The Big Story

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Impact Strategic Transactions in the Consumer Sector

Consensus

The COVID-19 pandemic is paralyzing social and commercial activity. This is not only because of social distancing, but because this unprecedented, modern, and global pandemic has brought with it profound uncertainty. No one knows how long this will last, or what the human or economic toll will be. No one knows how large the psychological scars will be that it leaves. However, as with prior crises, we will eventually find that the abyss has a bottom and, someday, this pandemic will be a thing of the past.

Like you, we have been inundated with information and speculation about the future of American consumer economy. Even with this uncertainty, we believe it is possible to visualize how our economy will evolve through the pandemic. We have organized these thoughts in the accompanying infographic.

We believe there will be four major phases to the crisis, the first of which we have already completed. In the first phase, over only a few weeks, municipalities and corporations came to understand the gravity of the situation and took increasingly aggressive measures to confront it. For the general public, this period culminated in a state by state cascade of stay-at-home orders. In the business community, this culminated with the nearly universal closure of all nonessential businesses, rapid overhauls of corporate strategy, waves of layoffs and cost cutting, and the screeching to a halt of virtually all strategic and commercial transactions.

The next three phases, which will each last for a currently unknowable duration, lie ahead. We believe we are at the beginning of the second phase, the most painful and uncertain of the process. In this phase, we stare into the darkness of the abyss, and recession takes hold. We see companies going into hibernation, making every possible move to conserve cash. Strategic transactions will be dominated by restructurings, bankruptcies, and distressed sales, with a lack of visibility blocking almost all other transactions. Outperforming sectors will include consumer staples, but as consumer spending pulls back and unemployment rises, there will be very few “winners.” Long-term investors will find once-in-a-lifetime values in consumer discretionary, but it may take years to realize the upside.

In the third phase, which we believe will be marked by the medical community’s coalescence around a treatment to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms, we will see businesses begin to plan again in a somewhat reliable way. At this point, with the first uptick of visibility since the crisis began, businesses and investors will begin reanimating, first by planning and financially positioning for the better days ahead. Then, after a period of time, whether it is driven by the increasing availability of a new treatment or because public health officials deem we have finally, sufficiently flattened the curve, social distancing measures will begin to be relaxed, and businesses will be allowed to reopen. Outperforming sectors will be increasingly discretionary in nature, but consumers will still be hamstrung by the lingering effects of the recession and their own battered confidence.

Finally, we will move into the last phase, the long-term recovery. If we cannot get to this point earlier, the broad distribution of a vaccine (which experts estimate is somewhere one to two years out) could usher in this period. Businesses and strategic transactions will pick up momentum and begin to regain normalcy, but the world will have changed. New consumer behaviors that were learned or strengthened during the recession will be a positive for direct-to-consumer, delivery and other companies, while companies that do not resonate as strongly with post-COVID consumers will lag. Memory loss will be the only medicine for the most discretionary and cyclical sectors. The world will be changed forever, and we will mourn our losses, but we will be on the other side.

Business success is merely an afterthought amid this human crisis. But, we are all truly in this together and we know humanity is not only resilient, but also incredibly inventive when we work together. We look forward to working closely with our friends in the industry to recover from this crisis in a way that advances our economy and society for the long-term. In the meantime, we hope you find the organization of the thoughts in the attached infographic logical and useful, and we welcome any comments or different viewpoints.

Our sincerest and best wishes to you, your families and your colleagues during these incredibly difficult times. We look forward to the day when we can see you again in person.

 

Apparel & Footwear

Lululemon CEO: Some retailers will be able to ‘weather’ coronavirus pandemic. Others won’t

Lululemon announced Thursday that it will be paying all its workers through June 1, whether or not its stores reopen before then, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Lululemon also has paid all its April rent to landlords. A hotly debated topic in the industry has been which retailers and restaurants will not be able to send in those rent checks. The athletic apparel maker has temporarily shut all its locations across North America, as many retailers have done, to help halt the spread of COVID-19. It is unclear when these thousands of shops will be able to reopen. Many retailers, including Macy’s, Kohl’s, Gap and Bed Bath & Beyond, have furloughed the majority of their store workers in an attempt to cut expenses, as their sales are drastically reduced. “From a balance sheet perspective, we are in very good standing,” ending 2019 with $1.1 billion in cash on hand, Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald told CNBC’s Sara Eisen Thursday afternoon. He added that the company has no plans to draw down its credit revolver, either. This “allows us to not just obsess on the short term,” he said.

