Corporate America's bogus blame the election excuse

Investors favor a Clinton presidency
Investors favor a Clinton presidency

This contentious and seemingly never-ending presidential election campaign makes me want to eat more comfort food to boost my spirits.

But maybe I'm alone. Executives from several food companies -- as well as other big consumer brands -- have warned in recent weeks that the Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton battle for the White House is actually hurting their results.

The CEO of Dunkin' Brands (DNKN), which owns both Dunkin' Donuts and ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins, said in an earnings call last Thursday that franchisees were nervous because of "the overwhelming dampening effect of the presidential election."

"I think we'll all be pleased when that's passed," Travis added. "The consumer is definitely in a little bit of a funk."

McDonald's (MCD) CEO Steve Easterbrook also suggested that election angst is one reason for soft sales in the U.S. during the last quarter.

"Consumer confidence is muted. We're at a rather unusual stage of the election cycle. So none of that's really providing a tailwind for us," Easterbook told analysts after McDonald's reported its latest quarterly earnings.

Yum! Brands (YUM), owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, thought that the election was making customers wary as well.

"There is just great uncertainty as to what's going to happen in the U.S. in particular as a result of the outcome of the election," said Yum! Brands CEO Greg Creed in an earnings call earlier this month. "People are maybe just hunkering down a little bit."

Related: A Trump win could sink stocks. What about Clinton?

Yum competitor Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (PLKI) cited the election as a problem earlier this month too.

"Consumers, as you know, are very uncertain about what's going to happen after the election. No matter who you like, you think if the other guy gets elected, there's going to be a problem," said Popeyes' chief brand officer Richard Lynch to analysts.

Lynch added that the election uncertainty was a "recipe to stay home."

Really? It seems hard to imagine that people are passing up the opportunity to have an iced coffee and a cronut or some fried chicken and cheeseburgers just because they are scared of what either a President Trump or Clinton would do to the economy.

The stock market has held up well over the past few months and is not far from its all-time highs. Many strategists say that's because investors expect a Clinton victory and Republicans retaining control of at least one, if not both, chambers of Congress.

Wall Street is comfortable with the proverbial devil (or devils) that they know.

"The only market impact from the election will be if Hillary doesn't win," said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist with Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company.

Related: GOP think tank says Trump's plans would just run up debt

So why is the market doing okay while Corporate America is so jittery about Clinton vs. Trump?

It seems either investors are totally wrong about the election (like they were with Brexit) or that executives are using the election as an excuse for weak results -- as they often do with the weather.

"Trump may win" could be the new "it was too warm" in the winter. CEOs are sometimes worse than kids who claimed the dog ate their homework.

But executives at several other consumer companies, such as RV manufacturer Winnebago (WGO), mattress and bedding maker Select Comfort (SCSS) and car dealer Group 1 Automotive (GPI), all cited election uncertainty as a potential issue as well.

"We'll see what the mood of the public is because so much of consumer confidence is psychological and most experts would contend that the current electoral process is creating some distraction," said Group 1 CEO Earl Hesterberg in an earnings call.

But all the supposed election uncertainty doesn't appear to be hurting companies in the world of consumer tech.

Apple (AAPL) is expected to post strong sales and earnings and give a healthy outlook for the holidays after the market closes Tuesday thanks to solid demand for the iPhone 7. (Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 recall certainly helps too.)

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Amazon (AMZN) shares are near an all-time high. So are Facebook (FB), Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL) and Microsoft (MSFT) as well as two companies with big ties to the video game industry -- Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and Nvidia (NVDA).

To that end, the Consumer Technology Association trade group reported Tuesday that "consumer confidence toward tech spending and the overall economy both increased in October, despite concerns over the forthcoming election."

Still, it's understandable why some executives are worried about what will happen after November. This election has been anything but normal.

Larry Sorsby, the CFO of big homebuilder Hovnanian (HOV), summed up what a lot of Americans are probably feeling right about now. He was addressing a question about whether a new administration would be good or bad for housing.

"Any rational politician would be reticent to do anything that would really slow down the industry's ability to build housing," Sorsby said last month. "Hopefully rationality either by the president or the political parties themselves will prevail."

"But given this election cycle, who the hell knows?" he quickly added.

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