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    Published on: June 26, 2020

    KC explains that he won't be traveling to Oregon and teaching at Portland State University this summer because of the impact of the pandemic, and, FYI, talks about his ambivalence when it comes to e-learning in general, waxes rhapsodic about the magic of a college campus, and offers an example…

    The magic happened when PSU graduate Madisen Hallberg was on campus recording the National Anthem recently for use in the school's virtual graduation ceremony.  While they were taping, a man walked by and asked if he could join in.  They figured, why not … not realizing that he was Emmanuel Henreid, an accomplished and professional singer and actor who is with the Portland Opera.

    It was a big "Wow!"  In other words, Magic.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    CNBC reports that Target "is adding 750 fresh and frozen items, such as fruits, vegetables and meat, to same-day order pickup and drive up services.

    "The retailer will offer the expanded assortment at over 400 stores by the end of the month and more than 1,500 stores by the holidays.

    "Target had already planned to add the items to same-day services this year, but that effort has taken on new urgency as grocery becomes a crucial sales driver and customers look for safer ways to shop."

    Target COO John Mulligan says that this offering has “become even more critical for our guests searching for easy and safe ways to shop during the pandemic … During a time when even more people are looking for different ways to get the items they need, we’ll continue to invest in making Target the easiest and safest place to shop."

    KC's View:

    It is just like what Tom Furphy has said here in The Innovation Conversation … the pandemic hasn't so much changed thing as it has accelerated events and developments that were going to happen anyway.  

    This is just another example of that.

    Here's one telling passage from the CNBC story:  "In just three months, customers picked up more units through the retailer’s drive up service than in all of 2019. Target had weeks in April when its drive up volume was seven times higher than normal and single days when the volume of order pickup in stores was twice as high as Cyber Monday."

    I think there are three questions that need to be asked:

    •  How are these changed reflected in Target's store fleet and plans for future development?

    •  What does Target do next so it can successfully maintain and even grow these sales?

    •  What is the next innovation that demonstrates not just acceleration of the inevitable, but some sort of new insight into what customers need and want?

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    Reuters reports that Albertsons yesterday decided "to go ahead with a downsized $800 million initial public offering (IPO)," which priced shares at $16 apiece, rather than the original $18-$20 target range.

    The decision is seen by experts as a reflection of a desire on the part of private equity owner Cerberus Capital Management to cash out after a 15-year investment.  Reuters says that there was some internal debate about whether to walk away from the IPO at the lower numbers, but that the decision was made to move ahead.

    While the pandemic had improved Albertsons' fortunes, driving sales at a time when much of the nation's retail economy was shutting down, "the scaling back of the IPO on Thursday indicates that some investor skepticism lingers.

    "Below-target pricing may also signal recent robust investor demand for new listings is softening after U.S. stocks fell sharply on Wednesday amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the United States."

    About a week ago, Albertsons was saying that it was hoping the IPO would raise more than a billion dollars, and that it would take advantage of what was seen as a rebounding stock market.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    USA Today reports that "Costco has started to bring back its legendary free samples to some clubs, but it's no longer the free food smorgasbord it once was.  Samples are now prepackaged items and kept behind plexiglass shields."

    Samples reportedly are being offered in about 30 stores, and a national rollout will depend on how localities reopen their economies and if the pandemic recedes to any degree.

    The story says that "while samples are coming back, Costco has stopped selling its half sheet cakes at all U.S. clubs, with no plans to bring them back.

    "We are focusing on our smaller 10-inch White and 10-inch Chocolate Cakes that seem to be resonating with our members," the company said in a statement.

    If customers are pleased by the return of samples, they are displeased by the elimination of the sheet cakes, and took to social media to say so.

    KC's View:

    A lot of companies will be looking at Costco to see how it handles the sampling issue … it always has been the gold standard for this part of the business, and its success will be heartening to many other retailers.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    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 as of this morning, there have been 2,504,676 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 126,785 deaths and 1,052,389 reported recoveries.

    Globally, we are at 9,732,908 confirmed coronavirus cases, 492,244 fatalities, and 5,265,734 reported recoveries.

    •  From Axios, a report saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "now thinks the realistic estimate of cases could be as high as 23 million — 10x the current tally — because of asymptomatic carriers."

