Currently browsing posts about: Wall-Street

Apr 26 2012

Walmart’s embarrassing bribery case

On April 22, the New York Times published an unusually lengthy account (front page plus three full pages) of how Walmart executives in Mexico bribed officials to allow the company to open stores in many locations in record time.

I was struck by the simplicity of the rationale for the illegal behavior (I’ve italicized the key points):

But The Times’s examination uncovered a prolonged struggle at the highest levels of Wal-Mart, a struggle that pitted the company’s much publicized commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards against its relentless pursuit of growth.

Under fire from labor critics, worried about press leaks and facing a sagging stock price, Wal-Mart’s leaders recognized that the allegations could have devastating consequences, documents and interviews show.

Wal-Mart de Mexico was the company’s brightest success story, pitched to investors as a model for future growth. (Today, one in five Wal-Mart stores is in Mexico.) Confronted with evidence of corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing.

As I keep saying, Wall Street pressures on corporations not only to make profits, but to grow profits every quarter, are the root cause of much food company corruption and corner-cutting.

 

Feb 10 2012

Pepsi cuts 8,700 jobs; 4th quarter profits rise

Pepsi is about to put 8,700 of its worldwide employees out of work.   This might make you think the company is in trouble.

Let’s have some fun with the numbers reported by Reuters in today’s New York Times

Pepsi reports increases in:

  • Annual dividends: 4%
  • Expenditures on advertising: an additional $500 million
  • Expenditures on display racks: an additional $100 million
  • Fourth quarter profits: from $1.37 billion a year ago to $1.42 billion
  • Earnings per share: from 85 cents a year ago to 89 cents
  • Revenues: up 11% to $20.2 billion

Let’s get the logic straight here:

  • PepsiCo made $1.42 billion in profits last quarter.
  • The company’s revenues, profits, and returns to investors are increasing.
  • QED: it is adding 8,700 out-of-work people to an already depressed job economy.

Only Wall Street would view Pepsi’s bottom line as problematic and its CEO, Indra Nooyi, as in trouble:

Ms. Nooyi has come under pressure from Wall Street for a stagnant stock price and a lagging North American beverage business. She has been criticized for taking her eye off the core business of sodas to expand into healthier products, such as hummus and drinkable oatmeal.

When it comes to Wall Street, forget about jobs and health.  Only one thing counts: meeting those quarterly growth targets.

Advocates for a healthier food system should not expect much help from food corporations.

They will only be able to help if forced to by public pressure and regulation.

Jul 25 2011

Campbell Soup fights the salt wars

As I endlessly repeat, even companies that want to make “healthier” products cannot do it—unless the products sell. If they don’t, forget it.

Witness: Campbell Soup. The company has given up on reducing the absurdly high salt content of its soups and is adding back the salt. Why? Its “health-inspired low-sodium push failed to lift sales.”

Campbell’s new CEO announced this at, no surprise, its annual investors’ meeting: “For me it’s about stabilizing it [company sales] first and then planning growth beyond that.”

Campbell shares rose by 1.3%.  Investment analysts were optimistic: “We look for future results to benefit from an increased emphasis on bolstering sales with tasty soup products.” 

From Campbell’s point of view, any guidelines that require it to reduce salt set “virtually unachievable” standards that are “misguided and counterproductive.”

In practice, the “draconian” thresholds for sodium, fat and sugars meant a high proportion of foods currently on the market would not meet the standards, while the proposed nutritional principles “describe products that manufacturers will not produce because children and teens will not eat them.”

From the standpoint of the advertising industry, Campbell’s “U-turn is a cautionary tale.”

Campbell’s problem, according to the industry, is that it “didn’t just dip its toe in the water with some stealthy, under-the-radar sodium reduction, it went for it all guns blazing as part of an overall commitment to ‘nourish people’s lives everywhere, every day.”

Clearly, concern about its customers’ health was a big mistake. And business analysts note that Campbell’s

u-turn – albeit just on one product line – raised questions about just how strong this commitment actually was…What would happen if instead of investing marketing dollars into a ‘please try me again’ campaign, Campbell’s embarked on a ‘we are absolutely determined to make this work’ campaign?

Oops. Bad press. In response, Campbell backtracked again.

In a press release, the company insisted that it is continuing to produce lower-sodium choices including 90 varieties of Campbell’s soups and more than 100 other Campbell products, such as V8 juices, Prego Italian sauces, SpaghettiOs pastas and most Pepperidge Farm breads.

The CEO said:

“Reducing sodium was absolutely the right thing for our company to do”  and Campbell’s Healthy Request, the company’s popular line of heart-healthy soups, has had compound annual sales growth of 21 percent over the past five years.

Campbell also says it ”plans to shift the allocation of its R&D resources to ensure the company’s efforts are focused on a variety of ways to bring innovative products to market, not only on sodium reduction.”

We know that many consumers take great interest in the impact of the foods they eat on their long-term health and well-being … But we also recognize that the health and wellness attributes of foods mean different things to different people. For many, weight loss and weight maintenance is of primary importance. Others define their wellness needs in terms of vegetable nutrition, sodium reduction, energy and stamina, or digestive health. Thus, reducing sodium is just one component of our wellness strategy.

