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The former Starbucks' CEO's Schultz Family Foundation launched The Plate Fund on Monday to help Seattle's restaurant workers.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- In an ordinary April, Corporate America would now be gearing up for proxy season, preparing for annual meetings and arguing with activist investors over strategy. Instead, companies find themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, facing difficult choices about how best to protect workers, investors, and their businesses from the virus and its fallout.Among the issues normally debated at spring shareholder meetings is the use of anti-takeover measures that critics say make it harder for activist investors to hold management accountable, or to push management to shift strategic direction. Supporters of these measures say that they are necessary because they allow firms to make long-term investments. Those debates have been hard-fought for years, and there are ordinarily strong arguments for and against limiting these defensive measures. But whatever one’s view of them, everyone should recognize that this is no ordinary moment. Management needs flexibility now to take the extraordinary actions required by this crisis.Anti-takeover measures, including the “poison pill” shareholder-rights plan, protect management from outside pressure by limiting the stakes that any given investor can acquire. This insulates the company, to some degree, from the “market for corporate control” and from election contests brought by activists. America’s largest investors have typically been skeptical of the use of defenses because of a concern that they will shield management from accountability to investors. Indeed, the two dominant firms advising shareholders how to vote in corporate elections have long recommended voting against all members of a board that adopts takeover defenses without the approval of shareholders before or shortly after the fact.Investor skepticism about takeover defenses is understandable. Although the empirical evidence is far from conclusive, the unilateral adoption of such measures poses the risk of entrenching underperforming insiders, even as it carries the potential of encouraging firms to make long-term investments. The debate won’t be resolved anytime soon — but it needs to be left for another time. Management’s immediate focus must be battling the virus, not engaging in proxy fights.Corporate managers will soon have to make enormously consequential decisions for millions of Americans in the face of unprecedented uncertainty. Should companies conserve cash by laying off workers, especially in industries where a return to full productivity seems especially far off? Or should they follow the examples of Starbucks Corp. and Paypal Holdings Inc., which have assured employees of future paychecks despite the devastating effects of the crisis on their business? Some manufacturers may even need to pivot to producing personal protective equipment at great short-term cost to the companies and their investors. Crucial decisions like these must be made quickly — and managers should be free to make them without worrying that they will soon find an activist on their doorstep demanding answers.Even some activist investors seem to agree. Many have voluntarily walked away from planned attacks, or pursued constructive and friendly settlements with target-company boards. But not all activists have said they will take this approach. That’s why some boards have recently announced the adoption of takeover defenses in the midst of the crisis even though, under institutional investors’ current policies, that could put directors’ jobs at risk. Just Monday, for instance — after calling off a planned merger on account of the pandemic — aerospace suppliers Hexcel Corp. and Woodward Inc. each adopted shareholder-rights plans.Giving companies the space they need to manage this crisis will require leadership from institutional investors. In particular, proxy-advisory firms such as Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. and Glass Lewis that have spearheaded investor skepticism over takeover defenses should suspend their anti-poison pill policies for the duration of the crisis and make clear that they will give companies the case-by-case consideration that this moment requires. Those firms have come under considerable fire from business advocates claiming that they fail to give situation-specific advice, even drawing some surprising threats of federal regulation. Adjusting their policies in light of the current crisis would provide a compelling counterargument to those who say those firms are ideologically driven and want to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on corporate America.In reviewing the use of shareholder rights plans adopted in the crisis, investors and proxy advisory firms must be attentive to the extraordinary pressures that firms are facing. At the same time, boards shouldn’t take advantage of this crisis to erect entrenched defensive measures like staggered boards that shareholders have clearly rejected. This is a time to put the ordinary debate aside, and to provide boards with space to respond to the multiple challenges of protecting firms, employees, consumers, and the country.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Edward B. Rock is a professor at New York University's School of Law and co-director of NYU’s Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance. Haley Sylvester is a resident fellow at New York University's Institute on Corporate Governance and Finance.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
From guaranteeing hours to full pay replacement, companies are stepping up to help workers impacted by the coronavirus shutdown.
