Comment - Here comes the crunch
Another whirlwind week on financial markets has coincided with a flurry of results statements from drinks firms. Have we learnt anything?
Surging optimism on the stock markets earlier this week soon collapsed once the realisation dawned that, despite the quite incredulous feat of coordinated action between western governments, we are still heading for a recession.
No one but the inexplicably hopeful is talking about avoiding recession in the US, UK and other western economies. Technically, Ireland is already in one and the Eurozone has only its hairline above the water.
Unemployment in the UK is rising at its fastest rate since the early 1990s, official statistics showed this week, amid analyst predictions that 2m will be out of work by Christmas. It has been worse - indeed, unemployment barely dipped below 2m in the 1980s and early 1990s. Still, the current situation is worse than we have become used to, and bodes ill for Christmas retailing.
On a global scale, emerging markets are starting to suffer as foreign investment is withdrawn. Russia is set to pump more of its cash reserve into the banking system next week, while Ukraine, Hungary and Serbia have been knocking on the door of the International Monetary Fund.
This week has given us a glimpse of how several drinks firms are positioned to handle the oncoming crunch in consumer industries.
Early losers in the soft drinks sector look to be PepsiCo, which is shedding 3,300 jobs in a major cost-cutting drive, and fellow US firm Jones Soda, which is to chop 38% of its workforce for similar reasons. In terms of specific drinks categories, PepsiCo delivered a warning to the bottled water market, saying that consumers were looking to save money by returning to the kitchen tap.
Winners in the third quarter were quite clearly Coca-Cola and, in the UK, Britvic - despite Britvic's strong ties with the PepsiCo business.
Alcoholic drinks has been a tougher sector to call. SABMiller posted volume gains of 3% in the third quarter, but its shares tumbled 8% on Wednesday. Fellow FTSE 100 drinks group Diageo said this week that trading remained in-line with expectations.
Smaller firms looked to be feeling the pinch a little more acutely. Marnier-Lapostolle has seen sales fall 16% for the year-to-date, and Remy Cointreau also reported a dip in sales, although organic revenue rose due to continued demand in emerging markets.
In truth, we can only really gain snippets from this week's statements, rather than concrete trends. If any trend exists, then it is that consumers are drinking more at home, something several drinks groups have mentioned in their results statements.
What we have gained this week is confirmation that even a recession will produce winners and losers.
There has also been a clear shift in attitude across the drinks sector. Cautionary statements from big players, such as Diageo, Coca-Cola and SABMiller, have become more strongly worded, suggesting they now perceive recession as a greater threat than earlier in the year.
Ultimately, though, we're still in 'wait and see' mode.
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