The Big Story

The End of the Mall as We Know It?

Maeghan Thompson

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on retail and accelerated a number of trends that were already challenging for traditional malls. One such trend, the growth of ecommerce, was fast-tracked in 2020, with stay-at-home orders and retail shutdowns driving much of the change. According to Adobe Analytics, U.S. online sales reached $73.2 billion in June, an increase of 76.2% over the $41.5 billion the year before.

The shift to online sales is expected to continue. Consumers who have never before or rarely purchased over the internet have been forced to, and they’ve discovered that food, clothing, and personal care products can be ordered and delivered safely and seamlessly. For many consumers, this forced foray into shopping online will likely drive real changes in habits and shopping behavior toward ecommerce.

All of this bodes especially poorly for traditional enclosed malls, many of which are operating at fractions of capacity, both in terms of open stores and foot traffic. Threatened before, and struggling from their heyday, traditional enclosed malls are facing mounting challenges as consumers avoid crowds and recirculated air.

It’s not only the older malls that have been dramatically affected. Even the cutting-edge concepts have been deeply impacted. American Dream, the New Jersey mega-mall and theme park, was supposed to be the latest grand example of the intersection of shopping and entertainment. Even American Dream, with a $5 billion budget and novel attractions and activities, has a very uncertain future. The venue opened in October after two decades of construction and was open for six months before the pandemic hit. Since then, the mall, like most retail centers, has struggled to keep tenants. Some have terminated leases, others have delayed store openings, and others filed for bankruptcy. The mall will shift the balance of space from 55% entertainment and 45% retail to 70% entertainment and 30% retail, but will that help?

Of course, these trends are not all due to COVID. In the last few years, the rise of mixed-use centers that offer shopping, entertainment, and activities have been viewed as the next generation of retail shopping. The anchors here are typically fashion retailers, fitness centers, salons, grocery stores, and restaurants with outdoor seating. The Grove in Los Angeles, South Coast Plaza near San Diego, Woodbury Commons in New York, and Sawgrass Mills north of Miami have all distinguished themselves.

Despite the hurdles, some traditional malls are finding creative ways to encourage consumers and to adapt the experience to the circumstances. Westfield Valley Fair, the San Francisco Bay Area’s largest mall, is one example. Like other malls in California, it was forced to close under stay-at-home orders, and then reopen in June, only to close again shortly thereafter. In response, the mall launched an open-air market featuring pop-ups by brands and restaurants. Twenty or so companies are participating thus far, including Coach, Pottery Barn and Ann Taylor. The program will run from July to August with plans to extend if successful. Westfield intends to introduce similar concepts at their properties around the country.

Moving forward, those retail centers best positioned to succeed are likely those that combine shopping, entertainment, and activities with ample outdoor space and open air. For the next year and probably more, with masks and social distancing at top of mind and the preference for the outdoors, open air malls could be the answer for those who want to visit stores and spend time in physical retail. Beyond the utility function, the spaces offer the energy and community of the larger collective with at least the perception of increased safety.

Customers will become more comfortable shopping in accordance with the new protocols. It remains to be seen, however if the vast majority will shop as they have previously, for at least quite some time. Consumers will undoubtedly value open space, fresh air, and ease of entry and exit. For the weakest of enclosed malls, these new challenges may prove to be too much.




Apparel & Footwear

Bankrupt parent of New York & Company sells e-commerce businesses

New York & Company will continue to do business, if only online. RTW Retailwinds, the bankrupt parent company of New York & Company and Fashion to Figure, has entered into an asset purchase agreement with Sunrise Brands LLC for the sale of its websites and all related intellectual property for $20 million in cash, plus the assumption of certain liabilities, including the honoring of gift cards. The websites to be sold include that of New York & Company and Fashion to Figure as well as their rental subscription businesses. RTW Retailwinds filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July, with a plan to close many, if not all, of its 328 New York & Company stores. The retailer said it anticipates a court hearing to approve the sale in early September. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with Sunrise Brands that will allow our significant e-commerce business to continue to operate and serve our loyal customers,” said Sheamus Toal, CEO of RTW.

