The inescapable disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many of us to focus on the near-daily ups and downs of the past year and a half. But a recent announcement from a fast fashion retailer served as a reminder that certain trends were with us long before the pandemic and will last far further into the future than it. Last week, the Irish retailer Primark announced that it plans to halve carbon emissions throughout its supply chain while eliminating single-use plastics from its operations by 2027. Primark joins an ever-growing list of retailers and brands responding to environmental crises and consumers’ increased focus on sustainability. While nongovernmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature have been operating for decades, corporate environmental sustainability is a relatively more recent trend, spurred on by a generation of ambitious startups and new initiatives from industry bellwethers. Here, we will try to highlight just a small number of the interesting companies and initiatives helping to comprise this movement – a movement that is building steam, pandemic or not.
Global sustainability is such a big challenge that many companies aiming to make a difference focus on one issue or geographic area, such as ocean conservation or reducing carbon emissions, to name just two. A few of those focused on oceans and waterways are 4ocean, United by Blue, and recent commitments by Patagonia. Based in South Florida, 4ocean sells bracelets and other accessories made from recycled materials. Every bracelet purchased comes with the company’s “One Pound Promise” to pull one pound of trash from the ocean, rivers, and coastlines. In addition, 4ocean has donated at least 1% of its gross sales to sustainability-focused nonprofits. Since 2017, the company has removed more than 17 million pounds of trash from the world’s oceans and has donated over $1 million to organizations that have a proven track record of ocean preservation. Likewise, Philadelphia-based apparel and accessories brand United by Blue is removing one pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every product purchased and incorporates sustainably sourced materials in its products. Larger, established companies are also committing to end the ocean plastic crisis. Patagonia began manufacturing fleece with recycled plastic bottles nearly three decades ago. More recently, the company has been experimenting with using discarded fishing nets in its products and is currently making its new Stretch Rainshadow Jackets using 100% recycled nylon yarns, including some from nets.
Just a few of those attacking the carbon gas emissions crisis include tentree, TOMS Shoes, and a new initiative from Microsoft. Vancouver-based tentree is a lifestyle apparel brand committed to reversing deforestation. The company plants ten trees for every item purchased and makes products with sustainable materials. To date, the company has planted 61.9 million trees and is on a mission to plant one billion trees by 2030. Likewise, Los Angeles-based TOMS Shoes is currently reducing its carbon footprint by expanding its use of sustainable cotton, sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 and continuing to source 100% of its packaging from sustainably managed forests. Finally, tech giant Microsoft has pledged to reduce operational emissions by 75% by 2030 and has been operating as 100% carbon neutral since 2012. Microsoft is reducing its emissions by investing in clean power, energy efficiency, and carbon offset projects.
The recent push by both emerging consumer brands and Fortune 500 businesses to implement sustainability initiatives is both noble and a smart business strategy. These businesses’ work to preserve the environment not only helps the planet, but also resonates with Millennial and Gen Z customers. As Primark CEO Paul Marchant explained, “our ambition is to offer customers the affordable prices they know and love us for, but with products that are made in a way that is better for the planet and the people who make them. We know that’s what our customers, and our colleagues, want and expect from us.” In a world where customers are increasingly aware of and demand sustainability, this seems like a trend that will continue playing out for decades.
Apparel & Footwear
The ascendant clog maker Crocs has released a set of forward-looking goals, including a growth plan to hit $5 billion in revenue by 2026, according to a press release. The five-year objective implies a growth rate of over 17% per year. Crocs also aims to generate $1 billion in free cash flow by that point with operating margins topping 26%. To get there, Crocs is looking to grow its digital channel. Crocs has been on a tear, with the brand getting a boost from both its creative partnerships and product drops as well as a turn toward comfort among consumers during the pandemic era. This summer, the company reported its third straight record quarter, this time with revenue up 93%. In that period, digital sales represented a total of 36% of Crocs’ total revenue. While it still has a distance to go toward its goal of 50% of sales, Crocs has undergone tremendous digital growth, helped in part by a rapid shift to online — again a feature of the pandemic.
