Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Inflation a 'key concern' for these companies

A Walgreens store is shown in Louisville, Ky.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sentiment on the ground isn't meshing with the official data when it comes to inflation.

Despite government numbers showing that inflation remains tame, companies increasingly are expressing worry that it is in the pipeline and posing a threat to profits.

"Inflation remains a key concern for management," Goldman Sachs strategist David J. Kostin and others wrote in a research note. "Companies noted the potential long-term impact of rising costs on margins despite hedges that reduce the near-term impact on profits."

Data show that overall, inflation pressures are largely absent from the current economic picture.

The consumer price index rose just 0.3 percent in June, the latest month, while the personal consumption expenditures index has been gaining at just a 1.6 percent pace, both considerably below the targets before the Federal Reserve would begin raising interest rates. There also are few wage pressures, with labor costs up just 0.6 percent in the second quarter and weekly wages tracking at a 2 percent annualized increase.

Inflation nation: Prices on the rise

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But companies are saying that overhead costs like labor and supplies are increasing and putting pressure on margin expectations. That in turn could be concerning for stock market investors, who have relied on margin expansion as the key to the 190 growth in equities since the March 2009 lows.

"Firms in the consumer sectors have already experienced inflationary pressures due to rising input costs," Kostin said. "Conflicting opinions exist as to whether boosting prices on the consumer will help mitigate the effect of rising costs."

In the analysis, the Goldman team cite a variety of companies within the firm's coverage space and their view on inflation.

There was McDonald's, which has seen food increasing at a 3 percent clip and expects that could rise to 3.5 percent. Big-box retailer Costco reported hikes in seafood, produce and beef.

Read MoreGoldman: 'Dramatic divergence' coming in market

Pharmacy chain Walgreen reported "a shift from historical patterns of deflation in generic drug cost to inflation." It noted "cost increases on a subset of of generic drugs, and in some cases, these increases have been significant. Both reimbursement pressure and generic inflation are having an adverse effect on margin."

Dow Chemical noted that "cost inflation on the U.S. Golf Coast is real" but said it was sufficiently hedged.

On the other side, fast-food giant Yum! Brands called its inflation outlook "tempered" while Express Scripts said inflation has had "some effect, but not material."

However, the worries expressed on inflation jibe with trends from across the consumer spectrum. Companies including Hershey, Kraft and Ford Motor, which, according to the Goldman note, cited surging inflation pressures in South America, have raised prices significantly in recent days.

Read MoreForget what the Fed says, inflation is here

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox