The Big Story

Tracking the Symptoms of Coronavirus in the Stock Market

Doug Stebbins, CFA

It has been an unsettling couple of weeks as fears about the coronavirus has spread worldwide.  On January 30, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 (the virus’s official name) to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and issued a set of temporary recommendations. And while the WHO did not recommend any specific travel or trade restrictions, that does not mean that the virus does not have real implications for both trade and travel, or for the global economy in general.

While thermometers are the tool most commonly used to identify the existence of COVID-19 in a patient, the tool for measuring the impact of coronavirus on the economy is the stock market.  There is nothing the stock market hates more than uncertainty and any spreading, highly contagious, potentially-fatal virus is enough to make traders shutter.  Despite many attempts by the Trump administration to downplay the impact of COVID-19, the markets are not convinced.  The question is which parts of the economy are most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.  To answer that question, we examined the US stock market and its movements from February 24-28 to see which sectors of the economy Wall Street feels are most at risk.

Last week, the S&P 500 saw a decline of over 11%, but, as you can imagine, there were variances across industries.  Given the WHO’s focus on travel and trade, it is not surprising that sectors directly impacted by travel and trade saw the biggest declines.  Travel, whether done by road, air, or sea, is fueled by, well, fuel.  Accordingly, of the 11 broad SIC categories, Energy stocks were among the hardest hit, down 13% for the week, led by Oil & Gas related stocks that were down almost 20% for the week.

Among consumer-related stocks, Consumer Discretionary companies like hotels and casinos fared worse than the overall market, while Consumer Staples companies like food and drug retail companies generally fared better than the overall market.  As a whole, Consumer Discretionary stocks were down an average of just over 12%, compared with Consumer Staple stocks that were down just over 9%.  Stocks of companies that are heavily reliant on tourism suffered a very tough week.  Leisure Facilities (e.g. Six Flags), Casinos, Restaurants and Hotel/Resort/Cruises were all down an average of 15% or more.

Airlines, which for SIC purposes are categorized as “Industrial” companies, was the subcategory with the largest drop, seeing their market caps decline by an average of over 20% in the past five trading days.  Wall Street obviously fears that travel will be severely impacted over the coming weeks and months as voluntary and involuntary travel restrictions are enacted.

Among Consumer Staples companies, Food and Drug Retailers were down an average of almost 8%.  The prospect of consumers stocking up on essentials in reaction to COVID-19 was more than offset by the risk of supply chain disruptions.  Electronics Retailers also saw significant selloffs due to the fact that much of their merchandise is sourced in China, the epicenter of the outbreak.  Publicly-traded Furniture Retailers also saw their average market cap decrease by over 15%.  It is unclear if that decline is due to international trade concerns or a perceived impact of COVID-19 on the housing market, or perhaps more likely, a combination of both.

But not all stocks got hammered last week.  Of the 5,600 public companies we looked at, 350 companies (6% of the total) saw their market caps increase last week.  If you were smart enough to own shares of Allied Healthcare Products you saw your investment increase nearly 900% in five days.  As you might have guessed, Allied is a manufacturer of respiratory products including, among other things, facemasks.

Hopefully the markets, and the virus, will settle down over the coming days and Allied can go back to selling facemasks to be worn in operating rooms and not on trains and buses.  Until then, keep a close eye on your temperature as well as on the stock market.

Headline of the Week

Walmart’s answer to Amazon Prime is in the works

Walmart has created a new online membership program dubbed Walmart+, a company spokesperson confirmed for Retail Dive without disclosing details. Vox’s Recode, which broke the story, reported that Walmart has been developing the program over the past year and a half to take on Amazon’s Prime membership program. Walmart+, which could launch in March​, would include “perks that Amazon can’t replicate, in part to avoid a direct comparison to Prime,” Recode reported, citing anonymous sources.



