A recent survey of industrials and consumer sector players finds that wage inflation is already here. Half of the corporate executives, business owners, and private equity investors polled by Stifel have already “meaningfully” raised wages at portfolio companies, while 45 percent have done so “marginally.” The news may hearten employees, but investors and customers should take note: 81 percent of respondents plan to increase prices to either fully or partially offset higher wage costs.
How responsive will customers be to rising prices? The question is critical for investors wary of the extent to which passing through costs will dent sales. The survey offers at least some indications that portfolio companies are searching for other means of mitigating the impact of wage inflation.
The most popular resort? Investment in automation.
“We see continual investment in technology to support supply chain and inventory related systems,” says Michael Kollender, managing director and head of consumer & retail and diversified industrials investment banking at Stifel. “The expenditures range from software, systems, hardware, implementation, consulting, and training. The primary benefits of the investment is to increase inventory turns, get the correct inventory to the appropriate stores or distribution points, and reduce labor in the distribution centers.”
Other pain points can be reduced through further technology investments.
“There’s also been continued investment in technology to support e-commerce initiatives by retailers and other consumer brands to support their direct to consumer businesses,” Kollender continues. “Technology spend in this segment supports customer acquisition, inventory management, and product distribution.”
In the consumer and industrials sectors, at least, companies are already moving to mitigate inflation’s impacts. Dealmakers should also note the second most popular response to a changing labor environment: “emphasis on acquisition opportunities that promote operational efficiency.”