The approaching one year anniversary of the war in Ukraine presents an opportunity to take stock of the many ways the war has impacted the world. Beyond its clear political and tragic humanitarian consequences, the war has also underscored Ukraine’s importance in global food and agriculture. Disruptions caused by the war have reverberated through global markets. Luckily, at least one initiative enacted last year has helped bring some stability to Ukraine, and in turn, to several other distressed regions around the world.
Agriculture is an important part of the Ukrainian economy. Ukraine is one of the largest agricultural producers in Europe and is known for its grain exports, particularly wheat, corn, and barley. The country is also a significant producer of other crops, including sugar beets, sunflowers, and vegetables, and livestock, including cattle, pigs, and poultry. Agriculture is so engrained (no pun intended) in Ukrainian culture that the bright yellow and blue of the country’s flag is meant to symbolize Ukraine’s bountiful wheat fields under a blue sky.
The conflict in Ukraine has had a significant impact on the country’s food security. The fighting has disrupted agriculture and trade, making it difficult for people to access food and other necessities. In addition, the conflict has caused widespread displacement, with many people being forced to leave their homes and communities, adding to instability in both agricultural supply and demand in the country. The war has also had an impact on global crop prices, with the cost of wheat jumping from $7.70/bushel at the beginning of 2022 to $13.00 in the aftermath of the invasion.
However, in the early fall of last year, a deal called the “Initiative for safe transportation of agricultural products across the Black Sea” (or the “Grain Corridor”) was struck, allowing Ukrainian grain exports to resume. The initiative, championed by the United Nations and Turkey, quickly had a stabilizing effect on world food prices and was extended for another 120 days in November. In total, since the start of the “Grain Corridor” up to December 22, 2022, Ukraine managed to export 14.2 million tons of food. Food has been sent to Asia, Africa, and Europe. During the operation of the “Grain Corridor,” more than 400 ships with agricultural cargo departed from Ukraine.
The “Grain Corridor” had an immediate, positive impact on the economic situation of farmers in Ukraine. Improving exports made it possible to obtain funds for harvesting late crops (including sunflower, soybeans, and corn) and to partially form the necessary reserves for spring field work. Accordingly, the “Grain Corridor” has been critical for Ukraine. From September to October 2022, 65 percent of all Ukrainian exports were agricultural products.
The “Grain Corridor” deal has also been a boon for countries around the world struggling with food insecurity and shortages. Much of Ukrainian’s recent grain exports have gone to at-risk regions: 23 percent of Ukraine’s “Grain Corridor” wheat has been exported to countries suffering from a humanitarian crisis, and 27% to countries in Africa. As part of the U.N. World Food Program, six vessels with 190,080 tons of cargo have shipped from Ukrainian ports.
The stable operation of the “Grain Corridor” has illustrated the importance of Ukrainian agriculture and has been one of the successes of the global effort to limit the impacts of the war. In October and November 2022, six to seven million tons of exports per month went through the Corridor. If such volumes continue to be realized, it may be enough for both Ukrainian producers and to help bolster global food security.
Headlines of the Week
Amazon said Wednesday it will cut over 18,000 jobs, a bigger number than the e-retailer initially said it would be eliminating last year. Tech companies are picking up in 2023 where they left off last year, preparing for an extended economic downturn. Salesforce said on Wednesday it would reduce headcount by 10%, impacting over 7,000 employees. Both Amazon and Salesforce admitted that they hired too rapidly during the pandemic. Amazon specifically acknowledged that it had added workers too quickly in warehouses as consumers shifted to online ordering. The company employed 1.54 million people at the end of the third quarter. In November, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said the company would eliminate roles, including at its physical stores and in its devices and books divisions. CNBC reported at the time that Amazon was looking to lay off around 10,000 of its employees. Now the number is higher. Amazon plans to inform employees who will lose their jobs starting Jan. 18, Jassy wrote, noting that most cuts will come in the stores and People, Experience, and Technology (PXT) groups.
