Companies Take Different Strategies to Navigate High Inflation
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Companies Take Different Strategies to Navigate High Inflation

P&G is ramping up advertising for premium brands; Verizon is raising prices for wireless services
Procter & Gamble Co. is ramping up advertising on premium brands. Verizon Communications Inc. is raising prices on wireless plans, while Whirlpool Corp. has slashed production of appliances.

By THOMAS GRYTA
Mon, Oct 24, 2022 8:41amGrey Clock 3 min

High levels of inflation in the U.S. and shifts in underlying demand are putting the spotlight on the strategies executives are taking to navigate a global economy where costs are rising and consumer appetite for some products has waned.

The first batch of earnings reports from companies for the September quarter show that corporate profit margins are feeling the squeeze of the macroeconomic trends. With a fifth of the S&P 500 index already reporting, data-provider Refinitiv projects quarterly earnings will decline 3.5% from a year ago, excluding the energy sector. Companies are taking different tacks to manage the pressures on their businesses.

“The average consumer [has] become increasingly price-sensitive as the year has progressed,” Hasbro Inc. Chief Executive Chris Cocks said during an earnings call Tuesday. The maker of Nerf and other toys reported third-quarter sales fell 15% because of the timing of product releases and that profits were pinched because it had to increase promotional activity amid a buildup in inventory before the holidays.

P&G, which sells household staples such as Pampers and Tide, is spending on high-profile advertising campaigns and new product features to keep cash-crunched consumers from switching to cheaper brands. In its most recent quarter, higher commodity, materials and freight costs reduced its gross profit margin by 5.5 percentage points, which was fully offset by cost cuts and price increases.

Chief Financial Officer Andre Schulten said the company has enough brands and price levels to give consumers options within its own portfolio. There was growth in mid tier brands during the quarter but also customers spending more on large-size packages to lower the per-use price.

“The strategy to provide pack sizes that stretch from below $10 for some channels and consumers to above $30 or $40 for others seems to be meeting consumers’ needs,” Mr. Schulten said.

Verizon and AT&T Inc. both raised prices on some of their cellphone plans over the summer, a strategy that yielded widely different outcomes. AT&T reported a third-quarter net gain of 708,000 postpaid phone connections—its most valuable customer category—a sign that few of the subscribers affected balked at higher monthly bills.

Verizon’s more widespread rate and fee increases drove down the same types of phone connections in its consumer segment. New business lines barely offset that decline, and the telecom company ended the September quarter with a relatively weak 8,000-phone gain.

Executives at both companies said the higher rates helped boost profits. Matt Ellis, chief financial officer at Verizon, said overall wireless-service revenue grew despite the customer defections, partly because many of its remaining customers chose to upgrade their wireless plans to more expensive packages with perks such as Disney+.

Telecom companies have also said that they benefit from providing an essential service to customers who are mostly able to keep paying, despite signs of trouble in the broader economy. Mr. Ellis said the company “won’t be shy” about raising prices for certain services if it makes sense over the coming months.

“I look at my payment data, and the payment patterns are better than they were pre-Covid,” Mr. Ellis said. “Our base has never looked as strong from a credit standpoint.”

The top U.S. cellphone carriers have avoided raising the price of their most expensive plans, which can cost as much as $90 a line, choosing to target older plans. And many consumers agree to enrol in premium monthly plans in exchange for valuable discounts on new smartphones.

AT&T has sought to regain market share over the past two years by giving new and existing customers deep equipment discounts contingent on customers sticking with the service for two or three years. The company has said its strategy is working but is still less extreme than some of its rivals’ current offers.

Others, such as Whirlpool, are feeling whiplash from a sudden drop in demand for their products at the same time they are confronting high costs for materials, energy and other expenses.

“Demand is down, and cost is up,” Whirlpool CEO Marc Bitzer said during a conference call. “You would expect costs to come down in a recessionary environment. We’re operating in unprecedented times.”

Whirlpool isn’t turning to discounting to move unsold fridges and dishwashers. Instead it slashed production by 35% to shrink inventories. The company cut its profit forecast for 2022 by about half, warning that high costs were likely to persist into next year as appliance demand remains muted.

Fastenal Co., a major distributor of industrial supplies such as nuts and bolts, has been raising prices to offset rapidly rising costs, but the recent quarter showed signs of stability in costs along with some resistance from customers.

“At this stage of the cycle, the marketplace is less receptive to further price increases,” said Fastenal finance chief Holden Lewis on an Oct. 13 conference call. “Product pricing in the marketplace is stable, and there are tenuous signs of product inflation easing.”

—Bob Tita contributed to this article.



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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

By SUMATHI REDDY
Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.

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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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