as Robert Half International , a California-based firm focusing on temporary and permanent hiring solutions for accounting, administration, information technology and other needs, look well placed to benefit from this trend. After a traumatic 2020, the company posted a record net income of $149 million for the second quarter, up 223% from a year earlier.

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It is more richly priced than some competitors at 20 times next 12 months’ expected earnings, according to FactSet, but that may be because its large U.S. exposure and focus on high-demand industries give it a leg up in the current environment. And despite the tailwinds from the general scramble for workers, it is still cheaper than the S&P 500 as a whole, which will cost you 21 times expected earnings.

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