Ascena writes down Ann Taylor again as sales plummet

Ascena Retail Group, which as of last month is in the midst of bankruptcy, on Friday reported that third quarter net sales plunged 44.8% year over year to $601.2 million, from $1.1 billion in the same quarter last year. Net sales fell 45.9% at its premium (Ann Taylor and Loft) brands; 36.7% at its plus brands; and 53.1% at its tween Justice brand. The apparel company said it’s taking write-downs for the second straight quarter, including a goodwill impairment charge of $15 million at Ann Taylor and $70.5 million at Loft. Ascena is also writing down brand value to the tune of $17.7 million of the Ann Taylor trade name; $7.8 million of Loft’s; another $7.8 million of the Justice trade name and $5 million of its franchise rights; and $3 million of its Catherines trade name. Lane Bryant, a longtime player in plus-size retail that retains a lot of loyalty, appears to have been spared so far.

Men’s Wearhouse Parent Goes Bankrupt, Adding to Retail Wreck

Tailored Brands Inc., the owner of Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, filed for bankruptcy protection after the coronavirus lockdown kept America’s office workers at home, curtailing demand for new suits. The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas makes the company the latest in a string of retailers that have grappled with competition from online shopping and have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19. Like many apparel chains, Tailored Brands was in a tough spot before the outbreak. Sales have fallen every year since 2016 as Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank contended with changing consumer tastes and e-commerce rivals. The retailer was preparing a filing that would give it a chance to cut its borrowings and close unprofitable locations.

Denim Company Kontoor Brands Reports More Losses During the Pandemic

Denim maker Kontoor Brands, parent company to the Wrangler, Lee and Rock & Republic brands, continues to struggle amid the pandemic. “In a rapidly changing operating environment, we remain focused on navigating near-term impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, while also positioning Kontoor for future success,” Scott Baxter, president and chief executive officer of Kontoor Brands, said in a statement. For the three-month period ending June 27, total revenues were $349 million, compared with $609 million a year earlier. By brand, Wrangler’s revenues were $252 million, down from $362 million the same time last year, while revenues at Lee were $86 million, compared with $207 million last year. Kontoor had a $33 million loss during the quarter as a result, compared with profits of nearly $38 million a year earlier.

Ralph Lauren Revenues Plunge 66%, Proving Digital Gains Aren’t Enough For Coronavirus-Plagued Retailers

Ralph Lauren’s revenues slid 66% to $487 million in the first quarter as digital gains failed to offset retail and wholesale declines. While the brand has now reopened nearly all of its stores across North America, Europe and Asia, significant disruptions throughout the quarter, which ended June 27, resulted in flagging sales throughout all regions. Like many of its peers, Ralph Lauren pulled off online sales gains as consumers around the world stayed home to fight the spread of the virus. Asia saw the biggest spike, with digital sales up 68%, trailed by Europe and North America at 44% and 3%, respectively. Overall, digital sales rose 13% in the first quarter. This wasn’t nearly enough to make up for lost traffic, however, particularly in North America, where comparable-store sales at brick-and-mortar stores sank 77%. Wholesale sales in the region dropped by 93%, likely reflecting canceled spring orders and widespread declines at department-store partners such as Macy’s and Hudson’s Bay Company.


Athletic & Sporting Goods
Planet Fitness Sees Surprise Q2 Growth In Member Joins At Opened Stores
Planet Fitness Inc. only saw a modest decline in membership across its open facilities through the end of its June quarter as new member “joins” for the quarter outpaced the rate in the year-ago quarter. In its report for the second quarter ended June 30 the company said that for the 1,409 stores that were opened by the end of the second quarter, overall member joins nearly offset total cancels for the period even as PLNT reduced levels of local and national advertising. The number of visits per store reportedly continued to climb consistently across stores the longer they were open, with visits in some stores reaching levels comparable to Q2 last year. Upon reopening its stores in early May, PLNT had approximately 15.4 million members. At the end of June, total membership was down a little over 1 percent to 15.2 million. But the trends are clearly reliant on reported COVID-19 cases.

Titleist Parent Sees Robust Recovery In Q2 As Golf Courses Re-Open
Acushnet Holdings Corp., the parent of Titleist, FootJoy and KJUS, said that after a brutal first two months of the second quarter due to store and golf-course lockdowns, sales bounced back strongly in June, accelerated in July, and are expected to continue strong through the third quarter. “The game and business of golf have been incredibly resilient,” said David Maher, Acushnet’s president and CEO, on a conference call with analysts. In the quarter ended June 30, sales fell 35.1 percent to $300 million. On a constant-currency basis, sales were down 34.1 percent. Beyond store and course closures, Acushnet’s sales were held back as government officials imposed shutdowns on the company’s golf ball and club plants for nine weeks. Manufacturing facilities and distribution centers were re-opened in mid-May, steadily increasing production, and are now running at or above normalized levels.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Edgewell to Acquire Mass Grooming Brand Cremo

