If one believes the various US diffusion indices - among which key are the assorted regional Fed surveys the monthly PMI data - and listens to the pithy soundbites of their respondents, the US economy has hardly ever been better (of course, that 60% of "growth" in the past year has been due to inventory accumulation on hope that the consumer end demand will finally come is neither here nor there). However, we don't exactly believe said indices. Instead, to get a true sense of what is going on, it is always better to listen directly to those who are not only deep in the trenches, but are also accountable to their shareholders every quarter: the various CEOs and CFOs of America's public corporations. Below, courtesy of Bloomberg chief economist Rich Yamarone, who has compiled a selection of Q3 earnings call soundbites, is an indicative snapshot of the US economy as seen most recently through the prism of executives in a wide range of industries.
Simon Property [SPG] Earnings Call 10/25/13: "…it is clear that the economy has slowed. You've seen it with wages, you've seen it with employment. Needless to say we don't have to get into what's going on in terms of leadership in our country, none of which we use as an excuse, because we put blinders on to the best of our abilities when it comes to that kind of stuff. But we're operating at a high level in a very slow growth economy, and we're outpacing the growth in the economy and that's all that we can do, but we are affected by the economy."
Caterpillar [CAT] Earnings Call 10/23/13: "….while it looks like there's a good chance that the world economy could improve next year, there's still much risk and uncertainty. The direction of U.S. fiscal and monetary policy remains uncertain, and the climate in Washington is divisive. Eurozone economies are far from healthy, and China continues to transition to a more consumer demand led economy. In addition, despite higher mine production around the world, new orders for mining equipment have remained low. As a result, we're holding our preliminary outlook for 2014 sales and revenues flat with 2013, in the plus or minus 5% range."
DuPont [DD] Earnings Call 10/22/13: "The macroeconomic environment and in particular global industrial production is improving sequentially, but at a slower pace than we expected three months ago. As a result, we recently lowered our global industrial production outlook for 2013 from 2.5% growth to slightly under 2%."
Brinker International [EAT] Earnings Call 10/23/13: "The malaise we've seen in the category didn't let up this quarter. Consumer sentiment is guarded at best and consumer confidence remains somewhat volatile. And there's some evidence that guests have shifted some of their spending to larger ticket items like homes and automobiles. And while we believe this is a temporary phenomenon, but one that has certainly impacted casual dining here in the short term. And while employment rates are showing signs of improvement, casual dining in particular is being impacted by struggles many young adults are facing, particularly those in that 18 to 24 age range. Many are graduating college significantly un- or underemployed, weighted down with debt and often moving back home with their parents. And as a parent with two of those, it's a scary thought."
Air Products [APD] Earnings Call 10/29/13: "Economic activity in the second half of 2013 was slower than we had initially anticipated in most regions. Given the current economic conditions, we are planning for economic growth to be modest again in 2014. Globally, for the regions we operate in, we are forecasting manufacturing growth of 2% to 4%. In the U.S., uncertainty in the economy remains, despite the government restart. The combination of unresolved fiscal challenges, weak job growth, low consumer confidence and diminished global demand are likely to continue to act as a headwind on economic growth, despite the positive drivers of lower energy costs and strength in housing. We are forecasting a range of 2% to 4% growth."
Revlon [REV] Earnings Call 10/24/13: "Total company net sales in the third quarter were $339.4 million, an increase of 1.1% excluding the impact of foreign currency fluctuations as compared to last year. This increase was primarily driven by higher net sales of Revlon color cosmetics despite low year-over-year new product net sales particularly in the U.S. as well as higher net sales of Revlon ColorSilk hair color and Revlon Beauty Tools."
Timken [TKR] Earnings Call 10/24/13: "It's now clear to us that the weakness in several of the key markets we serve, including the emerging market infrastructure, mining and energy exploration, is more a structural and will be longer lasting than we had expected. This leads us to believe that the slow steady improvement in demand that we've seen thus far in 2013 will extend well into next year. This situation has been exacerbated in the third and fourth quarter of this year by seasonal reductions in demand in some sectors."
AutoZone [AZO] Earnings Call 9/25/13: "A key macro issue facing our customers today is the reinstitution of payroll taxes back to historic norms. This reduction in our customers' take-home pay began at the beginning of the new calendar year and at this point it has been difficult to objectively quantify the ramifications of this change, however, we believe this is and will continue throughout the year to be a headwind to our consumer's spending habits."