Apparel & Footwear

Chico’s Q4 brings gains across all its brands; Soma leads comeback

Chico’s FAS narrowed its loss in a quarter that, for the first time in six years, brought increases across all its three brands. While all divisions reported comp increases, intimates brand Soma was the star performer across Chico’s brand portfolio, with a 9.4% same-store sales gain. In January 2019, Chico’s announced plans to shutter 250 stores during the next three years. On its earnings call, the retailer said that that it plans to close 60 to 70 stores this year. But it added that, “due to significant improvement in our sales trends, we are reevaluating every closure decision.”

Forever 21 names new CEO

Daniel Kulle on Tuesday was announced as the new chief executive officer of Forever 21, according to a press release from Authentic Brands Group (ABG).  Kulle worked for fast-fashion retailer H&M for over 20 years, and was formerly the president of H&M North America. He most recently was an advisor to former H&M Group CEO Karl-Johan Persson and also served as a steering group member for three digital startups within H&M Group. In his new role, Kulle will update Forever 21’s social media strategy, work on sustainability initiatives and focus on “re-energizing” the retailer’s core product categories, per the release.

La Perla to Launch 200 Million Euros Capital Increase

La Perla Fashion Holding N.V. is implementing a capital increase for a total of more than 200 million euros in two installments within the next 14 days. The first will consist of 20 million new shares without subscription rights as approved by the company’s shareholders’ resolution last December. The second portion will consist of approximately 24.5 million additional new shares to be issued that do not need subscription rights. The company plans to exclusively sell the new shares to institutional investors in private placements and at 4.50 euros each, reflecting the closing price on Feb. 26. “La Perla intends to use the net proceeds to repay a certain amount of the group’s financial indebtedness, thereby strengthening the capital structure, fund future acquisitions and for general corporate purposes,” the company said.

Rue 21 CEO out

There’s been another management change at Rue 21. The teen apparel retailer said that Michael Appel has returned to his consulting practice and will no longer serve as chairman and CEO. Apple was tapped as CEO in November 2018 following the resignation of Laurie Van Brunt after less than six months on the job. Apple was company chairman of the time and had previously served as interim CEO of the retailer from October 2017 until June 2018, when Van Brunt took the reins. Rue 21 has appointed board member John Fleming as interim CEO. The company described Fleming as a “career merchant and an early pioneer in e-commerce.”

Coronavirus Claims a New Retail Victim: Outlet Stores

China’s coronavirus outbreak could be taking a toll on yet another sector in retail: brick-and-mortar fashion outlets. A slowdown in sales at outlet stores selling fashion, footwear and accessories could be due in part to reduced activity from so-called “bulk buyers,” a category of shoppers previously called “diverters” who buy product in a large quantities to be transported elsewhere for resale. It’s a practice that most brands don’t like discussing, but a necessary part of their overall sales structure. “At The Citadel Outlets in L.A. near where I live, they’re not getting the busloads of Chinese tourists,” Gabriella Santaniello, founder of research firm A-Line Partners, said.


Athletic & Sporting Goods

Nike Lost $17 Billion USD in Market Valuation Due to the Coronavirus

A new statement released by Nike indicates that the coronavirus outbreak — particularly in China — resulted in a $17 billion USD depreciation in market value. Because of the virus, the sportswear giant has been forced to shut down almost half of all its stores in the country, and those that were still open operated at reduced hours. Of course, foot traffic has also been significantly reduced due to health concerns and people feeling reluctant to go outside, further affecting Nike’s sales. Most significantly, however, is the fact that the affected market is Greater China.