Edgewell Personal Care Co. has inked a deal to buy Cremo, a men’s grooming company, for $235 million. The acquisition is expected to further build Edgewell’s men’s grooming offering, which already includes Jack Black and Bulldog. Cremo sells products like Sandalwood Shave Cream, $7.99; Beard Wash, $12; Hair and Beard Dye, $14.99, and Bourbon & Oak Body Wash, $8.99, at Walmart, Target, Amazon and its own web site. Edgewell said the deal aligns with plans to grow by buying fast-growing and profitable brands in attractive segments. “The men’s grooming category remains a strategic focus for Edgewell and this acquisition will help us accelerate growth and strengthen our position in the fastest-growing categories in men’s grooming,” said Edgewell’s president and chief executive officer Rod Little. The deal is expected to close by the end of the first fiscal quarter. For Edgewell, the transaction follows the collapse of the company’s plan to buy Harry’s after the Federal Trade Commission sued to block the deal.

Shiseido Posts First-Half Net and Operating Losses, Lower Sales

Shiseido said Thursday that difficult business conditions brought on by the pandemic resulted in the company posting a first-half net loss of 21.37 billion yen, or $198.8 million. It also posted an operating loss, and sales for the period were down sharply. The company said losses were “related to COVID-19, such as compensation of employees on leave and maintenance costs for shops and production facilities.” The company had reported net profits of 52.45 billion yen during the same period the previous year. Shiseido’s operating loss for the six months was 6.35 billion yen, despite efforts to reduce costs. It said the main factors for the loss were a drop in margins resulting from a plunge in sales, and deterioration in productivity of factories due to decreased production volume.

How This Clean Beauty Brand Won Over Gwyneth Paltrow—and Became an Instant Cult Favorite

If you haven’t heard of Saie, you will soon. Since launching last September, the clean beauty brand has rapidly attracted a feverish level of enthusiasm for its affordable, luxury-quality offerings that supply glowing skin, lustrous lips, and long, full lashes without any (and we mean any) toxic ingredients. What’s more, with a just-announced new round of seed funding led by Unilever—also joined by Goop founder and wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow—Saie is primed to become even more of a player in a market that’s expected to reach $22 billion by 2024. Launching an accessible line with clean formulations, sustainability, and transparency as key pillars—and having it deliver by today’s standards—is no small feat, but for Saie founder and CEO Laney Crowell, it was the “only way to create the brand she wanted to see herself.”


Discounters & Department Stores

J.C. Penney’s fate up in the air as acquisition talks drag on

J.C. Penney has once again kicked out a deadline for coming to an agreement with lenders on its go-forward business plan in bankruptcy. Previously extended to July 31, the deadline was moved out one week as the company, lenders and potential buyers try to iron out a deal, an attorney for Penney said at a Wednesday hearing. After an initial round of bidding came up short, some key lenders to J.C. Penney are seeking higher bids for the company, according to a Bloomberg report that cited anonymous sources.

Once the Innovators, Department Stores Fight to Stay Alive

Lord & Taylor was one of the first retailers to allow employees to become stockholders, to introduce a lunch counter, to usher in the Christmas season with animated window displays and to take risks on new American designers. That innovation stopped in the 1980s, former executives say, sending the once-grand department store chain on a long march toward bankruptcy that culminated Monday, when the 194-year old company’s lenders said it would liquidate if it can’t find a buyer by October.

Walmart Launches Pop-Up Drive-In Movie Theaters, Sells Out Within 24 Hours

While many movie theaters are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Walmart is making it possible for viewers to still see movies on the big screen. Walmart has launched pop-up drive-in movie theaters in 160 store parking lots across the country, 14 of which are in North Texas. Walmart’s drive-in theaters were created in partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival.



Emerging Consumer Companies

Sanzo, Asian-inspired sparkling water brand, raises seed round

Sanzo, a New York-based sparkling water brand that uses real fruit and no added sugars, announced that it has raised a $1.3 million seed round. The investment was led by entrepreneurs and angel investors, including co-founder of Away, Jen Rubio, and Boba Guys’ co-founders, Andrew Chau and Bin Chen. Founded in 2018, Sanzo uses three different fruits that are popular across Asia: lychee, mango, and calamansi. The funding will be used to increase distribution and strengthen online sales.