And one the company feels must be sacrificed to sales.

Make no mistake: food companies are not social service agencies. When it comes to a commitment to public health, the bottom line is all that counts—and has to be, given the way Wall Street works.

This needs a system change, no?  And one starting with Wall Street, which isn’t a bad idea for other reasons as well.

Jun 30 2011

Pepsi’s “health food” initiatives in trouble?

As I keep saying, public concerns about obesity put food companies in an impossible dilemma.  Even if companies want to produce healthier products and stop marketing to kids, they can’t.  If they do, they lose sales.

Case in point: PepsiCo.  Its investors are unhappy that the company  is pushing its “healthier-for-you” foods instead of doing what it is supposed to: pushing the far more profitable “fun-for-you” products like PepsiCola, Gatorade, and Cheetos.

According to the Wall Street Journal, investors are worried that Pepsi sales have fallen to #3 in rank after Coke and Diet Coke.  They blame the company’s CEO, Indra Nooyi:

Hailed as a strategic visionary since taking PepsiCo’s reins nearly five years ago, Mrs. Nooyi is facing doubts from investors and industry insiders concerned that her push into healthier brands has distracted the company from some core products.

They ask: “Is she ashamed of selling carbonated sugar water?”

Products that PepsiCo calls “good for you” still make up only about 20% of revenue. The bulk still comes from drinks and snacks the company dubs “fun for you,” including Lay’s potato chips, Doritos corn chips and Pepsi-Cola, by far the company’s single biggest seller with about $20 billion in annual retail sales globally.

Advertising Age, of course, thinks the reason PepsiCo has a problem is because it’s not spending more on marketing:

Analysts and investors blamed the decline on PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, who took the reins five years ago….Back in 2005, PepsiCo spent $348 million on soda ads in the U.S.; by last year, the company was spending just $153 million.

Advertising Age (June 20) reports PepsiCo’s sales in 2010 at $58 billion.  It’s profits on this? $6.3 billion.

Along the way, PepsiCo spent $1.01 billion to advertise its products, just in “direct media” (TV, radio, print, and Internet ads that go through advertising agencies).  It probably spent just as much or more on indirect methods such as trade show, point-of-purchase campaigns, and other such things.

Advertising Age gives 2010 marketing figures for specific products (numbers rounded off to the nearest million):

  • Pepsi:  $154
  • Gatorade: $113
  • Quaker:  $56
  • Tostitos: $35
  • Tropicana: $31
  • Lay’s: $25
  • Cheetos:  $11

Wall Street analysts say the company better do something to boost sales of its core products, or else.  Expect to see a lot more advertising dollars spent on “fun-for-you.”  And maybe fewer on “good-for-you?”

The food industry spent billions to convince people that eating tons of junk food is normal, expected, and what adults and kids are supposed to do.  Now, it faces a backlash driven by obesity and its health consequences.

Wall Street insists that companies not only make profits, but grow.  Companies must hit their quarterly growth targets.

Maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at the way Wall Street operates.  We want to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy, right?  How about also bringing investment policy in line with health policy?

Hey, I can dream.

Apr 13 2008

Food companies’ actions on obesity: report card

Since 2001, investment analysts in Great Britain have argued that food companies must take responsibility for their contribution to obesity or risk losing business over the long term. The investment analysis, from JP Morgan in the UK, says some companies (Danone, Unilever, Nestlé) are making some progress in some ways, particularly in Europe, but most say they are doing more than they really are–more show than tell. The analysts’ recommendation: food companies should do more–much more–to demonstrate their commitment to the health of their consumers.

But how can they, especially in the U.S., where Wall Street cares about only one thing: growth and more growth.  I don’t see how companies can make real progress until the investment system changes.  A somewhat better junk food is still a junk food, alas.

Jan 8 2008

Starbucks in trouble?

Here is an example of how crazy our food system is.  Starbucks, according to the Chicago Tribune, is in trouble.  Why?  “while overall revenue and earnings continued to increase at rates better than 20 percent in its fiscal 2007 fourth quarter [which sounds pretty good to me]…there was a 1 percent slip in average transactions per store in the United States [oops].”  That’s all it takes for Wall Street to start predicting doom, apparently.

Aug 17 2007

Whole Foods Scores a Win

Despite the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block purchase of Wild Oats stores by Whole Foods on anti-trust grounds, a federal judge is allowing the merger to go through. As reported in today’s New York Times, Whole Foods believes that it needs the purchase to keep the company competitive. If Whole Foods’ competitiveness seems distasteful and inappropriate to its stated mission (as reportedly documented in FTC filings and reports of its CEO’s sometimes covert bloggings) , consider that it is a publicly traded company. Like all such companies, its primary responsibility it to stockholders and that means that it not only must make profits, but must grow and report growth to Wall Street every 90 days, or else. Shares of Whole Foods stocks rose yesterday by $3.33 so Wall Street thinks it’s doing something right. And you?