retail 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, we've now had 4,813,984 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 158,372 deaths and 2,380,548 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 18,254,639 confirmed coronavirus cases, 693,154 fatalities, and 11,457,259 reported recoveries.

•  From the Washington Post:

"Cases of the new coronavirus in the U.S. reached a record for the month of July, as the White House coronavirus coordinator said the pandemic is more pervasive in the country than at any other time.

"The U.S. is experiencing the world’s largest outbreak and saw more than 1.9 million new cases of the disease in July, which is more than double the number of new cases recorded in any single previous month, according to data from Johns Hopkins University."

The Post reports that "numerous states reported record daily fatalities in recent days, including California, which reported 219 on Saturday, according to tracking by the Washington Post. Florida reported a record 257 deaths on Friday, and seven-day averages for new deaths reached new highs in states across the South, the West and the Midwest."

The Post goes on:  "Nationwide, the daily coronavirus death toll exceeded 1,000 for the sixth day in a row on Saturday, according to the Post’s data. The 1,198 new fatalities marked the most that officials have counted on a Saturday, when death reports tend to be lower than those tallied midweek, since May 9.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent analysis of pandemic fatalities shows weekly reports of new deaths increasing over the next month, with 5,000 to 11,000 new deaths projected in the third week of August. The national death toll could climb to more than 168,000 by that time, with a high estimate of 182,000, according to the CDC’s review.

"Deborah Birx, the physician overseeing the White House coronavirus response, warned Sunday that the United States had entered a 'new phase' of the pandemic and urged people to take extreme health precautions as infections and deaths rise sharply nationwide … Birx did not rule out an estimate from former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb that virus deaths could top 300,000 by the end of the year, saying 'anything is possible.' Such an outcome would be far less likely, Birx said, if people practiced social distancing and avoided large gatherings."

There are signs, the Post reports, "that the virus is spreading freely in much of the country. Experts are focused on upticks in the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the upper South and Midwest. It is a sign that the virus could soon surge anew in the heartland. Infectious-disease experts also see warning signs in East Coast cities hammered in the spring.

"Alaska is in trouble. And Hawaii, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma. Those are the five states, as of Friday, with the highest percentage increase in the seven-day average of new cases, according to a Post analysis of nationwide health data.

"'The dominoes are falling now,' said David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has produced a model showing where the virus is likely to spread over the next four weeks."

•  The Houston Chronicle has a story saying that "Texas, unlike 27 other states, excludes the results of increasingly popular, rapid COVID-19 tests from the numbers it reports publicly - obscuring the scope of the pandemic, records and interviews show. The antigen tests are used in doctor’s offices, hospitals and stand-alone clinics and deliver results in less than 30 minutes."

In other words, Texas's pandemic numbers are worse than are bering publicly reported.

The story goes on:  "While there is no way to independently estimate the scope of the undercount, based on the 11 Texas counties that publish antigen tests results separately of their own accord, the state’s tally is short by at least tens of thousands of cases — but likely far more, a Houston Chronicle analysis found.

Some context from the Chronicle story:

"The antigen test was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May under an emergency authorization. They are considered to be less reliable than the molecular polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests — which are highly accurate but typically have to be shipped out to laboratories for analysis. With the current backlogs, those tests can take a week or more for results.

"But according to the FDA, the risk is not that the antigen tests will result in false positives — indicating someone has COVID-19 when they do not. The concern is that they are more likely to result in a false negative — meaning they fail to detect when someone has COVID-19.

"The state, following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructions, considers people with a positive antigen test to be a 'probable' case of COVID-19. And DSHS policy is to report only confirmed cases to the public, although that may soon change, said Chris Van Deusen, the agency’s spokesman."

•  Axios reports that most indications are that the back-to-school season will be tough on many retailers, as students look at either being schooled at home from day one, or the likelihood that they'll end up doing e-learning before the school year is too far along.

It is, the story notes, "the second-biggest revenue generating period for the retail sector, after the holidays. But retailers say typical shopping sprees will be smaller with students learning at home — another setback for their industry, which has seen a slew of store closures and bankruptcy filings since the pandemic hit … Research firm GlobalData expects the lowest level of back-to-school spending for elementary and high school students since 2015 — while spending for back-to-college shopping would crater nearly 40% from last year."

One possible bright spot for retailers - electronics, as parents invest in new computers for kids who may be more dependent on them than ever for the about-to-begin school year.

The complicating factor will be the economy - families in which people have lost jobs or are insecure about their immediate futures are not likely to be investing in electronics.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports on how business executives in a number of channels believe that they " are getting a better grip on what a world transformed by the coronavirus looks like, giving them more confidence to lay out strategies that account for the new reality.

"Corporate leaders are changing company operations and resetting assumptions, after having absorbed months of fresh information about how customers act with everyday life often marked by working and staying home, traveling less and social distancing. In response to the emerging environment, businesses are retooling pricing, store designs and production - for the immediate and long-term future."

