May 24, 2019

Companies are battling with Mother Nature

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Already facing the uncertainty and increased costs of the trade war and a looming end of the business cycle, American companies are finding they now have a new foe to fight: prolonged, and in some cases unanticipated, extreme weather conditions.

Why it matters: The conditions have been awful for farmers, and the agriculture and commodities markets, and now companies ranging from retail to industrials are highlighting weather-related struggles weighing on sales and revenue.

What's happening: Across the Midwest and Central U.S., this spring has brought one atmospheric onslaught after another, from late season snowstorms to severe thunderstorms that have left rivers overflowing, exceeding historic flood benchmarks.

What they're saying:

  • "Weather was challenging during the quarter resulting in suppressed demand for our spring seasonal goods, which were down high single-digits," said Kohl's CFO Bruce Besanko, after the retailer's 3.4% same-store sales decline in the first quarter.
  • "The weather in February impacted our business. 17 of 19 regions were negative," said Home Depot CFO Carol Tomé after posting a 2.5% increase in same-store sales versus the 4.2% analysts expected.
  • "I don't think we could have envisioned ... what is now approaching record rainfall in Southern California or in California," said Bernard Acoca, president and CEO of El Pollo Loco, after the restaurant reduced guidance for the rest of fiscal 2019.
  • DowDuPont and UPS also cited the impacts of flooding and weather-related disruptions.

Between the lines: "Normally, we'd be highly skeptical of retailers blaming the weather for disappointing sales," Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research, wrote in a note to clients.

  • "But this time, Mother Nature may indeed be at fault."

Meteorologists agree: "These events have likely affected businesses in varying ways: from either a delivery standpoint or the inclement weather making it difficult for consumers to actually get to the stores," Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist for Aon Benfield's Impact Forecasting division, tells Axios in an email.

Our thought bubble, from Axios Science editor Andrew Freedman: The extreme weather we've been seeing is consistent with a warming climate in which the atmosphere is able to hold more moisture.

  • Studies have shown an increase in heavy precipitation events during the past few decades in the Midwest and Central states, and other research shows a greater tendency for certain weather patterns to form that can lead to amplified extremes.

Go deeper ... Central U.S. storms: 3 die in Missouri, "violent tornado" hits Jefferson City

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