China's slowing consumers—a bump to US companies?


Add this to the laundry list of headaches for corporate America:

The Chinese consumer is slowing.

Beijing subway commuters purchase Pepsi-Cola soft drinks.
Raul Vasquez | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Watch for signs of weakness when China's monthly retail sales data are reported Friday.

Economists are looking for a gain of 12.1 percent in May, according to Reuters, a slight increase from the 11.9 percent rise in April.

That could prove overly optimistic, based on recent signals on the Chinese consumer.

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Data over the weekend showed imports fell 1.6 percent in May. That surprised economists who predicted a 6.1 percent gain in imports and marked a slowdown from April's 0.8 percent gain. The import data are regarded by economists as a strong signal of weaker domestic demand.

There's more.

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In April, Hong Kong's retail sales fell 9.8 percent from the previous year, nearly double the decline economists expected.

The drop was blamed on falling sales of jewelry, watches, clocks and other valuable gifts, which plummeted 39.9 percent in that month from a year earlier.

These factors will hurt L'Occitane's sales

Hong Kong's retail sales are a good proxy for Chinese consumer spending, as much of the luxury shopping in the city is done by Chinese tourists and visitors.

Italian luxury giant Prada came out with results last week that underwhelmed investors, in part because of a drop in sales in the Asia-Pacific region. Remy Cointreau, which mostly sells cognac, saw profit plunge nearly 40 percent last quarter, driven by weakness in China and a crackdown there on corporate gift giving.

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In an effort to fight the slowdown, China's central bank announced new easing plans over the weekend—it's cutting the required reserve ration by 0.5 percent for banks that lend to small businesses and rural borrowers.

The signs add up to a troublesome picture of the Chinese consumer, and that's a problem for corporate America.

How big of a problem?

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As investors look to the second-quarter earnings season, a few companies are more exposed than others and could find China sales a drag on results.

Consumer Edge Research found that consumer staples companies are in the crosshairs.

Among the group, Procter & Gamble is most exposed to a Chinese consumer slowdown, with 8 percent of total sales coming from China, followed by Anheuser-Busch InBev at 7 percent of sales from the nation and Coca-Cola with 7 percent as well.

What's working in retail

Food companies like Mondelez International, General Mills, PepsiCo and Hershey's all receive 2 percent of total sales from China.

Some foreign-listed consumer companies that are exposed include Danone and Nestle.

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While 2 to 8 percent of total sales doesn't sound like much, in a world where growth is hard to come by, it could sway results.

Watch out for bumps as we head toward second-quarter earnings.

—By CNBC's Sara Eisen.