The bad news keeps piling up for the makers of everything from soft drinks to chocolate and booze.
(Bloomberg) — The bad news keeps piling up for the makers of everything from soft drinks to chocolate and booze.
The latest blow took the form of comments from Walmart Inc., which said it’s already seeing an impact on shopping demand from people taking Ozempic, Wegovy and other appetite-suppressing medications. That sent shares of food and beverage companies sliding, some to multiyear lows.
In Europe, chocolatier Lindt & Spruengli AG tumbled almost 5% and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA lost 2.5%. Nestle SA dropped as much as 3.4%, the most since May, dragging down the benchmark Stoxx 600 Index. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream maker Unilever Plc and French yogurt producer Danone SA also fell.
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The selloff is “clearly an ongoing reaction from Walmart’s comments,” said Bruno Monteyne, an analyst at Bernstein.
To be sure, consumer stocks have been falling for some time, especially as inflation squeezes household incomes. The industry also tends to pay hefty dividends that look less appealing for investors compared with 5% interest at money market funds. A measure of food, beverage and tobacco stocks in the Stoxx 600 is trading at the lowest in two-and-a-half years.
The trend is similar in the US. Consumer staples are the third-worst performing among S&P 500 sectors so far this quarter and the group, which includes the likes of Walmart, Mondelez International Inc. and Pepsico Inc., has dropped 9.1% this year.
Given the rapid popularity of this new class of weight-loss drugs and an early warning from one of the biggest retailers, it’s been enough to spark another round of selling. A recent survey conducted by Morgan Stanley found that patients tended to cut back on meals and snacks while taking weight loss drugs, and also consumed less alcohol and carbonated drinks.
Still, there’s some skepticism about whether the medications will actually cause major changes in consumer buying habits. Investors like Richard Saldanha, global equity fund manager at Aviva Investors, caution against reading too much into the stock-market swings.
“Whilst we know that these drugs do tend to result in suppressed appetite, we think the moves in the share prices do feel somewhat overdone,” he said. “It is far too early to make sweeping conclusions on what this might mean for consumer habits.”
Last month, Nestle’s outgoing Chief Financial Officer Francois-Xavier Roger played down fears the new drugs would hit big food companies, saying the dropout rates were high and that most of Nestle’s categories are protected.
Confectionery, milk and milk products and prepared dishes and cooking aids represent around a third of Nestle’s sales. Shareholder groups criticized Nestle this week for not being ambitious enough in making its portfolio healthier.
“If you are a fast-food outlet in an area where the bulk of consumers are on these drugs you are going to be hurt,” said Jon Cox, head of European consumer equities at Kepler Cheuvreux. “For large international companies, it will be an irritant at worst.”
–With assistance from Jeremy Herron and Janet Freund.
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