    While the use of face masks is seen as one concrete way to prevent or slow down the spread of Covid-19, the story notes that this message was subverted by "a failure by public health experts. CDC guidance has flip-flopped on wearing masks during the pandemic, and white lies meant to preserve PPE for health workers has backfired big time."

    In addition, Axios writes, "conservatives who prize individual autonomy over social responsibility experience 'a massive pushback of psychological resistance' when presented with mask mandates."

    All of which has given the virus a license to spread extensively throughout the US, even into places that may have felt a false sense of complacency when the pandemic was mostly being felt on the two coasts.

    But, Axios writes, "Unlike the mass confusion of mid-March, Americans now have a reasonable sense of what to do in a pandemic.

    "If you're at risk, stay home.

    "If you're not at risk and won't stay at home, put on a mask and wash your hands, don't socialize indoors and stay 6 feet apart."

    I agree with the Axios assessment, and was arguing here in early April that retailers ought to make mask-wearing in stores - both by employees and customers - mandatory.  It'd be easier if the federal government would just mandate it nationally, but I don't think this is going to happen.

    I would, however, resist one characterization.  I don't think that resistance to mask wearing is a conservative trait, nor is it necessarily conservative to "prize individual autonomy over social responsibility."  That is to give short shrift to how strongly many conservatives feel about social responsibility and morality - and is there anything more moral than to care about our fellow human beings?

    •  In a call with reporters, the New York Times writes, the CDC clarified "some of its previous reports on who is at increased risk of getting severely ill from Covid-19. Older people do have a higher risk of severe cases, the agency said, but that is in part because they are more likely to have other underlying medical problems, such as chronic kidney disease, lung disease, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity."

    But the agency stressed that young people, especially but not limited to those with these conditions, are also at risk for severe illness and death.

    •  Thursday's CDC guidance "also categorizes medical conditions that can affect the severity of illness," Axios writes.

    Conditions that definitely increase risk include "chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; obesity; weakened immune system from solid organ transplant; serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; sickle cell disease; Type 2 diabetes."

    Conditions that may increase risk include "chronic lung diseases, including moderate to severe asthma and cystic fibrosis; high blood pressure; a weakened immune system; neurologic conditions, such as dementia or history of stroke; liver disease; pregnancy."

    •  Axios reports that confirmed cases of the coronavirus "are soaring to the point where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pausing the state's reopening and canceling elective surgeries to stockpile PPE … The state still has plenty of hospital beds, but hospital officials are rushing to add more capacity and shift patients around."

    •  At the same time, the New York Times writes that "Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said Thursday that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

    "'We never anticipated necessarily doing anything different in terms of the next phase at this point anyways,' he said in Tampa. 'We are where we are.'

    "Over the past two days, Florida has reported more than 10,000 new cases, bringing its total to more than 114,000. Orange County, home to Orlando, is averaging 353 new cases a day, compared with 73 two weeks ago. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand."

    "We are where we are."  Think they'll put that on his tombstone?

    •  Fast Company writes about how "politics has muddled the national conversation about coronavirus. Many state governors, eager to reopen their economies, seized on declining cases in May to justify loosening restrictions at the end of last month. Some have been encouraged by studies that underscore the disinfecting power of sunlight. Others have effectively given up on the idea of containment altogether.

    Public health officials appreciate that countries cannot remain locked down forever. An alternative strategy proposes alternating periods of virus suppression and relaxation until a vaccine is available, keeping transmission at manageable levels without strangling local economies. One study, backed by the European Union, suggests countries impose strict rules for 50 days, followed by 30 days of less intense mitigation tactics that allow people to shop, dine, and work. If and when cases begin to rise again, restrictions could be put back in place."

    •  CNBC reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is calling on the government to "require companies to enforce the use of masks in public places."

    According to the story, "Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said the pandemic hasn’t ended — and neither have health risks for workers. In fact, he said, in many states, their odds of getting sick are rising along with coronavirus cases.  'Contrary to some of what employers - and I think even some of our government leaders - want us to believe, Covid-19 still is very real,' he said."

    •  CNBC reports that "Apple will re-close 14 stores in Florida as Covid-19 cases rise in the state, the company said on Thursday. The stores will re-close on Friday.  The shutdowns come after Apple re-closed seven retail stores in Texas on Wednesday, and 11 stores across Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arizona last week. Apple has now announced the re-closing of 32 stores in the United States."

