Commentary: Is Obama still President?

BY Joe Kefauver

There is an endless list of adjectives to describe the first six-months of the Trump administration. But one modifier is both accurate and acceptable — and that word is unpredictable.

For context, the first six months of the Obama and Bush administrations were fairly predictable. Both embarked on a legislative agenda that looked and felt a lot like their campaign platforms and while the legislative process for both was rocky, we knew what we were in for. Not so much this time around.

Clearly, we knew that healthcare was at the top of the batting order whether it’s reform, replace or repeal. But after that, it was anyone’s guess.

REGULATORY PROCESS

Whether it was the Comey drama, playing footsie with Putin, Sean Spicer and then the saga of the quickly disappearing Mooch, no one could have predicted this level of chaos. And one of biggest costs of those distractions to the employer community has been the systemic failure of adequately staffing the administration and giving the regulatory process the attention it deserves. One glaring example is what is happening (or more accurately, not happening) with the regulation regarding CEO pay ratio disclosure promulgated by the Obama-era SEC.

CEO PAY RATIO DISCLOSURE

The regulation called for publicly-traded companies to begin submitting various types of pay data to the SEC for publication in 2018. If finalized, not only would our industry detractors potentially have a new line of attack on us, we would be giving very sensitive data to the government that could potentially be used against us in a variety of ways.

Specifically, the disclosure rule requires public companies to disclose the median of the annual total compensation of all (non-CEO) employees, the total compensation for the CEO and the ratio of the two.

Companies are allowed to identify their median employee in a few different ways. They could provide the ratio based on the compensation paid to their full employee population or they could implement a statistical sampling or another reasonable method. According to the rule, companies can identify the median employee based on any ‘consistently used compensation measure’, such as tax or payroll records. Companies are allowed to identify the median employee once every three years.

When President Trump won the election, there was a great deal of optimism within the business community that Congress would intervene or that the SEC would rescind the rule. The U.S. House did, in fact, pass a repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act (the Choice Act) which included a repeal of the regulation. But like a lot of things in the Senate, the momentum has slowed and as of now, it appears unlikely that they will even be able to move the Choice Act.

As a result, they likely will not be repealing the pay ratio provision before the SEC publishing deadline. The SEC, for its part, could even have a hard time delaying the rule. If the one Democrat on the commission decides not to show for a scheduled vote, then the commission, as currently staffed, would lack a quorum. As such, publicly-traded companies should presume the rule and its deadline will stand and comply accordingly.

IMPACT ON RETAILERS

This is not a welcome development. It is a paperwork/compliance nightmare and it puts the issue of CEO pay and the disparity with regard to hourly workers back on the table and the media will eat it up.

Entry-level employers are particularly vulnerable on this issue, and the data will likely portray employers as exploitative. While the rule only applies to publicly traded companies, the larger income inequality narrative and political conversation will impact all operators.

One additional important point: Last year, the City of Portland passed its own CEO pay disclosure and tax law that is based on the data submitted to the SEC. One glaring problem was a lack of clarity around how franchisees would be handled. Would the owner of a three-unit franchise be considered the CEO or the CEO of the franchisor? No one on the ground could seem to answer that question at the time. And at the same time, there was such a universal belief that the SEC regulation would ultimately die, no one worked that hard to resolve the situation. So now that local regulation and the unanswered questions surrounding it become more relevant. And we need to remember that the Portland law is in effect and the taxes based on the data submitted to the SEC will start being levied in 2018.

The regulatory process is long and tortuous. While there was a lot of policy by Twitter regarding rolling back Obama-era regulations, with the exception of some meaningful action at the DOL, there has been relatively little real action. Entry-level employers could certainly use a little less chaos and a little more governing. Anyone want to make a prediction on that happening?


Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Align Public Strategies, a full-service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making.

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FINANCE

Tough going for three specialty retailers

BY Marianne Wilson

L Brands, The Cato Corp., and The Buckle reported decreases in same-store sales, although one still managed to sound an upbeat note about its second quarter.

L Brands, parent company of Victoria's Secret, reported net sales of $767.7 million for the four weeks ended July 29, 2017, down from $777 in the year-ago period. Total same-store sales fell 7%. Same-store sales fell 10% at Victoria’s Secret and rose 1% t at Bath & Body Works. The retailer said its decision to exit the swim and apparel categories had a negative impact of about 4 percentage points and 5 percentage points to total company and Victoria’s Secret comparable sales, respectively.

L Brands said it expects second-quarter profit at the high end of its previous forecast range of 40 cents to 45 cents per share.

L Brands, through Victoria’s Secret, PINK, Bath & Body Works, La Senza and Henri Bendel, is an international company. The company operates 3,077 company-owned specialty stores in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Greater China

The Cato Corporation reported sales of $56.1 million for July, down 8% from the year-ago period. Same-store sales for the month were down 9% to the prior year.

Sales for the second quarter ended July 29, 2017 fell 13% to $205 million. Second quarter same-store sales were down 14% to prior year.

"Our negative sales trends persisted in July and the decline in sales continues to put severe pressure on merchandise margins and profitability," commented John Cato, chairman, president, and CEO.

We expect a loss for the second quarter and full year earnings to be significantly below last year.

The Cato Corporation operated 1,374 stores in 33 states, compared to 1,373 stores in 33 states as of July 30, 2016.

At The Buckle, same-store sales in July decreased 8.4%. Net sales decreased 9%.

Comparable store net sales for the 13-week second quarter ended July 29, 2017 decreased 7.7%. Net sales for the quarter fell 7.8% to $195.7.

The Buckle currently operates 463 retail stores in 44 states, which includes the opening of one new store during fiscal July in Sparks, Nevada.

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ECOMMERCE

Job-seekers out in full force for online giant’s multi-state job fair

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Thousands nationwide turned out Wednesday for the chance to join Amazon’s growing workforce.

The online giant hosted a multi-state job fair on Aug. 2, focused on hiring full-time and part-time associates for positions across nearly a dozen of its U.S.-based warehouses. The event had such a massive turnout that Amazon said it received "a record-breaking 20,000 applications,” according to CNBC. This is almost half of the 50,000 roles the company says it has available across its fulfillment network.

The event, called Amazon Job Day, invited candidates to visit one of 10 fulfillment centers in Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana. Using an online portal, prospects indicated whether they were interested in full-time or part-time employment, and which fulfillment center they preferred working in.

In addition to participating in on-site interviews, candidates also took tours of the facility, learned about the technology used throughout the fulfillment network, and attended information sessions.

Full-time job seekers applied for positions picking, packing and shipping customer orders from its fulfillment centers. Candidates also hoped to snag supporting and managerial roles within Amazon’s facilities, including human resources managers, IT specialists, and operations leaders, among other positions.

The online retailer also plans on filling more than 10,000 part-time jobs at its sortation centers. These associates will sort and consolidate customer packages to enable speedy shipping and Sunday deliveries.

Some job-seekers walked away with offers to stock merchandise or fill customer orders. Others were hired workers for seasonal positions, including some positions that will end in October, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The job fair coincided with Amazon’s previously stated promise to hire 130,000 workers by 2018. Specifically, the retailer expects to fill 100,000 full-time roles and more 30,000 part-time positions.

When the task is complete, Amazon's U.S. workforce could swell to approximately 300,000.

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