(Bloomberg) -- With less than a month to go before Brazil’s coffee harvest is due to start, second-generation farmer Paulo Lagazzi frets he may not have enough field-hands to pick his entire crop before beans fall from their trees and start to rot.In normal times, the 61-year-old would have reached deals with 40 to 50 seasonal workers by now and started laying plans to bring them in by private coach from elsewhere in Minas Gerais state or neighboring Bahia state. But these aren’t normal times, with lockdowns the world over threatening to impact every step of the global food supply chain.Lagazzi can tick off all the headaches that’s caused: Closed borders between states and municipalities mean some or all of his workers may not be able to get to his 500-hectare (1,235-acre) plantation. And say they do arrive, Lagazzi struggles to figure out the best way to house them. Usually, he’d sleep four to a room, but social distancing means he’ll have to split them up and space the beds apart. Worse, if someone gets sick, then what? Lagazzi said he’s not at all prepared to handle a quarantine.“We have no idea how to bring these people from other regions to harvest coffee with all the travel bans, nor how to accommodate or move them around on the farm,” Lagazzi said. “And we also don’t know what to do if someone gets sick. How many people should be quarantined in a situation like that?”It’s a problem playing out across Brazil, the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee. Most beans these days can be harvested mechanically, but at least a third of Brazil’s arabica and all of its robusta production needs to be picked by hand, either because the crops are growing on mountainsides or because machines still can’t handle certain types of trees, according to Regis Ricco Alves, director at agriculture consultant RR Consultoria Rural.Brazil, now in the higher-yielding half of a two-year cycle, is expected to produce 44.6 million bags of arabica and 15 million bags of robusta, crop-forecasting agency Conab said. About two-thirds of that is exported. (A bag weighs 60 kgs, or 132 lbs.)Arabica beans, the mild-tasting variety preferred by Starbucks Corp., have gained about 12% from a mid-March low, partially on concerns over low supply out of Brazil. Any delays in harvesting that compromise bean quality could push prices higher. Rabobank International analyst Carlos Mera, in a report today, called the migrant labor shortage in Brazil the “main risk” to the supply side.“Brazil is a bit of a ticking time bomb in the sense that the president continues to dismiss the seriousness of this virus,” said Alex Boughton, a coffee broker at Sucden Financial in London. “And whilst we are already hearing of logistical delays, that’s likely to get worse as the nation struggles to deal with the steepening curve.”In Espirito Santo state, where most of Brazil’s robusta beans are grown, harvesting would normally start up around mid-month and require about 50,000 temporary workers, said Edimilson Calegari, general manager at cooperative Cooabriel. This year, “we’re instructing growers to wait a little longer until some government resolutions come out,” he said.Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry, which has recently released a number of measures to guarantee that food supplies aren’t disrupted during lockdowns, is working on a set of recommended best practices for farmers who need to hire temporary workers, said Luiz Rangel, deputy coordinator at the agency’s Covid-19 commission. But it may take as long as two weeks before the guidelines, which Rangel said aren’t mandatory, are published.In the meantime, Lagazzi is steering in the dark and trying to figure out most of this on his own. Any delay, he said, will cost him money when he goes to sell his crop. One week past the April 27 harvest start date and the quality of coffee cherries starts to worsen, becoming more susceptible to wind and rain that can knock the fruit off the tree. By month’s end, there’d be a “severe” loss of quality, he said.“I’m spending more on new measures to clean my farm, I already adjusted the living situation and will spend more on fuel to transport fewer workers per trip,” Lagazzi said. “Even so, I still can’t be sure all of it’s enough.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Before the coronavirus sent stock markets tumbling at the fastest pace since the 2008 financial crisis, Dymon Asia Capital (Singapore) Pte sensed trouble.The hedge fund firm was combining information on past outbreaks with a raft of so-called alternative data, including Google searches in the U.S. and daily readings from China on everything from road congestion to flight schedules and test-kit availability. The numbers convinced Dymon to take short positions against the S&P 500 and an index of Chinese stocks in Hong Kong, trades that would become its biggest money makers in February and March.“It was clear the market was under-pricing the impact of Covid-19,” Danny Yong, Dymon’s chief investment officer, said in an interview. The firm’s flagship $2 billion Dymon Asia Macro Fund has climbed about 40% this year.While investors like Yong have been using alternative data for years, the coronavirus has prompted a fresh surge in demand for off-the-beaten-path statistics that might shed light on the pandemic’s impact on economies and markets. Interest in Chinese data has been particularly strong as money managers try to get an early read on efforts to contain the virus and reboot the world’s second-largest economy.“After the outbreak, we saw a spike in demand for data to show what was really happening in China,” said Hong Kong-based Heatherm Huang, co-founder of Measurable AI, a company that tracks business receipts sent via its email-aggregator service. “Now, investors want to know how fast Chinese companies and the economy can recover.”What happens in China has rarely been more important for global money managers. But the time lag between government data and the fast-changing reality on the ground -- along with official attempts to downplay bad news during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak -- have made an already opaque economy even more difficult to parse. That may be one reason why many investors initially underestimated the fallout.It also helps explain why alternative data providers in China have seen a recent jump in demand.For Beijing-based BigOne Lab, the pickup has been noticeable among venture capital, hedge fund and private equity clients. Backed by investors including S&P Global Ratings, BigOne tracks everything from the number of merchants operating on China’s largest food delivery site to flight traffic and hiring patterns. Among the notable trends to show up in BigOne’s data in recent weeks: inbound flights to China have spiked and companies are hiring blue-collar workers at the fastest pace since November.