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Retail Sales Rise, Shake Shack Makes Peace With Activist Investor, Office Attendance Edges Down

Retail Sales Rise, Shake Shack Makes Peace With Activist Investor, Office Attendance Edges Down

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Retail Sales Rise

April’s $686.1 billion in U.S. retail and food service sales marked a 0.4% increase from the prior month and a boost of 1.6% from a year earlier, with a prominent trade group describing Tuesday’s Commerce Department report as a sign of consumer resilience and engagement despite economic uncertainties.

“Moderating price levels, continued labor market strength and wage gains have increased consumers’ ability to spend,” National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “However, they remain cautious and concerned about the current economic environment.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said shoppers are being selective and price-sensitive, “but we continue to expect that spending will see modest gains through the course of the year.” Kleinhenz said a slowdown in year-over-year sales growth is among early indicators of tightening credit conditions and a general shrinking in consumers’ excess savings.

Government data showed retail merchandise sales in April rose by a slight 0.4% for the month and 0.5% for the year. Food and drinking establishments had a larger boost as consumers continued to dine outside the home, with sales rising 0.6% for the month and 9.4% for the year.

Monthly gains were muted for retail categories including motor vehicle parts and dealers, which saw sales rise 0.4% in April, with building material and garden supply stores gaining 0.5% and general merchandise retailers rising 0.9%. Several categories posted sales declines for the month, including sellers of furniture, sporting goods, electronics, appliances and clothing, along with gasoline stations.

A spending slowdown was also reflected in Home Depot's report Tuesday that it now expects sales to decline between 2% and 5% for the fiscal year, as consumers delay big-ticket purchases and delay large projects. The Atlanta-based company's first quarter sales miss was its biggest in nearly 20 years and its shares closed down 2% Tuesday.

Shake Shack Makes Peace With Activist Investor

Shake Shack announced Tuesday it has entered into a cooperative agreement with activist shareholder Engaged Capital that calls for hiring a consultant to study the burger chain’s operations, including real estate deployment.

Executives of New York-based Shake Shack said the company also appointed Jeffrey Lawrence to its board as an independent director effective immediately, and will work with Engaged Capital “to identify an additional mutually agreed upon” independent director with restaurant operations experience to appoint to the company’s board of directors.

The actions come after Newport Beach, California-based Engaged Capital, which holds about a 6.6% stake in Shake Shack, sent a letter to the company last week calling for it to add three executive board seats and retain a consulting firm to help boost efficiency and profits from its 460 global restaurants. The activist investment firm called for a review of potential changes in operations including real estate strategy, store design, labor and supply chain planning.

“We are executing our strategic plan and share Engaged Capital’s view that Shake Shack can drive additional profit growth, Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti said in a Tuesday statement on the agreement. Chairman and Founder Danny Meyer called Lawrence, a former Domino’s Pizza chief financial officer, “an ideal addition to our board” after an extensive search that began in January.

In the same statement, Engaged Capital founder and Chief Investment Officer Glenn Welling lauded the choice of Lawrence and said the agreement puts all parties “on a constructive path forward to helping Shake Shack achieve its potential” and reach profitable growth.

Office Attendance Edges Down

Office attendance in 10 large cities averaged 49.3% of pre-pandemic attendance in the week that ended May 10, a slight decrease from 49.9% in the prior week, according to the latest tracking by security technology firm Kastle Systems.

Attendance on average has remained below 50% of pre-pandemic levels for most weeks since the start of the pandemic, though the number has now topped 49% for four consecutive weeks.

Kastle’s “Back to Work Barometer,” based on anonymous keycard data from clients’ office properties, shows average attendance has yet to return to the 50.4% peak reached in the week that ended Jan. 25.

Three Texas cities have remained consistently above 50% for much of the past year. The latest Kastle numbers were led by Austin at 60.6%, Houston at 60% and Dallas at 53.4%, followed by Chicago at 50.7% and Los Angeles at 49%.

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