The Big Story

Some Facts on U.S. Trade with Russia

Mike O'Hara

Our objective with The Big Story is to discuss an issue of at least potential importance to the greater market for consumer products every week. Given this goal, we rarely stray into areas of life and death (though we have written extensively on the impact to the economy of the COVID-19 pandemic).  Without a doubt, the big story in the world and in the United States currently is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a topic that has dominated our thoughts since it began at dawn on Thursday, February 24.  While we join virtually all others in the world in hopes for a swift return to peace, we will use this space to address the historical scope of trade between Russia and the U.S. to dimensionalize the direct impact on the U.S. economy of the hostilities.  Unless otherwise stated, all data in this article comes from the Office of the United States Trade Representative and relates to 2019, the last full year that wasn’t materially impacted by the pandemic.

Russia has a population of 147 million, less than half the 327 million of the U.S.  Russia’s gross domestic product was $1.6 trillion in 2019, which is roughly equivalent to the GDP of Canada.  The U.S.’s GDP in 2019 was $21.4 trillion, according to The International Monetary Fund. For reference, China’s GDP in 2019 was $14.9 trillion.

Our trade with Russia in goods and services totaled $34.9 billion in 2019, with exports accounting for $10.9 billion and imports totaling $24.0 billion (putting the U.S. in a trade deficit with Russia of $13.1 billion that year).  Russia is not a key U.S. trading partner when compared with our top two trading partners China (trade with China totaled an estimated $615.2 billion in 2020, a year impacted both by COVID-19 and a trade war between the countries, with exports accounting for $164.9 billion and imports $450.4 billion – nearly 19x the amount imported from Russia) and Canada (total trade at $718.4 billion in 2019 comprised of exports of $360.4 billion and imports of $358.0 billion).  In fact, Russia was only our 40th largest export market for U.S. goods in 2019.

Of the approximately $5.8 billion in goods we export to Russia, the top categories were machinery, aircraft, vehicles, medical instruments, and electrical machinery.  Our exports of agricultural products were relatively small at just $193 million in 2019, led by prepared food, planting seeds and tobacco.  This is no great surprise given the distance between the countries and Russia’s agrarian capabilities.

Russia is a relatively more important import partner, providing the U.S. with the 20th largest value of goods among trade partners in 2019.  The value of goods imported from Russia has grown 22.3% since 2009.  Key items imported into the U.S. from Russia included mineral fuels, precious metal (notably platinum), iron and steel, fertilizers, and inorganic chemicals.

John McCain famously said “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country” in 2014.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration lent credibility to this statement by noting that Russia is the third-largest petroleum producer in the world (after the United States and Saudi Arabia), with hydrocarbons exports accounting for more than half of Russia’s budget revenue.  According to Eurostat, “more than 38% of the natural gas used by European Union members in 2020 was imported from Russia.”  Some Eastern European countries are nearly 100% reliant on Russia for natural gas, and countries like Germany and Finland get nearly two-thirds of their natural gas from Russia.  According to NPR, “Europe buys nearly three-quarters of Russia’s gas.”

If we were to draw conclusions from this data, we might say: (i) while the U.S. is not dependent on trade with Russia, curtailment of relations will hurt both countries marginally, but nowhere near as much as countries in Eastern and Central Europe who are highly dependent on Russia for energy, and (ii) American importers and exporters had better hope China does not invade Taiwan.

Apparel & Footwear

Victoria’s Secret is leaning more into comfort — and women are taking notice

At first glance, shoppers may be hard pressed to believe that Victoria’s Secret’s new lingerie lineup is actually from Victoria’s Secret. In mid-February, the retailer unveiled its latest collection of bras and panties, known as Love Cloud. The line is focused on all-day comfort, with minimal frills, Victoria’s Secret said. The company also selected women of diverse backgrounds and body types — including its first-ever model with Down syndrome, Sofia Jirau — to star in the collection’s marketing campaign. The launch of Love Cloud is yet another sign Victoria’s Secret’s is serious about working to overhaul its image — from racy and exclusive to tasteful and inclusive. And, importantly for skeptical investors, it could help to propel sales in the coming quarters.  Analysts appear to be in favor of Victoria’s Secret’s push to get the basics right.

