Retail on sale, increasing costs, and shifting spending habits

May 19, 2022 | The Simbul-Lezon Wealth Management Group


Investors are grappling with headwinds that are beginning to challenge the economic and earnings growth outlook. Investors have been digesting results from consumer companies that suggest the operating environment has become more demanding.

Over the past week, a number of “big box” U.S. retailers reported quarterly earnings reports. While results varied from one to the next, there were some distinct takeaways. Reassuringly, consumer demand remains reasonably healthy, and some companies largely reiterated their revenue forecasts. However, some acknowledged a notable shift in demand from larger household and durable goods (like furniture, appliances, home improvement items) towards staples like food.

It’s worth noting that some kind of change in demand mix has been anticipated. More specifically, investors have been expecting demand for goods, which grew tremendously during the pandemic, to decline to more normal levels, while demand for services was expected to return in a meaningful way as the travel and hospitality sectors reopened. This appears to be underway. But, the retail industry results suggest some consumers may be starting to prioritize food and other necessities, at the expense of more discretionary items, given price inflation and higher borrowing rates.

The other important, albeit less surprising, takeaway from recent results was with respect to costs. They continue to rise. This reflects a combination of supply chain challenges and overall inflationary pressures. Companies have kept elevated inventories because of concerns over the global supply chain. Meanwhile, freight, logistics, and labour expenses have been running higher than planned, which is consistent with issues noted across other industries.

Given the above, margins have started to come under pressure. Margins are a measure of profitability as they measure the difference between revenue and costs. Until recently, companies had proven to be quite resilient at navigating through a challenging supply and cost environment. But, that appears to be starting to change, at least within the retailing industry. Understandably, we expect investors to begin to question whether other industries will inevitably start to see similar challenges in the months to come.

It’s fair to say economic and earnings growth are facing some headwinds. It’s not necessarily abnormal, as economic cycles usually come and go. The question remains whether the slowdown that is underway will turn into something more serious. On that front, we continue to monitor our indicators for the U.S. economy in particular. In the meantime, we are reviewing portfolio holdings to ensure they are positioned for a range of future potential outcomes. And, we remain watchful and prepared to take advantage of the kind of opportunities that tend to emerge across asset classes during periods of broad market volatility.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.

Your investment team

Marita Simbul-Lezon
Mary Rose Simbul
George Tsolakidis
Scott Donovan