Judging by the first 10 days, 2019 may be all doom and gloom
Trade wars and, particularly, China’s slowdown are starting to ripple around the buying world, affecting transport to top-end handbag sales
Wilmington — Trade wars, China’s slowdown, erratic stock markets: the outlook is getting grimmer for an increasing number of companies across the globe.
This Thursday alone, more than a half-dozen corporate giants either lowered their profit forecast, announced massive job cuts or pulled plans in the face of market volatility. American Airlines Group, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Macy’s and BlackRock. were among the biggest casualties, joining the likes of Apple and FedEx that have warned recently that the future isn’t looking as good as it did just a few weeks ago.
The year is just 10 days young. Here’s a look at the main industries affected by the current gloom.
US airlines are facing a darkened outlook as economic uncertainty threatens demand. The American Airlines pared estimate for a key gauge of pricing power on Thursday followed a similar move by Delta Air Lines at the beginning of the year. And that was before accounting for a partial government shutdown in the US.
Carriers also gave a darker view for 2019. FedEx cut its outlook a few weeks ago, just three months after raising it, reflecting an abrupt change in its view of the global economy. CEO Fred Smith cited trade tensions, especially between the US and China, among its troubles, saying most of the problems he faced were due to “bad political choices”.
If you’re looking for signs that the automotive industry may be heading into another slump after an extended boom in Europe and the US, Thursday offered a glimpse of what may lie ahead: within hours, JLR and Ford Motor announced major cost-cutting programmes.
As part of a broad review of its European business that could include plant closures, Ford took the most aggressive action in the region so far. JLR, Britain’s biggest car maker, followed with a plan for 4,500 layoffs, about 10% of its global workforce. The culprits, according to JLR: Brexit, flagging demand for diesel-powered vehicles and a downturn in China.
Retail and luxury brands
The retail industry also shows signs of suffering on all continents. The challenges have different roots, but one thing’s for sure: China’s economic slowdown looms largest over luxury brands like Tiffany & Co and Louis Vuitton owner LVMH. Tiffany said last week that its weaker-than-expected sales highlighted a “clear pattern” of Chinese shoppers cutting back on spending when they’re overseas.
On Thursday, Macy’s and Kohl’s gave the clearest indication so far that the US holiday season might not have been the smash hit some hoped for. Macy’s darker outlook and Kohl’s disappointing sales compounded concerns that rising interest rates and Chinese trade turmoil could dent consumer spending, a backbone of the US economy.
The doom and gloom mirrored the situation in continental Europe and the UK, where retailers are also grappling with uncertainty about the country’s exit from the EU. Some companies are weathering the storm, such as Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, which came out with solid results. Weakness was most pronounced among smaller, more focused retailers such as Halfords, which sells automotive and bicycling gear.
Asset managers are under pressure as volatility roils markets and investors have piled into funds with low fees. BlackRock was the latest company to announce a reduction in its workforce on Thursday, with a plan to dismiss 500 employees, or 3% globally, in the weeks ahead. That’s BlackRock’s largest headcount reduction since 2016.
AQR Capital Management, the giant quantitative fund manager run by Cliff Asness, announced job cuts two days ago after a year of poor performance. State Street is also trimming its workforce, starting this week, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The bank is cutting 15% of its senior management, as its new CEO continues with a plan to whittle management ranks.
The erratic markets of the past weeks has started to have an impact on financial plans at big corporations. US industrial giant United Technologies said on Thursday that it has halted the sale of its fire-safety and security business because of recent volatility. The company will focus instead on its broader plan to separate such disparate businesses as jet engines, elevators and climate controls.
The biggest gloomy surprise to greet 2019 was Apple’s sales forecast cut on January 3, the first time in almost two decades that the company lowered its outlook. The company said it didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the economic slowdown in emerging markets, particularly in China. There were warning signs, as several key Apple suppliers trimmed their own estimates in the previous months, but the Apple news rippled through the industry.