Designer Brands Inc., one of the world’s largest designers, producers and retailers of footwear and accessories, announced a planned CEO transition process. The Company’s Board of Directors has appointed Doug Howe, President of DSW, to succeed Roger Rawlins as the Company’s Chief Executive Officer, effective April 1, 2023, at which time Rawlins will step down as Chief Executive Officer and as a member of the Board of Directors. Rawlins will continue to work with the Company for a twelve-month period in a Strategic Advisor role to facilitate a seamless leadership transition. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to thank Roger for his leadership and unparalleled commitment to Designer Brands over the past 17 years,” said Jay Schottenstein, Executive Chairman of Designer Brands’ Board of Directors. “As a result of a comprehensive succession plan, we are pleased to appoint Doug, a strategic thinker with demonstrated history of driving results in the industry, to CEO. ” Howe has more than 30 years of experience in the retail industry with deep experience in vertical brand and direct-to-consumer growth and currently serves as President of DSW and Executive Vice President of Designer Brands.
Apparel & Footwear
Victoria’s Secret brand CEO Amy Hauk has resigned less than a year into the job, the company said Tuesday. Hauk, who was also CEO of the company’s Pink apparel brand geared to teens, notified the company of her resignation last week, the company said. She will leave Victoria’s Secret in March. Martin Waters, the CEO of the brand’s parent company, Victoria’s Secret & Co., will take over as CEO of the brand. Victoria’s Secret has struggled in recent years as some customers rejected its marketing replete with supermodels and “Angels” fashion shows and switched to niche bra brands. As Victoria’s Secret also became embroiled in turmoil over founder Leslie Wexner’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, its clothing went out of fashion among some longtime buyers. The company overhauled its advertising, began using a broader range of models and ended its Angels fashion show. The company also bought Adore Me, an upstart rival, for $400 million. That deal closed last week.
Two longtime partners — PVH Corp. and G-III Apparel Group — are heading into 2023 with a break up pending and big changes underway in both of their businesses. In November, PVH said it would unwind its licensing arrangements with G-III for Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger women’s wholesale apparel in the U.S. by 2027. The businesses made up about a third of PVH’s global licensing revenues last year, or something like $113 million, but accounted for less than 10 percent of the company’s earnings before interest and taxes. Stefan Larsson, chief executive officer of PVH, put the move in the context of his brand-centric and digitally focused PVH+ strategic plan. G-III is also going to have to start thinking about or making some major adjustments since Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger accounted for 50.7 percent of the company’s total sales last year. Morris Goldfarb, G-III’s chairman and CEO, who has steered the company through nearly 50 years of major changes, said the shift could open up new opportunities.
Debt financings usually come and go with little note in fashion. But with the Federal Reserve pushing up interest rates to fight inflation, what would have been run-of-the-mill tweaks to corporate balance sheets are starting to come under the microscope. Witness VF Corp., which loaded up with debt to buy Supreme for $2.1 billion in 2020 and is facing what’s become an inconvenient refinancing. The company’s Vans brand is in the midst of a turnaround, investors are fretting over the company’s dividend payment and the search to replace former chief executive officer Steve Rendle continues. The company, also parent to The North Face, Timberland and other brands, has 850 million euros of senior notes coming due in September. But whereas that debt came with an interest payment of just 0.625 percent, the refinancing will come dearly. And since Bloomberg reported last month that VF was considering selling off its Jansport business, analysts have been speculating that the company could dispose of that business as well as other brands, perhaps Kipling and Eastpak as well, and maybe Napapijri, all of which reside in the group’s active portfolio.
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Michael Rubin’s sports platform company Fanatics is divesting its 60% stake in NFT company Candy Digital, according to an internal email obtained by CNBC. Fanatics, who previously held the majority share of Candy Digital, will be selling its interest to an investor group led by Galaxy Digital, the crypto merchant bank led by Mike Novogratz, which was the other original founding shareholder, according to the email. Candy Digital was founded in June 2021 in the middle of the sports NFT boom, competing with companies like Dapper Labs in the digital sports collectible space. One of its first efforts came out of a multiyear licensing agreement with MLB to produce nonfungible tokens, which included an exclusive Lou Gehrig NFT.
Perpetual Capital Partners has acquired In-Shape Solutions, the company that operates 44 clubs under the In-Shape Health Clubs brand, according to an announcement from In-Shape. Perpetual Capital also owns California Family Fitness, which has 19 clubs in California. The In-Shape leadership team remains intact and now reports to Randy Karr, who had been CEO of California Family Fitness and now is CEO of In-Shape Family Fitness LLC, which is the new entity within private investment group Perpetual Capital that owns the two club brands, according to an In-Shape spokesperson.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
Johnson & Johnson submitted its plan to spin off its consumer health business in the first significant filing of the new year for an initial public offering. Kenvue Inc., as the company will be known, will include J&J brands such as Tylenol, Listerine, Neutrogena and Nicorette, according to its filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The proposed terms of the share sale will be disclosed in a later filing. The filing follows the worst year for IPOs since 2009 at the peak of the financial crisis. After a record $339 billion was raised in 2021, listings on US exchanges sank to $24 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Kenvue’s filing could be one of the biggest of the year and, if successful, could signal the IPO market is rebounding from volatility and inflation, as well as the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine. Kenvue’s business had net income of $1.7 billion on sales of more than $11 billion for the nine months ended Oct. 2, compared with a profit of $1.6 billion on revenue of $11 billion for the same period the previous year. Proceeds from the share sale will go to J&J, along with proceeds from related debt financing transactions, according to the filing. J&J will also still control Kenvue after it’s public.
Expanding into a new category, customizable products brand Function of Beauty announced on Thursday it has launched new hair styling products exclusively at Target. The company is selling the styling products for $12.99 at Target stores and online, adding to its existing hair, skin and body care merchandise lineup, according to a press release shared with Retail Dive. The latest line includes a texturizing spray, mousse, curl cream and styling gel. All the products can be combined with any of the company’s 10 Hair Goal Boosters (which include options aiming to soothe scalps or promote hair growth) for a more personalized experience.
Discounters & Department Stores
Macy’s on Thursday said by email that it will close four mall-based stores, in Los Angeles; Fort Collins, Colorado; Oahu, Hawaii; and Gaithersburg, Maryland. In November, Chief Financial Officer Adrian Mitchell told analysts the department store anticipated shuttering fewer than 10 stores in January, in line with its 2021 decision to delay its full-line closures. The company is also opening more smaller formats off the mall, including Bloomingdale’s second Bloomie’s location in Chicagoland and a third that will open in Seattle later this year.
Walmart completed more than 6,000 drone deliveries in 2022, according to a company announcement Thursday. The achievement follows the company’s rapid expansion of the transportation method’s availability. Walmart now has 36 U.S. stores with drone delivery hubs, which are operated by DroneUp, Flytrex and Zipline. The stores are located in seven states — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Target may be struggling more than many observers realize and could be facing “a sustained period of comp and traffic weakness,” Wells Fargo analysts led by Edward Kelly warned in a Wednesday research note. Although the analysts said Target “remains a long-term share gainer,” they downgraded its stock based on evidence of Q4 traffic declines, the “unique level of complexity” of its store-based fulfillment and signs that general merchandise demand more broadly has softened. They also cited a “growing lack of visibility on the margin recovery story,” with promotions likely to remain high and supply chain issues to continue.
All 115 Sears Hometown stores run by independent dealers across 36 states and Puerto Rico are winding down their businesses and holding liquidation sales, offering discounts of up to 40%. Some $40 million in inventory, including riding lawnmowers, washers, dryers, refrigerators and power tools, are for sale, according to a press release from Tiger Capital Group. Tiger, SB360 Capital Partners and B. Riley Retail Solutions are managing the liquidation. The banner filed for bankruptcy last month amid disputes with parent TransformCo, also known as “New Sears.”
Emerging Consumer Companies
Wag!, the pet care platform that offers on-demand pet care, pet insurance, and pet advice, entered into a definitive asset purchase agreement with Dog Food Advisor for cash consideration of $9 million. Dog Food Advisor, founded in 2008, is a dog food marketplace that has rated and extensively researched the ingredients, production, and safety practices of more than 5,000 dog food products. “It’s hard to imagine a better entrance into the Pet Food and Treats market than through the digital presence that Dog Food Advisor has built for over a decade. This acquisition demonstrates a commitment to our long-term strategic initiatives of measured expansion, opportunistic mergers and acquisitions, and becoming an all-inclusive, trusted partner for the premium pet parent,” said Garrett Smallwood, CEO and Chairman of Wag!. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2023.
The SF-based cosmetics company, once valued at $2.2 billion posted a statement to Twitter announcing the closure of nearly 20 US stores. The company said customers can continue to shop the Morphe brand online, at select retailers, and at its international stores, which will remain open. While the company found great success in collaborations with social media personalities including Jeffree Star and James Charles, achieving revenues of over $400 million in 2019, the company was forced to cut ties with the stars in 2020 and 2021, ultimately leading to revenues falling in 2021. A spokesperson for Morphe’s parent company, Forma Brands commented that the company carefully evaluated all aspects of its business and made the strategic decision to focus on wholesale and ecommerce operations.
Glowbar, launched in 2019 by aesthetician Rachel Liverman, offers 30-minute clinical-grade facial treatments to help customers reach their skincare goals at less expense and in less time. The brand announced this week it has raised a $10 million Series A led by Peterson Partners, representing the first outside capital into the business. The brand intends to use proceeds from the round to expand its studio count. It currently owns and operates 6 studios in New York and Connecticut, and plans to expand its footprint in the tri-state area as well as to additional markets along the East Coast.
Food & Beverage
Oatly is making moves toward its transition to an asset-light supply chain strategy after inking a $72 million deal with Toronto-based co-packer Ya YA foods. Oatly will continue to produce its proprietary oat-base at both its Ogden, Utah and Fort Worth, Texas facilities, the companies said in a press release, while Ya YA will handle manufacturing and packaging for finished liquid Oatly products at the plants, which were formerly fully operated by Oatly. A spokesperson for Ya YA declined to comment on whether the company would manufacture Oatly’s other products, including yogurt and frozen novelties. With this deal, Ya YA will acquire a majority of the Ogden facility’s assets including mixing and filling equipment. The aseptic food and beverage-focused co-manufacturer will also be tasked with completing construction of the Fort Worth plant and taking over the facility’s lease. Oatly will retain full ownership of the production lines and processes for its oat-base in each facility.
Food tech company Moolec Science began trading on Nasdaq on Tuesday after its merger with LightJump Acquisition Corporation, a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company, completed at the end of 2022. Moolec uses genetically modified plants to produce proteins that are found in animals, a process it calls molecular farming. The deal, which shareholders of LightJump Acquisition Corp. approved on Dec. 27, values Moolec at $504 million. The company’s trading symbol is MLEC. The deal makes Moolec the first molecular farming food-tech company trading in public markets. “This is a step closer towards building a more resilient and sustainable food system, using science in food to set up a better future,” Moolec CEO, Director and co-founder Gastón Paladini said in a written statement.
Egg manufacturer Cal-Maine Foods — the largest egg producer in the U.S. — saw record quarterly sales of $801.7 million in the last quarter, a 110% increase over the same period in the previous year, the company said its most recent earnings report. The net average selling price for a dozen Cal-Maine eggs increased to $2.88 in the quarter. The company attributed the earnings to the ongoing HPAI (bird flu) outbreak, and continued demand for eggs among consumers, driving prices up as availability was limited. Despite its record earnings, Cal-Maine saw a drop in its share prices after its earnings missed Wall Street estimates. Consumers’ willingness to continue purchasing eggs will continue to be tested in 2023, though there are signs that prices could recede, or at least have peaked, as the new year takes hold.
Grocery & Restaurants
McDonald’s is planning job cuts and a reorganization as the company refocuses its priorities to accelerate restaurant expansion, CEO Chris Kempczinski told employees Friday. The fast-food giant said the job cuts aren’t a cost-cutting measure but are instead intended to help the company innovate faster and work more efficiently. As part of the reorganization, the company will be deprioritizing and halting certain initiatives, according to a company-wide memo from Kempczinski. It’s unclear what those projects are. “Today, we’re divided into silos with a center, segments, and markets,” Kempczinski wrote. “This approach is outdated and self-limiting – we are trying to solve the same problems multiple times, aren’t always sharing ideas and can be slow to innovate.” Currently, McDonald’s organization is divided into three segments: the U.S., international operated markets and international developmental licensed markets. The company operates in 119 markets across the world. Additionally, McDonald’s said Friday it will speed up its development plans for new restaurants. McDonald’s hadn’t previously released a forecast for how many new restaurants it plans to build in 2023, but the company said in November that new units would contribute about 1.5% to system-wide sales growth in 2022.
Online retailer Boxed Inc. announced that it is planning to explore strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of the company. In a parallel move, Boxed said it is actively exploring capital raising initiatives and is targeting the announcement of additional funding within the next 45 days. “While we are actively exploring capital raising initiatives, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our stockholders to explore all options available to us, including a potential sale of the company,” Boxed said in a statement. “We are considering these strategies in addition to fundraising, to ensure the appropriate course for growing Boxed and benefiting the company and its stockholders as we move forward.” The initiatives are just the latest efforts by the New York-based company to strengthen its finances and activities. In 2021, Boxed, which provides bulk pantry consumables to businesses and household customers via ecommerce and licenses its ecommerce software to enterprise retailers, acquired MaxDelivery, a New York on-demand grocery delivery service.
Home & Road
Three creditors, including bank Wells Fargo, have made moves to push Lane Furniture into an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Joined by two other creditors of United Furniture/Lane Furniture, Wells Fargo said in court documents filed Dec. 30 that the move is necessary to help offset the $99.2 million the furniture maker owes the bank. Wells Fargo is joined in the petition by Security Associates of Mississippi/Alabama, a security firm hired by Wells Fargo to protect the closed Lane factories; and V&B International, a Port Gibson, Miss., hardwood sawmill and wood products manufacturer. According to court documents, United Furniture owes the three companies more than $99.5 million, excluding interest, fees and expenses. United Furniture abruptly shuttered its doors Nov. 22 and informed all employees via email or text that the company was ceasing operations. The closure shocked the industry and has resulted in a number of lawsuits by former employees and suppliers.
Tuesday Morning has begun to move from being a public company to a private one. The off-price home goods retailer said it has notified Nasdaq of the company’s decision to voluntarily delist its common stock from the Nasdaq Capital Market and its intent to file a Form 25 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on or about January 2, 2023. Tuesday Morning expects the delisting of its common stock to become effective on or about January 12. The delisting, which comes after a November corporate shakeup that saw three executives leave, is the first step in a longer-term plan for the company to deregister as a public reporting company and become a privately held company. The process is expected to be completed in September 2023. Tuesday Morning said it made the decision to delist and deregister following careful consideration of its current financial situation. “Due to a number of factors, including lower than forecast sales, increased insurance costs and costs relating to the separation with senior company executives in November 2022, the company is facing near-term capital constraints and is actively seeking to raise additional capital,” Tuesday Morning stated in a release.
Jewelry & Luxury
An end to China’s travel curbs this month is expected to revive demand in the global luxury retail market, which has been starved of mainland visitors for three years, but many consumers now see more reasons to do their high-end shopping locally. Share prices of global luxury brands jumped last week after Beijing announced it would loosen travel restrictions from Jan. 8, effectively allowing Chinese tourists to once again flock to global shopping hubs from Paris to Tokyo. However, analysts and luxury brands warn they are unlikely see an immediate return to pre-pandemic levels of Chinese travelers with airlines yet to fully resume operations and local prices falling. Just as importantly, big luxury brands are now investing more in the shopping experience in China.
As has become its custom, Rolex has begun 2023 by raising prices on at least some of its watches, said a report from two Barclays bank analysts. The price of the most popular Rolex models rose around 1%–3% in the United Kingdom and U.S. markets, according to the report. The price increase was slightly higher in the United Kingdom (2.6%) than in the United States (2.2%), said analysts Richard Taylor and Pallav Mittal, who based their information on data from Watches of Switzerland. Rolex accounts for about half of Watches of Switzerland’s sales, they said.
De Beers Group’s 2022 rough diamond sales topped $5 billion for the first time in four years, year-end figures released by the company show. On Dec. 21, De Beers released its results for its final sales cycle of the year, which ran from Dec. 5 to 20. Rough diamond sales totaled $410 million in the period, up 22 percent from $336 million in the same period last year but down about 10 percent when compared with $454 million in November. De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver, who will step down in early 2023, said December sales were in line with expectations, with polishing factories in southern Africa set to close for Christmas and sightholders taking a “prudent” approach to post-holiday restocking and the expected easing of continued COVID restrictions in China.
Office & Leisure
Barnes & Noble is committing to open more than 30 new stores in 2023, three years after being taken private for $683 million by Elliott Management. This is a very different sort of story for private equity, which is known for buying physical retailers, slashing costs, and then leaving them for dead. B&N is committing to opening more than 30 new physical locations in 2023, following its first year of net store growth in more than a decade. The new openings include some locations abandoned last year by Amazon (i.e., the mortal enemy of physical booksellers), when it closed all of its Amazon Books stores. This follows the company’s first year of net store growth in more than a decade. Elliott certainly followed the private equity playbook to some extent, cutting layers of corporate management and related expenses (including office space). But its primary thesis was to let B&N operate more like … well, more like bookstores. It was a learning from Elliott’s prior takeover of U.K.-based Waterstones, whose CEO James Daunt was also put in charge of B&N (even though the two companies operate independently).
An experiential, state-of-the-art illusions museum designed for visitors of all ages is expanding its U.S. footprint. The Museum of Illusions, which will end 2022 with 40 locations in 25 countries, will focus on expansion throughout the United States as part of its goal to have 100 locations around the world by 2026. In 2022, Museum of Illusions opened three new U.S. locations, in Philadelphia; Charlotte, N.C.; and Washignton, D.C., as well as sites in Brussels (Belgium) and Rome (Italy). Looking ahead to 2023, Museum of Illusions has lease agreements finalized with construction either underway or set to begin in nine North American cities, with more to be announced. In the first quarter, the brand plans to open locations in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Atlanta; Denver; Minneapolis; Montreal; and Austin, Texas. It will open a location in San Diego in the third quarter. In addition, Museum of Illusions will open its largest location to date in early spring, a 15,274-sq.-ft. site in Las Vegas,
Technology & Internet
Amazon has secured an $8 billion loan in anticipation of market headwinds. Provided by DBS Bank, Mizuho Bank and others, the loan — which will mature in 364 days (January 3, 2024), with an option to extend for another 364 days — will be used for “general corporate purposes,” Amazon said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the loan adds to the range of financing options the company has tapped in recent months to hedge against the “uncertain macroeconomic environment.” “Like all companies we regularly evaluate our operating plan and make financing decisions — like entering into term loan agreements or issuing bonds — accordingly,” the spokesperson said via email. “Given the uncertain macroeconomic environment, over the last few months we have used different financing options to support capital expenditures, debt repayments, acquisitions and working capital needs.”
StichFix founder Katrina Lake on Thursday announced the company will be cutting 20% of its salaried workforce and that she will reassume her post as CEO. The brand’s current CEO Elizabeth Spaulding, who joined the company in 2020, will be stepping down effective immediately. “I will be stepping in as interim CEO and leading the search process for our next CEO,” Lake said in a news release. “Despite the challenging moment we are in right now, the board and I still deeply believe in the Stitch Fix business, mission and vision.” StitchFix will also be closing their Salt Lake City distribution center.
Finance & Economy
The jobs market closed out 2022 on a high note, with companies adding far more positions than expected in December, payroll processing firm ADP reported. Private payrolls rose by 235,000 for the month, well ahead of the 153,000 Dow Jones estimate and the 127,000 initially reported for November. While the goods-producing sector increased by a relatively meager 22,000, service providers added 213,000, led by leisure and hospitality, which added 123,000 positions. Professional and business services grew by 52,000, while education and health services added 42,000. The big jobs surprise comes despite the Federal Reserve’s attempts to slow a sizzling jobs market that has helped push inflation to near its highest level in more than 40 years.
January is typically an overlooked month for retailers. Shoppers make returns and exchanges. They come to stores with gift cards in hand. And they may spring for workout clothes or other items to follow through on New Year’s resolutions. But this year, January carries higher stakes. The next few weeks, which close out many retailers’ fiscal year, could help determine whether the holiday quarter is a win or a bust. So far, early holiday results have been better than some economists and retailers feared. Sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 rose 7.6%, according to data from MasterCard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. The figure includes restaurants and is not adjusted for inflation, which rose 7.1% year over year in November.