    The story notes that "Apple stores tend to be in important shopping centers and malls, and can be seen as an indicator of how smoothly and where retail operations can re-open in the United States."

    Which is to say, things are not going as smoothly as some would like.

    •  Axios writes that "microbrews are providing macro clues about the state of the U.S. economy — and how confident Americans actually feel about reopening amid the pandemic."

    Here's the deal:  "More watering holes are opening up, with 85% of locations open and pouring beer last weekend. And if the bars are open, it's a good sign that those communities have opened up, too.

    "But the mug is half full: In open establishments, only 49% taps are open, compared to 96% last June."

    •  In yet another reflection of how the pandemic continues to take a toll on traditional business models, Warner Bros. has decided to postpone the release of its highly anticipated summer movie, Tenet, yet again.

    Variety reports that the new Christopher Nolan movie, which cost $200 to make and was expected to be one of the summer's big blockbusters, originally was scheduled to premiere on July 17, then was moved to July 31, and now has been slated to open on August 12 - unless, as the story says, "the virus continues to rapidly spread and the studio no longer deems it safe to unveil a major movie at that time."

    Nolan, who has been responsible for such critically acclaimed and popular movies such as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, and Dunkirk, has been insistent that Tenet be seen in theatres, and has resisted any suggestion that it could be released this summer for home streaming.  At the same time, movie studio and theater owners have been counting on Tenet being one of those must-see films that will entice people back into theaters.

    In the end, what we are learning … but should have known all along … is that how this plays out isn't up to Nolan or Warner Bros. or the movie theaters.  It is going to be up to the virus, which doesn't give a damn about box office receipts or day-date windows.  And that's the thing that every retailer has to understand … prepare for what the enemy can do, not what you think the enemy will do.

    •  Traditional movie theaters may be a problematic venture at the moment, but such moments also create opportunities.

    Los Angeles Magazine reports that "Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Film is hosting pop-up drive-ins in New York, Texas, and at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Rose Bowl schedule runs from July 2 through 26 and is stacked with classic movies (Jaws, The Goonies), kids movies (Spy Kids, Inside Out), new indies (Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs), new documentaries (Tangled Roots), and even stand-up comedy nights.

    What makes this unique is that "movies screen both at night and during the day, as early as 12:30 in the afternoon. The site’s FAQ section explains that they’ll use 'bright, high resolution LED screens, which are visible during daylight hours.'  The screenings cost $26 per carload."

    I know it isn't possible for a whole bunch of reasons, but I'd give a lot to be able to drive my Mustang, top down, to the Rose Bowl and watch "Jaws" on a warm summer evening.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    The Seattle Times reports that Amazon has purchased the naming rights to Seattle's KeyArena, home to the city’s incoming NHL franchise and WNBA’s Storm, and in "an unprecedented sports-world twist will see the venue become known as Climate Pledge Arena rather than using the company’s name."

    Not only that, but the move means that the building will be converted so that it "will be powered 100% by renewable electricity when it opens by late-summer 2021 and seek to achieve a zero-carbon footprint … the arena aims to produce zero waste, source food locally and reduce all plastics by 2024."

    The story notes that "Climate Pledge signatories commit to regularly disclose of their greenhouse gas emissions; pursue a decarbonization strategy that focuses on strategies including efficiency improvements, renewable energy and reduced materials usage; and purchase carbon-offset credits for emissions they can’t directly eliminate, funding third-party projects expected to reduce, avoid or remove climate-warming gasses from the atmosphere.

    "Last week Amazon announced its first co-signers of the Climate Pledge, Verizon, Infosys and consumer-goods giant Reckitt Benckiser Group (RB). Arena developer OVG joined the pledge as part of Thursday’s naming-rights deal … The signatories’ goal is to become carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of what is called for in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to hold global average temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)."

    This is said to be separate from Amazon's $2 billion investment in a venture capital fund designed to back sustainability-centric technologies.

    KC's View:

    Amazon isn't a perfect company, and Bezos isn't a perfect man.  But he certainly knows how to make the grand gesture in unexpected ways that may even matter.

    He gets a lot of grief for his devotion to space travel technology, but it is important to remember that he's also spending billions in the climate change battle, and in a personal investment rescued the Washington Post.  Those sound like pretty earthly concerns to me … he puts his money not just where his mouth is, but also where his heart is.  That's better than a lot of other rich folks who mostly use their money to get richer.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    Go figure.  The pandemic may actually have been a good thing for the perpetually troubled US Postal Service (USPS).

