Sunday, April 19, 2020

Last Call For The Retail Apocalypse

The mall, galleria, shopping center near you will most likely never reopen.  It's time for communities to consider rezoning them as mixed-use affordable housing with a few necessary stores like food shops and day care centers, because the era of the mall store is now officially coming to a bloody, horrific end.

Neiman Marcus Group is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection as soon as this week, becoming the first major U.S. department store operator to succumb to the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, people familiar with the matter said.
The debt-laden Dallas-based company has been left with few options after the pandemic forced it to temporarily shut all 43 of its Neiman Marcus locations, roughly two dozen Last Call stores and its two Bergdorf Goodman stores in New York. 
Neiman Marcus is in the final stages of negotiating a loan with its creditors totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, which would sustain some of its operations during bankruptcy proceedings, according to the sources. It has also furloughed many of its roughly 14,000 employees. 
The bankruptcy filing could come within days, though the timing could slip, the sources said. Neiman Marcus skipped millions of dollars in debt payments last week, including one that only gave the company a few days to avoid a default. 
Neiman Marcus’ borrowings total about $4.8 billion, according to credit ratings firm Standard & Poor’s. Some of this debt is the legacy of its $6 billion leveraged buyout in 2013 by its owners, private equity firm Ares Management Corp and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). 
The sources requested anonymity because the bankruptcy preparations are confidential. Neiman Marcus and Ares declined to comment, while CPPIB representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 
Other department store operators that have also had to close their stores are battling to avoid Neiman Marcus’ fate. Macy’s Inc and Nordstrom Inc have been rushing to secure new financing, such as by borrowing against some of their real estate. J.C. Penney Co Inc is contemplating a bankruptcy filing as a way to rework its unsustainable finances and save money on looming debt payments, Reuters reported last week. 
A bankruptcy filing would be a grim milestone that Neiman Marcus has spent the last few years trying to avoid. It pushed out due dates on its financial obligations last year in a restructuring deal with some creditors, though the transactions added to Neiman Marcus’ interest expenses.

Macy's, Nordstrrom's, Neiman-Marcus, they're not surviving this.  They're done, or soon will be, gone the way of Radio Shack, Circuit City, and Toys R Us.  Your local mall was always done for, all COVID-19 did was to speed up the process.

The mall's not coming back.  The stores are not coming back.  The jobs aren't coming back.  And in a consumer-based retail economy, that spells a major shift in our shared economic future ahead.

You thought things were bad in 2009?

Give it a few months.

Egghead Week: Fun-Size Rebellion

As if we somehow needed any more proof the modern GOP is a death cult, right-wing activist group Turning Point USA and founder Charlie Kirk are calling on Trump's Junior Brownshirts to openly rebel against stay-at-home orders and pick up a virus or two.

As protests against stay-at-home orders due to novel coronavirus break out around the country, Students for Trump, one of the main political groups backing President Donald Trump's reelection, is calling on its young members to join the efforts. 
During a virtual convention on Friday for Students for Trump, the college campus arm of Turning Point USA, the group's founder Charlie Kirk urged members to launch a "peaceful rebellion against governors" in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Kirk, speaking to over 500 members of the conservative nonprofit organization geared at activating college students to reelect the president who tuned in to the event, derided governors like Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer for encroaching on their rights and urged them to join the protests around the country. The event was hosted on Zoom. 
It's not immediately clear if any protests have been organized due to Kirk's comments. 
"Peaceful is the operative word. Charlie is simply calling on Americans to exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully push back against the arbitrary overreaches of certain governors who are prohibiting completely safe activities," a spokesman for Kirk told ABC News in a statement. "Americans have patriotically and heroically unified to slow the spread, and now Charlie believes it's time to let our political leaders know that it's time to open the country back up."

Because Charlie Kirk is the final arbiter of pandemic safety and all.

I'm some 25 years out of college now, but I can't imagine even nihilist Zoomers are going to fall for this nonsense, when there's plenty of documented cases of people under 25 dying to COVID-19.

It's not just Kirk, either, both Texas GOP senators are supporting Gov. Abbott's plans to reopen the state.  It's going to be a disaster.  But here's what I want to know.

Why isn't Kirk out there leading the way instead of holding virtual conferences and expecting college kids to risk their health and the health of those around them just to "own the libtards?"

Because all of this is performative, as Steve M reminds us.  And the audience is the media.

The argument is that it's good politics for Trump to do what his base wants -- even though a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll makes clear that it's not what America wants. 
Nearly 60 percent of American voters say they are more concerned that a relaxation of stay-at-home restrictions would lead to more COVID-19 deaths than they are that those restrictions will hurt the U.S. economy, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll
But while strong majorities of Democrats and independents are more worried about the coronavirus than the economy, Republicans are divided on the question, with almost half of them more concerned about how the restrictions could affect the economy.

How many polls like this have I quoted to you over the years -- polls in which Democrats and independents are on one side of an issue and Republicans on the other? And yet there's never a suggestion in the mainstream press that the right is out of step with "the real America." In this crisis, it's just the opposite -- the press implies that the minority viewpoint is the emerging consensus viewpoint.

Steve is right of course.  There's maybe 25% support for "re-opening the economy" but the press is pretending like it's 85% support.  It's ridiculous.  The number of people protesting is zilch.  But you'd think there were millions of people in every state waiting to unleash hell unless the orders are lifdted by next week.

There's not. The astroturfing is working beautifully.

