The Weekly Consensus

The Weekly Consensus

Maeghan Thompson

Story of the Week

Authentic Brands Group Initially Agrees to Buy Champion From Hanesbrands Inc.

After a bidding process that went on for weeks, Authentic Brands Group came out the winner after agreeing to buy the athletic apparel label Champion from Hanesbrands Inc. for a little more than $1 billion. No formal agreement has been signed yet, but rumors are that something could be put in writing next week. Also interested in the label were Delta Galil, Sycamore Partners, G-III Apparel and WHP Global, sources said. Sources warned that Authentic Brands’ purchase could result in thousands of employees around the world losing their jobs because the intellectual-property management company will source much of the manufacturing, design, logistics and operation of the label’s various components to other companies. Hanesbrands put its second-largest label up for sale last year initially seeking at least $1.4 billion after it saw Champion sales nosedive in the past few years. Champion’s sales stumbled in the past two years, part of that due to fewer collaborations with names like Supreme and Rick Owens. Its global sales fell by 23 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023, with weakness attributed to both the strategic changes and the challenging sports apparel market. A sale of Champion gives Hanesbrands’ finances a much-needed boost. The company ended last year with net debt of $3.1 billion, or 5.2 times its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Apparel & Footwear

FullBeauty is Acquiring Dia & Co., Building a Plus-Size Fashion Empire

After a 123-year history in plus-size fashion, FullBeauty Brands is moving fast and looking to learn some new tricks as it seeks to bring in younger shoppers.  The company said on Wednesday that it acquired Dia & Co., which has both a size-inclusive marketplace and a styling service that uses algorithms and human stylists to recommend looks to shoppers. It’s the third deal in less than a year for FullBeauty, which also recently bought intimates brand CUUP and the trendy ELOQUII, which was owned by Walmart.  FullBeauty – which grew out of the Redcats mail order business that was owned by PPR before the luxury giant changed its name to Kering –  already has a host of plus size brands targeting Boomers and older Gen Xers, including Catherines, WomanWithin and Jessica London. Now, the company is pushing for more. “We’re good at taking a woman into one brand and introducing her to our other brands in the portfolio as well as introducing her to other categories,” said Jim Fogarty, who’s been FullBeauty’s chief executive officer for nearly five years, in an interview. “We had this really good network built for Boomers and older Gen X [shoppers] and we had always wanted to do a better job serving the younger demographic and younger Gen X and into the Millennial [customers].”


Investment firm Kinbow acquires majority stake in Ashley Stewart

Ashley Stewart Inc. has a new owner. Kinbow LLC has acquired the majority stake of the plus-size value fashion retailer. The price was not disclosed. Ashley Stewart specializes in apparel, intimates and accessories for women sizes 10 to 36. Kinbow is an affiliate of RA Capital, a group company owned by Ram Ajjarapu, with investments in technology, insurance, financial services, renewable energy and retail industries. The company plans to continue to operate all of Ashley’s Stewart’s 75 stores and its e-commerce business in their current form. It also plans to keep the retailer’s current management team in place. “We are very excited about the opportunity to acquire this iconic retailer and grateful for all of the support we have received from all of Ashley Stewart’s stakeholders, especially our lender, Wingspire Capital, who worked closely with us to consummate this transaction,” said Ajjarapu, executive director of Kinbow.


An activist investor in boot brand Dr. Martens is pushing the company to move towards a strategic review and potential sale

New York-based investment firm Marathon Partners Equity Management, LLC, which owns more than 5 million shares of Dr. Martens common stock, announced Tuesday that it recently sent a letter to Dr. Martens chairman Paul Mason and the board of directors urging the company to begin evaluating “alternatives for the business with the goal of maximizing shareholder value,” which includes a potential sale of the business, the letter read. Since its IPO in 2021, shares of Dr. Martens have dropped almost 83 percent. Given the company’s stalled earnings progress and investor coolness, Marathon argued that Dr. Marten’s tenure as a public company is no longer serving shareholders in the most productive way. “We believe that the Dr. Martens brand would produce higher earnings as a private company or, more likely, as a part of a larger, multi-brand holding company that could add further scale to operations, create new synergies and eliminate unnecessary overhead,” Mario Cibelli, Marathon Partners’ managing member, wrote in the letter. Cibelli added that Dr. Martens’ heritage and relevance would make it an attractive target for interested parties and also praised Dr. Martens CEO Kenny Wilson as “an open-minded and talented executive.” Dr. Martens confirmed it received the letter, but declined to comment further.


