Oreo maker is worried about rise of populism

Spicer: Tax on imports to fund border wall
Spicer: Tax on imports to fund border wall

You'd think people would want to eat more sweets in these crazy political times. A sugar rush can distract you from all the global turmoil. But the head of the company that makes Oreo and Cadbury said that's not the case. Consumers are very nervous.

Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld said in the company's earnings conference call with analysts Tuesday evening that "an unprecedented number of economies are facing significant disruption and uncertainty."

She ticked off a laundry list of concerns: sluggish growth, volatile swings in currency and commodity prices, the impact from Brexit, India's move to dump two of its paper currency notes and "complex developments in the political landscape, including a backlash against globalization."

"The impacts from these events are being felt across many companies and industries, and we're not immune. We're dealing with these realities with a sense of urgency: to control what we can and create contingencies for what we can't," Rosenfeld added.

She didn't mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name, or any other global leaders like British Prime Minister Theresa May or French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

But Mondelez CFO Brian Gladden hinted that Trump's policies are of particular concern.

"As we look at the global landscape for 2017, we do expect continued economic and geopolitical uncertainties, especially in the emerging markets, but also in places like the U.S.," he said.

Mondelez, like many other large U.S. firms, could be hit particularly hard if countries around the globe start enacting more protectionist policies.

Although the company is based in Deerfield, Illinois outside of Chicago, it generated just a little more than a quarter of its overall sales from North America in its most recent quarter.

Related: Trump and Hillary Clinton both bashed Mondelez on campaign trail

Europe is its biggest market, and Mondelez also gets a large chunk of revenue from Latin America and Asia.

Trump's call for a border-adjusted tax on goods coming in from Mexico could also hurt Mondelez.

Gladden said imports from Mexico only represent a small portion of its overall sales.

But he added that Mondelez is "not going to do anything to adjust our operations or plans until we really know what the policies are going to be, and they're much more concrete." (Curious word choice since Trump is calling for a physical wall to be built?)

Mondelez took some heat in the U.S. a few years ago after it moved production of some Nabisco cookies from a Chicago plant to one in Salinas, Mexico. Trump even said during the campaign that he's stopped eating Oreos because of the move.

The company has noted that Trump's claim about Mondelez shutting down the plant was inaccurate and that it still does make many of its products in the U.S., including at the Chicago bakery. Oreos, for example, are still made in three U.S. bakeries.

But Gladden said during the call that "we don't have right now at this point additional plans to move any additional production to Mexico." He added that Mondelez is "watching developments" and that it has "a voice in this process of providing feedback."

But Mondelez (MDLZ) investors don't seem too nervous though. The stock was up nearly 3% in early trading Wednesday even though the company also reported earnings and sales that missed forecasts.

Related: Oreos for Buffett? Mondelez pops on Kraft Heinz rumor

The company did not mention any further acquisition plans during the conference call either. Mondelez tried to buy candy king Hershey last year but dropped the bid after Hershey repeatedly rejected it.

Since then, many Wall Street analysts have speculated that Mondelez could now be a takeover target itself. Some have wondered if Kraft Heinz (KHC), which is backed by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB), could make a run for it.

That would reunite Kraft and Mondelez under the same corporate roof again. Mondelez became a separate company in 2012.

Cereal giant General Mills (GIS) and soda and snack king Pepsi (PEP) have also been cited as possible Mondelez acquirers.

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