L Brands: The Victoria’s Secret Sale Could Be In Jeopardy

According to Women’s Wear Daily, the sale of Victoria’s Secret by L Brands (LB) could be in jeopardy: Parent company L Brands’s deal to sell a 55-percent stake of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie and beauty divisions, along with the Pink business, to private equity firm Sycamore Partners was expected to close in 2020’s second quarter. But as the economy slows to a near standstill amid the coronavirus pandemic, retail and fashion brands have been some of the hardest-hit sectors. In its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Monday, the company offered a list of risks to its business, including that the deal might not close or that the company might not obtain the necessary regulatory approvals. L Brands confirmed the sale of a majority stake in Victoria’s Secret in late February. Sycamore’s price implied an enterprise value of $1.1 billion, which equated to less than 2x EBITDA.

H&M sees second-quarter loss, plans cost cuts as pandemic slams sales in March

Sweden’s H&M, the world’s second-biggest clothing retailer, said on Friday it expected a loss in the second quarter after reporting a 46% plunge in March sales as the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on the retail sector. The virus outbreak that began in China late last year and is spreading around the world has prompted governments to close businesses and order millions of people to stay at home to try to slow the contagion. It has forced H&M to temporarily close most of its stores, flag big layoffs and scrap its annual dividend for the first time since its 1974 listing. H&M’s biggest rival, Zara owner Inditex, has also announced big temporary layoffs, and booked a provision as the slump in demand reduced the value of its inventory. “We have never been through times as demanding as these,” newly appointed H&M Chief Executive Helena Helmersson told analysts and journalists on a call. With an unprecedented fall in sales and a dismal second quarter already priced in, H&M’s shares were however up 4% by 09:10 GMT as the retailer said it would cut costs and planned to strengthen its liquidity buffer with new credit. The shares plunged 40% in the past month.

G-III Apparel Issues Updates on Plans to Fight Coronavirus

G-III Apparel Group, Ltd. has provided financial updates in the wake of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. In response to the pandemic, the company has decided to furlough the majority of its associates and temporarily reduce annual salary to reinforce its financial position amid the tough times. Management will lower its retail business employees by above 80% via furloughs and staff reductions effective Apr 6.

However, the furloughed full-time associates will be entitled to the existing healthcare benefits. Speaking of the company’s wholesale unit, which needs a small workforce now, management decides to furlough around 60% associates effective Apr 6. All furloughed employees in the wholesale business will continue to get existing healthcare benefits.

Calvin Klein-parent PVH CEO discloses COVID-19 diagnosis, says ‘I’m fine’

PVH CEO Manny Chirico on Wednesday told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that he was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the fast-spreading coronavirus. “I’m fine, Jim,” he said in a “Mad Money” interview. Chirico, 62, learned that he was infected by the virus while making a visit to Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx, New York, hospital where he serves as a board member. The hospital had received a delivery of more than a million much-needed surgical masks, N95 masks and medical gear to help staff care for sick patients and Chirico was there to ensure quality control of the masks. “I was going to be present there and anybody who’s going to be inside the hospital for an extended period of time needs to be tested,” he explained. “So I was tested and I was kind of shocked when I found out that I was positive. I’m asymptomatic.”

 

Athletic & Sporting Goods

Coronavirus impact sees USA Rugby file for bankruptcy

USA Rugby has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy due to ‘insurmountable financial constraints’ amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the widespread shutdown of the global sporting calendar.  An overwhelming majority of the governing body’s board of directors voted in favor of the decision, which comes less than two weeks after all rugby union competitions in the US were suspended indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak.  The men’s and women’s senior national teams will continue to compete as normal when rugby returns after the pandemic, though the body will operate on a reduced staffing structure for the foreseeable future.