Modell’s renegotiating leases in attempt to avoid bankruptcy

Mitch Modell is trying to save his shirts.  The New York-based, fourth-generation sports store owner sent a Hail Mary letter to 19 building and mall owners stating he needed them to “dig deeper” to save all 140 Modell’s stores and prevent a bankruptcy by March 1.  Already, five stores that had liquidation sales in progress since Friday agreed to a workaround, saving 93 jobs.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

E.l.f. acquires clean beauty brand W3ll People

E.l.f. Beauty is expanding its portfolio by acquiring the cruelty-free and clean beauty brand W3ll People for $27 million in cash. Through this transaction, e.l.f. plans to leverage its marketing, customer relationships and operational capabilities to drive the W3ll People brand, which the company expects to contribute approximately $7 million in net sales, the brand said. Launched in 2008 by James Walker, Shirley Pinkson, and Renee Snyder, W3ll People features plant-based products that do not contain fillers, propylene glycol, petrochemicals or petroleum byproducts, as well as 40 EWG Verified items in its portfolio.

Perrigo to acquire High Ridge Brands’ oral care portfolio

Perrigo is continuing to grow its oral care offerings through acquisitions. The company is acquiring all the oral care assets of bankrupt manufacturer High Ridge Brands for a cash price of $113 million. “The strategic acquisition of these oral care assets highlights the tremendous value of the Ranir platform, and it underscores that there are numerous bolt-on opportunities that can advance Perrigo as a global self-care leader,” said Murray Kessler, Perrigo president and CEO. Perrigo has been building out its oral care portfolio, beginning with the acquisition of leading private label oral care company Ranir in July 2019. Most recently, Ranir acquired Steripod, a maker of toothbrush accessories that include toothbrush protectors, kids’ products and tongue cleaners. The transaction, which is subject to bankruptcy court approval and other customary conditions, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.

Tengram Capital Partners to Acquire Haircare and Skin Cleansing Assets of High Ridge Brands

Tengram Capital Partners announced it will acquire the hair care and skin cleansing business of High Ridge Brands Co., establishing a new platform investment for Tengram in a consumer-focused hair and skin category. The acquisition is subject to bankruptcy court approval in connection with High Ridge Brands’ chapter 11 case, as well as other customary closing conditions, and is expected to close in the next 30 days. The acquired portfolio includes iconic brands such as Zest®, Alberto VO5®, Coast®, White Rain®, LA Looks®, Zero Frizz®, Rave®, Salon Grafix® and Thicker Fuller Hair®, among others. These assets build upon and broaden Tengram’s existing beauty and wellness portfolio. In conjunction with the acquisition, Tengram also announced that James Daniels, High Ridge’s former President and CEO at its original formation and who oversaw the Company’s initial growth, will return in the same role upon the closing of the transaction.

Blackrock acquires heritage perfumer Creed

Family-owned perfumer Creed has taken a big step forward as BlackRock Long Term Private Capital has reached a deal with Olivier Creed to become its new majority shareholder. It’s the first time the 260-year-old business, which was founded in London when George III was new to the throne, won’t be under family control. The private equity company said that “industry leading executive Javier Ferrán will become chairman of the company’s board of directors and join as an investor”. Ferrán has extensive experience with niche luxury brands and in working with European family-owned businesses, all of which means that the Creed family isn’t bowing out. In fact, the new owners will work closely with the Creed family, including Olivier Creed’s son Erwin, at the brand. It’s a big move for Blackrock too, this being its first investment in Europe.

Headspace Raises $93 Million to Take on Calm

Headspace, a global leader in mindfulness and meditation, has raised a total of $93 million in its Series C funding round. The new capital will allow Headspace to compete for consumers with Calm, which raised an $88 million Series B round that valued the company at over $1 billion just a year ago. Headspace was created with one mission in mind: to improve the health and happiness of the world. Reaching more than 62 million users in 190 countries, Headspace was one of the first meditation apps in the world and remains a leader in mindfulness and mental training. The new funding includes $53 million of equity from participating investors and $40 million of debt capital from Pacific Western Bank.


Discounters & Department Stores

J.C. Penney Q4 sales down 7.7%, to close ‘at least’ 6 more stores

J.C. Penney fourth-quarter net sales fell 7.7% year-over-year to $3.4 billion, with comparable sales down 7%. (Excluding appliances, which Penney exited last year, comps were down less, by 4.7%.) Operating income fell nearly 20% to $102 million, and net income fell 64% to $27 million, per a press release. Penney beat the FactSet consensus estimate on earnings, sales and comps, sending its share prices up 3% in premarket trading, according to MarketWatch. The company announced that it is closing “at least six store locations in fiscal 2020.” The company has approximately 850 stores currently.