Fashion brand Zara owner Inditex has outpaced Swedish rival H&M in its efforts to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis, with second-quarter sales rising above pre-pandemic levels. The world’s biggest fashion retailer’s sales in the quarter edged above levels seen before the pandemic as most stores reopened and people rushed to renew their wardrobe after store closures imposed to curb the spread of the virus. Rival H&M’s sales grew less than expected from a year ago in the three months through August, and remained lodged below pre-pandemic levels. H&M said lockdowns and restrictions hampered its development, particularly in Asia.
Gap Inc. announced a $1.5 billion junk-bond sale last week to help it buy back expensive debt raised earlier in the pandemic last year. The deal will slash the company’s borrowing costs as it continues to focus on growth after Covid-19 hurt clothing sales. The new note offering is split into two parts, and early pricing discussions are for a low-4% yield for the eight-year tranche, and 25 basis points more for the ten-year portion, according to people familiar with the matter. That marks a steep decrease in the cost of borrowing for the San Francisco-based company. The new unsecured notes will help fund a tender offer to buy back three secured bonds that Gap issued in April of 2020 with coupons ranging from 8.375% to 8.875%. The existing notes are backed by a first-priority claim on the company’s real estate, intellectual property and equity interests of some domestic units, and helped the company shore up liquidity last year.
Knix is set to open its first locations in the United States. The digitally native, inclusive intimates brand is opening three stores in California. Knix was founded in 2013 by Joanna Griffiths, who serves as CEO. Since its inception, the brand has been size-inclusive, offering sizes XS-XXXXL, and has focused on using real customers of all shapes, sizes and ages on its website, ad campaigns and social media. The company’s most famous product remains its original leak-proof underwear, of which it sells some two million pairs annually. But its lineup has expanded dramatically over the years. Knix has also leveraged its patented technology to expand its leakproof offering into other categories, including swimwear, sleepwear, and nursing.
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Surge Outdoors, a supplier of hunting and outdoor related products announces its recent purchase of Barnett Crossbows. Barnett supplies a broad spectrum of high-performance and value-driven crossbows, vertical and youth bows, and archery accessories popular with both hunting and recreational shooters. Barnett is also a leading provider of slingshots and accessories. Having a unique partnership with its manufacturing facilities, Surge Outdoors is excited to bring Barnett together with a team of passionate industry veterans, best in class engineers, designers & hunting-archery enthusiasts. Surge Outdoor plans to maintain operational facilities in Florida, Louisiana, Utah and Illinois, the current home of Barnett.
Sweden’s Dometic, a maker of leisure products for recreational vehicles such as motorhomes, said it had agreed to buy U.S. cooling boxes and drinkware maker Igloo for $677 million. Dometic said in a statement the acquisition would significantly strengthen its offering and distribution network for the outdoor market in North America, where Igloo has the bulk business. It said it expected sales and cost synergies to generate annual improvements in operating profit before depreciation and amortisation of around $50 million within five years. Dometic, whose products for motorhomes, caravans and boats range from portable fridges and generators to wine coolers and safes, said it expected the deal to close in the fourth quarter, and to be accretive to earnings in 2022.
As a result of worsening supply chain disruption in Vietnam, BTIG has downgraded Nike’s rating from Buy to Neutral. “We believe the risk of significant cancellations beginning this holiday and running through at least next spring has risen materially for NKE as it is now facing at least two months of virtually no unit production at its Vietnamese factories which accounted for 51% of footwear and 30% of apparel units,” said BTIG senior analyst Camilo Lyon, in a recent note. Over the past few months, COVID-19 cases in Vietnam have continued to rise, with its fully vaccinated rate only between 4% and 5%. In response, Vietnamese government officials have responded by closing down manufacturing facilities throughout the country.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
The beauty brand Merit has secured a $20 million investment, led by L Catterton. According to Merit, the new funds will be used to help accelerate its development into an omnichannel, cross-category beauty brand, a process which will include the further development of its color cosmetics collection and expansion into new product categories. L Catterton vice president Courtney Nelson will also join the brand’s board of directors. Other investors that participated in the funding round included Marcy Venture Partners and Sonoma Brands. Merit launched in January 2021, offering a “five-minute morning” color cosmetics assortment and promising a simplified approach to beauty. The label has been experiencing rapid growth ever since, as it pursues both a comprehensive direct-to-consumer strategy and aggressive retail expansion.