    From the Washington Post:

    "A tidal wave of packages is keeping the U.S. Postal Service afloat during the coronavirus recession, boosting the beleaguered agency’s finances to near pre-pandemic levels while legislators and the White House joust over its independence.

    "When the pandemic’s resulting economic shutdown took hold in early spring, postal leaders told lawmakers the mail service expected to hemorrhage $2 billion a month for 18 months, risking insolvency as soon as September. After Congress approved an emergency $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department, the agency said it could hold out until March 2021, but it’s avoided accessing those funds, wary of conditions the Trump administration is poised to impose in exchange.

    "Postal leaders, however, in revised financial data provided this week to Congress and obtained by The Washington Post, said rising e-commerce transactions may have — at least temporarily — delivered the USPS from imminent financial ruin. Week to week, package deliveries increased 20 to 50 percent in April compared with the year-ago period, and 60 to 80 percent in May."

    KC's View:


    Now, if Congress would just change some of the unwieldy requirements that bedevil the USPS, and maybe they could get on the road to greater viability.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    •  From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

    "Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said Thursday the company's heavy investment in digital shopping initiatives have poised it for future growth and helped it meet unprecedented customer demand during the coronavirus pandemic this spring.  'We are more convinced than ever that we made the right decision to transform our business model when we did,' McMullen said, speaking to the grocer's shareholders during its annual meeting (which was telecast-only this year due to the pandemic)."

    More context from the story:

    "Kroger's stock price has been hammered in recent years after Amazon suddenly became a direct competitor with its 2017 takeover of Whole Foods and the Cincinnati-based grocer's big push into digital shopping that sucked up cash and squeezed profit margins.

    "Since then Kroger has enabled more than 2,000 Pickup locations and 2,400 delivery locations that can service 97% of its customers.

    "Last week, Kroger reported its digital sales nearly doubled during the first quarter of 2020 as shoppers clicked online to buy groceries amid nationwide business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in the first months of the pandemic outbreak."

    •  Pure play e-grocer Fresh Direct said that it will begin offering two-hour delivery in Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of Queens, allowing consumers to order from a curated selection.

    •  The Financial Times writes that "Amazon has acquired self-driving start-up Zoox for more than $1.2 billion, marking the ecommerce group's biggest investment into the autonomous vehicle sector."

    The expectation is that Amazon could "work with Zoox to create a ride-hailing fleet, pitting the ecommerce group against Waymo, the self-driving industry leader backed by Alphabet. However, some analysts expect Amazon to focus on integrating autonomous technology into its delivery network. The Zoox acquisition follows purchases of stakes in electric truckmaker Rivian and self-driving start-up Aurora."

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    •  CNN reports that "Walmart is facing heat for selling T-shirts that feature variations of the 'Black Lives Matter' slogan, including 'All Lives Matter,' 'Blue Lives Matter,' 'Irish Lives Matter' and 'Homeless Lives Matter'.

    "The backlash erupted on social media, where users criticized the world's largest retailer for allegedly 'mocking' the Black Lives Matter movement, which has come to symbolize a call to action against racism and police killings of Black people in America."

    The t-shirts apparently are not being sold in stores, but rather on its US and Canadian websites.

    Y'think that CEO Doug McMillon - like a lot of CEOs in retailing 0 wakes up in the morning and says to himself, "Just once, I'd like to have a day when I don't have to get involved in politics and social issues.  Just one day when all I have to worry about is whether we're going to get our new stores opened on time, and not have to think about all these societal problems."  

    I know this is all part of the package these days, but I imagine there are a lot of retailers who wish this were not the way it is.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    •  CNBC reports that Macy's plans to cut three percent of its workforce as a way of saving $365 million.

    The cuts will take place at corporate, in stores, and in its supply chain and customer support networks.

    The cuts are seen as one way to deal with the results of the pandemic, which closed down Macy's bricks-and-mortar stores for months.

    •  Chuck E. Cheese parent CEC Entertainment filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week, saying it will use the moment to negotiate with financial stakeholders and landlords to find a path to a strategic restructuring that will allow the business to survive in a post-pandemic world.

