By and  on January 6, 2010

Shares of The Warnaco Group Inc. and True Religion Apparel Inc. got a boost from Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater, who upgraded both companies to “buy” from “hold.”

Slater’s positive take helped send True Religion up 6 percent to $20.13 and Warnaco ahead 5.2 percent to $44.86. It was a good day for vendors in general with increases from Liz Claiborne Inc., which rose 5.4 percent to $6.06; Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., up 3.9 percent to $84.76, and Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., 3.8 percent to $42.64.

The gains stood out in what was a comparatively sleepy day in the markets. The S&P Retail Index rose 0.5 percent, or 1.92 points, to 413.03. But the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 11.94 points to 10,572.02 after the National Association of Retailers said its Pending Home Sales Index fell to 96 for November from 114.3 in October. Internationally, the Hang Seng Index jumped 2.1 percent in Hong Kong, the Nikkei 225 inched up 0.3 percent in Tokyo, the FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent in London and the CAC 40 fell fractionally in Paris.

Slater set his target price for Warnaco at $52 and said the company’s U.S. business at off-pricers and warehouse clubs was strengthening and that December sales benefited from strong wholesale trends in Europe, Brazil and China.

“Top-line growth should be driven by international greenfield opportunities, retail expansion and product innovation,” he said.

For True Religion, Slater set a target price of $28 and said the company’s own stores had significant potential.

“We believe [True Religion] is an early-stage [Coach Inc.], taking control of its destiny and transitioning from a majority wholesale to a majority higher-margin vertical retail story,” he said. “With a young store base of 70 owned locations — 55 opened in the last two years — [True Religion] can more than double in the U.S., with further upside internationally.”

Also on Tuesday, The Conference Board reported that job satisfaction again declined in 2009, with just 45.3 percent of the 5,000 U.S. households surveyed expressing positive feelings about their employment.

The study, conducted by TNS, extends a downward trend in job satisfaction, which stood at 61.1 percent when the first survey was taken in 1987. The top-line number has declined in three of the past four years, starting at 52.1 percent in 2005 and dropping to 47 percent in 2006 and 46.9 percent in 2007 before rising to 48.8 percent in 2008.

As was the case 22 years ago, job satisfaction was lowest among those under 25, only 35.7 percent of whom responded favorably versus 55.7 percent in 1987. No age group showed a larger drop-off in job satisfaction than the oldest demographic, those 65 and over, whose job satisfaction numbers have dropped 27.4 points to 43.4 percent from 70.8 percent in 1987 and nearly 10 points, from 53.3 percent, as recently as 2008.

Job fulfillment among those 25 to 34 years old fell to 47.2 percent from 60.2 percent in 1987. At 13 points, the drop-off for that demographic was the smallest of any of the groups studied, and satisfaction was highest for any of the age brackets covered.

Job satisfaction among 35 to 44 years olds stood at 43.4 percent, down from 60.9 percent in 1987, while the percentage for 45 to 54 year olds slumped to 46.8 percent from 60.9 percent. Older Baby Boomers, aged 55 to 64, had a 45.6 percent instance of job satisfaction, down from 59.3 percent in the first study but up from 45.3 percent in the prior year.

While satisfaction remains highest among the highest income group, those earning $50,000 or more, just over half of those in that bracket — 50.5 percent — were satisfied with their jobs, down from 53.8 percent in 2008 and 70.5 percent in 1987. For all other income groups, satisfaction was below 50 percent, with the lowest reading, 33.9 percent, among those in the $25,000 to $35,000 bracket.

When asked if they expected to be in their current job one year from now, 21.7 percent of respondents said no, up slightly from 21.3 percent in 2008.

“These data throw up a big red flag because the increasing dissatisfaction is not just a ‘survivor syndrome’ artifact of having coworkers and neighbors laid off in the recession,” said John Gibbons, program director of employee engagement research and services for The Conference Center.

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