“There’s a lot of curiosity on just how much China has really recovered,” said Chen Mu, BigOne’s founder. “Stats like this help give people a better understanding.”Ship Docks, E-CommerceThere are now about a dozen startups in China specializing in alternative data, according to Wu Haiyan, managing partner at China Growth Capital, a VC firm that invested in BigOne. Some global players, including UBS Group AG, are also pouring resources into the space. About one-third of the staff at the Swiss bank’s specialized data unit are now based in China, according to Barry Hurewitz, the global head of Evidence Lab Innovations at UBS.Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, also provides data and analytics to financial professionals in China and around the world.Evidence Lab works with scores of partners and licenses some of its data, which includes remote sensing images of ship docks and transaction data from e-commerce sites. The level of detail can get so specific that users are able to track how many coffee shops Starbucks Corp. opens in China on a given day, and compare that with its largest local competitor Luckin Coffee.Evidence Lab operates a subscription model but is also exploring other options including project-based fees, Hurewitz said. BigOne sells subscriptions and generates a few million dollars a year in revenue, said Chen, declining to be more specific. Measurable AI offers subscriptions by company ticker and country, which can range from $2,500 to $10,000 per item a month.WeBank, the online lender founded by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., also offers company-specific data and research. By comparing the number of cars parked in front of Tesla Inc.’s Shanghai factory between January and February, it was able to predict when the electric-vehicle maker had restarted production.“Quantitatively driven funds especially are trying to incorporate our indexes into their investment models,” said Haishan Wu, who previously worked at BlackRock Inc. and is now vice general manager of WeBank’s AI team. “As the coronavirus becomes more of a global issue, more and more companies will be interested in this.”China does ban commercialization of personally indetifiable information, however.“One of the most important things for clients such as hedge funds is that our data is legal and doesn’t violate privacy laws, because if not, it can lead to huge penalties, not only from Chinese regulators but also U.S. regulators,” Measureable AI’s Huang said.Increasingly accurate data will be available in future from sensors attached to Internet of Things devices, Wu said. China’s high mobile penetration rate, meanwhile, means ever more aspects of peoples’ lives are open to analysis, especially as citizens grow accustomed to giving away data in exchange for convenience. While that can raise tricky questions about privacy, most alternative data companies take steps to delete any personally identifiable information in line with Chinese laws.“The whole world is becoming integrated and digitized,” said China Growth Capital’s Wu. “Investment decisions now and in the future all need to be based on big data.”(Updates with comment on privacy restrictions in 17th paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Investors in Luckin Coffee Inc., China’s upstart rival to Starbucks Corp., should have seen this coming.Luckin shares plunged as much as 81% in U.S. trading Thursday after the country’s largest coffee chain said employees fabricated much of its sales last year. Car Inc., which shares a chairman with Luckin, tumbled as much as 72% in Hong Kong on Friday morning before trading was halted.Skepticism swirled around the sustainability of Luckin’s business model well before its Nasdaq initial public offering last May. Luckin’s success relied heavily on generous discounts funded by investor money, as I wrote in December 2018. The company spent 152 yuan ($21.45) for every 100 yuan it made selling coffee, my colleague Tim Culpan noted in May. In February, after short seller Muddy Waters Capital said it had received an 89-page anonymous report alleging that Luckin fabricated financial and operating numbers, we again noted its reliance on near-permanent discounts.Investors in the chain include Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC Pte, U.S. fund manager BlackRock Inc. and crop trading giant Louis Dreyfus Co., as well as a slew of venture capital firms. Early backers included Centurium Capital, a private equity fund founded by the former China head of Warburg Pincus.Luckin’s turbo-charged growth and technology sheen were central to the investor buzz it created. Having opened its first store in Beijing only three years ago, the company had 4,500 domestic locations by the end of last year, outstripping Starbucks’ 4,300 Chinese stores.The company described itself as a coffee “network” in its IPO document and prided itself on an app that offers a “100% cashier-less environment.” That slapped a new-economy aura on a largely humdrum and routine business — not unlike the office-sharing company WeWork, another hot unicorn that subsequently fell from grace.Luckin said Chief Operating Officer Jian Liu and employees reporting to him engaged in misconduct and it is investigating. The aggregate sales amount associated with the fabricated transactions totaled about 2.2 billion yuan. Certain costs and expenses were also substantially inflated, according to the filing. Liu and others have been suspended and investors shouldn’t rely on previous financial statements for the nine months ended Sept. 30, the company said. Luckin reported net revenue of 2.9 billion yuan for the nine months through September.It’s a moment of truth and a wake-up call for investors who pile into Chinese startups that show meteoric growth rates. That’s a message that few appear to have taken to heart after the spectacular boom and bust of bike-sharing companies such as Ofo. WeWork’s failed attempt to list taught U.S. investors that you can’t burn cash forever. Luckin could deliver a similar lesson for China.Luckin’s management will need a long time to re-establish investor trust, if it can do so at all. The market for Chinese IPOs in the U.S. is also sure to suffer. After all, it’s far from the first time that an overseas-listed Chinese company has been embroiled in allegations of accounting manipulation. Luckin at least can be thankful that it raised $778 million selling shares and convertible bonds earlier this year, giving it some leeway to ride out the storm. For investors, the moral is an old one: If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Nisha Gopalan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals and banking. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones as an editor and a reporter.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Luckin Coffee's board alleges the COO and others booked $310 million in fabricated transactions.