Shoes For Crews Undergoes Restructuring For Sale Process

The U.S. based entities of slip-resistant footwear company Shoes for Crews has filed voluntary petitions for Chapter 11 relief in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware in an effort to undergo a sale of its business. According to a Tuesday release, Shoes for Crews plans to enter a stalking horse asset purchase agreement to sell the business in a deal that would enable the company to keep operating under a new owner and would allow for the investment into global markets. CCMP Capital Advisors, LP, the company’s primary equity sponsor, supported the process along with other stakeholders. The goal is to complete the process in two months. President and chief executive officer of Shoes For Crews Donald Watros said in a statement that the process will help the company “continue investing in our industry-leading products and delivering for our valued customers well into the future.” Shoes for Crews has also entered a deal to receive $30 million of debtor-in-possession to help the company’s manufacturing and distribution operations continue to function during the bankruptcy process. Shoes for Crews was founded in 1984 as a solution to the prevalence of slip and fall injuries in the workplace.



Athletic & Sporting Goods

Riddell Receives Strategic Investment to Fuel Growth

BC Partners Credit, the credit arm of BC Partners, and Riddell, Inc., the U.S. manufacturer of football helmet technology, announced a strategic partnership to advance Riddell’s central role in the game.  Founded in 1929 and based in Des Plaines, Ill., Riddell designs and manufactures football helmets, protective sports equipment, head impact sensing and reporting technologies, and related apparel and accessories. The company also serves as the exclusive licensee of the NFL for collectible helmets and maintains promotional rights with the League as an authorized supplier of helmets worn by over 77 percent of NFL players.  BC Partners’ $400 million investment in Riddell, which includes convertible preferred equity and debt, will “empower Riddell to accelerate innovation and make compelling investments in the business for the benefit of all stakeholders,” reported the company.

Nike planning major brand overhaul

It’s been just a few days since JD Sports Chief Executive Régis Schultz lambasted Nike for its failure to innovate and bring in new customers through the doors.  JD Sports, one of Europe’s largest sporting goods retailers, relies on the brisk pace of flashy new sporting trends to bring in foot traffic and help things like sneakers fly off their shelves. Nike still remains the top spot for sports apparel in the world. The top five biggest brands, in order are: Nike, Adidas, Puma, Lululemon, Under Armour.  But with New Balance quickly leaping up to spot No. 6 over recent years, and giants like Adidas and Lululemon constantly coming out with new crowd-pleasers, it’s imperative that Nike work to get back on track and create something that suits everyone, from professional athletes to streetwear enthusiasts.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Demand for beauty products is slowing as debt burdens rise. That’s weighing on Ulta’s stock.

Shares of Ulta Beauty Inc. were on pace for their biggest percentage drop in more than four years after the beauty-products retailer on Wednesday said industrywide demand had slowed more than expected over the past two months, threatening same-store sales growth. Ulta Chief Executive Dave Kimbell said during an investor conference call that demand, while easing, was still up, and that shopper enthusiasm was still high. But he said an array of issues — the same ones that other executives have called out, like price increases for basic necessities, higher levels of credit-card debt, the return of student-loan payments, conflicts abroad and the U.S. presidential election later this year — were making consumers anxious.

Monogram Capital Partners acquires majority stake in Tru Fragrance & Beauty

Los Angeles-based private equity firm Monogram Capital Partners has acquired a majority stake in Tru Fragrance & Beauty. Tru Fragrance & Beauty’s roster of brands includes Le Monde Gourmand, which recently expanded its distribution to 700 Ulta Beauty stores and on its e-commerce platform, and also is available on Asos in the U.K. Tru represents Monogram’s seventh investment in the beauty space in the past five years. Its other investments include Beach House Group, D.S. & Durga, Foundry, Live Tinted, Violette_FR, and Prime Matter Labs. Transaction details were not disclosed.

