It will likely come as no surprise that, despite a ‘surging’ economy (based on today’s inventory-stacked GDP), that CEOs are less than upbeat about the future when one scratches below the surface of 5-second soundbites. As Bloomberg’s Rich Yamarone notes, from the most recent quarter’s earnings calls, two critical themes emerge as top of mind for CEOs – consumer-related companies remain skittish about the ability of households to spend without a heavily promotional environment and companies cited upcoming healthcare legislation as a hurdle to performance and profitability.
 
Coldwater Creek [CWTR] Earnings Call 12/11/13: “While the third quarter was a challenging period for us, we were able to react quickly to the trends in the business by improving our assortments and refining our marketing plans. We have seen an improvement in our sales trends and conversion rates. However, we are seeing an increasingly competitive and highly promotional environment, traffic remains challenging and the majority of the holiday season lies ahead of us.”
Bebe Stores [BEBE] Earnings Call 11/7/13: “While we are pleased with the progress that we have made in first quarter of 2014, we are facing a few headwinds as we enter second quarter. As it has been widely reported, the macroeconomic environment has been increasingly difficult starting the last week of September and continued into October, which has resulted in some decline in traffic trends as well as creating a highly promotional environment.”
Cosi Inc [COSI] Earnings Call 11/14/13: “The increase in labor and related benefits as a percentage of restaurant net sales was due in large part to the deployment of additional hourly labor in an effort to improve speed of service and guest satisfaction, combined with the deleveraging impact of the comparable store sales decline on the fixed portion of our labor costs. We were also adversely impacted in the quarter by higher employee health insurance costs.”
Flowers Foods [FLO ] Earnings Call 11/7/13: “You look at employ-related costs, we’re seeing increase there. You have healthcare increases. It’s kind of some of the typical things you would expect from an employee perspective.”
Wal-Mart [WMT] Earnings Call 11/14/13: “The retail environment, both in stores and online, remains competitive. At the same time, some customers feel uncertainty about the economy, government, jobs stability and their need to take care of their families through the holidays. Walmart has aggressive plans to help our customers enjoy the holiday season…”

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