'We feel these are important benefits to extend at this time, so whether you are taking care of a loved one, responsibly self-isolating, or choosing to stay at home for any reason, you can have the confidence that you do not have to choose between coming to work and your personal well-being during this crisis.'
Mandatory social distancing orders may be slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Seattle area, home to the first coronavirus death in the U.S., but the city’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, warned against complacency, saying the Puget Sound region is still “a month or two away” from relaxing isolation rules.
(Bloomberg) -- China’s consumers are shopping online again. But their purchases signal they plan to stay indoors for the foreseeable future, dashing hopes for a spending recovery as the nation contemplates its post-virus world.Lunch boxes saw 120 times more searches in the last 30 days as the virus pushes people to prepare their own food even after returning to the office, according to March 26 data from Index.1688, which collects information from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s shopping sites.Portable tableware, foldable spoons and work clothing also surged in popularity, while items typically given as gifts or used for travel and outdoor activities haven’t shown signs of recovery.Yoga mats and hula hoops for home exercise also climbed in demand, a bad sign for gyms waiting for the return of patrons.The data undermines predictions of a V-shaped recovery in the world’s biggest consumer market that has seen more than 80,000 infections and 3,000 deaths from Covid-19. While big operators like Starbucks Corp. and Yum China Holding Inc. have been reopening outlets, they face a public that’s preferring to stay home after work and continue to social distance, even though official data indicates China’s number of new infections fallen to zero.China’s experience may prove an important indicator for how the rest of the world recovers. Even after outbreaks are contained, lingering fear is likely to change consumer behavior for longer than expected.“Consumers are still cautious about going out and many of those venues are not yet back to full working mode,” said Jason Yu, Shanghai-based general manager of Kantar Worldpanel. Items for a return to work, such as instant coffee, hair and skin-care products, are recovering ahead of the market, he said.Other products to post a spike in searches include contact-less thermometers, suits and stationery, according to Index.1688.A report by JD.com Inc.’s research center also shows work-related consumption speeding ahead of other categories. China’s second-largest e-commerce company sold five times more lunch boxes in late February than a month earlier, while powerbanks, office equipment and stationery are also high up the list.“Consumption of staples is clearly outshining discretionary or luxury goods in what is still very much a lukewarm and uneven recovery,” Ned Salter, head of global research at Fidelity International, said in a statement. “We need to see more consumer confidence to sustain the improvement and that will depend on how well China deals now with imported cases to contain the virus fully.”A Coronavirus Vaccine in 18 Months? Experts Urge Reality CheckRetailers in China have been cautious in their forecasts since the virus emerged.Yum China Holding Inc., which operates KFC and Pizza Hut in the country, has said the second quarter will be “challenging” and patience is needed. Anta Sports Products Ltd., the country’s biggest sportswear maker, forecasts the first six months of 2020 will be “tough throughout”.About 60% of listed restaurant operators in China are at risk of running out of cash within six months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and company reports.With the food and beverage industry reeling, local governments are trying to boost consumption by urging officials to dine out in restaurants and shop in malls. Vouchers are being given out by cities including Hangzhou and Nanjing as well as shopping platforms Meituan Dianping and Suning.com Co. to spur spending.While China’s new infection numbers have plunged, the pandemic is widening globally with cases worldwide now topping 786,000 and more than 37,800 dead. Chinese factories are experiencing a second shockwave as western clients cancel orders en masse.Luiz Chen, a 31-year-old auditor in Guangzhou, recently bought moisturizing masks and a new dress before returning to the office but said she won’t be treating herself to anything expensive after her employer froze bonuses for the past two months.“I’m scared to get a salary cut or even lose the job,” said Chen. “Economic crisis seems not far away. How can I have the good mood to buy buy buy?”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- So much for sugar demand being insulated from the pandemic. A gauge that tracks returns for that market plus cotton and coffee -- the so-called soft commodities -- is on pace for its worst quarter since 1986.The collapse in oil is dragging down other commodities as the coronavirus saps the outlook for global economies. A lower crude price makes it cheaper to produce synthetic fibers that rival cotton. Lower energy prices are also curbing the outlook for cane-based ethanol, encouraging mills to produce sugar instead of biofuel.Sugar futures in New York are down 20% so far this year, and cotton tumbled 28%. The Bloomberg Commodities Softs Total Return Subindex has plunged more than 16%.Weakness in the Brazilian real is also hurting the softs markets. The South American country is the top exporter for sugar and coffee and a key cotton supplier. The currency declines are boosting the outlook for more exports.