Top Merchants Jeff Espersen and Mike Normart Exit Zappos

Executive changes continue at, as the e-tailer seeks to shape its future under new leadership. According to a letter sent by the company to its brand partners yesterday and obtained by FN, longtime Zappos merchants Jeff Espersen and Mike Normart are no longer with the company, effective immediately. The letter further states that Kathy Forstadt will step in as interim merchandising leader as an external search is conducted for a chief merchandising officer. Espersen, who was GM and chief merchant, had been with Zappos for more than 12 years, leading the merchandising team through several evolutions, including the e-tailer’s transition to “holacracy” in 2015 and a series of top-level changes following co-founder Tony Hsieh’s retirement from the company in August 2020 and tragic death later that year. Normart had been with company for roughly 19 years and served as senior director of merchandising. Scott Schaefer, who was previously VP of finance at the e-tailer, stepped into the chief executive role last year, after CEO Kedar Deshpande resigned to take the lead post at Groupon.

Snipes Acquires Expressions

Snipes continues its expansion in the U.S. by acquiring New England-based sneaker retailer Expressions. The acquisition comes on the heels of its recent acquisition of Jimmy Jazz.  The two deals combined will grow Snipes’ door count in the United States to 300.  Snipes, based in Cologne, Germany, is a streetwear retailer with more than 650 stores in the U.S. and Europe. The multichannel company differentiates itself through hip hop and street culture.  Headquartered in Rhode Island, Expressions operates 35 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The acquisition will allow Snipes to build on Expressions’ New England roots.


Athletic & Sporting Goods

Foot Locker gearing up to have fewer Nike products on shelves

If you haven’t noticed, Nike products are becoming harder to find in stores.  The popular sportswear and sneaker company has been cutting ties with some of the nation’s largest shoe retailers.  Now Foot Locker, another popular footwear retailer, is readying itself to have fewer Nike products on its shelves.  Foot Locker announced last week no single vendor is expected to represent more than 60% of its business in 2022. Nike represented 70% of Foot Locker’s business in 2021 and 75% in 2020.  Nike has yet to announce what measures it will take at retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Finish Line.  Previously, Nike yanked products from Dillard’s, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, Olympia Sports, Shoe Show and Zappos— and most recently from DSW stores.


OneWater Announces Acquisition of YakGear, Inc.

OneWater Marine Inc. announced that its subsidiary, T-H Marine, has acquired YakGear, Inc., an industry-leading supplier of kayak equipment, paddle sports accessories, and boat mounting accessories based in Houston, Texas.  Along with its extensive line of marine accessories, YakGear has exclusive distribution agreements to provide Railblaza products in the United States and agreements for other countries abroad. YakGear will continue to operate as a standalone division of T-H Marine at its current facility in Houston, Texas.  OneWater Marine Inc. is one of the largest and fastest-growing premium marine retailers in the United States. OneWater operates a total of 75 retail locations, 9 distribution centers/warehouses and multiple online marketplaces in 16 different states, several of which are in the top twenty states for marine retail expenditures.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

GlaxoSmithKline to spin off Haleon consumer business in July

At an update to investors, GlaxoSmithKline announced that the proposed listing of Haleon — the newly independent company to be formed following the demerger of the GSK Consumer Healthcare business — is expected in July 2022. “Today is an important milestone for GSK as we formally introduce Haleon to investors,” Emma Walmsley, GSK CEO said. “It comes ahead of what promises to be the most significant corporate change for GSK in the last 20 years, to create two new growth companies that will positively impact the health of billions of people.” The company is the global leader in each of the major categories in which it operates, which include therapeutic oral health; vitamins, minerals and supplements; pain relief; respiratory health; and digestive health, the organization said. GSK said that Haleon expects to achieve organic sales growth in the range of 4% to 6% for 2022.