I guess the "good news" is by May 1 it'll be pretty obvious that loosening stay-at-home orders will be a disaster and people will hopefully reevaluate.

Well, the living ones will, at any rate.

Sunday Long Read: Cruisin' For A Bruisin'

Bloomberg Businessweek writers Austin Carr and Chris Palmeri bring us this week's Sunday Long Read, how Carnival Cruise Lines completely failed thousands of passengers and crew and left the ship Grand Princess out in the water without a safe port to come back to.

The news, when it reached the Grand Princess early on March 4, barely registered at first. In a letter slipped under passenger cabin doors, Grant Tarling, Carnival Corp.’s chief medical officer, announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had begun “investigating a small cluster” of Covid-19 cases in California that might have been linked to the ship. Thirteen days after leaving San Francisco for Hawaii, the vessel would be skipping a scheduled stop in Mexico on its return voyage and sailing back early to its Bay Area port.

That day, passengers noticed new hand sanitizer stations and crew members wearing gloves, but life on the Grand Princess, which advertises 1,301 cabins, 20 restaurants and lounges, about a dozen shops, and four freshwater swimming pools, otherwise went on as normal. Guests prepared for a ukulele concert, played bridge at shared tables, and took line-dancing classes. That night, Laurie Miller and her husband, John, attended True or Moo, a show featuring an emcee in a cow costume; the following morning, John joined about 200 other passengers in the ship’s Broadway-style theater for a lecture on Clint Eastwood movies. “I’m surprised they’re even letting this event happen,” he whispered to a nearby friend. “This is a big crowd.”

Around lunchtime on March 5, the ship’s captain, John Smith, announced a quarantine over the ship’s public address system. All 2,422 passengers needed to go to their cabins to shelter in place. Laurie Miller was in the Da Vinci dining room eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream. “Oh my God,” she remembers thinking. “This is real.” Then she ordered more ice cream.

Other passengers ambled to the ship’s stores and dining areas, too, to take advantage of the perks while they could. “Evvverrrybody went to the buffet,” recalls 61-year-old Debbi Loftus, who was traveling with her parents. “I just thought, Oh, crap, the ukulele concert is going to be canceled.” Crowds of elderly guests filed to their cabins through narrow hallways and down the stairs of the ship’s 17 decks. Sixty-nine-year-old Karen Dever tried an elevator only to find it packed with fellow passengers. “So much for social distancing!” she joked aloud.

As the lockdown progressed, the ship became a fixture on cable news and social media around the world, livestreamed by frustrated, scared passengers as if it were the Titanic of the TikTok age. Of the first 46 crew and passengers who were tested for the virus, 21 were positive. President Trump suggested they should be prevented from disembarking. At the time the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. was still low, and Trump implied that the vessel’s caseload would make it look like the U.S. was doing a poor job of handling the pandemic. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship,” he said.

But this wasn’t Carnival’s first outbreak, nor its last. In February, another of its ocean liners, the Diamond Princess, accounted for more confirmed Covid-19 infections than any nation except for China. Since then no cruise operator has been hit harder than Carnival. At least seven more of the company’s ships at sea have become virus hot spots, resulting in more than 1,500 positive infections and at least 39 fatalities. Carnival notes that “other cruise companies have been impacted.”

Carnival’s ships have become a floating testament to the viciousness of the new coronavirus and raised questions about corporate negligence and fleet safety. President and Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald says his company’s response was reasonable under the circumstances. “This is a generational global event—it’s unprecedented,” he says. “Nothing’s perfect, OK? They will say, ‘Wow, these things Carnival did great. These things, 20/20 hindsight, they could’ve done better.’ ”
Donald says that if his company failed to prepare for the pandemic, it failed in the same way that many national and local governments failed, and should be judged accordingly. “Each ship is a mini-city,” he says, and Carnival’s response shouldn’t be condemned before “analyzing what New York did to deal with the crisis, what the vice president’s task force did, what the Italians, Chinese, South Koreans, and Japanese did. We’re a small part of the real story. We’re being pulled along by it.”

I don't see how the cruise industry as a whole survives this, but Carnival is done, and deservedly so.

If the lockdowns don't end them, the lawsuits will.

Egghead Week: Hit The Beach!

South Carolina is joining Texas and Florida in reopening public beaches and retail businesses this week as Republican governors figure the worst is now over.  I sincerely hope they are right, because if they aren't, a whole lot of people are going to die stupidly.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on Monday will announce the reopening of public beaches and retail stores that had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Post and Courier reported.

The impending restriction rollbacks follow McMaster's announcement that access to public boat ramps and landings was reinstated on Friday.

Trey Walker, the governor's chief of staff, told the paper that the beaches as well as furniture, jewelry and clothing stores will all be reopened for business on Tuesday.

Beaches and retail stores have been closed for just over two weeks in the Palmetto State as it tried to curb the spread of the virus.

Walker told The Post and Courier that infection rates dropped enough to make easing restrictions feasible.

The paper noted that social distancing will still be enforced on the state's beaches. The state has more than 4,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 116 deaths, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

On Friday, Texas became the first state to lay out a defined rollback of COVID-19 restrictions, with Gov. Greg Abbott (R) saying that businesses in the state would being to reopen next week through a series of executive orders.

More Republican governors are expected to open up beaches and businesses soon, and let's remember seven GOP-led states never put stay-home orders in place.

We're about to find out if the "This is no worse than seasonal flu!" theory is correct.

It's not, of course.  Thousands will die as a direct result.

Be smart, folks.
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