Some examples cited in the story:

"Church & Dwight Co., the consumer-product company behind the Arm & Hammer brand, added manufacturing capacity in the second quarter—including the installation of a new liquid-laundry detergent line at one factory—to accommodate increased demand."

"Snack maker Mondelez International Inc. is removing a quarter of product types it produces to better focus on its most important brands."

McDonald's, the story says, having struggled during the early says of the pandemic, "is ready to ramp up marketing" and has "moved to a limited menu in the quarter, helping to simplify operations."

•  The New York Times has a story this morning saying that "an expanding universe of distinctive small businesses - from coffee shops to dry cleaners to hardware stores - that give New York’s neighborhoods their unique personalities and are key to the city’s economy are starting to topple.

More than 2,800 businesses in New York City have permanently closed since March 1, according to data from Yelp, the business listing and review site, a higher number than in any other large American city.

"About half the closings have been in Manhattan, where office buildings have been hollowed out, its wealthier residents have left for second homes and tourists have stayed away.

"When the pandemic eventually subsides, roughly one-third of the city’s 240,000 small businesses may never reopen, according to a report by the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group. So far, those businesses have shed 520,000 jobs."

The Times notes that "while New York is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than any city in the country, small businesses are the city’s backbone. They represent roughly 98 percent of the employers in the city and provide jobs to more than 3 million people, which is about half of its work force, according to the city.

"When New York’s economic lockdown started in March the hope was that the closing of businesses would be temporary and many could weather the financial blow.

"But the devastation to small businesses has become both widespread and permanent as the economy reopens at a slow pace. Emergency federal aid has failed to provide enough of a cushion, people remain leery of resuming normal lives and the threat of a second wave of the virus looms."

•  From the Boston Globe:

"With the fall semester fast approaching and coronavirus infections still rampant, numerous colleges and universities nationwide are reversing course and abandoning plans to bring students back to campus.

"Last week George Washington University, Georgetown University, and American University, all in the Washington, D.C., area, announced that they would be almost entirely online in the fall, backing away from previously announced plans to offer in-person classes. Two weeks ago, three historically Black universities in the Atlanta area — Spelman College, Clark Atlanta College, and Morehouse University — announced they would start the semester online, after previously saying they would bring a portion of their students back to campus and teach both in-person and online.

"Other universities that have switched gears include the University of California Berkeley and Miami University in Ohio, which both recently announced their fall semesters will start with all classes online. Both had previously planned to teach some classes in-person."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"With a coronavirus outbreak on one team and cases now growing on another, Major League Baseball is tightening its safety protocols on the fly in hope of completing this tumultuous, pandemic-shortened season.

"The moves come after a full week of play in which things have not gone smoothly. Nearly two-thirds of the Miami Marlins’ roster has tested positive, forcing MLB to postpone 14 games and rejigger the schedules of six East Coast teams. A string of positive tests on the St. Louis Cardinals cost them their weekend series in Milwaukee and will likely throw their upcoming slate into turmoil as officials wait to learn the full extent of the spread."

The story says that "the early issues have prompted MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association to seek improvements to the sport’s 101-page operations manual, aiming to promote greater social distancing and avoid eruptions of positive tests like the one on the Marlins, people familiar with the matter said. The people declined to elaborate further on most of the specific proposals under consideration, citing ongoing negotiations, but the two sides are expected to reach an agreement in the coming days."

On Friday, the Journal writes, "MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark and said that if outbreaks continue, the season could shut down."

As a Mets fan, I'd just like to say that if they want to end the season now, I'm okay with it.  What a freakin' disaster.  

•  The Associated Press reports that the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which usually brings a half-million or more bikers to the South Dakota community and the surrounding area, is going to be held as usual this year, despite concerns about the pandemic.

According to the story, "The Aug. 7 to 16 event, which could be the biggest anywhere so far during the pandemic, will offer businesses that depend on the rally a chance to make up for losses caused by the coronavirus. But for many in Sturgis, a city of about 7,000, the brimming bars and bacchanalia will not be welcome during a pandemic.

"Though only about half the usual number of people are expected at this year’s event, residents were split as the city weighed its options. Many worried that the rally would cause an unmanageable outbreak of COVID-19."

The story notes that "rallygoers have spent about $800 million in past years, according to the state Department of Tourism. Though the rally has an ignominious history of biker gangs and lawlessness, bikers of a different sort have shown up in recent years — affluent professionals who ride for recreation and come flush with cash. Though the rally still features libertine displays, it also offers charity events and tributes to the military and veterans."

The AP writes that "when the rally is over, every year the city weighs all the trash generated to estimate how many people showed up. This year, they will also conduct mass coronavirus testing to see if all those people brought the pandemic to Sturgis."