L’Occitane sells Grown Alchemist 2 years after acquiring the brand

Grown Alchemist is changing hands again. L’Occitane Group has sold a controlling majority stake in the Australian skin care brand to André Hoffmann, L’Occitane Group’s former vice chairman and CEO, for 28 million euros (about $30.2 million). Hoffmann served in those roles until Sunday and remains a board member. Through the deal, Grown Alchemist is now privately held, according to a Tuesday announcement. Anna Teal, Grown Alchemist’s CEO, has become a minority shareholder. The move provides the skin care brand with “increased business agility,” allowing it to focus on large-scale partnerships and accelerate international growth in key markets like North America and China.

Eadem Scores Fable Investments Funding

Fable Investments, Natura & Co.’s venture capital fund, has taken an undisclosed stake in Eadem, which creates products for people of color. Kouadio Amouzame and Lin Glover launched Eadem in May 2021 to tackle tokenism in the beauty industry and create products that address skin concerns experienced by people of color, especially hyperpigmentation. Terms of the stake in Eadem were not disclosed, but Fable generally invests between 2 million euros to 10 million euros into beauty companies. Eadem made its debut in the U.S. with its Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum, a three-in-one gel serum blended with amber algae, niacinamide and vitamin C that’s said to target excess pigmentation in the skin while creating a glowing complexion. On its website a 30-ml. bottle sells for $68.


Discounters & Department Stores

Burlington to open its biggest distribution center

Burlington Stores is planning to open a 2 million-square-foot distribution center in the Southeast in 2026 as it looks to grow its store footprint, CFO Kristin Wolfe said on Q4 earnings call. The “highly automated” distribution center will be about twice the size of Burlington’s next-largest facility and be designed for its off-price business, Wolfe said. “Over time, we’ll move an increasing percentage of our merchandise through these more efficient DCs that are designed for off-price,” the CFO told analysts.

Walmart letting businesses tap into its route optimization tech

Walmart is selling its proprietary artificial intelligence route optimization technology to businesses seeking to reduce their transportation and shipping costs, the retailer announced March 14. The AI-driven software is designed to optimize driving routes, pack trailers efficiently and minimize miles traveled, which will translate to lower emissions and cost savings. Since the technology has proven effective in reducing emissions and lowering Walmart’s transportation expenses, buyers can avoid developing similar technology themselves and experience its immediate benefits, Anshu Bhardwaj, SVP and COO, Walmart Global Tech and Walmart Commerce Technologies, said in the announcement.

Macy’s hasn’t closed 150 stores yet. But Target, Kohl’s CEOs already smell opportunity

Macy’s hasn’t yet shut the approximately 150 stores it plans to close. But retail competitors already smell opportunity. In recent interviews with CNBC, Target CEO Brian Cornell and Kohl’s CEO Tom Kingsbury said the department store’s decision to shrink its footprint gives them a chance to increase their own sales. Off-price chain T.J. Maxx could pick up more business, too, since it carries similar merchandise and has stores near Macy’s locations that might shut, according to Jefferies. And many other retail names, including off-price chain Ross and department store rivals like Nordstrom could benefit from the closures, too. Those companies already count many of Macy’s shoppers as their customers, according to an analysis of credit card data by Earnest Analytics.

Big Lots opens buying offices in China, Vietnam

Big Lots on Monday moved to strengthen its global product sourcing model. The discount retailer said that it opened two new buying offices in Asia. Located in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Shanghai, the company says the new offices should enhance its competitive advantage in sourcing products, including closeout deals and extreme bargains. “Global sourcing is key to our ability to add newness and expanded assortment at extreme value prices for our shoppers,” CEO Bruce Thorn said in a statement. “Today’s announcement positions us for even greater success in a changing global marketplace as we create more extreme bargains and everyday great values for our customers.”