Stage Stores’ latest planned closures top 200

Stage Stores plans to close about 200 Gordmans stores and department stores that were slated to be converted into Gordmans, according to three people with knowledge of the company’s plans. The company communicated to employees earlier this week that 60 Gordmans stores were closing. In all, the retailer would be left with a footprint of about 500 stores, according to the sources. That is ​down from the company’s previously announced plans to end the year with 700 Gordmans stores, after converting its remaining fleet to the banner. The company did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon says ‘too soon’ to forecast hit from deadly coronavirus

Walmart isn’t yet sure how much of a hit it will take because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak that started in China and has now spread across the globe. But it will likely take one. “It’s not in our guidance,” CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC’s Courtney Reagan, on the heels of the retailer reporting its fiscal fourth-quarter and full-year results. “It’s too difficult to tell at this early stage exactly how to forecast it,” he said about the coronavirus. “We are still operating our stores [in China]. Almost all of them are open … but operating on reduced hours,” with a focus on selling food and consumables, he said.



Emerging Consumer Companies

Ice cream brand Van Leeuwen raises $18.7 million

Van Leeuwen, the Brooklyn-based premium ice cream company with dairy, vegan, and oat milk offerings, has raised $18.7 million. The investment was led by NextWorld through the firm’s consumer focused private equity fund, NextWorld Evergreen, with participation from earlier investors Blue Scorpion M3 Ventures. The company has 21 retail storefronts and hopes to add six more in 2020. It has added 1,500 wholesale accounts in grocery, specialty and natural stores over the last year and a half.


Apparel brand ADAY raises $8.5 million

ADAY, the New York-based minimalist brand for high quality basics, announced that it has raised an $8.5 million round from Downing Ventures, H&M Co:Lab, and others. The latest round brings the five-year-old company’s funding total to $10.5 million.


Molekule, maker of the personal air purifier, raises $58 million

Moleklue, the San Francisco-based maker of air purifiers, announced that it had raised $58 million. RPS Ventures led the round, with participation from new investors Founder’s Circle Capital and Inventec Appliances, and existing investors Foundry Group, Crosslink Capital, Uncork Capital, and TransLink Capital. The Molekule Air Mini and the larger Molekule Air use the company’s patented photoelectrochemical oxidation (PECO) technology to eliminate a full spectrum of indoor air pollutants, including allergens, mold, viruses, and volatile organic compounds. The mini is designed to cover 250 square feet of space.


Grocery & Restaurants

Cosi files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as it transitions from a restaurant company to a catering business

Cosi Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in four years, according to court filings, citing plans to transition from a restaurant operator to a catering company. In its filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware, the fast-casual sandwich chain based in Charlestown, Mass., said it planned to keep operating its remaining 13 locations and three catering commissaries. It also plans to expand its catering business. There are also 16 franchised Cosi locations.


Vintage Capital resumes battle with Red Robin

Vintage Capital Management, which tried to buy Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. last year, has reignited its battle with the distressed casual dining chain. With Red Robin’s stock falling post-earnings, the activist investor has nominated four executives to the board. They will re-examine options, including a sale, for the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based brand. The Orlando-based firm, which has an 11.7% stake in Red Robin, said it was skeptical over a multi-year turnaround plan recently revealed by newly installed CEO Paul Murphy. Murphy’s plan for reigniting sales includes retrofitting kitchens for the Donatos menu expansion and unwinding discounting. When Red Robin named Murphy CEO last fall, the company also announced its formal rejection of Vintage’s unsolicited buyout offer. The firm in early June called for an auction and said it would buy Red Robin at $40 a share.