Ulta Beauty Shops to launch in 250 additional Target stores

After announcing the initial launch of its partnership with beauty retailer Ulta Beauty, Target is looking to take their relationship to the next level. Target recently shared that in 2022, it plans to open more than 250 Ulta Beauty shops in it stores, building towards a goal of 800 total. “Since Target and Ulta Beauty partnered, our shop-in-shops have delivered more prestige beauty brands and industry-leading expertise to more guests,” Christina Hennington, executive vice president and chief growth officer at Target said. “In stores where we’ve added an Ulta Beauty experience, guests are buying incremental items from the assortment, while continuing to shop the beauty brands they’ve loved at Target for years and adding more to their baskets in complementary categories. With these strong results, we remain committed to operating at least 800 Ulta Beauty at Target locations over time, with plans to add more than 250 new locations in 2022.” Currently, Ulta Beauty at Target shops offer shoppers more than 50 carefully curated skin, makeup and hair care brands that include Too Faced, The Ordinary and Ariana Grande fragrance.

Discounters & Department Stores

Target plans $5B investment in operations, including 30 new stores

Target plans to add 30 stores to its footprint this year to reach new markets, the retailer announced. New locations include mid-size stores in suburban areas as well as small-format stores in urban cores such as Charleston, South Carolina, and Times Square in New York. Along with new stores, Target announced plans to give 200 existing stores “top-to-bottom renovations,” adding to its remodel program. The retailer also plans to open more than 250 Ulta shop-in-shop locations by the end of 2022. All of these moves are part of a plan by Target to invest $5 billion to scale its operations this year. The retailer’s plans also include investments in its digital, fulfillment and distribution capabilities.


Nordstrom promises momentum in 2022 after steady holiday quarter

Nordstrom on Tuesday released an upbeat fourth quarter report, including month-over-month improvement at its stumbling off-price Rack business. Net sales rose 23% year over year. Compared to 2019, net sales fell 1%, with full-price Nordstrom sales flat and Rack sales down 5%, per a company press release. Net income rose 506% year over year to $200 million. Gross profit as a percentage of net sales expanded by 500 basis points year over year and 340 basis points from 2019 to 38%, “due to improved merchandise margins from reduced markdowns” and lower buying and occupancy costs, the company said. Nordstrom also announced the “Nordstrom Media Network,” a program piloted last year allowing brands to advertise on its Nordstrom and Rack websites. A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the “personalized recommendations and experiences” are presented to customers as sponsored ads or Nordstrom content.

Walmart’s third-party fulfillment business grew 500% last year

Walmart’s third-party fulfillment arm went through 500% growth in gross merchandise volume last year, according to Jaré Buckley-Cox, vice president of Walmart Fulfillment Services. Buckley-Cox said in a company blog post that Walmart expects “robust growth to continue” after launching the service for its marketplace sellers “from scratch” roughly two years ago. Buckley-Cox added that many sellers using WFS experienced 50% sale growth for items. The executive also noted that the program had a 90% retention rate helped in part by Walmart’s Preferred Carrier Program, launched last year and which saves sellers on inbound transportation costs.

Target’s new hourly wage will soon be as much as $24

Target said it plans to spend up to $300 million to boost wages and benefits. For employees at stores, supply chain facilities and corporate offices, the retailer will increase its starting hourly pay from $15 to a range between $15 and $24. The mass merchant is also making it easier for hourly workers to qualify for health benefits by lowering its minimum requirement from an average of 30 hours per week to 25, according to its press release. About 20% of its workforce will be newly eligible for such benefits. Target is also shortening the time workers must wait to avail themselves of health and retirement benefits. Most company medical plans will include “additional benefits, including virtual physical therapy at no cost, enhanced fertility benefits and other new wellness offerings,” the company said.

Walmart moves further into livestream shopping

Social buying platform Talkshoplive announced an expanded partnership with Walmart, wherein it will launch eight livestreaming shopping experiences with the retailer, according to a company press release. The deal follows livestreaming shows during the holiday season, which included Rachael Ray, Drew Barrymore, Ree Drummond and IGN, that resulted in positive sales results, per the release. Walmart and Talkshoplive partnered last year where a video player was embedded on the retailer’s website, MSN shopping tab and partner websites. Customers were then able to purchase products within the video.