“Everybody is at their wit’s end, regardless of the market they are in,” said Arnaldo Correa, partner for Archer Consulting in Sao Paulo. “The decision-making process has gotten more complex, more ingenious, more stressful, and it is often coupled with a thick cloud of variables. Any of the 12 labors of Hercules seems way easier when we come up against the current scenario.”Coffee is a little bit of an outlier though. There are fears that labor and logistical interruptions will curb the flow of coffee beans. That’s helped the market to climb more than 6% in March, after a 8.5% increase in February. But those advances weren’t enough to make up for a 21% tumble in January -- the commodity is on pace for a first-quarter loss.Starbucks Closures Can’t Stop Coffee’s Massive Rally, Here’s WhyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe teetering on the brink of declaring a state of emergency over the coronavirus, Tokyo is bracing for a critical weekend that could determine whether Japan can continue to sidestep the surge in outbreaks that have crippled other rich nations.While businesses have shuttered their doors across the U.S., U.K. and Europe, Japan has been an archipelago of calm. Throngs of people ventured outside in warm weather over the past three-day weekend to admire cherry blossoms, shop in arcades and dine in restaurants even as millions of others across the globe took shelter, venturing outside only to seek out provisions.A week later, more than 30 million people in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area are being asked — though not forced — to stay at home. The big question is whether infection numbers continue to creep higher as they have over the past week, spurring Governor Yuriko Koike to call on the residents to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors for two weeks. Surrounding areas followed suit, and told their citizens not to travel to Tokyo.“This weekend is a crucial test,” said Kenneth McElwain, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science who specializes in public opinion. “If the number of reported cases in Tokyo continues to go up, then we may see greater demand for the national government to step in.”Relatively speaking, Japan has been unscathed, with only around 1,500 confirmed cases in a country of more than 120 million. That compares with almost 86,000 cases in the U.S., 47,000 in Germany and almost 12,000 in the U.K.Japan reported more than 100 new cases on Friday, the largest one-day increase since January, according to the health ministry. The Defense Ministry sent troops to help quarantine at Narita International Airport on Saturday, and to transport people entering the country to shelters where they will be tested for the virus.Abe ConferenceMore than 60 new cases were confirmed in Tokyo on Saturday, the biggest daily increase, Kyodo News reported, citing an official it didn’t identify. There were at least 40 new infections of the virus in each of the previous three days, according to official figures. That spike has made the capital the epicenter of the outbreak in a country that so far has avoided the worst of the pandemic.“I’d like to ask residents to refrain from being in enclosed spaces, crowded places or close contact with each other until April 12,” Koike said at a news conference. “I want the people of Tokyo to keep calm and buy only what they need, and to understand that we’re taking these necessary measures to protect their lives, and the lives of their loved ones.”Abe is due to hold a news conference at 6 p.m. in Tokyo later on Saturday.The rising numbers and Koike’s exhortation appear to have changed the mood, even fueling panic buying in supermarkets across the capital. Even so, it’s difficult to gauge how effective the move will be, given that she lacks the legal authority available to leaders in other nations to force businesses to close or keep people at home.Drunken RevelersAt stake is whether Tokyo’s citizens heed the warning — and whether the city might end up like New York, another major international metro area that’s been broadsided by the outbreak. One concern is younger Japanese — the most likely group to be asymptomatic spreaders of the infection — ignoring Koike’s call.“Even though the governor made this request, people are going out at night,” Hideo Yamada, a lawyer, said on a Fuji Television broadcast. “The problem will be how much of that happens this weekend.”Hiroshi Yasuda, a shopper in Sugamo, said the call from Koike was too weak. “People aren’t going to take it seriously,” he said, adding that he’s been avoiding trains and drinking out less. “They’re stricter in the West. They need to close the busy districts in Ueno, Shibuya and Shinjuku!”Spring weekends are usually a festivity of eating and drinking, coming at the peak of the cherry blossom-viewing season. Many have speculated that the crowds of last week may have even led to the recent jump in new infections. As a result, perhaps, Koike has blocked access to some of the capital’s most famed cherry blossom spots this weekend, including the parks of Ueno and Yoyogi, where drunken revelers congregate for “hanami” parties.The banks of the cherry blossom-lined Meguro river, another popular hanami hotspot, were less crowded than usual Thursday evening. Illuminations have been canceled, and areas where people normally sit and drink were cordoned off with rope. Instead of beer, many were conspicuously carrying packs of toilet paper, which had been restocked at the nearby Don Quijote supermarket.State of Non-EmergencyAbe reiterated Friday that Japan does not yet need to