With oil prices near seven-year lows, many large oil producers and associated businesses have felt pain equivalent to a well-oiled chainsaw doing a tango on the intestines. Recent massacres include a 2015 full-year loss of $6.5 billion for BP, a 53% drop in earnings per share for Royal Dutch Shell, and a 35% drop in revenue for ExxonMobil.
This carnage, though, is creating some major upside for other companies, those outside the business of black gold, that stand to benefit from a consumer wallet that's fattening like a turkey in October. Here are three of them.
Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX): The Great Recession was bad for the coffee retailer, as consumers suddenly became hyper cost conscious and decided to skip the $3 lattes, opting instead for cheaper alternatives at McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts. But now, the opposite is true, as consumers are making room for luxury coffee. Starbucks recently reported a 12% increase in net revenue to $5.4 billion, with global traffic up 4% and adjusted earnings growth of 15% to $0.46 per share for its fiscal 2016 first quarter. The company also reported a 60 basis point increase in its operating margin to 19.7% and a 5% increase in its average ticket sale.
Consumers are finding that as they reach down and discover extra cash in their pockets, they're more comfortable splurging on a $5 Smoked Butterscotch Latte and a $4 La Boulange sandwich. And they're comfortable doing it on a more frequent basis. This leads to higher revenue and margins for the coffee retailer named after the first mate of the Pequod.
CNN Money estimates that U.S. households will realize an average gas savings of about $320 this year, which equates to about 160 tall Pike Place coffees from Starbucks.
The Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY): Approximately 24% of Hershey sales come from convenience stores, and most convenience stores come outfitted with a feature that could prove beneficial for the maker of milk chocolate bars: gas pumps. As gas prices drop, consumers tend to make more trips to convenience stores and subsequently, visit the inside of those stores more often. More trips result in more hands snatching up Hershey bars.
Fourth quarter sales volume growth for the chocolate maker's convenience store channel rose by 2.6% in 2015, compared with a 0.8% increase in its food channel, which represented 25% of sales. Revenue was also up 6.7% in the drugstore channel, which represented 10% of the top line, according to RBC Capital Markets data. Although overall unit volume decreased across all channels for Hershey in the fourth quarter, in part because of the strong dollar, China, and consumer migration to healthier snacks, the convenience store channel was the least egregious, with a volume drop of 0.3%, pointing to a positive lift from lower oil prices.
Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ:COST): It seems counterintuitive to say that Costco stands to benefit from lower gas prices, given that fuel sales and other "ancillary" items represented 16% of the retailer's 2015 net sales, but sellers of gas tend to hold on to their prices longer than a rapid drop necessitates, and thus, they increase their profit margins. Thus, Costco may lose sales on gas, but they will realize a higher profit margin. Costco management notes this dynamic in its 2015 annual report:
Generally, rising gasoline prices benefit net sales growth, which, given the higher sales base, negatively impacts our gross margin percentage but decreases our selling, general and administrative expenses as a percentage of net sales. A decline in gasoline prices has the inverse effect.
In other words, declining prices take away from net sales, but they increase gross margins and cause static SG&A expenses to be a larger percentage of net sales. The annual report goes on to note that 2015 gross margin as a percentage of sales increased 43 basis points, primarily as a result of the impact of gas price deflation on net sales along with higher gross margins in the gas business.
As a corollary, Costco gas customers save at the pump and have more to spend when they enter the store, much like the case for Hershey. In this scenario, think of the gas pumps as a retail store aisle end cap, with an item priced at a teaser rate to entice customers to walk down the aisle and make additional purchases. In this case, though, the end cap is the gas pump, and the teaser rate is the low price published on the price-per-gallon sign. Once the customer walks down the aisle (or into the store), that customer also has more money to spend due to savings at the pump.
If you own an oil company, work for an oil company, or live in a country whose chief export is oil, such as Russia or Canada, then certainly, recent results are akin to the final act of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: messy to say the least. But elsewhere, consumers are enjoying the savings at the pump. This should lead to increased spending on items like coffee, snacks, and household essentials. While Starbucks, Hershey, and Costco stand to benefit, so do many, many others.