Sometimes your surroundings are your best research

by Wayne Ferbert on February 6th, 2012

You always have to do your own research. But sometimes, the best research comes from just keeping your eyes open in your every day life. What do I mean by that? Well, you interact with companies and their products every day – all day! Sometimes the best companies to invest in are the ones you regularly use. You can form an educated opinion on them – because you use them and are around them frequently.

I was reminded of that lesson this weekend – in a round about kind of way. I was driving for about 90 minutes on an Interstate highway in Western Maryland yesterday. It was about 5 pm on a Sunday and I couldn’t believe the amount of commercial tractor trailer loads I saw. It was significant. The loads were particularly large and heavy. On one of the steep hills, there were two trucks that were so loaded down that they were only doing 15 miles per hour trying to get up the hill. I also saw a train being delivered on a flatbed and a huge caterpillar piece of equipment – brand spanking new.

Now, this sample size is way too small to come to any conclusions – but my first instinct was to ask myself: “is this a normal amount of commercial traffic? Or are things picking up?” While I won’t come to any conclusions about a little bit of traffic on the highway, you can start to form an opinion about the strength of the economic recovery by the signals you see in your every day life.

We would all love to have confirmation that this recovery could be real – which could signal a much higher stock market to come. But let’s face it, it feels shaky.

We saw the job numbers report last week and they certainly signify an improving economy – even if they also represent a short time window. You should start to look to see if the stores you shop in have more traffic than usual. Or if the stores have added some staff to the floor? Or if the stores have cut back on the deep discount sales that have become all too common in the last 3 years?

Within your neighborhood and circle of friends, is the employment situation getting any better? You probably have a few unemployed or under-employed friends. In this economy, that is par for the course. Have you noticed more of them finding employment – or getting more opportunities? Or have you noticed many of your self-employed friends getting busier and finding more engagements to keep them busy?

These would all be signs of an improving economy. More work trucks in your neighborhood – especially for the discretionary projects – would signify more confidence in the economy and in people’s view of their own employment’s steadiness.

And of course, your own industry should be a good bell-weather for you to think about. Are you seeing more business in your own company and industry? Does the activity level look like it is picking up in your office? Is business picking up? Ultimately, your own confidence in the economy will be the most shaped by the confidence you have in your own employment. But some industries are cyclical – and yours might be one of them. So, keep your eyes open inside your industry and within your personal and neighborhood surroundings. After all, the signals of a recovery might be around you.

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