Emerging Consumer Companies

Full Glass Wine raises $14 million, acquires Bright Cellars
Full Glass Wine, a brand acquisition management startup specializing in acquiring DTC wine marketplaces, raised $14 million in a Series A round to continue acquiring DTC wine brands. They recently acquired Bright Cellars, their third acquisition in a year, to expand their subscription-based model. By uniting Winc, Wine Insiders, and Bright Cellars, they aim to offer a one-stop shop for wine lovers. The company plans to invest in technology, including a wine-pairing algorithm, to personalize recommendations. Despite challenges in navigating state regulations and consumer misconceptions, they aim to provide quality wines at various price points. Co-founded by Louis Amoroso and Neha Kumar, the startup is open to partnerships to expand its platform. The acquisitions are expected to generate over $100 million in revenue in 2024, with a diverse selection of over 400 SKUs ranging from $12 to $25. Shea Ventures led the Series A funding.

Boisson closing retail stores, industry uncertain about future
Boisson, a leading adult non-alcoholic retailer, is closing retail stores and undergoing restructuring, leaving the NA industry uncertain about its future. The company opened its first retail location in New York in February 2021 and announced plans for expansion after receiving $12 million in seed funding. In September 2023, Boisson named a new CEO and received an additional $5 million in funding. However, in January, the company shifted its strategy to focus on national wholesaling through partnerships with distribution companies KeHe and LibDib. Despite this change, the future of Boisson is now unclear.



Food & Beverage

Howard Schultz Takes Stake in Chocolate Maker

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has purchased a 2% stake in the slave-free chocolate maker Tony’s Chocolonely. The company declined to say how much Schultz invested. Douglas Lamont, CEO of Tony’s Chocolonely, said in a statement that Schultz would allow the chocolate producer to benefit from “his extensive experience of building a global consumer brand and company.” Since 2020, Tony’s Chocolonely has nearly quadrupled its business in the US, and today has a presence in major retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Safeway and CVS. Revenue last year surged 23% to $162mn. As consumers increasingly prioritize where their food is grown, Tony’s Chocolonely has thrived by committing to pay West African cocoa farmers a living income to help combat child labor. Its success has attracted investors captivated by its rapid growth and positive ethical message. Just last year, it raised more than $20 million from existing shareholders to grow its business.

Monbake Group acquired by CVC Capital Partners

Monbake Group, a frozen baked-goods business in Spain, has been acquired by Luxembourg-based private-equity firm CVC Capital Partners. CVC Capital has purchased Monbake from France-based investment company Ardian and co-investors Alantra, Artá and Landon. Financial details were not disclosed in a statement from CVC Capital but the Spanish publication El Confidencial reported that the price would be close to €1bn ($1.08bn). Monbake was established in 2018, when Ardian bought bakery companies Berlys and Bellsolá. Monbake has nine factories supplying hospitality, specialised channels and retailers such as Mercadona and Lidl. Monbake also has 200 of its own stores and cafés. At the end of 2022, it employed more than 1,700 people. At the end of its fiscal 2022, the latest available figures from Spain’s Registro Mercantil, Monbake achieved a consolidated turnover of €382m, up 28% compared to the previous year. The group reported a net loss of €20m.

Louis Dreyfus Company to Acquire Cacique in Brazil to expand its soluble coffee production

Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) and Companhia Cacique de Café Solúvel (Cacique) have signed a binding agreement for the acquisition of 100% of Cacique shares by LDC. “This development is aligned with LDC’s strategy to diversify revenue streams through value-added product lines – in this case, by accelerating the scale-up of LDC’s soluble coffee business, recently initiated in Vietnam with its iLD Coffee Vietnam joint venture freeze-dried soluble coffee operation, to position LDC among the world’s largest soluble coffee producers,” said Michael Gelchie, LDC’s Chief Executive Officer. Cacique is one of the largest global independent producers, processors and exporters of soluble coffee in terms of volume, with activities in more than 70 countries, best-in-class industrial know-how, two processing assets in Brazil and a strong team of approximately 1,000 employees.