 

Coronavirus pandemic triggers spike in gun sales

Gun sales are on the rise in America, but it may take you longer to get one as the coronavirus pandemic continues due to the increased pressure on the background check system.  Lawrence Keane, the senior vice president of firearms and ammunition industry trade association, says he has seen a surge in the sale of firearms and ammunition across the country.  “The NICS center, where they do the background checks, they’ve confirmed that they have seen what they describe as astronomical increases,” Keane said.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Walgreens Boots Alliance Q2 sees solid U.S. script growth

Despite a nearly 4% increase in sales and solid U.S. retail pharmacy performance, Walgreens Boots Alliance posted a decrease in net earnings and earnings per share for the quarter ended Feb. 29. The company posted sales of $35.8 billion, up 3.7% from the prior-year period, and earnings per share of $1.07, down 14% from a year ago. Net earnings were down 18.2% to $946 million — which WBA executive vice chairman and CEO Stefano Pessina said surpassed estimates. “We are pleased to report second-quarter results exceeding our expectations, with sequential improvement in comparable U.S. prescription volume and retail sales,” Pessina said. “During these unprecedented times of global uncertainty, Walgreens Boots Alliance is on the front lines of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Our number one priority is to continue to provide essential services, products and information at this critical moment of need, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to our customers and patients, and to our people.”

Ulta Beauty to rein in new store openings, remodels; gives DC workers pay bump

Ulta Beauty still plans to open new stores this year, but not as many as previously planned. In a business update, the beauty giant detailed new actions it is taking to preserve financial liquidity while its 1,254 stores remain temporarily closed, including reducing capital expenditures, particularly with regards to new store openings. Ulta said it is working on an adjusted plan for new store openings, relocations and remodel projects for 2020. It still expects to open some new stores this year, but not as many as the 75 it had previously announced. In other actions, the company is reducing expenses, moderating the pace of investments, aligning inventory receipts with current sales trends, and suspending its stock repurchase program.

Shanghai Yuemu Cosmetics in Sale Talks

Shanghai Yuemu Cosmetics Co., the maker of one of China’s top-selling facial beauty mask brands Mofashijia, is said to be weighing options. Last May Zhonglu, the owner of China’s iconic bicycle brand Forever, put an end to its $811.4 million acquisition bid for and restructuring of the Shanghai-based business. According to Bloomberg, the business is working with an adviser to evaluate alternatives, which could include bringing in external investors. The company is engaged in talks with both private equity firms and strategics according to people close to the matter. The prospects of the sale will be dependent on investors’ willingness to bet on China’s recovering after the coronavirus outbreak.

Men’s grooming: Opportunities grow even as shave sales decline

It seems that it is all up to men this year. At least that might be true when it comes to big parts of the health and beauty care landscape, where lackluster sales in parts of the category seem to be hoping that the men’s care segments can pick up much of the pace. The bottom line is that men are spending more than ever on their HBC needs, and that is helping retailers survive a slowdown in much of the industry. Still, merchants and suppliers are looking to men to open their wallets even wider to buy not only new products, but items in such categories as skin care, where they have not traditionally purchased many items in the past. Men’s personal care is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5.4%, en route to $166 billion by 2022 worldwide, according to Allied Market Research. Nielsen vice president Genevieve Aronson shared data that revealed men’s grooming as the second-largest gainer (behind eyelash treatments) for the 52-week period that ended last December, up 26% in dollars and 31% in units.

Discounters & Department Stores

Walmart puts sale of majority stake in UK chain Asda on hold as coronavirus upends grocery industry

Walmart has paused efforts to sell a majority stake in U.K. grocer Asda, so it can direct full attention to managing the business as the coronavirus pandemic creates massive spikes in demand for groceries, according to people familiar with the matter. The people requested anonymity because the negotiations are confidential. A spokesperson for Walmart declined to comment. Asda had attracted significant interest from private equity firms, which were eyeing the grocer at a valuation of as much as $9 billion, the people said. It could not be immediately determined when Walmart might resume the sale, but it is not in a rush, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC. Its focus now is on freeing its leadership team up to run the business.