Smalls raises $9 million

Smalls, a New York-based cat food brand offering a variety of food options, including fresh chicken and beef, freeze-dried chicken, turkey and duck, and other treats in addition to non-food products like litter and toys, announced that it has raised $9 million in Series A funding. The investment was led by Left Lane Capital with participation by Founder Collective and Companion Fund. It brings total capital raised to $12 million since the company was founded in 2017.



Grocery & Restaurants

7-Eleven buying 3,900 Speedway stores in $21 billion deal

Convenience store giant 7-Eleven has entered into an agreement with Enon, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. to acquire the Speedway convenience store chain for $21 billion in cash. 7-Eleven will acquire approximately 3,900 Speedway stores and gas stations located in 35 states. 7-Eleven currently operates more than 9,800 stores in the United States. The addition of the Speedway locations will bring that total to 14,000 units. “This acquisition is the largest in our company’s history and will allow us to continue to grow and diversify our presence in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest and East Coast,” said Joe DePinto, president and CEO of Dallas-based 7-Eleven. “By adding these quality locations to our portfolio, 7-Eleven will have the opportunity to bring convenience to more customers than ever before.” The deal will accelerate 7-Eleven’s growth trajectory and diversify its presence in the U.S. According to 7-Eleven, the two convenience chains have complementary geographic footprints with little overlap. Following the transaction, 7-Eleven will have a presence in 47 of the top 50 most populated metro areas in the U.S., positioning the company as a clear industry leader in a fragmented industry with favorable macroeconomic trends.

Home & Road

Credit Suisse Invests $30M In Feather for Urban Furniture Rental

Furniture rental startup Feather secured a $30 million credit line from Credit Suisse to drive growth into new markets. The new funds come six months after the 3-year-old New York-based company closed a $30 million Series B round of funding led by Cobalt Capital. Prior to the new raise, Feather had raised a total of $46 million in equity and debt financing to date, according to Crunchbase data. Jay Reno started the furniture and home decor rental service when he saw a shift in how people saw rental and ownership of material possessions, the founder and CEO told Crunchbase News. He also took a nod from his own life, where he has moved nine times in 10 years, as well as seeing the amount of furniture that was filling landfills. Starting at $19 a month, customers can choose from more than 350 pieces of furniture designed and manufactured by Feather from 20 factories around the world. The furniture is delivered and assembled within a week, Reno said. Feather currently serves New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County, California.

Lifetime Brands sees Q2 demand for categories such as tools and bakeware

Lifetime Brands Inc. reported a 5.3% increase, or $7.6 million, for a total of $150.1 million in consolidated net sales in Q2, driven by the demand for several categories, including kitchen tools and gadgets, bakeware, barware and cutlery. “We are pleased with Lifetime’s strong results in the second quarter,” said Robert Kay, CEO, Lifetime. “This result was achieved through our ability to capture revenues by quickly shifting to meet strong demand in several channels including e-commerce, mass and grocery retailers.” Income from operations grew by $16.8 million while net loss declined by $7.5 million over the second quarter of 2019, a release said, resulting in an increase in last 12 months consolidated adjusted EBITDA of $8.1 million or 13% compared to last quarter.

Wayfair posts first profit in Q2

Wayfair earnings for the fiscal second quarter surpassed Wall Street’s expectations, with the company posting a gain of $273.9 million, compared with a $181.9 million loss in the prior-year second quarter. Gross profit for the quarter came in at $1.32 billion or 30.7% of total net revenue compared with $559.6 million in the second quarter of last year. Wayfair also reported diluted earnings per share of $2.54 for the second quarter compared to a net loss of $1.98 for last year’s second quarter. Earnings, adjusted for stock option expense and non-recurring costs, came to $3.13 per share. Total net revenue increased $2 billion to $4.3 billion up 83.7% year-over-year. At the end of the second quarter, cash, cash equivalents and short- and long-term investments totaled $2.4 billion. “The second quarter was a very strong period for Wayfair. Our strategic long-term investments positioned us well to serve our customers and to quickly adapt during a challenging time,” said Niraj Shah, CEO, co-founder and co-chairman of Wayfair. “We experienced unprecedented demand in Q2 and saw record numbers of new and repeat customers choose Wayfair.”

