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More Seasonal Jobs Are Coming to Town!

Well, as much as I personally despise the fact that the holiday shopping season starts in September and lasts through January, we’re starting to see glimmers of what seasonal hiring trends are going to look like for big retailers in 2012.

And at first blush, things are looking good.

Kohl’s Corporation (NYSE:KSS) announced in late September that it will increase seasonal hiring 10%, to 52,700 temporary retail jobs and 5,700 distribution workers.

Privately held Toys ‘R’ Us also upped its hiring plans by almost 13%, to 45,000 this year.

Macy’s (NYSE:M) is planning a modest 2.5% increase, to 80,000 workers.

And according to a broad-based Hay Group survey, 36% of retailers expect to hire more workers in 2012 than in 2011. That’s up from a meager 10% forecast at this time last year.

There’s a catch, of course. These retailers aren’t just in the Christmas spirit and planning to give away jobs to spread holiday cheer. The retail outlook is bright, and you can bet that this kind of hiring wouldn’t happen if merchants couldn’t pay for it — and then some.

In fact, some 75% of businesses are expecting better sales this year, according to Hay. That’s good news for investors — but the gap between companies making more money and companies hiring more workers speaks to the continuing narrative of companies pushing for bigger margins and lower costs.

The fact that 36% of businesses are hiring more help is nice, but remember that double that number are expected to see bigger sales.

Of course, while that relative stinginess is bad for job seekers, it could add up to nice numbers for investors as sales creep higher. And viewed through this lens, even some companies forecasting lower hiring may not necessarily be indicating a disappointing run in the all-important fourth quarter; they are simply keeping costs down to keep profits up.

Take Target (NYSE:TGT). As the retail giant ramps up for the all-important holiday shopping season, it expects to hire as many as 12,000 fewer temporary workers than it did in 2011.

But according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the dip in seasonal hiring by Target is actually a good thing: Last year about one-third of workers stayed on for a full-time gig. Sounds great, right?

Anyone who has worked in the high-turnover world of retail knows that it’s not like Target magically decided to create a few thousand more jobs. The company has assuredly seen some attrition, and those temporary workers are just stepping into existing roles.

Yet it’s a win-win for a company like Target — a positive spin on its employment trends, optimism over holiday sales and (most important for investors) the promise of modest costs even as revenue ticks up.

It’s obviously way too early to tell how holiday sales will shake out. But the first look at holiday retail trends seems to be encouraging.

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Jeff Reeves is the editor of and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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