FirstFT: Reality bites for US retailers

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Target yesterday echoed a warning from rival Walmart the day before that rising costs would hit its annual profits, triggering the biggest one-day decline in its share price since the stock market crash of 1987.

Shares in Walmart, the world’s largest bricks-and-mortar retailer, fell a further 6.8 per cent yesterday after losing 11 per cent the previous day when it cut its earnings guidance.

The share prices of other retailers also fell heavily. Discount group Dollar General fell 11 per cent, Dollar Tree tumbled 14 per cent and Costco was down 12.5 per cent.

The declines in the retail sector led to a broader sell-off in US stock markets, which suffered their worst day since the beginning of the pandemic.

The benchmark S&P 500 share index fell 4 per cent, its biggest loss since June 2020, while the tech-dominated Nasdaq Composite ended down 4.7 per cent.

Retailers have been wrongfooted by the scale of the inflationary pressures in the US economy.

“We don’t expect to see any meaningful reduction in global supply chain pressures until 2023 at the earliest,” said Mike Fiddelke, Target chief financial officer. “So the elevated costs we’ve been facing will continue to affect our profitability for the remainder of the year,” he added.

A day earlier Walmart, long-regarded as a bellwether of the American consumer, warned of higher wages, a jump in fuel costs and softness in general merchandise sales at its US businesses as consumers cut spending.

  • Go deeper: Target and Walmart are proving “old economy” shares can crash on bad news, just like tech stocks, says the Lex column. Alphaville, meanwhile, has got hold of a memo from the co-chief investment officer at PGIM Fixed Income and it warns of “a central bank-induced recession”.

Thanks for reading FirstFT Americas. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Gordon

1. Exclusive: Top US antitrust enforcer pledges crackdown on private equity deals Jonathan Kanter, head of the DoJ’s antitrust unit, said in an interview with the FT that he would take a tougher stance on private equity firms rolling up swaths of the American economy in a way that is often “at odds with the law”.

2. Google’s Russian unit to file for bankruptcy Google has become the latest American company to exit Russia. Its Russian subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after authorities in the country seized its bank account. The US tech group said it would continue to provide free services, including search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play, to users in Russia.

3. Sweden ‘must cut ties’ with Kurdish militia in Syria, says Turkish envoy Turkey’s ambassador to Stockholm has said Sweden must sever links with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an armed Kurdish militia that spearheaded the campaign against Isis in Syria, or Turkey will continue to block its application to Nato. Yesterday Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stunned his Nato allies by saying he could not accept the membership of Sweden and Finland due to their support for groups that Turkey views as terrorists.

4. Melvin Capital to wind down funds The hedge fund founded by Gabe Plotkin that lost billions of dollars during last year’s meme-stock rally, has told clients it plans to return cash to investors after a difficult stretch. “The past 17 months has been an incredibly trying time for the firm and you, our investors,” Plotkin said in a letter to investors seen by the Financial Times.

5. Joe Biden invokes Korean war-era powers to tackle baby formula shortage The White House last night used the Defense Production Act, which was first used during the Korean war, to direct companies to prioritise the production of ingredients used in the production of baby formula. The shortages are fast becoming a political liability for the White House and congressional Democrats.

  • Go deeper: The baby formula shortages highlight important lessons for policymakers everywhere as they look to ease supply chain blockages and bring the production of essential goods closer to home, writes Brooke Masters.

The day ahead

Nato meets Defence chiefs will gather in Brussels today, as US president Joe Biden hosts the leaders of Finland and Sweden at the White House to discuss their Nato applications.

ECB minutes Policymakers will release minutes from the European Central Bank’s last meeting as central banks around the world seek an interest rate sweet spot in the inflation fight.

Company earnings Retailers will once again be in focus with discount retailers Ross Stores, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Kohl’s reporting first-quarter results. Apparel and footwear company VF Corporation also reports results once markets in New York close.

Economic data New applications for unemployment aid are forecast to have edged down in the week ended May 14, a sign of a tightening US labour market. Economists have forecast that sales of existing homes in the US declined in April to 5.65mn units, down from 5.77mn in March. Demand for existing homes is expected to have softened after the 30-year mortgage rate hit a 13-year high of 5.3 per cent. 

Monetary policy Former top Treasury official Michael Barr will appear before the Senate for a confirmation hearing on his nomination as vice-chair for supervision of the Federal Reserve.

What else we’re reading

Donald Trump’s star power yields uneven results in Republican primaries Doug Mastriano’s victory in Pennsylvania underlined the influence of former president Donald Trump in the Republican party. But elsewhere there were signs the former president’s endorsement did not carry the weight he might have hoped.

Buffalo shooting shines light on racist ‘great replacement’ theory Payton Gendron’s killing spree has resulted in fresh scrutiny of conservative media figures and Republican lawmakers accused of embracing, sympathising with and acquiescing to views on race and immigration that have moved into the terrain of extremist falsehoods. The most prominent of these is the “great replacement” theory.

How the Colombia election could change Latin America For decades Colombia has been a close US ally but the upcoming presidential elections threaten Bogotá’s close relationship with Washington. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement and social activist, is far ahead in the polls and has promised to rethink the “war on drugs” and restore ties with Venezuela.

Hollywood braced for austerity after streaming splurge As once-raging subscriber growth reverses and its stock price tumbles, Netflix will be “pulling back” on spending growth over the next two years, said Spencer Neumann, its chief financial officer. A new age of austerity may be emerging in the streaming wars.

  • How do today’s musicians make money? Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube Music, together have more than 560mn estimated subscribers and many more non-paying users. Unable to fight streaming giants, some artists are scrambling to develop their own business model.

Debt suffocates Africa’s ability to respond to climate change BlackRock’s Larry Fink has signalled support for climate-aligned investing. But behind his careful positioning, writes Vanessa Nakate, is the story of BlackRock and Zambia, and how debt has prevented lower-income countries from defending themselves against climate change.

Travel

Have you ever wondered what it is like to see the world through the eyes of a pilot? For Mark Vanhoenacker, great cities hold a special significance — and their post-pandemic reawakening is a joy to witness.

Cairo at 4am, as seen from a flight between Bahrain and London
Cairo at 4am, as seen from a flight between Bahrain and London © Mark Vanhoenacker

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