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Voters got a chance to give politicians a piece of their minds when they cast ballots in November's elections. Now it's companies that are sending a message to lawmakers, and they've decided to sound off in a big way about the coming fiscal cliff.
Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX ) plans to start small, just by writing its message on coffee cups. The retailer will ask baristas at stores in the Washington, D.C., area to write "come together" on cups this week as politicians meet to try to reach agreement on the fiscal cliff negotiations. But CEO Howard Schultz said that would just mark the beginning. He told Reuters that "if (the talks) do not progress, we will make this much bigger" by leveraging the company's huge social media presence to amplify the message. Starbucks has ambitious business plans to open another 1,000 stores in the U.S. over the next five years, a goal that would require a strong U.S. economy.
Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) has been publicly warning about the fiscal cliff, too. The nation's biggest retailer threw a spotlight on the growing consumer awareness of the issue, saying that 80% of consumers were concerned about it by early December.
Respondents to Wal-Mart's survey mentioned worries over the impact the fiscal cliff could have on the economy and on their personal finances. The company quoted a few survey responses, like this one, that were very critical of policymakers:
I think it is ridiculous that Congress waited until this close to another deadline to act. This should have been in work for the past two years. We need compromise in both parties if thousands of people are not going to lose their jobs.
Other companies have taken to their earnings announcements to get out the message. For example, in prepared remarks for its third-quarter report last week, parcel delivery giant FedEx (NYSE: FDX ) said that its 2013 outlook "could swing either direction," with much depending on a successful resolution of the fiscal cliff talks. The company's results are closely tied to economic output, which is bound to take a hit if meetings break down without a resolution. While it reaffirmed earnings guidance of about $6.50 a share for 2013, FedEx added this caveat: "[T]he mounting uncertainty in the U.S. related to fiscal policies and their potential to impact earnings by further restraining economic growth is a concern."
Cruise line operator Carnival (NYSE: CCL ) told a similar story, saying that its guidance for a 20% boost in earnings next year assumes that a resolution will be reached on the fiscal cliff. Consumer spending on discretionary travel would take a big hit in a weakening economy.
Still, Carnival's chief operating officer, Howard Frank, expressed cautious optimism just last week. He told investors that the new year should bring strong business results, saying, "Hopefully, wisdom will prevail in Washington, and January will be the start of a solid 2013 wave season."
Most consumer-facing companies seem to agree, but they're taking action anyway by speaking up on the issue.
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