Expect the same old, same old — at least for the early part of this year.
That’s the general consensus on Wall Street — while the new administration transitions into power — as it awaits signs on what direction the Trump administration will take on economic policy. There is an expectation that fiscal growth stimulus will kick in later in the year, but to what extent remains unclear.
Ethan Harris, head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in the short run, he expects more deregulation and tax cuts. The firm’s head of U.S. economics, Michelle Meyer, has projected first quarter GDP at 1.5 percent growth, while its head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, Savita Subramanian, said one sector that would benefit from corporate tax cuts is consumer discretionary, which includes retail.
Brien Rowe, an investment banker at D.A. Davidson Cos., expects a “very busy first quarter” on the mergers and acquisitions front for consumer brands, although not all deals necessarily would be fashion-related nor would they be completed during the first quarter. “When you look at the credit markets, rates have risen a quarter of a point and debt is very plentiful — still very cheap compared with historical levels,” the investment banker said.
Heading into 2017, high on that list could be the future of Kate Spade & Co., which has seen pressure from an activist investor to sell itself. Last week shares of Kate spiked up on news that it was already in discussions with an investment banker to identify possible buyers.
For now, M & A activity is expected to surpass initial public offerings activity. IPO research and tracking firm Renaissance Capital said 2017 could mark the end to the U.S. IPO recession that began in August 2015 through 2016. While tech-related firms are expected to comprise the mega IPO filings, three industry names to keep an eye on for 2017 are Canada Goose, brand management firm Authentic Brands Group and J. Jill.
Joseph Nemia, head of asset-based lending at TD Bank, said whether the Fed moves to raise rates two or three times next year will “depend on the velocity of the economy, and whether it is growing faster than they wanted it to.” The lending environment has been fairly steady for the last 12 months, and according to Nemia, that is expected to continue in 2017.
With a new Republican president in office, Joseph Nastri, Capital One’s market executive for the Metro New York region, is hoping that federal regulations will moderate, noting that current regulations have “definitely make it more difficult for small- and midsize businesses to get capital.…Banks want to lend [and] will loosen up the reigns a bit” if there are fewer restrictions.
Ken Frieze, chief executive officer at Gordon Brothers, a financial services firm that’s better know for its legacy business in asset dispositions, expects to see more announcements of store closings, given the typical seasonality early in the year when retailers assess their locations plus the added pressure from the consumer shift to online from offline. He expects value retailers such as off-pricers and discounters to continue to do well, compared with traditional retailers such as department stores and specialty apparel chains. Much of that change has to do with the growing Millennial consumer base, Frieze said.
A potential Black Swan event could be what policies get implemented under President-elect Trump’s administration. “Barring some international crisis, we’ll have to see about the changes in policy that he talks about. There may be some benefits, but also some costs. Who knows what he wants to do and what he can get done domestically,” Frieze said, noting that “President-elect Trump will likely have more influence outside than inside the country, given our checks and balances system [of government].”
While the retail and apparel sectors are struggling more than they have in the past, Frieze did see some potential benefit for consumers, and in turn possibly more spending on apparel, should there be a corporate tax cut. “That could create additional disposable income, but how much of that will flow into the general population’s pocketbook is the question. We’ll have to see what he actually can get through,” Frieze said.
Jeffrey Edelman, former retail analyst and now director of retail and consumer products advisory services for RSM, expects to see more online firms building their own stores to have a brand presence in the physical world. And while he sees traditional retailers continuing to invest in technology, he said most “still don’t know what the return on the investment is going to be except that they know if they don’t invest [in technology] they will lose out…. Selling online is not the golden goose everyone thought it would be. They may be gaining market share, but they are losing on profitability. The only way to counter this is to have unique merchandise that’s not available down the street. The way of the future for retailers will be having brands that are exclusives.”
Bill Lewis, senior vice president of consumer products, retail and distribution for Capgemini Consulting, said mall operators will continue to focus on how to reinvent the mall concept. Some developments, such as Brookfield Place, Runyon Group’s Platform in Culver City and the redevelopment of Hudson Yards, are examples. Those developments will continue as companies see that the “curation of stores is what drives interest” to the malls.
One area that probably won’t change much going into 2017 is the distressed side of retail, and which retailers could continue to face financial pressures.
Ratings agencies Fitch and Moody’s have often noted the publicly traded firms Sears Holdings Corp. and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. Among the privately held firms, most owned by financial sponsors, Claire’s Stores, Nine West and Rue 21 are on the watch list. J. Crew, on Moody’s list, is in discussions to restructure its debt. And struggling apparel chain Limited Stores, owned by Sun Capital Partners, has been said to be moving closer to a bankruptcy filing, or even a liquidation if a buyer can’t be found.
And finally, one certainty heading into 2017 is that all eyes will be on the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting 20,000. There was hope during the rally following the U.S. presidential election that Dow 20,000 would occur before the end of 2016, but that faded last week when on Wednesday the Dow shed 111 points, and then slipped more on Friday to close out the year at 19,762.