Kohl’s and Alpha Natural Exhibit the Give-and-Take of the Jobs Market

Andrew Klips  |

Unemployment statistics are hot button with the upcoming political elections in the States. A couple companies that will be having an impact on upcoming figures are Kohl’s Corp. (KSS) and Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (ANR).

On the bright side of the jobs market, Kohl’s said that it will be bolstering employees for the holiday season by hiring more than 52,700 temporary workers nationwide to staff its department stores, office and credit operations and distribution centers. The commitment is up more than 10 percent compared to the number of seasonal employees brought on board last year.

The hiring breaks down to an average of 41 new associates for each of the 1,146 Kohl’s stores across 49 states and about 5,700 positions related to distribution and back-end operations. Seasonal associates can work anywhere from a few hours to more than 20 hours per week, according to the company.

Kohl's has been struggling with disappointing sales and said last month its fiscal second-quarter earnings fell 20 percent, citing depressed same-store sales and tight margins. Economists’ predictions for this year’s holiday season are calling broadly for tepid gains at this point, but the retailer is expecting to see an increase in retail and online performance.

The chain store recently reported that revenue at stores open for at least one year increased 3.4 percent in August, topping Wall Street's expectations of a less than 2 percent rise. Shares of KSS also got a lift last week as Deutsche Bank's Charles Grom raised Kohl’s rating to "Buy" from "Hold" and increased its price target to $62 from $49.

In early activity this morning, shares of Kohl’s are trading basically flat at $53.13.

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On the darker side of jobs, coal producer Alpha Natural Resources reported that it is closing eight mines and eliminating 1,200 jobs. The company, which produced 1.1 billion tons of coal in the United States in 2011, will be decreasing production by 16 million tons with the closings. 400 people will be immediately impacted as Alpha shutters eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, starting today. The company did not state exactly which mines were to be idled. The other layoffs, accounting for about 9 percent of the Abingdon, Virginia-based company’s 13,000 employees, will be gradual as sales obligations are met throughout the beginning of 2013.

The move is meant to cut overhead by about $150 million and help the company transition away from thermal coal for domestic power generation and place greater emphasis on the more lucrative metallurgical coal for foreign steelmaking.

The decisions weren’t easy, according to Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield; citing an increased use of shale-derived natural gas domestically and, in part, a tough U.S. market with "a regulatory environment that's aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal."

"We believe there are solid opportunities for diversified suppliers like Alpha to produce and sell thermal coal profitably into a smaller domestic market and to customers in new markets overseas," Crutchfield said in a statement.

In June of 2011 Alpha completed a $7.1 billion acquisition of Massey Energy Company, creating a premier coal company a global leader in metallurgical coal supply. Upon the merger, Alpha immediately controlled the second largest – and probably the highest quality - coal reserve base in the U.S. with approximately five billion tons in reserves.

The investment community is responding favorably to the news today as, while it is never a great thing to read about layoffs, the move is a positive one for the company to shift towards more profitable operations.

Shares of ANR are trading up nearly 2 percent at $8.22 just after the opening bell.

By Andrew Klips

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