LG Household & Health Care Ltd., a division of LG in Korea, has closed its deal to acquire a 56% stake in Boinca Inc., the US manufacturer that owns hair care brand Arctic Fox. The deal was valued at $100 million. Arctic Fox is best known for its vibrant, long-lasting, semi-permanent hair dyes that are vegan and cruelty-free. Launched 2014, the range is a bestseller on Amazon and other leading beauty retailers and has strong social media presence.
Knowlton Development Corp Inc (KDC) said on Tuesday it was looking to raise up to $857.14 million through a US initial public offering, which would value the manufacturer for beauty, personal and home care brands at more than $3 billion. The valuation, according to a Reuters report in January, was previously pegged at more than $5 billion. The Longueuil, Québec-based company plans to sell roughly 57.14 million shares in its IPO, priced between $13 and $15 per share, according to a regulatory filing. KDC has applied to list its shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange as well, the filing showed. Its customer base comprises 18 of the world’s 20 largest beauty, personal care and home care companies worldwide, in terms of top retail sales in 2020.
Discounters & Department Stores
Further expanding its autonomous vehicle delivery testing, Walmart has partnered with Ford Motor Company and Argo AI to launch a self-driving vehicle delivery service in Miami, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, the retailer announced on Wednesday. The collaboration will be the retailer’s first autonomous delivery effort in multiple U.S. cities. The delivery service will use Ford’s self-driving test vehicles and Argo AI’s self-driving system to transport Walmart orders to shoppers. To start, the service will only be available to Walmart customers within a defined area, but that will expand over time, the company said.
Tuesday Morning made another round of executive appointments at the C-suite level as it tries to engineer a turnaround following its recent trip through Chapter 11. Marc Katz slid into the newly created role of chief operating officer and principal. Katz, who was an executive at Burlington Stores for more than a decade, most recently served as Tuesday Morning’s interim chief financial officer. Joining the company as its new CFO is Jennifer Robinson, who previously served as a finance executive at craft specialist Michaels. Tuesday Morning also announced the hire of Bill Baumann as its new chief information officer. Baumann previously held the same title at apparel retailer Torrid.
Toys R Us is back! … Again. The perennial comeback of the toy retail brand is becoming a regular feature of life following the defunct toy store chain’s liquidation in 2018. The plan this time is to open Toys R Us-branded shop-in-shops in more than 400 Macy’s stores. While the shops will bear the Toys R Us name and some of its iconography, Macy’s will be in the driver’s seat. According to a Macy’s spokesperson, the retailer will lead the merchandising operation for the shop-in-shops while Toys R Us executives will add “support and guidance on toy and product trends.” Unlike the two stores the Toys R Us brand opened with b8ta in 2019, which essentially rented out space to vendors and eschewed inventory, Macy’s will own the inventory just like most other retailers with their merchandise.
Walmart’s membership program, Walmart+, is gaining momentum and attracting younger, higher-income shoppers, according to a research note published Tuesday by Deutsche Bank. The subscription service — which launched almost exactly one year ago — has grown to an estimated 32 million U.S. households, according to the equity research firm’s monthly surveys of consumers. In the note, retail analyst Krisztina Katai said Walmart+ has hit an “inflection point” after months of slower growth. About 25% of respondents said in June and July that they have Walmart+, Deutsche Bank said. That’s up from prior months, where penetration hovered around 19%. In comparison, about 57% of survey respondents said they belong to competing membership program Amazon Prime, according to the most recent survey.
Emerging Consumer Companies
Outer, a Santa Monica-based outdoor living brand, announced the close of a $50M Series B investment round. The new investment was led by Kathy Xu of Capital Today along with Tribe Capital, C Ventures, TRAC VC, and Upfront Ventures. Existing investors, including Sequoia Capital China, Mucker Capital, Mantis VC, Unpopular Ventures, and Reimagined Ventures also participated in the round. Outer raised $10.5M in Series A funding in January 2021, bringing the company’s total funding to $65M. The new funding will be used to develop new sustainable materials, build an eco-friendly supply chain, and expand their product offering and community.