Landry’s Inc. makes $50 million bid to acquire The Palm restaurants out of bankruptcy

Tilman Fertitta’s Landry’s Inc. last week emerged as the stalking horse bidder to acquire The Palm steakhouse out of bankruptcy for $50 million. If approved by the court, which is expected by mid-March, the deal would include the operation of 21 restaurants and three licensed locations, as well as the chain’s intellectual property and licensing rights, according to court documents. It would take the iconic steak-and-lobster chain out of family hands for the first time in more than 90 years. Fertitta in a statement said The Palm is “one of the storied restaurant brands in America, and we are excited for this opportunity. The Palm is a perfect complement to our portfolio of steakhouse concepts, including Mastro’s, Morton’s and Del Frisco’s, among others.”

Condado Tacos wins private-equity investment for growth

Columbus, Ohio-based Condado Tacos on Monday announced an investment partnership with New York-based private-equity firm The Beekman Group LLC. Details were not disclosed, but the company said the partnership would allow the build-your-own taco concept to grow into new markets. Founded in 2014 and known for affordable tacos, tequila and margaritas, Condado Tacos has 15 units in six markets (Columbus, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati) across four states. With the investment, the chain plans to add six to eight new restaurants annually.


Home & Road

Lowe’s swings to Q4 profit; physical stores drive sales growth

Lowe’s Cos. reported net income of $509 million, or $0.66 per share, for the quarter ended Jan. 31, compared with a loss of $824 million, or $1.03 per share, a year ago. Excluding items, the company earned $0.94 per share, topping analyst estimates of $0.91. Revenue rose to $16.03 billion from $15.65 billion a year ago, Analysts had forecast revenue of $16.15 billion. Same-store sales grew by 2.5%, missing estimates of 3.6%. In a statement, CEO Marvin R. Ellison noted that the company’s sales growth was driven almost entirely by its U.S. brick-and-mortar stores, supported by investments in technology, store environment and the Pro business. Lowe’s forecast that fiscal 2021 adjusted earnings will range from $6.45 to $6.65 on comparable-store sales growth between 3% and 3.5%. Analysts had forecast earnings of $6.67.

Housing market strength underpins Home Depot’s holiday-quarter results

Home Depot Inc benefited from a solid U.S. housing market and higher job growth that led consumers to spend more at its stores in the holiday shopping quarter, helping the home improvement chain beat sales and profit estimates. Shares of the company, considered a barometer for the economic health of U.S. households, rose 3.1% to $247 in premarket trading. The U.S. housing market has gained from the lowest mortgage rates in more than three years after the Federal Reserve lowered borrowing costs thrice in 2019. Sales of existing homes, which make up about 90% of U.S. home sales, surged 9.6% on a year-on-year basis in January, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Same-store sales at Home Depot rose 5.2% in the fourth quarter ended Feb. 2, above expectations of a 4.8% increase, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Berkshire Hathaway’s 2019 furniture sales lags behind other retail holdings

Berkshire Hathaway’s retailing segment posted a 2.5% increase in revenues and a 1.6% increase in pre-tax earnings last year over 2018, largely on the strength of its auto dealership business. The furniture business, meanwhile posted flat to down sales and a decrease in profit. Revenues for Berkshire’s aggregate retail group were $16 billion in 2019, up from $15.6 billion in 2018, driven by a 4.1% increase in Berkshire Hathaway Automotive revenues, which account for about 64% of the total. The retail group’s pre-tax earnings totaled $874 million, up from $860 million. Home furnishings group revenues, which represent about 20% of the combined group revenues, declined 1.3% from the year before, with Berkshire noting sales were relatively flat or lower in each of its home furnishings businesses. Home furnishings group pre-tax earnings declined 14.7% from the year before, “reflecting the decline in revenues and generally higher operating expenses,” Berkshire said in its annual report.