    They might want to start by serving better pizza.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    …will return next week.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    I'm happy to announce that today, at 7 pm EDT / 4 pm PDT, we're going to do it again … an MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    The folks at GMDC have once again agreed to sponsor and host it.  Hopefully, you can put it on your calendar … choose a libation for Happy Hour … and then prop up your laptop or warm up your computer on Friday, June 26, for a conversation and a drink.  (You don't have to let me know you're coming, but it would be nice to know.)

    To join us, click here.

    Published on: June 26, 2020

    When it comes to adaptations and reboots, I like it when the creative types get, well, creative.  I don't demand absolute fealty to source material;  I think that different times and media formats almost demand that people be willing to make adjustments, either because of outmoded attitudes that need to be modernized, or because taking a different approach allows for new insights into character, plot, or context.

    But I do think that source material needs to be respected.  I recently used Spenser: Confidential as a great example when the filmmakers seemed to have no clue about the original novels (by Robert B. Parker and Ace Atkins) or the guiding intelligence behind them;  there was no reason for the main character to even be called Spenser.  Compare that to "Bosch" on Amazon Prime, which has done an excellent job of reshaping Michael Connelly's novels into a six different seasons of episodes - not exactly the same as the books, but certainly recognizable, and even building on them in some cases to create something distinct.   

    I found myself thinking about both examples when I was watching the first episode of "Perry Mason" on HBO, a reimagining of the character created almost a century ago by Erle Stanley Gardner and brought to memorable life in a TV series and a bunch of TV movies by Raymond Burr.

    This "Perry Mason" is certainly a mystery, but hardly the courtroom drama that might be expected.  The protagonist isn't even working as a lawyer - it is set during the Depression, and Mason is a seedy private detective, haunted by memories of his World War I experiences, who isn't above a little extortion to make a buck.  Working for a lawyer (played by the always dependable John Lithgow), he's brought into a murder case in which an infant has been killed by unknown parties for unknown reasons.

    Matthew Rhys (of 'The Americans") doesn't so much play Mason as inhabit him, and he is terrific - there's no question that this "Perry Mason" is going to be a story of rehabilitation, and I think watching him find his footing and become something closer to the Mason of memory will be a thrill ride.

    That said, I'm not entirely sure why this is a "Perry Mason" story.  They could've called it "JJ Gittes," after the Jack Nicholson character in Chinatown, and it would work just as well, and maybe even be more appropriate.  So I'm ambivalent.

    But … I'm willing to go along for the ride.  The show is beautifully shot, the writing seems both mournful and incisive, and one episode was enough to make me wonder what's next.

    Maybe we'll even get a climactic courtroom scene.  One can dream.

    Looking for an inexpensive and delicious rosé  for these summer evenings?  You can't do much better than the 2019 #Lou by Peyrassol, from France's Provence region, which is light and delicious.

    It was absolutely wonderful the other night, when I made pizza on a new pizza stone that my sons gave me for Fathers Day - it was my first time, and I'm in love with the process.

    A final note for a Friday.

    I've always been a big Dixie Chicks fan, and one of the best concerts I ever went to was years ago when I took my then-teenaged daughter to see them at Madison Square Garden.

    Well, the Dixie Chicks will be out with their first new album in years in mid-July, "Gaslighter" … except that, go figure, they're not called the Dixie Chicks anymore.  Now, they're just The Chicks … moving away from a name that has some discomfiting historical connotations, especially when seen in the context of current race-related protests around the country that seem tio have gathered a great deal of popular support that cuts across demographics.

    “We want to meet this moment,” the trio said on its website.

    In announcing the name change, The Chicks also released a new song - “March March" - from the new album, along with a music video that seems targeted at delivering a political message.  (Not the first time that The Chicks have poked the political bear…you can check it out below.)

    Give The Chicks credit for doing due diligence.  When Lady Antebellum recently changed its name to Lady A for much the same reason, it found that someone already was using that name.  The Chicks, however, offered "a sincere and heartfelt thank you" to a New Zealand group called The Chicks for allowing them to share the name.

    I think the move by The Chicks - and their new song - will be derided by some.  But as one music website pointed out, anyone who is upset by this probably is off the bandwagon already.

    And when The Chicks go on tour, my daughter and I will be there.  We are ready to run.

    That's it for this week.  Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Stay healthy.