Immi, the San Francisco-based better-for-you Asian American food brand, announced a $3.8M seed round fundraise led by Siddhi Capital with participation from Palm Tree Crew, Constellation Capital, Animal Capital, Pear Ventures, Collaborative Fund and individuals like Patrick Schwarzenegger, Kat Cole, Nik Sharma, and the CEOs or Co-founders of Thrive Market, Caviar, Daring Foods, Madhappy, Twitch, Kettle & Fire, MUD\WTR, Native, Amity Supply, Visionary Music Group, Italic, Tatcha, and Casper. Immi launched the world’s first low-carb, high-protein, 100% plant-based instant ramen during the pandemic. The brand’s 100% plant-based flavors include Spicy “Beef”, Tom Yum “Shrimp”, and Black Garlic “Chicken.”
Grocery & Restaurants
Lapping last year’s pandemic-driven gains, The Kroger Co. saw sales excluding fuel dip in its fiscal 2021 second quarter but topped Wall Street’s earnings-per-share forecast. For the quarter ended Aug. 14, sales totaled $31.68 billion, up 3.9% from $30.49 billion a year earlier, when Cincinnati-based Kroger said Friday. Excluding gasoline, which has seen higher pricing in recent months, sales declined 0.4% year over year. Sales in the fiscal 2020 quarter rose 8.2% overall and were up 13.9% without fuel, which had deflated pricing at the time. Identical sales excluding fuel in the 2021 second quarter fell 0.6% from a year ago, when Kroger notched a 14.6% gain. However, the company noted that identical sales sans fuel were up 14% on a two-year stack. Digital sales declined 13% in the 2021 quarter but remain elevated, up 114% on a two-year basis, including a 127% jump in the 2020 quarter, Kroger said.
BelGioioso Cheese, Inc. plans to acquire Campbell, NY-based Polly-O, a manufacturer of Italian cheese. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The Polly-O brand of cheese will expand BelGioioso’s footprint in the dairy category in addition to its existing Casaro brand. Last year, Polly-O recorded net sales of approximately $177 million. The brand is known for its ricotta, mozzarella and string cheeses. Kraft Heinz agreed to sell the Polly-O business to the Lactalis Group in autumn 2020 as part of a natural cheese transaction previously announced by Kraft Heinz and the Lactalis Group. In fulfillment of conditions identified during an antitrust review of that transaction by the US Department of Justice, the Lactalis Group agreed to sell the Polly-O business to BelGioioso Cheese.
Dutch Bros priced its shares at $23 on Tuesday, a higher-than-expected result that helped the coffee chain raise $484 million in its initial public offering. The share price was well above the $18 to $20 per share that the Grants Pass, Ore.-based chain expected to raise in its IPO, the second in the restaurant industry this year. The higher price suggests strong demand for the stock, which bodes well as the company’s shares begin trading publicly on the Nasdaq Wednesday. Dutch Bros will trade under the ticker symbol BROS. The share price gives it a valuation of $3.8 billion. The company, founded in 1992, operates 471 shops in 11 states, more than half of which are operated by franchisees. But the company shifted its focus in 2017 to company locations. For more than a decade, however, all locations have been operated by employees who rise through the system to earn their way to their own location.
Home & Road
Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management has signed agreements to acquire Phoenix-based Brooklyn Bedding and New York-based Helix Sleep to develop a direct-to-consumer platform that gives consumers access to broth brands’ product portfolios. The deals are expected to close early in the fourth quarter of this year. Brooklyn Bedding and Helix will continue to operate under their respective brand names, and the combined company will be led by John Merwin, current CEO of Brooklyn Bedding. Helix’s co-founders Adam Tishman, Kristian von Rickenbach and Jerry Lin will lead the direct-to-consumer segment of the combined business. Founded in 1992, Cerberus offers alternative investing with more than $55 billion in assets across credit, private equity and real estate strategies.
Hooker Furniture net sales for its fiscal 2022 second quarter were up 25% year-over-year, and its net income for the period was up 29%. Net sales for the quarter ended Aug. 1 were $162.5 million, an increase of $32 million over the 2020 quarter, while income came in at $7.5 million for the period, or 62 cents per diluted share. Operating income for the quarter was $9.7 million vs. the $7.5 million in the year-ago period, and operating margins improved moderately, despite the higher freight and raw materials costs and shipping capacity shortages cited by the company. “For the second consecutive quarter, Hooker Furnishings achieved double-digit sales and profitability increases, with all three of our reportable segments posting year-over-year sales gains of more than 20%,” said Jeremy Hoff, CEO and director of Hooker Furnishings. “While we expected sizable improvements compared to the early months of the pandemic a year ago, we continue to surpass our goal to return to our pre-pandemic growth track.”
