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…

•  There now have been more than four million confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in the United States - 4,028,733, to be precise, with 144,958 deaths (there were more than 1,000 deaths yesterday) and 1,886,778 reported recoveries.

Globally, we've crossed the 15 million line in terms of coronavirus cases - the number stands at 15,117,078, with 620,033 fatalities and 9,134,332 reported recoveries.

•  The New York Times writes that it was the first time in weeks that "the daily death total in the United States exceeded 1,000 … as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were likely far more infections than have been reported."

•  The Washington Post writes that "only a tiny fraction of the U.S. population has coronavirus antibodies, according to new data released by the CDC, even in hard-hit areas. The presence of antibodies in the blood indicates a person has had a covid-19 infection and gained some level of immune response."

•  From Fox News this morning:

"In his first official press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic since April, President Trump on Tuesday admitted that the public health crisis is likely to worsen as cases surge across the country and asked all Americans to wear masks in public.

"While Trump hailed his administration’s response to the pandemic and the work toward developing a vaccine, he bluntly disclosed what many Americans already know: that the crisis is likely to spread more before it can be contained.

"'It will get worse before it gets better,' Trump said of the pandemic that has infected close to 4 million Americans.  'That’s something I don’t like saying but it is.'

"Trump’s comments come after weeks where he either downplayed the virus’ continued spread or focused on other issues – from unrest over racial injustice in American cities to the removal of Confederate statues – despite cases of COVID-19 surging, particularly, in parts of the south and southwest.

"Noting the concerns among many of his supporters that facial coverings impinge on their personal freedoms, Trump pleaded with Americans to wear masks out in public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  'We’re asking everybody when you’re not able to socially distance to wear a mask,' Trump said.

"While his comment falls short of a national mandate, it is the strongest endorsement yet from the president who until recently had questioned the efficacy of masks."

•  From the New York Times:

"If you want to sell books during a pandemic, it turns out that one of the best places to do it is within easy reach of eggs, milk and diapers.

"When the coronavirus forced the country into lockdown this spring, stores like Walmart and Target, which were labeled essential, remained open. So when anxious consumers were stocking up on beans and pasta, they were also grabbing workbooks, paperbacks and novels — and the book sales at those stores shot up … Big box stores do not generally break out how much they sell of particular products, but people across the publishing industry say that sales increased at these stores significantly, with perhaps the greatest bump at Target. In some cases there, according to publishing executives, book sales tripled or quadrupled."

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that Coca-Cola said yesterday that "revenue fell 28% to $7.15 billion for the quarter ended June 26, down from $10 billion a year earlier."

However, the company said that "it believes the biggest challenges of the pandemic are behind it, despite the current surge in coronavirus cases in many parts of the U.S.

"About half of Coca-Cola’s business comes from away-from-home venues - the restaurants, bars, movie theaters and sports stadiums that were shut around the world during the second quarter because of the pandemic."

The belief seems to be that even as the US suffers, the China, Southeast Asia and Western European markets will rebound faster because they've managed the pandemic more effectively;  as shelter-at-home rules are lifted in the US, the foodservice side of Coke's business is likely to be lifted as well.

However, Coke also is focusing on trimming "small, underperforming brands" from its portfolio.  Example:  "Coca-Cola earlier this month said it was closing its Odwalla juice and smoothie business."

•  "With a new form of business casual taking over as millions of Americans work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the owner of Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank plans to close up to 500 stores," USA Today writes.

"Tailored Brands announced Tuesday that it would shutter those locations 'over time' and cut about 20% of its corporate jobs by the end of its fiscal second quarter.

"The move comes after temporary store closures and changes in people's clothing habits suddenly disrupted the company's prospects. Tailored Brands had about 19,300 employees and 1,450 stores as of Feb. 1, according to a public filing."

•  The New York Times reports that Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, which several years ago pioneered the no-tipping trend in restaurants believing that it "contributes to unequal pay, racism, sexual harassment and power disparities in the industry," now is reversing course.  As it reopens restaurants after the pandemic-induced shutdown, tipping of servers once again will be allowed.

According to the story, "Meyer said in an interview that he still believes that tipping contributes to inequitable pay, wage instability and other problems, and that he is collaborating with the national One Fair Wage campaign to eliminate it. But as the restaurants begin rehiring today — about 95 percent of the staff has been laid off since March — he is unwilling to deny any extra compensation that might be available to employees in a time of economic crisis."

"We don’t know how often people will be eating out, we don’t know what they are going to be willing to pay,” he tells the Times. “We do know that guests want to tip generously right now.”

•  In California, at least, it will be Friday Night Lights Out.  Blame the pandemic.

Axios reports that "The fall high school sports season in California will be postponed until at least December, the California Interscholastic Federation announced Monday … The three typical high school sports seasons - fall, winter and spring - will be played between December and June and compressed into either fall or spring seasons.

