Whispers of improvement may slow recession’s drumbeat

Alexandra Peers, CNN

A roar of corporate earnings came out this week and last, and the information piling up from the backbone-of-American-buyers companies like Coca-Cola, Mattel, GM, Hilton, American Express offers a fuller picture of what’s going on in this country than we’ve had in the past.

Amid a nearly international consensus that America is headed for, or possibly already in, a recession, earnings of some of the top consumer and lifestyle companies continue to provide more than a smidgen of hope.

Then again, as comedian John Cleese once said, “it’s not the despair…I can stand the despair. It’s the hope.”

So here’s a look at the good news. To be sure, we’re cherry picking, but perhaps there just might be enough of it to keep the Fed from hiking interest rates a third of a percentage point on Nov. 2.

–Hilton Hotels this morning revised its fourth-quarter outlook up, citing “a pandemic recovery.”

— On Tuesday, GM announced quarterly earnings rebounded 48% as semiconductor supply chain issues began to resolve, and Coca-Cola reported net revenues jumped 10% to $1.1 billion in the third quarter.

— Mattel offered a reserved outlook for the holiday season but beat analysts’ forecasts. It bragged that toy car sales are zooming, as are Barbie-related entertainment partnerships.

–American Express last week reported its third-quarter revenue rose 24%, chiefly due to a return to travel.

The economic outlook is bleaker in Europe, of course, but the picture that these and other recent earnings paint in the US is of a country where people are watching too much television, drinking lots of Coke (though in smaller bottles that cost more per ounce), traveling again and buying a heck of a lot of Chevy Silverados. Not to mention collecting Mattel’s Hot Wheels cars and the new Tina Turner Barbie.

In other words, despite crippling inflation and sinking house sales there’s less evidence of gloom and doom than you would expect after months of gritted-teeth Armageddon predictions.

To be sure, consumer confidence numbers were lousy Tuesday, but that’s the whole point: a survey measures a feeling, not necessarily facts.

CEOs: ‘My crystal ball is bigger than yours.’

Maybe one of the big reasons we are so downbeat is the number of billionaire CEO’s that don’t run brick-and-mortar businesses who are rushing to predict recession.

Take Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, who predicted Oct 10 that the US will likely be “pushed into some kind of recession six to nine months from now.” A week later Goldman Sachs head (and part-time DJ) David Solomon echoed there’s “a good chance” of recession.

Nouriel Roubini, the market pundit famous for predicting the housing collapse of 2008, sees stagflation and even worse on the horizon —but he also recently said people were stupid for moving to Florida and Texas because those states soon will become unlivable because of climate change. He’s a downbeat fellow in general, as you can tell from his nickname, Dr. Doom.

Jeff Bezos, who stepped down as Amazon CEO last year, took time out of his busy day October 19, the 35th anniversary of one of the hugest drops in stock market history, to advise his followers on Twitter it was time to “batten down the hatches.” Well, how did that add value?

Stay in your lane, Jeff. And when will my Wordle board game be delivered? I ordered it six weeks ago. Please look into it.

Number of the day: 101,000

That’s the number of caramel apple-flavored lollipops Candy Funhouse, an online snack retailer, estimates it has sold in the weeks leading up to Halloween, nearly a 280% jump over last year. How come? Nostalgia, on the part of parents, for that childhood fruit treat, says CEO Jamal Hejazi, and, for kids, the fact that the lollipops don’t usually come in the big-box-store mixed bags, so it makes them a bit of a rarity.

Another surprising best-seller: Thrills gum, a lavender flavored purple gum that proudly brags “it tastes like soap.” Even the CEO admits, “I didn’t quite get that.”

The deal of the art

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, amassed a treasure trove of art during his lifetime — Renoir, Botticelli, Manet — and next month his estate will auction it off, donating an estimated $1 billion-plus from its sale to charity.

Allen owned a lot of magnificent things and had glorious market timing. Cezanne’s “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire”(1888-90) is estimated to sell for more than $100 Million. In 2001, the painting sold at Phillips for $38.5 million. (Allen told Bloomberg News seven years ago that art collecting has been “a very, very good investment” for him.) We agree.

But when you see the record prices in November — and you will — know this: what looks like a tony white-gloved affair is actually a Vegas-style gamble on the part of the auction house. That’s because Christie’s actually owns the stuff itself, having fronted the estate an enormous but undisclosed sum to ensure it won the deal over competitors Sotheby’s or Phillips.

In small print on page 10 of the catalogue comes this disclosure: “Christie’s has a direct financial interest in each lot of property listed in the catalogue.” That’s because the auctioneer then farmed out the risk for some of the pieces to third parties, in elaborate deals that often essentially arrange a pre-sale so that the auction looks like a raging success.

Delphi Capital CEO and money manager Scott Black, who has loaned works by Monet, Pissarro and Matisse to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, said in an interview with CNN Business, “I was told the whole was guaranteed for $800 million.” Mr. Black, a frequent Impressionist and Cubist art buyer at auction, said he wouldn’t mind owning the Cezanne, but that he hopes it will go to a major museum, as unlikely as that might be given that nine-figure price tag.

Likely shoppers at the Allen sale include Alice Walton, whose Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is in Fayetteville, Ark., where Walmart has its headquarters, Mets owner and hedge funder Steve Cohen and Chicago money manager Ken Griffen.

The Allen art goes on view at Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters October 29 through November 8 and sales begin the following day. The viewing is free and open to the public.

Kanye’s disappearing clothing line

Retailers are tripping over their Adidas shoelaces to distance themselves from hate-speaker Kanye West so fast that not even discount outlets want to carry his clothes. Now, the big question is, will his ex-wife Kim Kardashian, who appeared in Yeezy campaigns and was photographed dozens of times in the clothes — as recently as last August in a matching outfit with the rapper — also dump them in the recycle bin?

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