Jewelry & Luxury
On Sept. 14, Brilliant Earth launched its initial public offering, in which it hopes to raise over $200 million. The Securities and Exchange Commission filing said the San Francisco–based e-tailer’s stock will be traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol “BRLT.” The IPO will offer for sale 16,666,667 shares of Class A common stock, priced between $14 and $16 a share. If the share price comes in at the midpoint of that range—$15—the company will raise somewhere between $229.4 million and $263.8 million, depending on whether its underwriters exercise their full option to purchase additional Common A shares.
Lugano Diamonds, a four-store upscale retailer and jewelry designer based in Newport Beach, Calif., has been purchased by investment company Compass Diversified (CODI) for an enterprise value of $256 million. The company will continue to be led by its current leadership team, including cofounder and current CEO Moti Ferder. Its existing owners and management will retain a significant minority stake in the company, according to a statement. In the same statement, Elias Sabo, CEO of CODI, said Lugano has demonstrated “impressive growth, particularly over the past several years,” and that he supports Lugano’s plan to become “the next major jewelry brand.”
According to a new report published by Brand Finance, the world’s top 50 luxury and premium brands have lost a collective $7.6 billion in value in the past year amid Covid-19’s economic fallout. The value of the top 50 brands plummeted by more than 3 percent year-on-year, from $227.1 billion in 2020 to $219.5 billion in 2021. While fashion labels dominate the list, with 30 apparel companies accounting for 62 percent of the total, the majority struggled amid the pandemic and reported losses. Coach recorded the biggest drop in brand value, falling 31 percent to $4.7 billion. It’s not all bad news, though. A handful of high-end heavyweights actually managed to stay in the green. In pole position, Porsche actually grew 1.2 percent and now has a total brand value of $34.3 billion. That’s likely due in part to the automaker’s successful inroads into electrification. The marque sold 20,000 models of its popular all-electric Taycan last year, outperforming the 911 in the US despite a six-week pause in production.
Office & Leisure
Barely a week after Labor Day, Biana Perez is already planning ahead for the holiday season. “I’m shopping early and ordering everything by the end of October,” the Boston mom told TODAY Parents. “Last year so many things were sold out.” Unfortunately for parents, holiday shopping in 2021 may prove even more challenging than it was in 2020. A new survey from professional services firm KPMG reveals that there may be a major shortage of toys and other inventory this holiday season. According to the survey of 114 retail executives, 82 percent said they are somewhat or very concerned about inventory shortages thanks to a global supply chain crisis. “There is going to be a major shortage of toy products this year,” Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment, creators of LOL! dolls, told CNN Business. “The demand is going to be there. What is not going to be there is the product to fill the demand.”
Kyle Potter knows the travel and tourism industry better than most. He writes for the travel website Thrifty Traveler, and lately, COVID-19 has been the big topic on everyone’s minds. But now there’s another gamechanger that could shake things up a bit – the rise of the hotel fee. “You know, this could get bad, it hasn’t yet, but it could get bad down the road,” Potter explains. What kinds of fees, you might ask? How about a fee to use the pool? To check in early? Or even get clean towels? Potter says many resorts in popular travel cities like Las Vegas are also charging resort fees that can be as much as $20, $60 or even $80 a night. Only a handful of smaller hotel companies are experimenting with these new fees, but recently MCR Hotels, which owns 125 hotels across the United States, announced plans to test out a new fee-based payment structure at some of their hotels. Hotel companies say this new fee-based model is all about giving consumers more options. They argue the base rate for the typical hotel room will be cheaper for consumers who don’t add on any extra amenities, but Potter says he’s skeptical and doesn’t think prices will actually go down.
