Companies make 2024 the year of cost cuts

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Corporate America has a message for Wall Street: It’s serious about cutting costs this year.

From toy and cosmetics makers to office software sellers, executives across sectors have announced layoffs and other plans to slash expenses — even at some companies that are turning a profit. Barbie maker Mattel, PayPal, Cisco, Nike, Estée Lauder and Levi Strauss are just a few of the firms that have cut jobs in recent weeks.

Department store retailer Macy’s said it will close five of its namesake department stores and cut more than 2,300 jobs. JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines have offered staff buyouts, while United Airlines cut first-class meals on some of its shortest flights.

As consumers watch their wallets, companies have felt pressure from investors to do the same. Executives have sought to show shareholders that they’re adjusting to consumer demand as it returns to typical patterns or even softens, as well as aggressively countering higher expenses.

Airlines, automakers, media companies and package giant UPS are all digesting new labor contracts that gave raises to tens of thousands of workers and drove costs higher.

Companies in years past could get away with passing on higher costs to customers who were willing to splurge on everything from new appliances to beach vacations. But businesses’ pricing power has waned, so executives are looking for other ways to manage the budget — or squeeze out more profits, said Gregory Daco, chief economist for EY.

“You are in an environment where cost fatigue is very much part of the equation for consumers and business leaders,” Daco said. “The cost of most everything is much higher than it was before the pandemic, whether it’s goods, inputs, equipment, labor, even interest rates.”

There are some exceptions to the recent cost-cutting wave: Walmart, for example, said last month that it would build or convert more than 150 stores over the next five years, along with a more than $9 billion investment to modernize many of its current stores.

And some companies, such as banks, already made deep cuts. Five of the largest banks, including Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs, together eliminated more than 20,000 jobs in 2023. Now, they’re awaiting interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve that would free up cash for pent-up mergers and acquisitions.

But cost reductions unveiled in even just the first few weeks of the year amount to tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars. In January, U.S. companies announced 82,307 job cuts, more than double the number in December, while still down 20% from a year ago, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

And the tightening of months prior is already showing up in financial reports.

So far this earnings season, results have indicated that companies have focused on driving profits higher without the tailwind of big price increases and sales growth.

As of mid-February, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 had reported…

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