Leggett & Platt Q2 sales down 30%, cites COVID-19 impact

Leggett & Platt second quarter sales were down 30% compared with the second quarter last year as the company was “significantly impacted” by the COVID-19 pandemic. Organic sales were down 31%; raw material-related selling price decreases and negative currency impact reduced sales 2%. Acquisitions added 1% to sales growth. “Our second quarter results were significantly impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Karl Glassman, chairman and CEO. “We were pleased to see sales improve sequentially throughout the quarter as demand improved in most of our markets. The swift cost reduction actions implemented at the onset of the pandemic helped to mitigate some of the earnings impact from lower demand levels.” Second quarter earnings per share were a loss of 5 cents, a decrease of 69 cents vs. second quarter 2019, and included a goodwill impairment charge of 19 cents and restructuring charges of 2 cents.

Jewelry & Luxury

Richemont to ask shareholders permission for conditional share capital increase

Richemont, the owner of Cartier, gave details of its proposed shareholders’ loyalty scheme on Friday, where it will give warrants to investors which later can be converted into newly created stock. The luxury goods maker said it would ask shareholders at its annual general meeting on Sept. 9 to authorize the creation of new shares which can be exchanged for the warrants after three years. Richemont proposed the scheme to preserve cash during the COVID-19 pandemic after halving its dividend to 1 Swiss franc per share.

Hugo Boss sees demand for suits despite home working

German fashion house Hugo Boss expects demand for suits and formal wear to return as coronavirus lockdowns ease even as it adjusts to the rising popularity of casual styles after sales tumbled 59% in the second quarter. “People will still get married and hold confirmations or baptisms and people still want to meet up,” acting chief executive Yves Mueller told journalists, adding he saw pent-up demand for formal outfits for events postponed by lockdowns.

Gucci, Jimmy Choo Do Luxury Version of Walmart Curbside Pickup

To survive Covid-19, luxury retailers are being forced to master something they’ve always avoided: impersonal transactions. The pandemic has driven high-end U.S. retailers far from their roots of engaging shoppers with stylized, personal—and unfortunately, high-touch—service. Think makeup and jewelry counters, personal shoppers and in-house tailors. Now, with consumers staying away from public spaces, retailers like Bloomingdale’s Inc. and Neiman Marcus Group Inc. are coming to terms with selling products via FaceTime and curbside pickup. But translating this into a lavish shopping experience sounds about as natural as turning a TV dinner into five-star dining.

The luxury sector has been hit hard by the virus. And what consumers value has changed

The coronavirus pandemic has put many industries into crisis mode, and luxury retail is one of them. With fewer places to see and be seen, shoppers are slowing their spending, with an estimate from consultancy firm McKinsey forecasting the global luxury goods market will contract by 35% to 39% in 2020, year-over-year. “Dressing up, buying new clothes and following fashions is incredibly dependent on social activities such as going to work, going out, having parties and simply being seen by others,” stated Vicky Bullen, CEO of branding consultancy Coley Porter Bell in an email to CNBC. “If you’re not seeing anyone, what’s the point?” she added.


Office & Leisure

Spirit Halloween opening 1,400 stores nationwide amid coronavirus pandemic

Are you getting excited for Halloween? We know the spooky season is still several months away, but Spirit Halloween is preparing to open its 1,400 stores nationwide. Some stores – including a handful in Northeast Ohio – are scheduled to open as early as Aug. 8. Spirit Halloween’s return comes amid rumors the seasonal store chain would remain closed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Spirit’s opening comes as some Halloween events have already canceled their 2020 events amid COVID-19 concerns. For those of you keeping track, Halloween falls on a Saturday this year — the same weekend we “fall back” for Daylight Saving Time. Oh, and there’s also a full moon expected that weekend, too.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is seeking Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in the US while it scrambles to finalize a rescue plan

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in New York on Tuesday. The airline, which flies only long-haul international routes, suspended passenger flights in April because of the coronavirus pandemic. It resumed them in July, despite little demand for international travel. The airline, 49% of which is owned by Delta, has cut more than 3,000 jobs, retired some planes, and closed bases to cut costs during the pandemic. Virgin Atlantic not the only one of the Virgin Group’s airlines to struggle during the downturn. Virgin Australia filed for voluntary administration — a form of bankruptcy in Australia — in April. Virgin Atlantic announced a £1.2 billion ($1.57 billion) private rescue package in July but had not finalized the agreement.