Lucky F*ck Energy Announces Rebrand, New Investment

Lucky F*ck Energy drink has launched its first campaign, “Search at Your Own Risk,” led by new Chief Marketing Officer Hamid Saify, the former SVP of Digital Retail at Liquid Death – who was an early employee and spent 4+ years with the brand. This marks another major milestone for the brand; in addition to its now first C-suite hire, the company has secured an additional $8 million in a Seed II round, led by Austin-based Brand Foundry Ventures, with Imaginary Ventures (which participated in Lucky F*ck’s $4 million Seed round in November 2023), and Sugar Capital also on board to build a DSD network.



Grocery & Restaurants

Delight Restaurant Group acquires 65 Wendy’s units

Delight Restaurant Group LLC has acquired 65 Wendy’s restaurants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the company announced Tuesday. Norfolk, Va.-based Delight, which already franchised 132 Wendy’s restaurants and 29 Taco Bell units, said it acquired the restaurants from Zanesville, Ohio-based Primary Aim LLC, which continues to operate 11 Wendy’s units in Ohio. With this acquisition, Delight Restaurant Group owns and operates 226 restaurants, which it said generate $500 million in sales in eight states, including Indiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Delight Restaurant Group said it plans to continue expanding through acquisitions and new-unit development.

McDonald’s to buy all 225 Israel franchise restaurants after boycott fallout

McDonald’s signed a deal to purchase all 225 of the restaurants that comprise its Israel franchise, the American fast-food chain announced, following months of dramatically lower sales due to pro-Palestinian boycott action amid the Israel-Hamas war. The restaurant outlets in Israel have been owned by local licensee Alonyal Ltd., which is owned by Israeli businessman Omri Padan, for more than 30 years. “An agreement to sell Alonyal to McDonald’s Corporation has been signed,” the McDonald’s statement said Thursday. “Upon completion of the transaction, McDonald’s Corporation will own Alonyal Limited’s restaurants and operations, and employees will be retained on equivalent terms.” The company did not disclose the purchase amount. McDonald’s reported its first revenue miss in nearly four years in February, hit by weak sales growth in its division that includes the Middle East.

Home & Road

RH details 2024 growth on heels of disappointing year

RH reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and revenue, which the company attributed to shipping delays related to the Red Sea conflict and “severe” January weather. The luxury furniture and hospitality retailer, however, struck a positive note about the current year. It expects demand to pick up through 2024, forecasting sales growth of 8% to 10%. “While we expect business conditions to remain challenging until interest rates ease and the housing market begins to rebound, we expect our demand trends to accelerate throughout fiscal 2024,” RH chairman and CEO Gary Friedman said in his quarterly letter to shareholders. RH reported net income of $11.4 million, or $0. 57 per share. for the quarter ended Feb. 3, compared with $106.9 million, or $4.21 a share, in the year-ago quarter. Adjusted earnings were $0.72 cents per share, missing analysts’ estimates of $1.67 per share. Revenue fell to $738.2 million, also below estimates, down from $772.4 million last year.

Furniture manufacturer invests $33M in new South Carolina plant

Children’s furniture manufacturer Delta Children will invest $33.1 million in a new manufacturing plant located outside of Columbia, S.C., in Orangeburg. The 400,000-square-foot plant will be constructed and online by 2026, employing 123 people when it opens. Founded in New York in 1968, Delta Children manufactures children’s furnishings, including dressers, bassinets, strollers, toddler beds and room decor. The company also manufactures infant, toddler, twin and full mattresses under the Delta, Serta and Simmons brand names, along with various products under the Disney and Jeep brands. Its products are sold in major retailers and local businesses around the country. The Orangeburg plant marks the company’s first operation in South Carolina.

Jewelry & Luxury

Zales Owner Signet Jewelers Launches Advanced Share Buyback, Reducing Debt Ratio

The owner of Kay Jewelers and Zales is launching an advanced buyback of shares held by a major investor, which will let the jewelry conglomerate reduce its debt and boost its outlook for earnings per share. Signet Holdings Ltd. will pay around $414 million in cash to repurchase half of the convertible preferred shares from investor Leonard Green & Partners, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm that invested in the jeweler in 2016. The shares would have converted to common in November. The company will pay for the transaction using cash, Signet said in a statement Wednesday.