declare a state of emergency, which would give regional authorities greater power to close businesses and issue shelter-in-place directives. Even so, that might not be enough, according to Yamada. “Under Japanese law, even if an emergency is declared, you can ask people to refrain from doing things, but there is no power to punish them,” he said.That would include citizens like Emi Satake, a company worker, who said she was moving house on Sunday and had no intention of altering her plans. “I’m not changing it,” she said. “That’s the only day I can do it so it can’t be helped.”Some businesses are responding to the call. Starbucks Corp. will close hundreds of stores in Tokyo and nearby prefectures this weekend. Toho Co. will shutter its cinemas, while retailing giant Aeon Co. will close its malls. Even the iconic Shibuya 109 teen fashion department store will stay closed. The voluntary steps are reminiscent of those taken in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and nuclear plant explosion, when companies and households responded to calls to reduce power consumption.To a certain extent, Koike and Abe, for now, are relying on the country’s propensity to follow orders, according to McElwain.“If Governor Koike’s request to avoid unnecessary mingling actually alters people’s behavior, then it may well be the case that social pressures are quite strong here, even without legal penalties,” he said. “That many department stores, movie theaters, and the like, are shutting down or reducing hours suggests that ‘shaming’ is a powerful deterrent.”Panic buying after Koike’s speech on Wednesday also jolted many out of their complacency, with shoppers seeking not just toilet paper and masks, but instant noodles and canned foods. In a widely shared tweet, the National Supermarket Association of Japan criticized media coverage of the stockpiling, saying that logistics chains weren’t impacted, stores would remain open and shelves would soon be replenished.Nature may even lend a helping hand. The Japan Meteorological Agency is predicting a turn in the weather, with recent high temperatures set to halve by Sunday. Even better, late-season snowfall is forecast for the metropolitan area.(Adds Kyodo report on new Tokyo cases in the seventh paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Yahoo Finance speaks with Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol on the state of his restaurant business amidst the coronavirus.
Grubhub founder and CEO Matt Maloney talks with Yahoo Finance about how the food delivery business is navigating the coronavirus pandemic.
Yahoo Finance catches up with Yum! Brands CEO David Gibbs to discuss how his business is faring during the coronavirus.
(Bloomberg) -- While most money managers hunt for bargains in the market upheaval, Jonas Kron is searching for good guys.“We’ve sought to find companies that invest in their employees rather than treat them as disposable,” said Kron, who helps oversee $3 billion as director of shareholder advocacy at Boston-based Trillium Asset Management.The drive toward sustainable investing has shifted in response to the coronavirus, which has spread to 170 countries. ESG investors such as Kron haven’t quit caring about limiting fossil fuels, cultivating diverse workforces and reducing the use of plastics, and they’ve always taken an interest in worker welfare.But they’re focusing more now on how companies treat employees during the pandemic. While the Federal Reserve commits trillions to rescue financial firms and the U.S. Congress readies checks for a couple thousand each to working Americans, Kron is one of a group from Wall Street’s buy-side that sees it as part of the job to look out for them.“The American worker, who’s the backbone of the economy, has been in a tenuous position,” Kron said. “The coronavirus is making apparent to a lot of people the consequences of not having a significant social net.”Companies’ interactions with employees during the health crisis also preoccupies John Streur, chief executive officer of Eaton Vance Corp.’s responsible-investment unit, Calvert Research and Management. Among the issues are how employers deal with contract workers, whether they cut loose employees or keep paying them during the pandemic, whether they provide adequate medical insurance and if they allow working from home.“People will remember how companies treated their workers and how they behaved within the community,” Streur said.Oil CollapseAt the same time, Benjamin Allen of Parnassus Investments is keeping an eye on the communities most affected by the historic fall in oil prices.“Just think about the mom-and-pop stores, the restaurants in West Texas and other communities that were booming just a year ago,” Allen said on a conference call with investors last week.The funds the three represent have mostly beat the S&P 500’s 23.9% drop this year through Tuesday. The Calvert Equity Fund is down 17.8%. Parnassus’s Core Equity Fund has tumbled 20.6%, while Trillium’s ESG Global Fund has lost 23%.The landscape for American workers looks grim. Airlines, manufacturers and local businesses are among the businesses that have cut back operations or shuttered them entirely to stem the spread of Covid-19. The national jobless rate could surge above 8% in the next three months, according to Bloomberg News calculations. Other estimates look worse. James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said unemployment could hit 30% in the second quarter.Among the 100 largest U.S. employers, 36% have adopted some form of paid sick leave and 28% continue to pay hourly employees affected by changes in operational hours and closures, according to an analysis by JUST Capital, an ESG research group that’s tracking how U.S. workers are faring during the pandemic.