Launch Entertainment, a leading operator and franchisor of innovative, year-round family entertainment centers, is proud to announce its recent partnership with Silver Oak Services Partners, LLC. The investment from Silver Oak positions Launch for rapid expansion across the U.S. Founded in 2012 by Rob and Erin Arnold, Launch offers a differentiated family entertainment center experience with a wide variety of attractions and amenities for all ages including XP Arena, ninja courses, laser tag, bowling, trampolines, premium food and beverage, and more. Since the investment by Silver Oak, Launch has bolstered its infrastructure with multiple key management hires, completed four acquisitions of corporate parks and continued to build its pipeline of impressive franchisee locations across the U.S. Silver Oak was attracted to Launch given the Company’s differentiated family entertainment center concept, experienced and passionate team, and strong growth potential.
Technology & Internet
Retail darlings Warby Parker and Allbirds launched on the internet and paved the way for other brands to follow their playbooks and hope for similar success. Now, they’re betting big on real estate — not the web — to fuel future growth, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show. Whether they reap the benefits of physical stores could shape the path ahead for other online-first companies. The two businesses have become synonymous with the term “direct-to-consumer” in the retail industry. The strategy involves avoiding wholesale channels, such as department stores, to forge stronger relationships with customers. DTC companies have few or no brick-and-mortar locations. As Warby Parker and Allbirds prepare to make their respective public market debuts, they’ve entered a fresh expansion phase with aggressive goals. Investors and analysts will hold them accountable. The success of their next moves, including the planned rollout of more physical stores, will likely carry implications for the brands following in their footsteps.
Grailed, an online marketplace for men’s streetwear and footwear, raised $60 million in Series B funding. Goat Group, the parent company of sneaker resale sites Goat and Flight Club, led the round, with participation from Groupe Artémis, the Pinault family’s holding company and Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri. Founded in 2013 and based in New York City, Grailed has seven million users and over three million listings. The company will use the funding to enhance its authentication process and develop new tools for buyers and sellers.
Search for “toothpaste” on Amazon, and the top of the web page will show you a mix of popular brands like Colgate, Crest and Sensodyne. Try a separate search for “deodorant” and you’ll first see products from Secret, Dove and Native. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll notice that those listings are advertisements with the “sponsored” label affixed to them. Amazon is generating hefty revenue from the top consumer brands because getting valuable placement on the biggest e-commerce site comes with a rising price tag. “There’s fewer organic search results on the page, so that increasingly means the only way to get on the page is to buy your way on there,” said Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at advertising firm Publicis. Until recently, Amazon put two or three sponsored products at the top of search results. Now, there may be as many as six sponsored products that appear ahead of any organic results, with more promotions elsewhere on the page, said Juozas Kaziukenas, who runs e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse.
Finance & Economy
Retail sales posted a surprise gain in August despite fears that escalating Covid cases and supply chain issues would hold back consumers, the Census Bureau reported. Economists had expected that consumers cut back their activity as the delta variant continued its tear through the U.S. Persistent supply chain bottlenecks also were expected to hold back spending as in-demand goods were hard to find. However, sales were strong for most areas during the month, when back-to-school shopping generally results in a pickup in activity, especially so this year as schools prepared to welcome back students after a year of remote learning. The headline number would have been even better without a 3.6% monthly drop in auto-related activity; excluding the sector, sales rose 1.8%, also well above the 0.1% expected gain.
Prices for an array of consumer goods rose less than expected in August in a sign that inflation may be starting to cool, the Labor Department reported. The consumer price index, which measures a basket of common products as well as various energy goods, increased 5.3% from a year earlier and 0.3% from July. A month ago, prices rose 0.5% from June. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting a 5.4% annual rise and 0.4% on the month. Stripping out volatile food and energy prices, the CPI rose just 0.1% for the month vs. the 0.3% estimate, and 4% on the year against the expectation of 4.2%. The 5.3% annual increase still keeps inflation at its hottest level in about 13 years, though the August numbers indicate the pace may be abating.
U.S. consumer sentiment steadied in early September after plunging the month before to its lowest level in nearly a decade, but consumers continue to have a bleak view of the outlook amid a stiff bout of inflation, a survey showed. The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index edged up to 71 in the first half of September from 70.3 in August – the lowest since December 2011. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a reading of 72. Consumers’ views of inflation remain elevated, although they appear to have stopped charging higher as they did over the summer when key official gauges of price increases hit their highest levels in years.