Gold Continues to Soar, Approaches $2,300 Mark

Gold is continuing its amazing bull run and appears likely to soon cross another benchmark: $2,300 an ounce. At press time, gold was trading at a record $2,295 an ounce. To show how quickly the spot price has risen: It first topped $2,200 less than two weeks ago, and just broke the $2,100 mark in December. The record-breaking run has caused many analysts to up their forecasts for gold prices. In mid-March, J.P. Morgan’s head of commodities research, Natasha Kaneva, told Bloomberg TV that she sees a “possibility” of gold hitting $2,500 an ounce this year.

Movado’s Full-Year Sales Sink 11%

Movado Group ended its fiscal year 2024 on a low note, with full-year sales down double digits. “For the past year, we’ve been operating in a challenging retail environment in our largest markets, the United States and Europe,” CEO Efraim Grinberg said on an earnings call Tuesday morning. “A continuation of post-COVID dynamics, a rebound in travel spending, multiyear inflationary pressures, and increasing geopolitical uncertainty are all affecting consumer demand for discretionary products.” Grinberg noted that Movado’s holiday marketing initiatives and new product introductions in both watches and jewelry were “favorably received.”

Indian Lab-Grown Diamond Manufacturers Keep Growing

India, which has for long worn the mantle of the world’s largest manufacturer of polished natural diamonds, is well on its way to becoming the largest grower and manufacturer of lab-grown diamonds. The country’s growing capacity has increased in leaps and bounds, perhaps 10 times in about five to seven years, and polished exports have soared. Growth continued over the past year despite the major decline in lab-grown diamond prices, which fell as much as 70-90 percent in many categories, according to industry analysts. Smit Patel, a director of Greenlab Diamonds and organizer of the Gem & Jewelry Export Promotion Council’s Lab-Grown Diamond Subcommittee, said, “The lab-grown diamond industry in India is clearly a rapidly expanding segment from whichever angle you look at it.


Office & Leisure

Peltz loses at Disney but his investors win; changes may still be ahead

Billionaire investor Nelson Peltz lost but he also won. Hours after shareholders voted to keep the octogenarian hedge fund manager off the board at Walt Disney, ending the year’s most expensive and closely watched board room fight, there are few signs the defeat will hurt him or his business. “I don’t think this means anything for Nelson Peltz,” said Ken Squire, the founder of research firm 13D Monitor which tracks activists. “He was never the favorite to win a proxy fight at Disney going up against (Disney CEO) Bob Iger.” With a personal net worth of $1.7 billion and a firm that oversees $10 billion in assets and has several winning bets in the portfolio this year, the 81-year-old manager is finding the silver lining in the loss, according to lawyers, bankers and industry analysts. Peltz’s Trian Fund Management owns more than $3.5 billion in Disney common stock, making it the fifth-largest investor in the entertainment conglomerate. Peltz said in a statement on Wednesday that Disney had announced new operating initiatives and capital improvement plans since he launched a new round of criticism in October. The outcome has been positive, he added, noting that Disney’s stock is up roughly 50% since October, when his firm began to re-engage with Disney, and is the best performer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year.

Paramount stock slumps on reports that Skydance merger would require company to raise new equity

Paramount Global’s stock slumped 8% on Thursday after CNBC’s David Faber reported the company would need to raise as much as $3 billion in new equity if it were to merge with David Ellison’s Skydance Media, according to sources familiar with the deal. This deal comes as media mogul Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of Paramount, is said to be in exclusive talks with Ellison on selling her stake to him, according to Bloomberg. The companies have also reportedly entered exclusive merger discussions. Faber said Ellison and his partners would likely step up to provide a good amount of that equity, but it would be dilutive. The news comes as The Wall Street Journal reported that Apollo Global Management made a $26 billion all-cash offer for Paramount that was rejected, though Redstone has not found any interest in this deal. Redstone is looking to sell Paramount, as the company has been in talks with Warner Bros Discovery on its acquisition. The MTV and CBS parent company has a market capitalization of nearly $10 billion and about $13 billion of net debt.