Rent-A-Center revenues, income up in Q4

Rent-A-Center Inc. reported an increase in overall revenues and operating income during the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31. Total consolidated revenues were $667.9 million, up 0.9 % from $661.7 million reported in the fourth quarter of 2018. Operating profit, non-GAAP earnings, totaled $48.4 million, up 50% from $32.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2018. Non-GAAP diluted earnings per common share during the quarter were 58 cents, up from 35 cents per common share in 2018. For the full year, total revenues were $2.7 billion, which was level with the year before. Non-GAAP operating profit for the year was $193.1 million, up 67% from $115.5 million in 2018. Diluted earnings per common share for the year totaled $2.24 up from $1.06 in 2018.

Natuzzi projects impact of coronavirus on operations, revenues

In response to increased concerns and the evolving situation regarding the coronavirus outbreak in China, Italian furniture producer and retailer Natuzzi issued a statement about its operations in Shanghai. Natuzzi noted that its Chinese plant serves both the Asian and North American markets, representing about one-fourth of the company’s production capacity for 2020. “In accordance to safety guidelines, our Chinese plant was closed for two weeks, in addition to the Chinese New Year holiday period,” Natuzzi said in a release. “While operations in the Chinese plant have just re-started, we currently expect a gradual return to normal operating conditions by April.” Based on that schedule, Natuzzi said it expects a “disruptive impact on revenues” for the first quarter between €10.0 million and €15.0 million, and it expects to start recovering from that impact in May 2020.

Jewelry & Luxury

The Other Show Drops: Baselworld Canceled due to Coronavirus

Baselworld, one of the most prestigious events on the watch and jewelry industry calendar, has been canceled this year due to the continuing spread of the coronavirus. This year’s event was scheduled to take place April 30—May 5 in Basel, Switzerland. The fair also announced that next year’s event will be held Jan. 28—Feb. 2, 2021. That’s a change from its standard April date pattern.

RJ Watches Files for Bankruptcy in Switzerland

RJ Watches, the Swiss watch brand formerly known as RJ Romain Jérôme, announced on Thursday that it has filed for bankruptcy in Switzerland. A press release said that the company’s majority shareholder, Alliance Investment Group SA, had suddenly decided to stop investing in the company. “This unpredictable decision was communicated with immediate effect, which makes continuation of the business impossible and the search for a buyer impossible within such short time,” the statement said. “Consequently, the board of directors of RJ Watches has no other choice than to file for the bankruptcy of the company and the dismissal of all of its employees.”

How Can Western Luxury Brands Navigate China Now?

As the Covid-19 virus continues to spread — with varying signs of slowing down or peaking — the global luxury industry is urged to actively rethink their China strategy for 2020 and beyond. To date, this sector has become reliant on China, from millions of mainland luxury shoppers who snap up luxury items to Chinese fashion tourists who cite retail as one of their outbound trips’ goals.


Office & Leisure

FanDuel Employees, Founders Sue Over Getting Nothing in Merger

Former employees and founders of online sports betting company FanDuel are suing Shamrock Capital Advisors and KKR & Co. alleging they colluded to undervalue the company’s shares before a merger with Paddy Power Betfair in 2018. The group alleges that the private equity companies and investors selected a price for the company in its merger with Paddy Power that would not exceed $559 million. Under the terms of their investment, the private equity firms and late-stage investors were entitled to the first $559 million of proceeds from a takeover, while common shareholders were entitled to everything above that amount, including a 40% share of the newly created FanDuel Group. The Paddy Power merger reportedly valued FanDuel at $465 million. The suit says FanDuel was valued at $1.2 billion before a proposed merger with rival DraftKings fell through in 2017.

Pet Plate Raises $9M in Series A Funding

Pet Plate, a NYC-based subscription service in the direct-to-consumer fresh pet food industry, raised $9m in Series A funding. The round was led by DFE Capital Management and 301 INC, the venture capital arm of General Mills. Additional investors included Marco Polo and Fernbrook Capital Management LLC, along with existing investors, The Yard Ventures and Castor Ventures. The new funding will be used to expand the company’s product offering, including new recipes, organic treats, and nutritional supplements to offer a holistic solution for online shoppers. Pet Plate will expand its team and corporate infrastructure to scale the business and expand its customer base. Led by Gertrude Allen, CEO, Pet Plate offers fresh-cooked meals that are formulated by Dr. Renee Streeter, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist, to provide complete and balanced meals for pets at all stages of life.