 

Target to limit traffic where necessary to ensure social distancing

Target plans to “actively monitor” and potentially limit customer traffic at its stores in an effort to enforce social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release. The company said limits on traffic would vary by location. As stores try to reduce congestion, a store’s size will factor into those decisions. Where Target imposes limits, workers will designate waiting areas outside stores with social distancing markers, the company said.

Ross latest to furlough workers as stores remain closed

Ross on Thursday said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevents it from reopening stores April 4 as planned, prompting the furlough of most store and distribution center employees, as well as some others. Ross did not immediately respond to Retail Dive’s request for comment regarding the number of affected employees.​ The furlough begins April 5 and will last “until operations can resume in their areas,” according to a company press release. Those furloughed remain Ross associates, with no change to health benefits, except that Ross will pick up the employee portion of premiums. Furloughed workers will be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.

Macy’s will furlough the majority of its 125,000 employees

Macy’s is furloughing a majority of its 125,000 employees because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has sunk sales and forced it close to its stores. The company said Monday that the pandemic has taken a “heavy toll” on its business. Macy’s, which also owns Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, closed all of its 775 stores in the United States earlier this month to slow the virus from spreading in crowded areas, and because of laws in some states that forced the closure of nonessential businesses, including retailers.

 

 

Emerging Consumer Companies

Emerging brands unite in relief effort, donate proceeds

A group of more than 25 emerging brands across the consumer landscape have come together to form the Brands x Better coalition. As part of this, the participating companies will donate a percentage of their proceeds to a COVID-19 related organization. Each brand involved with the coalition is supporting a charitable organization of their choice, with missions ranging from supplying meals to impacted families or providing medical equipment to those working with COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

 

The Wing cuts staff in half

The Wing, the co-working company targeting female members, laid off half of its full-time staff and most of its hourly employees, and furloughed its other workers. The company had about 150 full-time staff at its headquarters, and roughly 300 hourly employees across its eleven locations. The general managers of the Wing’s locations in the U.S. and London have been furloughed until the sites reopen.

Everlane lays off or furloughs 200 employees

Everlane, the San Francisco apparel company and the brand behind the “radically transparent” ethos, announced that more than 200 employees were laid off or furloughed. The most affected groups were retail and customer experience employees. Complicating matters for Everlane is that employees had been attempting to form a union over the past six months, and of the 57 customer experience employees forming a union, 42 were let go. Said Everlane CEO Michael Preysman, “This was not about the union. We shut down our stores 14 days ago and they will be closed indefinitely. The total business has been significantly impacted. We are not profitable and do not have a cash balance.”

 

 

Grocery & Restaurants

Kroger reports big gains in March sales, maintains Q1 guidance

Kroger maintained its first-quarter guidance and reported a 30% increase in March same-store sales, with surging demand in the middle of the month amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Kroger said it started to see a significant shift in customer behavior during the last few days of February as shoppers started stocking up on sanitizer, cleaning products, water, paper products, boxed meal solutions and health-related products. Sales sharply accelerated in March with identical retail supermarket sales without fuel trending approximately 30%. Kroger said that certain first-quarter costs will be higher than prior expectations amid increased investments in frontline employee wages, expanded paid sick leave, record hiring and enhanced safety protocols throughout its operations. The company is also investing in its supply chain to expand capacity where possible.

 

Dean & DeLuca files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

Dean & DeLuca, a pioneer fine-foods retailer in New York City for decades, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The coronavirus pandemic pushed the 43-year-old grocer over the edge, according to court documents, but it hopes to sell its brand name — known for such luxury items as $165 tins of Siberian caviar — for $50 million. The company’s only source of income for the past six months has been royalty fees from a handful of franchised stores that paid the company $1.5 million in 2019, according to the filing. Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca opened the first store in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood in 1977. But in recent years, it changed hands several times — most recently bought in 2014 for $140 million by Thailand-based real estate company Pace Development — and the chain has struggled against lower-priced competitors.