Technology & Internet

Amazon ditches cashierless checkout system at its grocery stores

Amazon is removing its cashierless checkout systems at Fresh supermarkets in the U.S., the company confirmed, marking the latest recalibration of its grocery strategy. The company won’t include the system, called Just Walk Out, in existing Fresh stores or in new locations slated to open later this year. It will instead rely more heavily on Dash Carts, which track and tally up items as shoppers place them in their carts, enabling people to skip the checkout line. “We’ve invested a lot of time redesigning a number of our Amazon Fresh stores over the last year, offering a better overall shopping experience with more value, convenience, and selection — and so far we’ve seen positive results, with higher customer shopping satisfaction scores and increased purchasing,” Amazon spokesperson Carly Golden said in a statement. “We’ve also heard from customers that while they enjoyed the benefit of skipping the checkout line with Just Walk Out, they also wanted the ability to easily find nearby products and deals, view their receipt as they shop, and know how much money they saved while shopping throughout the store,” Golden added.

Apple exploring personal home robots: report

Apple is exploring the development of personal home robots after ditching its electric vehicle project, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. Engineers at Apple have been looking into a robot that can follow users around their homes and a tabletop device that uses robotics to adjust a display screen, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the research team. Apple in February shut down its team working on electric cars, called Special Projects Group, another one of its moonshots. Reports of the secretive program, which employed thousands of employees, first surfaced in 2014 after Apple recruited automotive engineers among others in relevant roles. Apple’s car project was part of an internal effort to expand into new product markets. In recent years, the company has also invested heavily in products and services like its Apple Watch and Vision Pro virtual reality headset. The Vision Pro, however, will likely take years to create meaningful revenue. Apple’s hardware engineering division and its artificial intelligence and machine learning group are overseeing the work on personal robotics, Bloomberg reported. The home robot project is still in the early research and development phase, according to the report.


Finance & Economy

Private payrolls increased by 184,000 in March, better than expected, ADP says

Private sector job growth expanded in March at its fastest pace since July 2023, indicating continuing buoyance in the U.S. labor market, payrolls processing firm ADP reported.  Companies added 184,000 workers on the month, an increase from the upwardly revised February gain of 155,000, which also was the Dow Jones estimate for March.  In addition to the strong employment pickup, ADP reported that wages for workers who stayed in their jobs increased 5.1% from a year ago, the same rate as February after showing a steady easing going well back into 2023. Those switching jobs saw gains of 10%, also higher than in previous months.

Mortgage rates rise again as homebuyers optimism declines

Rising mortgage rates this week cast further doubt on meaningful rate cuts happening soon for homebuyers.  The average rate for a 30-year loan inched past 7% this week, settling at 7.07% on Wednesday, according to Mortgage News Daily.  A separate measurement tracking weekly average rates rose to 6.82% from 6.79%, Freddie Mac reported.  Homebuyers continued to pull back as affordability challenges worsened and consumer optimism diminishes about how soon and how much interest rates could ease this year. Waiting for loan rates to decline is now the top reason buyers say they are not actively searching for a home.  Rising mortgage payments across the US — driven by either higher interest rates or higher home prices, or both — have considerably cooled buyers’ demand.

The U.S. economy rolls on, adds 303,000 jobs in March

The U.S. economy added 303,000 jobs in March, blowing past expectations and indicating that economic growth remains on a firm footing.  The reading matches the largest one-month boost in payrolls since May 2023 and is a significant increase from the 270,000 added in February and the 256,000 in January.  Economists had forecast that about 200,000 jobs would be added for March.  The unemployment rate declined slightly to 3.8%, and wage growth came in at 4.1% over the last 12 months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.  Sectors seeing the largest job gains included hospitals, restaurants, local governments, large warehouse retailers, and specialty trade contractors. Manufacturing added zero jobs on net.