Consumer Companies See Few Signs of an Economic Slowdown Despite Trade War Jitters
Chief economists and central bankers may be concerned about the onset of a global economic slowdown, but consumer-facing companies say they are doing just fine, thank you very much.
“Obviously there is a lot of fear and a lot of concern,” said Melanie Kreis, CFO of Deutsche Post, which is the post office for Germany as well as the largest logistics company in the world. But “there is a tendency over the last years that people don’t look so much at the fact and more at sentiments, and I think fear is a bad advisor.” Speaking at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Monday, Kreis added that yes, there are concerning signs, but “there’s also a lot of evidence that the economy continues to do surprisingly well.”
Kreis noted that during the first quarter of 2019, Deutsche Post’s cross-water express shipments grew 5%. While the numbers have declined compared to last year, “growth continues,” she said. Deutsche Post’s domestic parcels increased 7.7% during the same period.
Alexandra Keith, CEO of P&G Beauty, echoed, the sentiments, saying, “There are a lot of warnings and consumers hear them and we hear them.” The company is in categories that are growing mid- to low-single digits in all of the major regions of the world. She did concede that P&G’s beauty business focuses on products that aren’t really discretionary—shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and lotions—but there’s still always the potential people will trade down in times of economic uncertainty.
Keith said that social media influencers are one key aspect that’s driving the beauty category. “It’s grown the industry in terms of people wanting to try more and more things,” she said. She added the company is tapping into technology: Its Olay Skin Advisor uses a combination of photographic technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to tell customers’ their skins’ age versus their chronological age and recommends products accordingly. Keith says that the tool has increased customers’ basket size and their regimen usage.
Kreis noted that what concerns her most around the trade war discussion is the isolationist trend she sees emerging. She said that over the last four decades, global trade has increased wealth for mankind in unparalleled ways. While there are injustices and people have not benefited equally, it has increased the standard of living across the planet, she added. “There’s not a single country that’s been successful going the isolationist route,” she said, noting that she’s deeply concerned about “countries thinking that by decoupling themselves from the rest of the world they’ve found the way for a bright future because that’s not the case.”