 

Shares of China’s Luckin Coffee plummet 80% after investigation finds COO fabricated sales

Luckin Coffee disclosed Thursday that an internal investigation has found that its chief operating officer fabricated 2019 sales by about 2.2 billion yuan ($310 million). The investigation found that Jian Liu, Luckin’s chief operating officer, and several employees who reported to him, had engaged in misconduct, including fabricating sales. The 2½-year-old company, which had hoped to overtake Starbucks as China’s top coffee chain, said investors should not rely on its prior financial statements and earnings releases for the nine months ended Sept. 30. The coffee chain previously said net sales for the first nine months of 2019 were 2.9 billion yuan ($413 million).

 

Nestlé Purina buys premium petfood player Lily’s Kitchen

Premium petfood brand Lily’s Kitchen has been acquired by Nestlé Purina with the aim of further boosting its global growth. Nestlé has bought Lily’s from private equity firm L Catterton for an undisclosed sum. The company will continue to operate out of its offices in London as a standalone entity led by Lily’s Kitchen’s CEO, David Milner, and the existing management team. Established 12 years ago in founder Henrietta Morrison’s kitchen in London, Lily’s Kitchen has become an £85m retail brand offering its natural recipes for dogs and cats across 6,000 stores in 30 countries.

Home & Road

RH Q4 sales slip, but profit soars

RH’s fiscal fourth quarter revenues slipped 0.9 %, but net income nearly doubled as the luxury home furnishing retailer continued to manage with a “bias for earnings vs. revenue growth,” its CEO said. Still, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, the company said, as it withdrew its guidance for the current fiscal year and warned demand is off 40% or more since the temporary shuttering of its stores, restaurants and outlets. RH missed on its previous guidance for net revenues, which decreased to $665 million for the period ended Feb. 1, from $670.9 million for the same period a year ago. (The company does not release comparable sales data.) Friedman said the retailer believes the shortfall was related to the elimination of its holiday assortment — which reduced traffic in stores and online — and an increase in back orders. Net income for the quarter, meanwhile, more than doubled to $68.4 million from $27.3 million.

Bassett Furniture Q1 sales drop, income up

Bassett Furniture Inds. saw a decline in revenue but an increase in net income during the first quarter ended Feb. 29, according to financial results released Thursday. The company had consolidated revenues of $112 .1 million during the quarter, down 7.2% from the $120.8 million reported in the first quarter of 2019, a change that was partly due to an additional week in the first quarter of 2019. Net income during the first quarter of 2020 was $1.2 million, or 12 cents diluted earnings per share, compared with $0.6 million, or 6 cents diluted earnings per share in the first quarter of 2019.

Gary Van Elslander bids on Art Van name

Gary Van Elslander has bid less than $1 million to buy the Art Van brand name and trademark of the bankrupt Top 100 company, according to a report by Crain’s Detroit. The report attributed the information to multiple unnamed sources familiar with the situation. The deal would require approval in bankruptcy court here where the retailer filed for Chapter 11 protection March 8 and has since moved to liquidate all company-owned stores. Crain’s estimated private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners paid about $550 million to acquire the retailer in 2017. With the spread of the coronavirus and missteps in its liquidation efforts, Art Van has since shuttered its going-out-of-business sales and terminated the vast majority of its employees. Crain’s said the Van Elslander bid doesn’t include business assets, such as inventory. Art Van now leases most or all of its real estate, following sale-leaseback transactions THL conducted to pay for the business.

Jewelry & Luxury

Signet Furloughs Workers, Appoints Accounting Officer

On Monday, Signet Jewelers announced that it was temporarily furloughing an unspecified number of members of its store and support teams, according to a company memo. One week prior, America’s largest jeweler—which owns the Kay, Jared, Zales, Peoples, and Piercing Pagoda chains—shut all its North American stores. It said that team members will continue to receive pay and benefits through April 4, using a combination of base pay and paid-time-off provisions.

