At what point do consumers say enough is enough when it comes to paying more for goods and services?
The question is top of mind for C-suite executives, regardless of industry, as inflation surges to levels not seen in decades. And as earnings season begins, so are the concerns about balancing the rising costs and the consumer.
“Either businesses are going to make a lot less money or they’re going to raise their prices,” RH CEO Gary Friedman said on the company’s earnings call on March 30. “I don’t think anybody really understands how high prices are going to go everywhere. … I think it’s going to outrun the consumer, and I think we’re going to be in some tricky space.”
Consumer prices rose 8.5% from a year ago in March, according to Labor Department data. That data reflects a rise that the U.S. has not seen since the late 1970s and early 1980s, with core inflation being the hottest since August 1982. The Producers Price Index, which measures what wholesalers are paying, posted its biggest rise year over year on record, up 11.3% in March.
So far in 2022, rising prices haven’t significantly slowed consumers down. Year-over-year retail spending was up 17.6% through February, according to the Commerce Department, and January spending was revised up to an increase of 4.9%, well ahead of the initial 3.8% estimate.
That continued strong demand is providing an opportunity for many companies to offset the increased pricing they’ve seen for materials and supply chain costs by passing it along to customers.
Nike upped its gross margin expectations by at least 150 basis points versus the previous year because of the “benefits of strategic pricing,” CFO Matt Friend said on the company’s most recent earnings call on March 21.
Conagra reported that its organic sales were up 6% in its most recent quarter even as volume declined 2.6% percent. The reason for that? Price/mix was up 8.6%. CFO Dave Marberger said on the company’s April 7 earnings call with analysts that the volume decrease was “primarily due to the elasticity impacts of the price increases.”
A hot job market, low unemployment and a historically high rate of savings have buoyed Americans, making them more willing to pay higher prices for goods and services. But while wages have grown, they have not kept pace with inflation. Real earnings were up 5.6% from a year ago while real average hourly earnings had a seasonally adjusted 0.8% decline last month, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
There are signs the consumer strength is getting more tenuous, starting with a key earnings read from the used car market on Monday.
CarMax saw its used car unit comps drop 6.5% in its most recent quarter even as its used car revenue rose 32.6% due to average selling prices that skyrocketed. The company cited a number of macro factors as to why sales dropped, including “declining consumer confidence, the Omicron-fueled surge in COVID cases, vehicle affordability, and the lapping of stimulus benefits paid in the prior year period.”
Forty-eight percent of Americans said they are thinking about rising prices all the time, according to a CNBC survey released last week. Furthermore, 75% said they are worried that higher prices will force them to rethink their financial choices in the coming months.
To combat higher prices, there are several things that Americans say they are doing. Fifty-three percent said they have cut back on dining out in the last six months, while 35% said they’ve canceled a monthly subscription and 29% were forced to cancel a trip or vacation.
On top of that, 32% said they’ve already switched from a brand-name product to a generic version.
Historically, high earners have been a safe haven for companies when it comes to continuing to spend even through rough times. But even 68% of respondents with incomes of $100,000 indicated they’re worried about higher prices making them change financial decisions.
Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO Brian Niccol said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Friday that while the company “continue(s) to see strength in the consumer,” that he thinks “they’re going to continue to be more discriminate going forward as they decide how to spend their dollars.”
“Our data tells us people are thinking twice about how far they want to drive, how often they want to drive; they’re also thinking twice about whether or not they want to spend their dollar on a restaurant experience or an entertainment experience,” Niccol said. “I just think it’s becoming more of a, I would say, conscious decision on how they’re going to choose to spend their next dollar versus maybe a couple of months ago.”
Niccol said Chipotle, which previously said it raised prices by roughly 6% so far this year resulting in customers paying about 10% more for their orders than a year ago, has “the pricing power to take the pricing when we need to.” However, he also noted that he “would love not to have to keep taking price, but we’ll have to see how everything unfolds going forward.”
CNBC research suggests that S&P 500 companies are expected to show earnings growth of 6.4% in the first quarter of 2022 and 6.8% in the second quarter, ultimately leading to about 10% growth across the second half of the year. But that is largely being driven by the energy sector, which is projected to have earnings growth of 233.5% in the first quarter.
In comparison, the consumer staples and consumer discretionary sectors are estimated to have a 1.9% and -11.9% earnings growth in the first quarter, a harbinger that the consumer spending and demand of the Covid era might finally be hitting a wall.
Trump media company subpoenaed in federal criminal probe of SPAC deal
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gives the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition during their annual “Road To Majority Policy Conference” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center June 17, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Seth Herald | Getty Images
Donald Trump’s media company was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with a criminal probe, according to the company with which the former president’s firm plans to merge.
Digital World Acquisition Corp. said in a filing Friday that Trump Media and Technology Group received a subpoena from the grand jury in Manhattan on Thursday. The Trump company also received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a civil probe on Monday, DWAC said.
DWAC also said some current and former TMTG employees have also recently received grand jury subpoenas.
The filing came days after DWAC said the government investigations could delay or even prevent its merger with Trump’s newly formed company, which includes Truth Social, a social media app intended to be an alternative to Twitter.
Neither TMTG nor a spokeswoman for Trump immediately responded to CNBC’s requests for comment.
The Justice Department and the SEC, which regulates the stock market, are investigating the deal between DWAC and Trump Media. By merging with DWAC, which is a kind of shell company called a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, Trump’s firm would gain access to potentially billions of dollars on public equities markets.
Trump established Truth Social months after Twitter banned him for his tweets on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Trump Media’s CEO is former Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the former president’s most ardent loyalists in the Republican Party. Trump is also considering whether to run for president in the 2024 election.