“A number of companies have updated their policies as many as four times since the virus outbreak,” said Alison Omens, the nonprofit group’s chief strategy officer.The three leaders in ESG investing said they keep tabs on companies they believe are doing the right things.Relief FundKron said he likes Microsoft Corp.’s requirement that contract companies provide paid leave to their workers.Streur cited financial-software maker Workday Inc. and Shopify Inc., an online showcase for merchants, as helping to blunt the economic effect of coronavirus.Workday, with 12,200 employees, announced a one-time cash bonus equivalent to two weeks pay for each active worker. The company said it’s also creating a relief fund, expanding benefits like paid sick leave and childcare and giving employees access to a meditation app.“That’s an example of a company taking an initial step that’s more comprehensive than those who are giving employees $1,000 to ensure they have the right office supplies,” Streur said.Allen lauded Waste Management Inc. and Starbucks Corp. for safeguarding employees and customers. Waste Management said it would guarantee as many as 40 hours of pay a week for employees during the pandemic. Starbucks said it will expand emergency pay for U.S. staff. The coffee chain said it will also offer “additional pay replacement” for as many as 26 weeks to employees unable to return to work.One thing the three investors have in common: a distaste for stock buybacks, which they said put executive bonuses ahead of investment in workers.“We need to tell companies they need to use their cash to take care of employees,” Streuer said. “In the long term, that will have a positive impact on the stock.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Bill Ackman said he has invested a portion of his personal wealth to help manufacture antibody testing kits produced by Covaxx, a newly formed subsidiary of closely-held United Biomedical Inc., amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.Ackman has repeatedly called for a complete shutdown of the U.S. for 30-days to help combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus. He has also called for antibody testing, like the one Covaxx develops, across the country to determine who has been contracted the virus.“The key to a successful reopening beyond the maintenance of social distancing, hand washing, mask use and other related practices is a broad-based testing regime and tracing program,” Ackman said in a letter on Wednesday to investors in his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management.“This will enable the inevitable viral breakouts to be identified early and minimized with localized quarantines, reducing the impact on the overall U.S. economy and the need for future shutdowns,” he said.HedgesAckman made a roughly 100 times return on hedges he had put in place to protect Pershing Squares’ $6.6 billion portfolio against the impact of the virus, according to the letter.His firm paid roughly $27 million for the hedges, which were made in the form of purchases of credit protection on investment-grade and high-yield credit indices. The hedges generated $2.6 billion in proceeds by the time he exited them on March 23.He said he has since redeployed the capital by investing further in his portfolio companies, including Lowe’s Cos., Agilent Technologies Inc., Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Restaurant Brands International Inc., and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. He also reinvested in Starbucks Corp.“The proceeds of the hedges have enabled us to become a substantially larger shareholder of a number of our portfolio companies, and to add some new investments, all at deeply discounted prices,” he said.Ackman said in an interview on CNBC on March 18 that “hell is coming” if drastic measures were not taken to combat the virus. A week later, he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV he had made a $2.5 billion “recovery bet” on a bounceback, after gaining confidence “that the president and his team are heading in the right direction.”Covaxx has already deployed over 100,000 Covid-19 tests in China, and is currently testing in San Miguel County, Colorado. The company believes it can scale the tests to hundreds of millions in “relative short order,” Ackman said. The billionaire made the investment through the Pershing Square Foundation, which manages his personal wealth. He did not disclose the size of the investment.Health officials in San Miguel County, home of the popular ski-town Telluride, teamed up with United Biomedical earlier this month to collect blood samples to test the kits and provide free screening to people in the area.The tests can determine whether a person has been infected by Covid-19 within hours, rather than the days it takes for the current, drive-thru nasal swab tests.Broader antibody based screen will give an accurate estimate of what percentage of the population is infected, Ackman said. That will allow more accurate data on the virus’s characteristics, such as how many people become critically ill and how many have only limited symptoms.“Imagine how differently and effectively we could have managed this crisis if we actually knew who was infected,” he said.United Biomedical has spent years producing vaccines for animals and working on human treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It manufacturers its test kits on Long Island, New York.The company has been around for more than three decades. Its animal vaccines have been used to protect billions of farm animals from foot-and-mouth disease and to chemically castrate pigs. It also has developed blood-screening kits and a test for SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.