The first sign that this wasn’t going to be a typical corporate earnings season came early on the morning of July 12, when PepsiCo Inc. unveiled an odd set of results. Growth in unit sales, it said, was essentially zero in North America. Revenue rose, though, driven by the double-digit price increases Pepsi slapped on its snacks.
Then, one after another, major consumer companies came out with earnings that mimicked the Pepsi numbers: Clorox, Conagra Brands, and Kraft Heinz. The details were different in each case—some reported sharp volume declines, and others came in unchanged—but the broad trend was crystal clear: Output growth is dead, prices have been jacked up, and revenue is, as a result, rising moderately.