Emerging Consumer Companies

Rebel Girls raises $13 million 

Rebel Girls, a Los Angeles-based brand dedicated to girl empowerment, has raised $13 million to build “an immersive online/offline experience designed to inspire a generation of confident girls to shepherd in a more gender equal world.” Lead investors include Owl Ventures and Base10 Partners, with other investors including Mindshift Capital, Emmeline Ventures, and a collection of angels. CEO Jes Wolfe commented “Confidence is the single most important predictor of how kids see their future. Right now, girls think they are less smart and less capable than boys. Girls are twice as likely to suffer depression than boys and three times as likely to experience cyberbullying. It’s time for this to change. Rebel Girls will be relentless in leading and innovating until the confidence gap has disappeared. We are proud to be a trusted source for parents and an inspiring brand for girls.”

Kimberly Clark acquired majority interest in Thinx 

Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a leader in the menstrual hygiene products space, announced that it has completed its acquisition of a majority stake in Thinx, a rising brand in the reusable period and incontinence underwear category. The company made an initial minority investment in Thinx in 2019. Thinx is a family of four brands dedicated to creating products that support bodies from puberty to post-menopause. Together, Thinx, Thinx (BTWN), Speax by Thinx, and Thinx for All™ aim to deliver the safest and most sustainable and comfortable menstruation and incontinence products to market.

b8ta, retail-as-a-service company, shuts down U.S. operations

Retail-as-a-service startup b8ta launched in 2015, hoping to reinvent brick-and-mortar retail in a number of ways. But, ultimately, the company’s reliance on brick-and-mortar stores proved to be its downfall. The company quietly shuttered its U.S. operations earlier this month. International affiliate b8ta Japan, which operated three stores, acquired the brand’s licenses and is now a standalone, operational business. B8ta Mena also remains operational in the UAE. B8ta dubbed itself a retail-as-a-service platform, rather than a retailer. Brands paid a monthly fee to not only display their products at a b8ta store, but also for access to the company’s software, through which they received information like how much time customers spent demoing a product. The thesis of b8ta was that brands would ultimately pay for the software because of the great in-store experience and foot traffic it provided.



Food & Beverage

Alternative protein investments reached $5 billion in 2021

Investment in the development of plant-based meat, dairy and egg alternatives, cultivated meat and alternative protein fermentation companies reached $5 billion in 2021, according to the Good Food Institute, an alternative protein advocacy group. The figure is 61% greater than the 2020 investment of $3.1 billion.  Investments in cultivated meat and alt protein fermentation companies surged during the year. Cultivated meat companies received $1.4 billion in 2021, up from $400 million in 2020. Investments included $347 million to Future Meat Technologies in a Series B round, $100 million to Aleph Farms in a Series B round, and $60 million to BlueNalu.  Fermentation companies focusing on alternative proteins raised $1.7 billion in 2021, up from $600 million in 2020. Investments included $350 million in Nature’s Fynd, $350 million in Perfect Day and $226 million in Motif Foodworks.  Investments in plant-based meat, dairy and egg alternative companies slowed to $1.9 billion in 2021, down from $2.1 billion in 2020. While the amount may be lower, the category’s investor based grew 40% from the prior year and reached 1,093, according to the Good Food Institute.

Online grocer Flashfood raises $12 million

Online grocer Flashfood, which diverts soon-to-expire food to consumers at discounted prices, announced it has raised $12.3 million in a funding round led by S2G Ventures with participation from ArcTern Ventures, General Catalyst, Food Retail Ventures, Rob Gierkink and Alex Moorhead. The funding will be used to expand Flashfood’s reach across the country while it continues to bring on new retail and grocery partners. To date, the company has diverted over 33 million pounds of food from ending up in landfills and secured more than 1200 retail partner stores including GIANT, Stop & Shop, Giant Food of Maryland, Meijer and Tops.