Trump has continued to spread the lie that the election was stolen from him. His alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection is being probed by a House select committee that has accused the former president of being at the center of a multipronged conspiracy to block the peaceful transfer of power to Biden.
Early criticism of the Trump-DWAC deal came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In calling for an investigation, she wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler in November, telling him that DWAC “may have committed securities violations by holding private and undisclosed discussions about the merger as early as May 2021, while omitting this information in [SEC] filing and other public statements.”
DWAC shares are far off their highs, closing Friday at $24.20. The stock had surged above $90 in October, after the deal with Trump’s group was announced.
DWAC on Monday revealed in a securities filing that it learned June 16 that each member of its board of directors received subpoenas from the same federal grand jury.
The grand jury sought documents similar to those the SEC already requested as part of its civil probe, DWAC said. The company itself was served with a subpoena a week ago with similar requests, along with other requests relating to communications, individuals and information involving Rocket One Capital.
DWAC also revealed Monday that a board member, Bruce J. Garelick, had told management that he would quit the board during the previous week. Garelick said his resignation “was not the result of any disagreement with Digital World’s operations, policies or practices,” according to the company filing.
— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Thomas Franck contributed to this story.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.
Walmart is working on a response to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, CEO says in memo
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon speaks at the CNBC Evolve conference November 19th in Los Angeles.
Jesse Grant | CNBC
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told employees on Friday that the company is weighing how to respond to a Supreme Court decision that ended the federal right to an abortion.
“We are working thoughtfully and diligently to figure out the best path forward, guided by our desire to support our associates, all of our associates,” he said in a memo sent to employees on Friday. “We will share details on our actions as soon as possible, recognizing that time is of the essence.”
He did not say what changes the company is considering, such as if it may cover travel expenses for workers who must travel to another state where abortion is available.
The memo was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Arkansas, home to Walmart’s headquarters, is one of several states with severe limits or bans on abortions that went into affect after the high court’s ruling.
Walmart is also the country’s largest private employer. It has about 1.6 million employees across the country, including many who live and work in states across the Sunbelt with abortion restrictions such as Texas, Oklahoma and Florida.
Since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, companies across the country have had a mix of reactions. Some, including JPMorgan Chase, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target, have announced new plans to cover employee travel to other states for abortions. Others, such as Kroger and Apple, said they already cover travel for medical treatments and reproductive health care. And still others have remained quiet.
Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the country, said in May that it would pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses each year for non-life-threatening medical treatments, including abortions.
Walmart already covers employee travel for some medical procedures, such as certain heart surgeries, cancer treatments and organ transplants.
Walmart health benefits cover only some abortions. According to the company’s employee handbook, charges for “procedures, services, drugs and supplies related to abortions or termination of pregnancy are not covered, except when the health of the mother would be in danger if the fetus were carried to term, the fetus could not survive the birthing process, or death would be imminent after birth.”
Plan B, an over-the-counter form of contraception, is covered only if the person gets a prescription. The pill, often called the “morning after pill,” works by preventing ovulation or preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb. It can be taken after unprotected sex or when contraception fails.
Other forms of contraception are also covered with a prescription, including birth control pills, injections and intrauterine devices, or IUDs. Some anti-abortion activists also oppose IUDs because they can stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
In Friday’s memo, McMillon said Walmart has gathered input from employees as it decides what to do. He also alluded to the size and diversity of both the company and its customer base.
“We know our associates and customers hold a variety of views on the issue, and this is a sensitive topic about which many of us feel strongly,” he said. “We want you to know that we see you, all of you. No matter what your position on this topic is, we want you to feel respected, valued and supported.”
FCC authorizes SpaceX to provide mobile Starlink internet service to boats, planes and trucks
The Starlink logo is seen in the background of a silhouetted woman holding a mobile phone.
Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images
The Federal Communications Commission authorized SpaceX to provide Starlink satellite internet to vehicles in motion, a key step for Elon Musk’s company to further expand the service.
“Authorizing a new class of [customer] terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing user demands that now require connectivity while on the move, whether driving an RV across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a U.S. port, or while on a domestic or international flight,” FCC international bureau chief Tom Sullivan wrote in the authorization posted Thursday.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the FCC decision.
Starlink is SpaceX’s network of satellites in low Earth orbit, designed to deliver high-speed internet anywhere on the globe. SpaceX has launched about 2,700 satellites to support the global network, with the base price of the service costing users $110 a month. As of May, SpaceX told the FCC that Starlink had more than 400,000 subscribers.
SpaceX has signed early deals with commercial air carriers in preparation for this decision: It has pacts with Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private charter provider JSX to provide Wi-Fi on planes. Up until now SpaceX has been approved to conduct a limited amount of inflight testing, seeing the aviation Wi-Fi market as “ripe for an overhaul.”
The FCC’s authorization also includes connecting to ships and vehicles like semi-trucks and RVs, with SpaceX having last year requested to expand from servicing stationary customers. SpaceX had already deployed a version of its service called “Starlink for RVs,” with an additional “portability” fee. But portability is not the same as mobility, which the FCC’s decision now allows.
The FCC imposed conditions on in-motion Starlink service. SpaceX is required to “accept any interference received from both current and future services authorized,” and further investment in Starlink will “assume the risk that operations may be subject to additional conditions or requirements” from the FCC.
The ruling did not resolve a broader SpaceX regulatory dispute with Dish Network and RS Access, an entity backed by billionaire Michael Dell, over the use of 12-gigahertz band – a range of frequency used for broadband communications. The FCC continues to analyze whether the band can support both ground-based and space-based services, with SpaceX pushing for the regulator to make a ruling.
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