Hudson slashes workforce in anticipation of second COVID-19 wave

Airport retailer Hudson Group on Monday said that as of July 31, it has laid off nearly 40% of its employees, both corporate and field staff, and extended furloughs for many of those who remain. Per its most recent annual report, the company had more than 10,000 employees in 2019. The cuts come despite $4.5 million in employee retention credits from the U.S. “CARES” Act and similar subsidies from Canada designed to offset wage and benefit expenses during furloughs. After reopening more than 200 of the 700-plus stores it had temporarily closed due to the pandemic, Hudson is running about 450 stores, according to a company press release. In North American airports, the retailer is also rolling out vending machines with proprietary health and safety items and electronics. But travel, and therefore traffic to its airport shops, has plummeted, sending net sales down 88.4% year over year to $57.7 million, and gross profit down by $289.5 million or 88.4% to $38 million.

Fortnite creator Epic Games is now valued at $17.3 billion after blockbuster funding deal

Epic Games, the video game giant behind the hit title Fortnite, said Thursday that it was valued at $17.3 billion after a $1.78 billion funding deal. The Cary, North Carolina-based firm said the investment came in the form of primary capital and secondary purchases, meaning some investors bought new shares while others bought stakes from existing shareholders. Epic said the investment included a $250 million strategic investment from Sony, which it announced last month. Epic announced that a number of new investors have bought into the company, including Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, Lightspeed Venture Partners, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price and hedge fund manager David Tepper. Existing backers KKR and Smash Ventures also increased their holdings, Epic said. “Having the support of leaders in the financial community accelerates Epic’s efforts to build a new kind of digital ecosystem using real-time 3D technology, services that connect hundreds of millions of people, and a digital storefront that offers a fair business model,” Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney said in a statement Thursday.

Technology & Internet

This is the moment to ‘win the loyalty of millions of people,’ Etsy CEO says

Etsy CEO Josh Silverman on Thursday told CNBC that the online retailer has captured new customers during the pandemic and it has led to staggering growth across various segments of the market. “This is a moment when we have a chance to win the loyalty of millions of people and we’re working so hard to do that,” he said. After Wednesday’s close, Etsy posted a quarterly profit that was up more than 400% from a year ago. Revenue came in at $429 million in the three-month period, a 137% increase year over year. Etsy, an e-commerce operator that connects small businesses with consumers, now boasts 3.1 million sellers, up 34% since last year, and more than 60 million active buyers, a 41% increase.


EU launches antitrust probe into Google’s Fitbit takeover

Google’s acquisition of fitness tracking company Fitbit hit a new snag on Tuesday, as the European Commission announced it is launching an in-depth antitrust investigation into the deal. The European Union’s top antitrust regulator said it is concerned that the takeover would further strengthen Google’s market position in online advertising by “increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalization of the ads it serves and displays.” Google announced it was buying Fitbit, the world’s leading maker of wearable fitness activity trackers, in November. The deal, worth about $2.1 billion, is one of Google’s largest acquisitions and represents an important step for the company into smartwatches and other wearable devices. The Commission had already launched a preliminary investigation into the transaction. It said a commitment by Google not to use Fitbit data for advertising purposes was insufficient to address the concerns identified in the initial probe.


Finance & Economy

COVID-19 reshapes, reduces back-to-school spending

As the pandemic drags into the new school year, it is wreaking havoc on reopening plans and the back-to-school shopping season, the second most important period for retailers behind the holidays.  Parents are buying less dressy clothing and more basics for their kids, while stepping up purchases of masks and other protective equipment as well as electronics. They’re also holding back on spending amid uncertainty over what the school year will look like. The back-to-school season typically kicks off in mid-July and peaks in mid-August. This year, experts predict the peak will hit in late August and spill into most of September.


US consumer borrowing up in June after 3 months of declines

The pandemic still has Americans easing off the plastic.  U.S. consumer borrowing rose in June after three months of declines but the key category of credit card debt extended its decline.  The Federal Reserve reported that overall consumer borrowing rose by 2.6%, or $8.95 billion, in June after big declines in March, April and May as many parts of the country went into lockdown to combat the coronavirus.

Payrolls increase by nearly 1.8 million, topping expectations despite coronavirus resurgence

Two months of record-setting payroll growth slowed in July but was still better than Wall Street estimates even as a rise in coronavirus cases put a damper on the struggling U.S. economy.  Nonfarm payrolls increased by 1.763 million in July and the unemployment rate fell to 10.2%.   Both numbers were better than respective Wall Street forecasts of 1.48 million and 10.6%.  Even with a three-month gain of 9.3 million workers either newly hired or back to their old jobs, the total employment level remained 12.9 million below its February level.