Invest Where the Jobs Are

Well, we finally got the news we’d been expecting: Canada’s economy contracted for two consecutive quarters. According to Statistics Canada, gross domestic product (GDP) growth declined by 0.5% during the second quarter, following a revised drop of 0.8% in the first quarter.

But while most journalists are content to call this a recession, “technical” or otherwise, many economists note that two consecutive quarters of falling GDP shouldn’t be considered a recession unless they’re accompanied by significant declines in employment, as well as deterioration in other key areas.

In fact, the opposite has occurred: Canada’s economy has added nearly 318,000 full-time jobs over the past year, with more than half of those jobs created year to date, a period during which the country has borne the full brunt of the oil shock.

Equally important, full-time jobs are now driving the employment market. That’s a welcome contrast to the period from mid-2013 through August 2014, during which full-time job creation essentially stagnated, while more and more new jobs were only part-time.

The trend has thankfully reversed, and that augurs well for the economy: Full-time jobs tend to be higher quality than part-time jobs, owing to better pay, greater benefits and lower turnover.

The total number of hours worked, an important indicator of future labor demand, also underwent a period of stagnation for nearly two years. But over the past 12 months, the total number of hours worked has risen by a respectable 2.2%.

Similarly wage growth, which underwent a marked deceleration following a post-Global Financial Crisis peak in mid-2012, is finally strengthening again, up 3.4% over the trailing year.

Somehow, despite crude oil’s collapse, Canada’s job market is rapidly improving.

So which sectors are showing the strongest employment growth? In terms of the numbers of new jobs, the healthcare and educational services industries account for 40.5% and 27.4% of new jobs, respectively.

On a percentage basis, the utilities sector saw the strongest increase in employment, up 7.4% year over year, followed by transportation and warehousing, up 4.3% over the past year.

We like to keep tabs on these data since they can help uncover new investment themes or underscore the thesis behind existing holdings.

Among our favorite utilities, Fortis Inc. (TSX: FTS, OTC: FRTSF) enjoys the strongest analyst sentiment on Bay Street, at nine “buys,” three “holds,” and one “sell.”

The mid-cap holding company owns regulated utilities across Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Fortis also has other diverse operations, ranging from unregulated utilities to commercial real estate. But like many of its peers in the utilities sector, the company is in the process of divesting most of these non-core assets to concentrate on its regulated holdings.

And even prior to these divestitures, the firm’s regulated electric and gas utilities accounted for the vast majority of revenue, at around 95% in 2014.

Fortis has also made substantial inroads toward diversifying revenue, mainly through last year’s $4.3 billion acquisition of Tucson, Ariz.-based regulated utility UNS Energy Corp. That deal helped boost Fortis’ U.S. revenue from 18% to nearly 45%.

While the company focuses on organic growth, it may be quiet on the acquisition front for a while, at least as far as big, transformative deals go. But analysts expect Fortis will look to expand its presence in the U.S. in the years ahead.

For full-year 2015, analysts forecast adjusted earnings per share will climb 14%, to CAD2.06, on a 26% jump in revenue, to CAD6.8 billion.

Fortis has grown its dividend by 4% annually over the past five years, and analysts forecast future dividend growth of 5% to 6% annually through 2017.

With an annualized payout of CAD1.36 per share, the stock currently yields 3.9%.