"Football — a staple of fall Fridays — will now take place in winter and spring, with the last game played no later than April 17, 2021.

Basketball and baseball will now overlap and end in late June, forcing multi-sport athletes to make tough decisions."

•  Hy-Vee announced yesterday that in an effort to protect its customers and employees from COVID-19, it "will distribute free masks to those entering its stores starting Monday, July 27. The company will hand out more than 3 million free masks in an effort to help support the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks in public by launching a new initiative called 'Mask It Up To Shut COVID Down. It’s Your Choice.'

"Starting July 27, employees will be stationed at the front doors of all stores to hand out masks to customers who are not wearing one prior to shopping. Customers will also see signage, employee attire, and other reminders around the store about the educational campaign."

The Des Moines Register reports that "though Hy-Vee requires its employees to wear masks, they are a choice - not a requirement - for most Hy-Vee customers. In just two of the eight Midwestern states where it operates its 240-plus stores - Illinois and Kansas - are masks required in public places like supermarkets."

I think Hy-Vee is wrong to make this a suggestion - it has so much credibility with its customers that it could make them mandatory and sell it in an effective way that would, potentially, move the needle on infections.

But … good for Hy-Vee deciding to give the masks away.  It challenges the allegation made by an MNB reader the other day that retailers only were mandating masks so they could sell them.

•  From USA Today:

"While more states and a growing number of retailers are requiring shoppers wear masks, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have reversed course.

"The two retailers, both part of Dollar Tree, Inc., had initially started requiring shoppers wear masks along with vendors and employees in stores, according to a July 8 update on its coronavirus updates page. 

"But the company updated its mask policy last week to 'request' face coverings in stores where state and local ordinances are not in effect."

According to the story, "Randy Guiler, vice president of investor relations, told USA Today that the company did not have a comment beyond its policy."

Not surprising, because the reporter almost certainly was going to ask questions that he would've had a hard time answering.  All I know is that these folks must be reading different news accounts than I'm reading.

Actually, let me be more blunt:  This is nuts.

•  Axios reports that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have no expanded the list of states from which visitors must self-quarantine for 14 days before going out in public.

"The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

States included in the quarantine list include: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Axios notes that "the tri-state area, the original hub of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., has successfully flattened its curve and is reopening. Officials fear, however, that the surge of cases in others states across the country could erase progress in New York and its neighboring states."

•  From the New York Times this morning:

"Six months since the coronavirus crisis was first detected in the United States, the Northeast stands in sharp contrast with the rest of the nation.

"Along the East Coast, from Delaware through Maine, new case reports remain well below their April peak. As of Tuesday, five of the country’s nine states with flat or falling case levels are in that Northeastern corridor.

"'It’s acting like Europe,' Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said of the Northeastern United States."

"Like Europe, the Northeast suffered a devastating wave of illnesses and deaths in March and April, and state leaders responded, after some hesitation, with aggressive lockdowns and big investments in testing and tracing efforts. Residents have largely followed rules and been surprisingly supportive of tough measures, even at the cost of economic pain.

"Dr. Jha said the difference in regional trajectories was so pronounced that, by the time flu season rolls around in the late fall, 'I would not be surprised if what we have is two countries, one which is neck-deep in coronavirus, its hospitals overwhelmed, and another part of the country that is struggling a little, but largely doing OK with their economy'."

I know that in some places, "acting like Europe" is not seen as positive.  But hunkered down in Connecticut - feeling isolated, vaguely depressed, but reasonably healthy at least for the moment - I'm pretty good with that.  

The Times does point out, correctly, that "it is also true that the Northeast remains the corner of America that has suffered most from the virus … New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have reported the country’s most deaths per capita over the course of the pandemic, with more than 61,000 combined. And the economic wounds from prolonged shutdowns are deep: Massachusetts’s unemployment rate in June climbed to 17.4 percent, the worst in the country, according to federal data released on Friday."

In my little corner of southwestern Connecticut, you can still see the impact of the pandemic in the empty parking spaces at the train station.  The town where I live is largely populated by people who traditionally take the train to New York City early in the morning and return at night;  but these days, everybody seems to be working from home.  (People here are lucky that way.  It is important to remember that not everybody is as fortunate.)

I also think that this is an important passage from the Times story:

"Polls, so far, suggest that voters in the Northeast are prepared to tolerate prolonged economic pain in order to stop the spread of the virus. Governors from the states that were hit early in the pandemic have sustained the highest approval ratings in the country … The crisis has drawn out key regional differences in how Americans view the role of government in their lives, said Wendy J. Schiller, chair of the political science department at Brown University in Providence, R.I. The Northeast, she said, with its 400-year tradition of localized, participatory government, has been less affected by decades of antigovernment rhetoric."