Profit from the “Cubicle of Tomorrow”

04/26/2011 8:00 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Recent news highlighting the adverse health effects of a sedentary work environment could give rise to a move toward the workspace of tomorrow. Here is one stock that would benefit from such a trend.

Here’s a swing trade based on a few articles I’ve read in recent weeks. As traders, I think we can all agree that sitting all day at a desk is really, really bad for you, even if you aren’t overweight or particularly unhealthy. That’s also the main thrust of recent coverage from The New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR) on research done into the health effects of reduced physical activity, especially sitting.

Sedentary time sounds downright dangerous, according to The New York Times:

“This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops—“the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says—leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides—for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it—plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.”

The advice appended to stories like these is often of the “move around some more” variety, but knowledge workers are increasingly opting for workspaces that avoid the problem entirely: Standing desks or even combination desk/treadmills.

I know several journalists who made the switch years ago, and when I know I’m going to be stuck in one place for a long time, I usually inelegantly stack whatever boxes or crates are lying around so that my notebook is at roughly chest level. 

I suspect that large companies—the ones that already spring for other preventive-health measures, anyway—might start paying for their workers to be able to stand or walk at work, which would be a boon for companies like Steelcase (SCS), which makes both height-adjustable and treadmill desks.

Here is a daily chart of the stock:

chart
Click to Enlarge

The stock has fared well over the last six months versus the S&P 500, with a long-run beta of about 1.12. Steelcase has listed options, but they are not actively traded.

The next earnings release is scheduled for late June, so speculators might take a long position immediately prior on the hope that the company will benefit from what may be an incipient move away from the hunched, cowed degradation of sedentary cubicle life.

The company will also benefit from a better economy as corporations begin spending again on things like furniture and worker comforts.

By Jared Woodard of CondorOptions.com

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