Stranded motorists at a CVS pharmacy take shelter on West Paces Ferry in Atlanta on Jan. 29. Jaime Sarrio/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT
Harsh weather puts economy on ice
Next week, the senior vice president of Chicago-based food consulting group Technomic Inc. will lead a webinar titled "The Wicked Winter of 2014: Impact on Consumer Eating Out and Operator Sales."
Snow, ice and frigid temperatures are a factor in slowing down many businesses — keeping cars sitting on dealers' lots, stalling sales of existing homes, fewer gamblers going to casinos, shipping companies struggling to get deliveries out and retailers waiting by the door for customers.
Matt Rogers, founder and president of Bethesda, Md.-based Commodity Weather Group, two weeks ago was looking for two to three more weeks of "impressive cold." His consulting firm works with about 240 companies — ranging from hedge funds to banks, food companies and utilities — that are affected by shifting energy and food prices.
Last fall, the firm forecast a colder winter than the previous one, but the season has exceeded expectations. Rogers said the period from Dec. 1 through the end of February has been the coldest since the 1981-82 season. "It's having some very important impacts."Natural gas prices are up under the weight of the demand, although the influx of natural gas from domestic sources has helped avoid a shortage.
Winter wheat — wheat that's planted in the fall, goes dormant in the winter and then is harvested after growing again in the spring — could be threatened by this latest round of extreme cold temperatures, said Joel Widenor, founder and vice president, director of agricultural services for Commodity Weather Group.
But that big melting period last week that gave some relief to stores, restaurants and shippers could hurt the farmers — and in turn the commercial bakers who rely on that wheat.
"We're seeing exponentially more activity from winter-focused clients," said Joe DeRugeriis, director of marketing for Planalytics, a business weather intelligence company near Philadelphia. Anyone selling things like snow blowers, shovels, outerwear and scarves has been OK with the stormy weather — to a point.Retailer Dick's Sporting Goods, a Planalytics customer that includes snow gear and coats in its inventory, earlier this month raised its earnings projections for the quarter that ended Feb. 1. In previous warmer winters, Dick's has been stuck with cold weather inventory.Still, the economic fog from the storms hasn't yet cleared. "Harsh winter weather is masking the performance of the broader economy," the National Retail Federation's chief economist Jack Kleinhenz complained in a mid-February report on January's numbers.