Consumers are financially healthy but nervous about the state of the world, and that is stopping them from spending freely.
That’s one theme to emerge from the second-quarter earnings season, according to Goldman Sachs, whose analysts were taking stock Friday of what companies have had to say about the quarter and the rest of the year.
Analysts led by David Kostin analyzed earnings-call transcripts and identified four themes. Alongside the consumer reticence, those were a mixed performance of margins; the continued effect of the strong dollar; and the U.K. vote to leave the European Union, known as Brexit.
Earnings calls with the big banks revealed a consumer that was financially healthy, based on such factors as credit card spending, credit quality and the clear tailwind American are enjoying thanks to low gasoline prices. But for other consumer-facing companies, there was a lot of talk about political and social uncertainty, with retailers and restaurant chains fretting that the U.S. presidential election and civil unrest in the form of events such as Turkey’s attempted coup and terror attacks in Europe are weighing heavily on sentiment.
“I think, generally, there’s just a broader level of uncertainty in consumers’ minds at the moment, both trying to gauge their financial security going forward, you know, whether through elections or through global events — people are slightly mindful of an unsettled world,” McDonald’s Corp. MCD, +0.12% Chief Executive Stephen Easterbrook said in a sum-up on his company’s call.
”And when people are uncertain, when families are uncertain, caution starts to prevail and they start to hold back on spend.”
Margins had a mixed performance in the quarter, with overall S&P 500 SPX, -0.08% company margins contracting, even when excluding battered energy companies. Those companies that did expand margins did so by cutting costs.
Here’s what United Parcel Service Inc. UPS, -0.19% Chief Commercial Officer Alan Gershenhorn had to say: “For the quarter we achieved our 2% to 3% range in our base pricing, and the core pricing actually remains firm. … [W]e’re making up for some softness externally with what we’re doing internally. … We have continued initiatives that will continue to improve the operating margin.”
Goldman is expecting energy-sector margins to recover in the second half, but expects margins in other sectors will remain flat.
The dollar remained a headwind in the quarter, even after it lost some of the strength that has hurt exporters in recent years. Companies offered a mixed outlook for the second half. Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.23% , Visa Inc. V, -0.12% , Coca-Cola Co. KO, +0.64% and General Electric Co. GE, -0.16% were in the headwind camp, while Microsoft Corp. MSFT, -0.62% said currency developments would have zero effect in the second half, and Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, +0.17% said it would have a favorable impact.
Here’s Delta Air Lines Inc.’s DAL, -0.95% view: “The currency certainly has impacted the booking point of sale, and we have seen some strength in the U.S. point of sale to the U.K. as the pound has deteriorated,” said CEO Edward Bastian. “Likewise, we’ve seen some reduction in our U.K. point of sale coming to the U.S.”
Brexit was a key theme on calls, with companies generally conceding the uncertainty, at least until the terms of an exit have been negotiated, will have a knock-on affect on its customers and consumers. Most said they’re taking a wait-and-see approach and cautioned it’s too early to assess the full impact.
“I just think Brexit is just another point of volatility,” said GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “It wasn’t the outcome we hoped for, but we were plenty ready for that as just another point of volatility.”