OPERATIONS

Consumer confidence rises on hiring advance

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Washington, D.C. — A report released Thursday by Bloomberg showed that consumer sentiment climbed last week and U.S. companies added more workers than projected in December.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to minus 31.8 in the period ended Dec. 30, its highest since April, from minus 32.1 a week earlier, according to the report. Figures from the ADP Research Institute showed a 215,000 increase in employment, the largest since February, while the Labor Department said more Americans filed claims for jobless benefits last week.

“The economy is growing quite well,” David Sloan, a New York-based senior economist at 4Cast Inc., told Bloomberg. “The labor market seems to be expanding at a fairly solid pace. Consumer spending will continue to grow, but slowly.”

The pickup in U.S. hiring may be helping to boost Americans’ confidence. For the year, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index climbed 12.9 points, the biggest annual improvement since 1998.

Last week’s gains were broad-based, indicating even wealthier households were less concerned about tax increases and fiscal policy challenges heading into 2013. The report showed sentiment among Americans earning $100,000 or more was the highest in more than two years.

For all of 2012, the comfort index averaged minus 38.1, the highest since 2007. Nonetheless, it remains below its long-term average of minus 15.8.

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Burd resigns as Safeway chairman, CEO

BY Mike Troy

New York — The hunt is on for a new chief executive at Safeway following the resignation of longtime chairman and CEO Steve Burd.

Burd, 62, is scheduled to retire at the company’s annual stockholders meeting on May 14 and will aid in the search of his successor that is said to include internal and external candidates. Burd joined Safeway in October 1992 as president and was appointed CEO in May of the following year.

"I feel this is the right time to move forward with a transition plan," Burd said. "The company is gaining market share with each passing quarter. We have developed the most sophisticated digital marketing platform in retail, we are implementing the most comprehensive and personalized fuel loyalty program, and we will be rolling out a wellness initiative that has the potential to transform the company."

Burd said he wanted more personal time to further pursue his interest in health care.

According to Safeway, under Burd’s leadership the company has become one of the nation’s most recognized leaders in health care. In the last eight years, Safeway has introduced innovative design and practice features into its health plans that helped control cost. As a result, while the average U.S. company experienced an 8% annual growth in employer health care costs from 2005 through 2011, Safeway averaged a 2% annual growth rate for both the employer and employee contributions, according to the company.

While Safeway understandably sang Burd’s praises in announcing his departure, whoever fills his shoes faces an uphill battle. Safeway is a heavily unionized, traditional supermarket retailer with a moderately declining store base that numbers 1,644 units. Its markets share is under assault from all manner of unconventional retailers. Marginally profitable and with long term debt of $6.4 billion, Safeway faces a long list of challenges to improve the profitability of its $43.6 billion operation and reward shareholders who have suffered of late.

The company noted that Burd’s arrival at Safeway coincided with extraordinary growth in new food retail formats, virtually all of which were non-union. Even though these factors put downward pressure on both sales and margins, the combination of strategic initiatives and cost reduction efforts enabled Safeway to outperform the S&P 500 over the last 20 years. However, much of that performance came during the first half of Burd’s career as Safeway’s stock occasionally traded above $60 for a several year period beginning in the late 90s. It’s been all downhill ever since with shares unable to break above $20 since last summer.

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OPERATIONS

Epson American announces passing of retail tech veteran Barry Wise

BY Marianne Wilson

Long Beach, Calif. — Epson America announced that Barry Wise, a long-time Epson consultant and retail industry leader, passed away on December 28, 2012.

"Barry was a one-of-a kind visionary who made an indelible mark in the retail technology industry," said Mike Helm, director of sales for Epson’s business systems division and long time colleague of Wise. "Barry was passionate and insightful about how technology could make a difference to retailers. Epson has lost a dear friend and a valuable partner.

As president of Wise Retail Consulting, Wise’s knowledge and expertise were well recognized in the retail technology industry. Wise worked behind the scenes in support of industry standards and initiatives for Epson at the National Retail Federation ‘s Annual Convention and Expo and was an early supporter of the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI). He was a founding member of the Assoication for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS).

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