Armani Pivots to Produce Medical Overalls

Fashion group Armani said on Thursday all of its Italian production plants would start producing single use medical overalls, in an effort to support healthcare workers in the coronavirus crisis. The shortage of protective equipment and other medical devices has been one of the biggest problems dogging the Italian health system since the contagion surfaced in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy at the end of February. The fashion house, run by designer Giorgio Armani, added it had increased to 2 million euros (1.82 million pounds), from an initial 1.25 million euros, the funds it donated to Italian hospitals to help them face the virus emergency.

Pandora Beefs Up Marketing Team

Pandora has added to its marketing team. These new hires are part of the strategic reorganization announced in March. The new structure divides Pandora’s products into two global business units—Moments: Charms and Collaborations, which seems to encompass its traditional offerings; and Style: New Collections and Innovation.

De Beers’ Chief Financial Officer to Leave

De Beers Group’s chief financial officer Nimesh Patel will leave the company on July 26, it announced Thursday. Patel’s successor has not yet been named. Patel is leaving De Beers to become chief financial officer and executive director of Spirax-Sarco Engineering. Patel joined Anglo American in 2012 as group head of corporate finance. In 2016, he moved to De Beers as chief financial officer, joining its executive committee and board.

 

 

Office & Leisure

Bed Bath sues 1-800-Flowers for trying to renege on deal over COVID-19

Bed Bath & Beyond Inc has asked a judge to hold 1-800-Flowers.Com Inc to a $252 million deal between the companies in what appears to one of the first examples of a corporate sale coming unraveled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The internet retailer of flowers and gift baskets agreed in February to buy the Pmall.com business from home furnishings retailer Bed Bath & Beyond, with a closing date of March 30. Bed Bath said in its complaint, filed in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, that 1-800-Flowers told it on March 24 the COVID-19 outbreak, the disease caused by the coronavirus, denied the company the resources to close the deal and integrate the business. 1-800-Flowers said it was delaying closing to April 30, according to the filing. “Even a calamitous event such as COVID-19 does not permit a party to avoid its obligations,” the lawsuit said. 1-800-Flowers said it still wanted to proceed with the deal, but the pandemic kept it from satisfying conditions of the deal, due to which it has requested a delay in the transaction’s closing.

Lending Syndicate Ups Borrowing Capacity for Marriott Vacations Worldwide

Marriott Vacations Worldwide announced that it has amended its non-recourse warehouse credit facility, expanding its borrowing capacity to $531 million, an increase of $181 million. Lenders include Deutsche Bank AG, Bank of America, N.A., Credit Suisse, AG, Truist Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Fifth Third Bank, N.A., HSBC Bank USA, N.A. and MUFG Bank, Ltd., according to a regulatory filing. “Our ability to amend our warehouse credit facility at attractive terms at this time reflects the strength of our business model and the resiliency of our cash flow,” said John E. Geller, Jr., executive vice president and chief financial and administrative officer. Under the agreement, the termination date for our existing $350 million warehouse facility remains December 2021, if not renewed, with the additional $181 million borrowing capacity terminating on March 31, 2021. The warehouse facility primarily bears interest at LIBOR plus 1.4%. After giving effect to the amendment to the Warehouse Facility, the Company has more than $310 million of capacity.

Hobby Lobby defies closure orders, reopens locations in Ohio, other states, reports say

Hobby Lobby has been “quietly” reopening stores across the nation, including all locations in Ohio, defying orders in several states closing “non-essential” businesses because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to reports. Business Insider reports Hobby Lobby, which primarily sells craft supplies, on Monday reopened all 19 locations in Ohio, even though the state remains under a shelter-in-place order. The company opened 17 of 20 stores in Wisconsin, which also is under a shelter-in-place order. The move brought a police response in West Alllis, Wis., which forced the store to close because it was violating the non-essential business order, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. A store in Jefferson, Indiana, was open for about an hour on Monday before it was forcibly shut down, WLKY reports. In Colorado, the company again closed all of its stores after a report by KRDO.

