business news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the United States, there now have been 2,045,741 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 114,151 deaths and 788,885 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 7,342,582 coronavirus cases, with 414,124 fatalities and 3,619,977 reported recoveries.

•  The New York Times reports on a speech given to biotech executives by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in which he described the Covid-19 coronavirus as his "worst nightmare … In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world.  And it isn’t over yet.”

Fauci said that "although he had known that an outbreak like this could occur, one aspect has surprised him, he said, and that is 'how rapidly it just took over the planet.'

"An efficiently transmitted disease can spread worldwide in six months or a year, but 'this took about a month,' Dr. Fauci said. He attributed the rapid spread to the contagiousness of the virus, and to extensive world travel by infected people."

The Times writes that "vaccines are widely regarded as the best hope of stopping or at least slowing the pandemic, and Dr. Fauci said he was 'almost certain' that more than one would be successful. Several are already being tested in people, and at least one is expected to move into large, Phase 3 trials in July.

"But much is still unknown about the disease and how it attacks the body - research that Dr. Fauci described as 'a work in progress'."

 "It isn’t over yet.”  Those are the words that are most sobering.  And he means them to be.

•  The Wall Street Journal writes that "more people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in North Carolina on Monday than any other day during the pandemic, Gov. Roy Cooper said, as the state surpassed 1,000 deaths."

"It isn’t over yet.”

•  From the Los Angeles Times, an assessment of some of the broader impacts of the pandemic :

"After weeks of catastrophic job loss across the country, May’s labor report held out a glimmer of hope: The nation’s overall unemployment rate ticked down to 13.3%, from 14.2% in April.

"But for black Americans it was more bad news: A staggering 16.8% of the African American labor force was out of work, up a notch from 16.7% in April.

"In California and nationwide, the coronavirus shutdown is widening the racial divide between haves and have-nots. And the pandemic-driven economic meltdown has helped to inflame the black community’s deep sense of injustice as uprisings over police brutality spread across the country this week … Since COVID-19 began claiming lives, black Americans have died at twice the rate of white ones. In Los Angeles County, African Americans have suffered 26 deaths per 100,000 residents, compared with 22 for Latinos, 16 for Asian Americans and 13 for whites."

Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Not anymore.  Everything, it seems, is intertwined.

•  One lesson from the pandemic:  food companies may need to hoard ingredients the same way that consumers hoarded toilet paper and paper towels.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times reports the story:

"Businesses are spending more on raw materials like oats and sugar so they can maintain production in case supply lines get disrupted or imports are held up.

"Campbell Soup Co., the maker of Goldfish crackers and Pacific broths, is buying more ingredients amid a boom in demand for pantry staples. Bobo’s, a Boulder, Colo.-based producer of snack bars and toaster pastries, has stocked up on organic oats, sugar and coconut oil…"

The Times writes that "this is a striking shift in strategy for food companies that for years built up just-in-time inventories, which minimize storage costs. It also underscores the lessons that were learned after the coronavirus outbreak upended supply chains and sparked concerns over shortages of some ingredients."

Efficient isn't always the most effective.  Some companies seem to have learned that lesson.

•  The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has moved bars that don't serve food from the third stage to the fourth stage of the state's phased opening plans.

According to the story, "The change came as officials clarified that establishments permitted to serve food and technically categorized as restaurants — including breweries, wineries, beer gardens, and many places that might colloquially be known as 'bars' — could reopen for outdoor dining at the start of Phase 2, which began Monday. Indoor dining will be able to resume during a later date in Phase 2, under a number of restrictions. During Phase 2, restaurants that are allowed to reopen are still required to keep bar seating and service closed.

"However, places without licenses to serve food must wait to reopen until Phase 4, which officials refer to as the 'new normal' when a vaccine or effective treatment has been developed for COVID-19. In other words, don’t expect Phase 4 to come with the same speed as the three-week turnaround that occurred between Phase 1 and Phase 2."

So much of this is perception.  I have a friend who went to a bar recently, saw it was crowded, and said to himself, "Great!"  And then went in to have a beer.  Me, if I'd seen that, I would've gotten back in my car and gone home.  Me, I'm taking Dr. Fauci seriously.

•  Bloomberg repots that starting June 15, Best Buy "will allow a limited number of shoppers inside most of its stores, moving past an appointment-only model that it had instituted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The retailer will bring back about 9,000 employees to support the move, which will take place in more than 800 of its roughly 1,000 stores. In April, it announced plans to temporarily furlough 51,000 domestic hourly store employees, including nearly all part-time workers.

"Best Buy will limit the number of customers inside the store at one time to 25% of capacity, which usually works out to about 60 shoppers, it said. The retailer will also resume in-home consultations, which it halted in favor of virtual support in March."

•  MarketWatch reports that MGM Resorts International "is reopening more resorts in Las Vegas over the next few weeks. Luxor and The Shoppes at Mandalay Bay Place will open their doors again June 25 at 10 a.m. PST, followed by Aria at 10 a.m. PST, and Mandalay Bay, Four Seasons Las Vegas at 11 a.m. PST on July 1 … Last week, Bellagio, MGM Grand, and New York-New York opened. Excalibur is expected to open June 11."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that AMC Entertainment, the world's largest movie theater chain, expects that 97 percent of its locations will be reopened, and CEO Adam Aron says the company believes "there will be a significant pent-up demand to get back into the world."

The story notes that "few industries have seen revenues dry up to the extent that exhibition did following the spread of the novel coronavirus. But as consumer and entertainment companies of all stripes struggle to survive in the pandemic, AMC’s prospects appear to be among the bleakest. With more than 1,000 theaters playing movies on more than 11,000 screens in several countries, AMC is among the most high-profile of companies whose revenue relies entirely on public gatherings can weather the shutdown."

AMC had a $2.2 billion loss in Q1.

I am not hopeful.  I see more movies in theaters than the average American.  (The average American sees five movies a year in theaters;  I probably see 20.  Which for me is an enormous decline - there was a year, when I was in my 20s, that I saw 150 in theaters - there was no Netflix or any other streaming service.)  But it'll be awhile before I go back to a theater. 

Here's a question:  I have been a regular AMC customer, often using Fandango.  So there is data about my shopping behavior.  I wonder if they'll be communicating with me directly to encourage me and reassure me that it is safe to return to the theater.  If they don't use their data to communicate directly with customers, then shame on them - they have no rationale for staying in business.

BTW … AMC doesn't seem wildly optimistic, either.  It already has publicly conceded that it may not have a sustainable business model, depending on how events unfold, and has said that "heading into 2021 and 2022 the company will consider closing an unspecified number of unprofitable locations."