Belgian Boys raises $7M led by KIND family office

Belgian Boys announced that they closed a round of funding led by Equilibra, the family office of KIND founder Daniel Lubetzky, which is aimed at helping the seven-year old brand to expand its distribution, with a particular focus on fresh breakfast items.  The $7 million round, which officially closed in January, included capital raised over the course of 2021. The company declined to provide details about the other angel investors that took part in the round.  The brand is sold in over 4,500 stores including Target, Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Costco, Sams, and Stop & Shop, with 3,000 retailers carrying its breakfast items.  Belgian Boys is certified Women-owned, a process that means 51% of the company is owned, operated and controlled by at least one woman.



Grocery & Restaurants

Albertsons announces strategic review of company

The Albertsons Cos. board of directors said it has begun a “review of potential strategic alternatives.” In announcing the action late Monday, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons didn’t provide details but reported that the move is “aimed at enhancing Albertsons’ growth and maximizing shareholder value.” Albertsons, the nation’s second-largest supermarket operator, said it has retained Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse as financial advisers for the review, which will gauge balance sheet optimization and capital return strategies, potential strategic or financial transactions, and development of other strategic initiatives to complement Albertsons’ existing businesses. For the third quarter, Albertsons saw net sales and other revenue climb 8.6% to $16.73 billion, with identical sales up 5.2% year over year and 17.5% on a two-year stack. Online sales rose 9%, bringing growth to 234% over two years. Adjusted net earnings per share also topped Wall Street’s consensus estimate by 20 cents.

Kroger cites top-line sales strength in fiscal 2021

The Kroger Co. wrapped up fiscal 2021 with solid net and identical sales growth in the fourth quarter, topping the high-end analysts’ earnings-per-share projections for both the quarter and the year. Cincinnati-based Kroger said Thursday that, for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 29, net sales totaled $33.05 billion, up 7.5% from $30.74 billion a year earlier. Excluding fuel, sales advanced 3.7%. Identical sales without fuel rose 4% and were up 14.6% on a two-year stack, the company reported. The gains built growth of 6.4% (10.7% excluding fuel) in net sales and 10.6% (excluding fuel) in identical sales for the fiscal 2020 fourth quarter. E-commerce sales declined by 13.3% in the 2021 fourth quarter and by 3.2% for the full year, in the wake of explosive growth of 118% in the 2020 fourth quarter and 116% for the year. On a two-year stack, digital sales rose 105% through the close of fiscal 2021 fourth quarter and 113% through the year-end. On an adjusted basis, Kroger recorded net income of $686 million, or 91 cents per diluted share, for the fourth quarter and $2.8 billion, or $3.68 for fiscal 2021, compared with fiscal 2020 adjusted results of $630 million (81 cents diluted EPS) in the fourth quarter and $2.74 billion ($3.47 diluted EPS) for the full year.

Home & Road

Lifetime acquires S’well

Lifetime Brands has acquired S’well, the fashion-oriented water bottle company, for an undisclosed sum. Sarah Kauss, the founder of S’well, will oversee the transition to Lifetime Brands and continue in an advisory role. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Lifetime said it believes that once fully integrated into its operations, a process expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2022, S’well will contribute approximately $4.5 million of annualized EBITDA. “We are extremely pleased to welcome the S’well brand to our portfolio,” said CEO Rob Kay in a statement. “S’well originated the category of sustainable hydration products and has consistently been a design, feature and product innovator. The brand is a perfect fit for our growing and successful hydration and storage categories, where we have already made great progress growing our BUILT brand.

