The election ate their homework? CEOs blame campaign for weakness

Mon Nov 7, 2016 7:47pm EST
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By Caroline Valetkevitch and Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apparently, Americans are too distracted or distraught by this year's wild presidential campaign to think about getting a dishwasher, buying an RV or opening a doughnut shop. And the topsy-turvy race could be crimping furniture sales, hotel bookings and even temporary help hiring.

At least that is the word from a clutch of corporate executives in recent weeks who have laid at least some blame for their companies' rocky performances or uneven consumer demand at the feet of constantly bickering White House contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Since the start of October, executives from more than 80 U.S. companies have made some mention of the U.S. election during quarterly conference calls with Wall Street analysts and investors, based on a Reuters analysis of call transcripts.

In many cases, their remarks have come in response to specific questions from call participants about whether the long campaign season has had an impact on results. Some, though, have specifically pointed to the election as a factor in their earnings, including by damping consumer or business spending. For example, appliances maker Whirlpool (WHR.N: Quote) and coffee and doughnuts chain Dunkin' Brands (DNKN.O: Quote) have directly blamed the elections as a drag on their business. Shares of both companies fell after their reports.

In Whirlpool's case, CEO Jeff Fettig pointed to apparent "temporary softness in industry demand" in the United States in explaining why sales dipped around 0.5 percent from a year earlier, undershooting Wall Street's forecasts. "We believe this is due to consumer confidence weakening, primarily due to the focus around the U.S. elections," he told analysts on the appliance maker's conference call last month.

At Dunkin' Brands, CEO Nigel Travis cited a hesitance by franchise operators to open new stores until they get a grip on how the election outcome will affect regulations and minimum wage laws.

Executives at other companies, such as furniture chain Ethan Allen (ETH.N: Quote), staffing firm Robert Half International (RHI.N: Quote) and hotel operator Hilton Worldwide (HLT.N: Quote), have cited the election as a pressure point as they discussed the business climate.

The election "really has impacted customers and clients. It's taken a tremendous amount of attention from especially discretionary budgets," said Farooq Kathwari, chairman, president and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors (ETH.N: Quote).   Continued...

A trader works at his desk as the U.S. presidential town hall debate between Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is shown on television at Citibank's trading floor located in central Sydney, Australia, October 10, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray