Inflation, Buybacks, U.S. Dollar Dominate Earnings Calls

Inflation, Buybacks, U.S. Dollar Dominate Earnings Calls

Earnings season is winding down, with fewer than 75 of the companies in the S&P 500 Index having left to release their earnings reports. Goldman Sachs analysts have analyzed the transcripts from the earnings calls of the companies that have reported so far and discovered four main themes, which they outline in the latest edition of their “S&P 500 Beige Book.”

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This Beige Book edition includes analysis from the earnings calls of 44 companies that account for 24% of the S&P 500’s total revenues and 29% of its total equity capitalization.

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Consumer versus industrial economies

Analyst David Kostin and his team found a particularly interesting trend on the earnings calls in which company managements have highlighted a divergence between the consumer and industrial economies. Many of them said that the consumer economy continues to show “steady but unspectacular growth,” Kostin said, but that “pockets of the industrial economy are” experiencing “recession-like conditions.”

Inflation, Buybacks, U.S. Dollar Dominate Earnings Calls

Among the companies with commentary relating to the consumer versus the industrial economies are Apple, Caterpillar, Ford and Starbucks. Apple in particular had an interesting comment, as management remarked that the company’s “growth in one year was greater than the full year revenue of almost 90% of the companies in the Fortune 500.”

Inflation in the labor market

Second, the Goldman Sachs team reports that companies are seeing some early signs of inflation, especially within the labor market. Consumer-focused companies explained that wages are pressuring their margins and pushing their expenses higher. Retail and food companies are especially being affected by the mandatory wage increases and began providing more benefits to their employees.

Inflation on goods and services is still limited, even though a handful of companies have already begun raising their prices. Some companies that raised their prices were responding to inflation in food prices.

Among the companies with management that talked about inflation on their earnings calls were Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pepsi, and Costco.

Buybacks are really popular

Kostin and team also said that many companies have been discussing how to use their cash, and many of them have increased their share repurchase programs. Managements are also emphasizing that they’re planning to return more cash to shareholders. Others focused more on mergers and acquisitions as a way to use their cash.

Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Visa were among the companies that talked about cash usage.

Strong U.S. dollar still weighing on earnings

And finally, the Goldman Sachs team found that currency headwinds continues to be a popular theme on earnings calls as the strong U.S. dollar weighs on both their top and bottom lines. Companies with significant exposure to international markets were especially affected.

American Express, Costco, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Pepsi, and Visa all discussed currency headwinds on their earnings calls.

Graphs and charts in this article are courtesy Goldman Sachs.

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Michelle Jones is editor-in-chief for and has been with the site since 2012. Previously, she was a television news producer for eight years. She produced the morning news programs for the NBC affiliates in Evansville, Indiana and Huntsville, Alabama and spent a short time at the CBS affiliate in Huntsville. She has experience as a writer and public relations expert for a wide variety of businesses. Email her at
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