Culp sales hold steady, challenges impact operating performance

Third quarter challenges affected Culp Inc.’s sales and operating performance for the period ended Jan. 30, according to company president and CEO. Net sales were $80.3 million, up 1.2% over the prior-year period, with mattress fabrics sales down 0.4% and upholstery fabrics sales up 2.7% compared with the third quarter of last year. The company reported a net loss of $289,000), or a negative 2 cents per diluted share, compared with net income of $2.1 million, or 17 cents per diluted share, for the prior-year period. Net loss and earnings per diluted share for the period were significantly impacted by an abnormally high tax rate due to the company’s mix of income between the U.S. and its foreign jurisdictions for the quarter. The company’s net sales for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022 are expected to be slightly lower compared with the same period of fiscal 2021. The company’s consolidated operating income for the fourth quarter is expected to be comparable to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2021.

Jewelry & Luxury

Movado Launches First Calvin Klein Collection Under New Licensing Deal

Movado Group just launched its spring/summer Calvin Klein collection, the brand’s first license under the watch company since ending its decades-long partnership with Swatch Group. The watch company inked a licensing agreement with Calvin Klein in August 2020. The five-year deal began this January. The company already partners with the brand’s owner, PVH Corp., on its Tommy Hilfiger licensed brand. “We are excited to launch our first Calvin Klein collection worldwide. It’s an honor to work with and make beautiful accessories for one of the most successful and iconic global lifestyle brands,” said Allison Robbins, president of license brands at Movado Group, in a press release about the launch.

De Beers CEO Sees Strong Demand Continuing

The seeming end of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the global uncertainty sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine make predicting future diamond demand difficult, De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver told JCK last week, following the release of its 2021 financial results. “It’s obviously a question we think about a lot,” he says. “We have seen tremendous demand, in particular in America in the last 18 months, and that has been driven by a lot of factors, some external and some internal. The stimulus, people not traveling—all those things are probably not repeatable.” Still, he feels positive about the year ahead.

Cartier Sues Tiffany In Trade Secrets Case

Cartier has sued longtime rival Tiffany & Co. in New York County Supreme Court, alleging that Tiffany hired a former Cartier employee in order to get confidential info about its high jewelry business. A spokesperson for Tiffany tells JCK: “We deny the baseless allegations and will vigorously defend ourselves.” Cartier’s complaint, filed Feb. 28, alleged that after Tiffany hired one of its employees, Tiffany execs “repeatedly and knowingly solicited and received confidential Cartier information from her.” According to the suit, prior to the employee’s departure, she forwarded “sensitive and valuable information that Cartier possesses regarding its High Jewelry business” to her personal email—and some of that info was eventually sent to Tiffany executives, in violation of the former employee’s nondisclosure agreement.


Office & Leisure

‘Fortnite’ Maker Epic Games Acquires Bandcamp

Epic Games has acquired the music marketplace platform Bandcamp, the companies said on Wednesday. Bandcamp will continue to operate as a standalone marketplace, led by co-founder and CEO Ethan Diamond, but the platform will use Epic Game’s resources to expand internationally and improve its live streaming, mobile, search and payment capabilities. The music marketplace will continue to use its “artist-first” revenue model, which gives Bandcamp a 10 to 15 percent cut on each sale. That model, according to Diamond, gives artists an average of 82 percent net revenue per sale. Bandcamp Fridays, a monthly event when Bandcamp waives its standard revenue cut to support artists, will also continue following the Epic Games acquisition. The Bandcamp acquisition is one of Epic’s first major purchases outside of the gaming and technology space. The deal signals Epic’s goal to build out its own creator marketplace across technology, games, art and music.

Sky and Journey maker Thatgamecompany raises $160M

Thatgamecompany has built amazing and emotional game worlds such as Sky and Journey, and today it is announcing it has raised $160 million in funding. On the success of Sky, a mobile game that has been downloaded more than 160 million times and it has nearly seven million daily active players, the company has been able to raise a huge funding round from marquee investors TPG and Sequoia. It is also adding Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull as a principal adviser on creative culture and strategic growth. The funding for Thatgamecompany comes on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Journey, a captivating game that won numerous Game of the Year awards as it tracked an emotional journey to the top of a mountain. Jenova Chen, CEO of Thatgamecompany, said the company aim is to advance its mission to foster human connect through play. While the funding round is big, Chen said the Santa Monica, California-based studio will support its community and create new experiences while staying true to its independent values. The funding will allow Thatgamecompany to grow its development team and organization infrastructure. Right now, it takes more than 100 developers to keep Sky going and work on other projects, Chen said.

