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Consumer Staples Struggling with Higher Inflationary Costs, Group Hits 52-Week Lows

publication date: Jun 20, 2022
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Image: The Vanguard Consumer Staples ETF (VDC) has notched a new 52-week low, and investors should note that we don’t think consumer staples entities are immune to an environment of higher inflation, where their price increases may not be fully absorbed by the consumer. Due to the commoditization of many of the goods produced in the consumer staples space, we think the consumer may instead trade down to off-brands or white label (“store brand”) products than pay up for branded merchandise. 

From where we stand, bellwethers in the consumer staples sector can’t price successfully ahead of inflationary headwinds, and many are experiencing tremendous gross margin pressure. Not only this, but in many cases, we think branded staples are experiencing demand (volume) destruction as consumers balk at price increases that still fall short of offsetting the heightened cost environment. Many consumer staples equities have huge net debt positions and hefty dividend obligations, and while many of the types of products they produce consumers cannot do without, we think we might see the consumer staples group’s share prices come under continued pressure in this market environment and eventually fetch what we think would be a market multiple (roughly three turns of earnings lower, or ~19x earnings to ~16x earnings). Even if this may not happen, however, there still appears to be some tough sledding ahead on a fundamental basis given report commentary, and we’ll look to evaluate our newsletter portfolios and their exposure to the consumer staples arena in the coming weeks to months. What remains clear is that the outlook for many consumer staples entities is not pretty.

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