Maybe it's all the snow that plummeted to earth in the Northeast. Or maybe it's something more deeply rooted. Either way, consumer confidence is way down (again).
Actually, according to researcher Conference Board, the Consumer Confidence Index dropped sharply in February, with folks concerned about the job market and the overall business environment. Makes you want to go out and spend some cash, right?
Yeah, I didn't think so. And that's what's plaguing some of the big names in consumer products right now. These companies are busy doing whatever it takes to drive any type of respectable earnings and revenue numbers, and in the process are potentially hurting their brands and their businesses as a whole. Let's take a look at two companies that may be close to reaching their breaking point.
No happy hour here
People may keep the booze flowing even during tough times, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to buy the best. Just ask Constellation Brands
So, the big dogs, including Constellation and Diageo
Constellation Brands' most recent earnings certainly reflect the start of some trouble. Revenue dropped by 4% for the quarter, with reported operating income decreasing by 32% (comparable income dropped by 13%). EPS declined by 10% on a comparable basis and a whopping 47% on a reported basis. Wine snobs helped the company maintain some dignity, with sales of branded wine increasing by 2% on the quarter.
On the balance sheet, Constellation Brands doesn't look super strong either, with only $50.3 million in cash compared with $3.7 billion in debt. No wonder the company is cutting prices: It needs to keep cash flowing to pay off that debt. In the latest quarter, its net interest took nearly 50% of operating income.
While Constellation has managed three quarters of profitability, it's still in the red for the year, in part because of a goodwill write-off nearly a year ago. If it were to meet estimates for the year ended in February, then the company is trading at less than 10 times earnings now. But can you stomach a struggling industry and all that debt?
Extreme home makeover?
It's true that Lowe's
But things aren't all cheery in the land of home improvement. Lowe's same-store sales dropped by 1.6% in its last quarter with an overall decline of 6.7% for the 2009 fiscal year. As of January, the company was carrying more than $1 billion in cash and short-term investments, while debt stands at $5.1 billion.
And Lowe's also is apparently giving in to consumers' frugal urges, with reports of folks successfully haggling for better-than-advertised deals. What's next? Telling Starbucks
Lowe's says it thinks the worst is behind it, but with consumer confidence dropping again, you've got to wonder if we've seen the bottom. Competitors Home Depot
In light of current uncertainty, Lowe's P/E of 19.5 seems awfully high (Home Depot's P/E is 20.3, so it isn't much more palatable). If the economy isn't turning around, then Lowe's has left itself in a tough spot, with a decent amount of debt and its revenue growth dependent on a shaky consumer base.
It's easy to blame some of the consumer pessimism on an oppressive winter and overall cabin fever, but when friends and family remain out of work for months (and sometimes years), it's hard to feel excited about the future.
Yes, folks will need to go to Lowe's and the like for shovels and outdoor supplies, and they may still choose to imbibe on occasion. But it's not clear that they'll be planting vast rose gardens or throwing parties to celebrate elusive financial success. That's why Constellation Brands and Lowe's are two companies that may break if consumer confidence has anything to say about where the economy is going.
For related Foolishness:
Home Depot and Lowe's Companies are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Fortune Brands and Starbucks are Stock Advisor recommendations. Diageo is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Looking for more advice in a topsy-turvy market? Give the Motley Fool's newsletters a try via the 30-day free trial.
Fool contributor Colleen Paulson does not hold positions in any of the stocks mentioned above and is ready for the 12-plus inches of snow in her yard to melt. The Fool's disclosure policy is never broken.