Cirque du Soleil explores options including bankruptcy – sources

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group is exploring debt restructuring options that include a potential bankruptcy filing, after it was forced to cancel shows because of the coronavirus outbreak, people familiar with the matter said. The famed Montreal-based circus company, largely known for its regular shows in Las Vegas venues, had to temporarily lay off most of its staff after social distancing measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus nixed its performances. Cirque du Soleil is working with restructuring advisers to address a cash crunch and its roughly $900 million in debt, the sources said on Thursday. Creditors are also in talks with advisers as they prepare for possible negotiations with the company, the sources said. Cirque du Soleil has not yet decided how to address its strained finances, the sources cautioned, requesting anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations. The company declined to comment.

After GameStop’s sales fell 28% last year, the pandemic has given it a boost

With much of the country cooped up inside by government order or by choice, GameStop says it is one of the beneficiaries of the strange, risky new world created by the spread of COVID-19. CFO Jim Bell said that global comparable sales over the first few weeks of March had risen 2% due to increased demand. And that was despite closed GameStop stores across most of its European footprint. The sales lift comes after a punishing year for the gaming retailer, which got caught off guard by the depth of consumer pullback on new game purchases as gamers await the next generation of consoles and digital products reshape the landscape. GameStop reported last week that its comparable sales fell a dizzying 26.1% in the fourth quarter and 19.4% for the full fiscal 2019 year. But even as the retailer’s sales were decimated, it managed to generate positive operating and net income and pay off $401 million in debt.

Technology & Internet

Online grocery shopping soars during the coronavirus crisis

Stay-at-home directives in numerous states and municipalities allow consumers to leave their homes to buy groceries. But rather than risk pushing a cart through a store, a growing number of people are making grocery orders online. A March 23-25 consumer survey from food marketing and sales consulting firm Brick Meets Click and online order fulfillment platform ShopperKit finds 31% of U.S. households have used an online grocery delivery or pickup service during the past month. That percentage represents a total of about 39.5 million households. The number of households now ordering groceries online is up 145.3% compared with a Brick Meets Click survey in August 2019.

 

Amazon workers see the pandemic as a path to better pay, benefits

Amazon.com Inc., Instacart Inc. and other companies providing food, medicine and other essentials are about to find out whether the pandemic can accomplish what organized labor has struggled to do: give employees and contractors the leverage to extract better working conditions. Some employees at Amazon’s Staten Island, New York, warehouse walked off the job on Monday, calling for the company to shut the facility for extended cleaning after they say a number of their colleagues were diagnosed with COVID-19. Instacart workers called for a nationwide strike on Monday over safety and pay concerns. And, if a petition circulating online gets traction, workers at Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market plan to call in sick en masse on Tuesday. As the coronavirus cases pop up at warehouses and supermarkets, workers—cheered on by politicians and labor activists—have begun demanding better pay, sick leave and on-the-job protections from the deadly respiratory virus.

 

Finance & Economy

US payrolls plunge 701,000 in March amid the start of a job market collapse

Nonfarm payrolls dropped by 701,000 in March, according to Labor Department numbers released that only begin to show the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus crisis.  It was the first decline in payrolls since September 2010 and came close to the May 2009 financial crisis peak of 800,000. Some two-thirds of the drop came in the hospitality industry, particularly bars and restaurants forced to close during the economic shutdown.

Coronavirus could create ‘a generation of supersavers’ and reshape the economy

A generation of risk-averse supersavers could emerge from the fallout of the coronavirus crisis and potentially reshape the economy, experts have said.  Morgan Housel, partner at venture capital firm Collaborative Fund and author of “The Psychology of Money,” said that the coronavirus crisis would lead to “a generation of supersavers” who were wary of taking financial risks.  “When you’ve suddenly woken up to the reality that the world is much more fragile than you once believed, you just have a much lower appetite to take risks about the future than you’ve had before,” he told CNBC.