SEC and federal prosecutors want closer look at Mattel’s accounting

Mattel Inc. is facing fresh scrutiny over an internal probe into accounting issues that the toy maker said it resolved last year. The maker of Hot Wheels cars and Barbie dolls on Tuesday said that both the Securities and Exchange Commission and attorneys from the Southern District of New York have begun to look into the company’s investigation that resulted in plans to change its chief financial officer and restated earnings. The company, in its annual report, said it is responding to the SEC’s subpoena and requests from the attorneys.

Technology & Internet

Best Buy earnings top estimates, driven by strong holiday sales

Best Buy on Thursday reported fourth-quarter results that exceeded analysts’ expectations, driven by strong sales of headphones, appliances and other items over the holidays. CEO Corie Barry said in an earnings call that Best Buy is monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and expects most of its impact to be in the first half of the year. Barry said in an earnings call that the retailer’s growth in the quarter was fueled by sales of headphones, computing, appliance, mobile phones and tablets, helping to offset a decline in gaming. It also saw growth in its in-home consultation and tech support businesses, she said. Best Buy said revenue grew to $15.2 billion, from $14.8 billion last year, and was higher than the $15.05 billion analysts expected.


Westfield mall opens ‘The Digital District’ to house stores of born-on-the-web brands

A Westfield mall is opening a new section of its property with stores specifically for digitally native vertically integrated brands. The Westfield Valley Fair mall in San Jose, California, is opening The Digital District in March, which will house eight stores for born-on-the-web brands. The store spaces will likely rotate over time with new digitally native brands. A growing pack of born-on-the-web brands are opening stores.


A Best Buy program is doubling the price of items for some customers

Best Buy last spring began offering a splashy lease-to-own program to customers who had been rejected for its store credit card. Progressive Leasing, executives said, would help cash-strapped shoppers buy big-ticket items they couldn’t otherwise afford. “This is a great offer,” chief executive Corie Barry said in an earnings call last year. “It’s great for our brand. It’s great for our customers.” It also could bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year, internal documents show. But some store and corporate employees say the program has become polarizing. They contend it preys on the chain’s most financially vulnerable shoppers, who often end up paying twice the list price for electronics, appliances and mobile phones.


Influencers Are Starting to Charge Fees for Content

Influencers have relied on paid partnerships with brands to monetize their social media feeds for years. But now several major Instagram stars are experimenting with ways to bring in revenue directly from the digital wallets of their thousands of followers. Several well-followed ‘Grammers, including Gabi Abrão (@sighswoon) and Caroline Calloway (@carolinecalloway), are charging interested followers a small monthly fee, typically between $2 and $4, to become a Close Friend on Instagram, where they can see members-only content. Instagram debuted the Close Friends feature on its Stories in 2018 as a response to TikTok, which teens were using to communicate with friends without parents seeing their content. Users can set up a Close Friends list and share Stories only with that group.



Finance & Economy

U.S. consumer spending could see one-two punch from stocks drop, coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak has yet to spread meaningfully to U.S. shores, but fears of it alone have already eviscerated some $2 trillion of American stock market value, setting off a market rout that could stymie consumer spending – even before other economic effects of the disease are felt.  Economists now see the virus, its effect on markets and its potential to dampen consumer confidence as the biggest risk to a record-long economic boom.


Consumer confidence rises less than expected in February

Consumer confidence rose less than expected in February as people’s assessment of current conditions wavered, data released by The Conference Board showed.  The confidence index’s weaker-than-forecast print comes a day after the stock market had its worst day in two years, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 1,000 points, amid concerns over the coronavirus’ impact on the global economy.





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