As the second-quarter earnings season heats up, companies in the retail, fashion apparel, beauty and luxury segments are likely to reveal the impact of stiff macroeconomic headwinds mostly caused by a general malaise in consumer spending.
Another factor expected to drag down results is a strong dollar, which is impacting tourism spending — especially for U.S. department stores. Still, there are bright spots, such as strength with some high-end luxury brands in the U.S. and Europe — notably Louis Vuitton’s Monogram handbags and Bulgari jewelry. And online sales have been strong, and are poised for continued global growth, according to recent market analysis.
But overall, the spending environment has been lackluster. Tuesday’s weekly sales data showed a steep drop while consumer confidence waned. Meanwhile, the back-to-school shopping season is contracting as parents and college youth wait later in the season to purchase apparel. And when they do buy, it is increasingly online and at steep markdowns.
Chris Christopher, director of global and U.S. consumer markets at IHS Global Insight, said the firm lowered its forecast for b-t-s to a 3.5 percent retail sales gain from a prior estimate of 3.8 percent, “due to the rather poor June retail sales report and a decline in consumer mood in July,” he said, adding that retail b-t-s sales showed a 4.3 percent gain last year, and a 4.6 percent gain in 2013.
Regarding Tuesday’s consumer confidence report, Christopher described it as a “bad report. Lower levels of consumer confidence are not very helpful for discretionary service spending, big-ticket purchases and clothing.”
Christopher said consumers are becoming “excessively more pessimistic in their expectations of business conditions and employment” prospects six months out, and went on to say that the main “culprit for the loss of confidence was the volatility in equity markets and worries over the so-called headline effect from the financial issues in China and Europe.”
Indeed, aside from cable news shows and online publications that had continuous coverage of the Greek debt and China market crash crises, financial advice columns, newsletters and blogs aimed at consumers were cluttered with headlines warning of the economic impact of these events on “nervous investors.”
This is not a good time for retailers to be dealing with nervous investors or cautious consumers. The second half of the year is critical, as it includes the holiday shopping season. For retailers who get trapped with excess inventory and are forced to sharply mark-down goods, the impact on margins will be significant.
Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, described the inventory situation as a “pig in a python that retailers have been carrying around for some time.” He said this is especially troublesome for apparel retailers. And with the b-t-s season, Johnson said the “early results [are] not encouraging, as most mall- and apparel-focused retailers are wrapping up [the second quarter] on a downbeat.”
“Footfall is weak almost universally across the mall, although some off-mall players are escaping the downdraft,” he added. “Among some b-t-s destinations, the only semi-good news is that some comps are ‘less negative.’ Almost all mall stores are comping negative on a store-only basis, and those that reach positive — or even flat — territory are doing so only by adding in online.”
Johnson added that in general, “and not surprisingly, off-mall value-based destinations are faring best,” along with pure-play online and online-heavy retailers.
By way of outlook, Christopher remains upbeat that consumer confidence will rebound “over the next couple of months as long as equity markets calm down and the Chinese stock market stabilizes. Once these headline effects wear off, consumer confidence will come back. However, consumer confidence falls faster than it rises.”