Spin Master Renews Warner Bros. Consumer Products Global Licensing Agreement for DC-Inspired Toys 

Spin Master, a global children’s entertainment company, has announced it has renewed its global licensing agreement with Warner Bros. Consumer Products (WBCP) and DC for the Batman franchise and other DC Super Heroes. Spin Master first joined forces with WBCP in 2018 as the toy licensee for DC in the action figure, playset, roleplay and vehicle categories for the period of 2019-2022 and has now extended the relationship for a four-year term beginning in 2023 through to 2026.  “It’s been an honor to work with Warner Bros. Consumer Products on this heroic and innovative line of action figures, vehicles and playsets, bringing the adventures and stories of Batman, DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains into fans’ homes around the world,” says Chris Beardall, president, toys and chief commercial officer, Spin Master. “Our innovative approach to toy design combined with our meticulous attention to detail has helped to achieve record-setting sales for Spin Master’s DC toy line.”  Warner Bros. Pictures’ ”The Batman” opens in theaters March 4, and Spin Master’s “The Batman” toy lineup is available at major toy retailers now.

Technology & Internet

Amazon closing 68 stores, ending Amazon Books, 4-star, Pop Up shops

Amazon is shutting down all its Amazon Books physical bookstores, as well as its Amazon 4-star and Amazon Pop Up stores, which sold a variety of electronics and other hot items. The closures affect 68 stores across the U.S. and U.K., Amazon said. Closure dates will vary by location and Amazon will help affected employees find roles elsewhere in the company. Workers who opt not to stay with the company will be given severance, Amazon said. Amazon has gradually launched an array of brick-and-mortar concepts, from supermarkets to retail stores offering Amazon-branded electronics like Fire tablets and Echo smart speakers. The 4-star stores, in particular, attempted to mesh Amazon’s in-store and offline operations by featuring top-selling products in its web store. But Amazon’s physical stores unit has noticeably lagged its overall retail business in recent years.


The future of Best Buy: At-home gyms, e-bikes and outdoor grills

Best Buy built a retail empire selling TVs and laptops. But to keep growing and fend off rivals like Amazon and Walmart, the company needs new ways to attract customers. Best Buy (BBY) outlined plans Thursday to expand its footprint into health, fitness, personal electric transportation, outdoor products and other potentially big ticket areas outside of its core consumer electronics business. It’s adding merchandise to stores in dedicated sections, such as Hydrow and NordicTrack home gym equipment, Super 73 and Segway e-bikes and scooters and Weber outdoor grills. Best Buy is betting that it can smoothly enter these areas as more consumers use technology for activities like working out and getting around during the pandemic. At the same time, the company plans to close 20 to 30 stores a year over the next three years as it addresses the shift by its customers to shop more online.


Finance & Economy

U.S. private payrolls rise solidly as labor market continues to gain traction

U.S. private employers hired more workers than expected in February and data for the prior month was revised sharply higher to show strong job gains instead of losses, aligning with other reports that have painted an upbeat picture of the labor market.  The ADP National Employment Report suggested the economy was on solid footing as the winter wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant was subsiding. But some economists raised concerns about the report’s credibility because of the sharp upward revision to January’s data.  Private payrolls increased by 475,000 jobs last month. Employers added 509,000 jobs in January rather than laying off 301,000 workers as was initially reported.

Consumer goods companies on a tightrope as Ukraine-Russia war fuels further inflation

The Ukraine-Russia war has set the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) players on a tightrope. The companies on the one hand have to battle inflation, which has resulted in high input costs, and on the other, they have to absorb as much as costs as possible, given that a slowdown in demand does not support price hikes.  The FMCG industry has been grappling with increased input costs on account of price rise in several key commodities for several quarters now. A tepid demand scenario has worsened the matters for these companies as they are unable to pass on the cost increase to consumers fearing an impact on consumption.