“We believe it is inevitable that in order to halt the advance of the virus and preserve the ability of local, city, and state health-care systems to deal with the volume of critical care patients, nearly all states will eventually initiate strong-form, non-essential business closures and stay-at-home regulations,” Ackman said.(Updates with additional details in the final paragraph; An earlier version of this report corrected the return on Ackman’s hedges)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The age of the virtual AGM is upon us.Amid lockdowns, travel bans and restrictions on indoor gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus, companies are shifting their annual general meetings online.Starbucks Corp. last week converted its annual gathering into a virtual meeting, and Warren Buffett has told shareholders they won’t be able to physically attend Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s event in May, with proceedings to be live-streamed. Regulators in the U.S. and Australia have both signaled support for virtual AGMs amid the widening virus curbs.The move is opening up the annual events, which are often poorly attended and over-represented by retirees, to a wider pool of investors. And it’s accelerating the adoption of new technology as even companies that resisted embracing the digital era now have no choice.Offering access “to people near and wide, whether they’re watching it from work or in a different country, automatically gives you a much broader representation of your shareholders,” said Susan Massasso, chief growth and brand officer at A2 Milk Co., an infant formula producer which has held four annual meetings with online access. “As a consequence there’s a much more broad and diverse range of questions and comments.”Attendance at A2 Milk’s 2019 event jumped to 708 people from 444 a year earlier, and included 528 online participants, according to Link Administration Holdings Ltd., which offers services including facilitating annual meetings.“Our attendance, including in-person and virtual, has been increasing over those years, so it’s clearly working,” Massasso said.Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-largest miner, on Wednesday advised investors not to attend a scheduled May meeting in Brisbane in person and said it was investigating the prospect of offering remote access.Link’s analysis of more than 1,800 meetings held in Australia last year shows how few people typically show up, with the events attracting an average of 0.2% of shareholders. Most gatherings are also held during working hours, meaning retirees are typically the best-represented group, the study found.There’s been a spike in demand for virtual meetings from markets including Australia and the U.K. as companies seek to respond to social distancing measures, said Lysa McKenna, co-chief executive officer for corporate markets at Sydney-based Link.“Directors who’ve been nervous to engage solely through a virtual technology platform are now accepting that could be the only way to be able to engage with investors,” she said. “What’s changed here is this will become an acceptable form of a technology solution as a result of Covid-19.” Some clients have doubled or tripled attendance by offering virtual access, she said.There’s a potential downside, however, according to Brynn O’Brien, executive director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility. The online format could make it easier for companies to avoid repeated challenges on the same topic and limit opportunities to spar with directors, said O’Brien, whose group has frequently used annual meetings to demand greater action to address climate change.There’s a danger of a “more constricted, narrower and less constructive debate” if companies use the tools to muzzle dissent, she said. “It may just end up being a piece of theater engineered by the company to be within their comfort zone.”In response to the virus outbreak, some companies want to abandon in-person gatherings altogether.“Our preference is for the AGM to be virtual only,” said Andrew Cole, chief executive officer of Adelaide-based copper producer OZ Minerals Ltd., which has offered web access for the past two years and is seeking legal advice to move a meeting scheduled for April 17 entirely online.(Adds Rio Tinto decision in 8th paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
In New York most restaurants are still offering takeout. Chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio says this is a bad idea.
(Bloomberg) -- Activist investor Bill Ackman said he has made a “recovery bet” on the economy, investing $2.5 billion in equities, including upping his positions in several of his portfolio companies and reinvesting in others like Starbucks Corp.The billionaire investor said he has taken off all the hedges that he put in place for his Pershing Square Capital Management, through shorts in the credit market. Those hedges were put in place to offset the effects of the coronavirus, he said.Ackman said his hedge fund has used the proceeds to reinvest over the past 10 to 12 days in several of his portfolio companies, including Lowe’s Cos., Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.“That’s about the most bullish thing we’ve done,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “We are all long. No shorts, you know, betting on the country.”Ackman has called for a federally mandated nationwide shutdown over the next 30 days rather than letting individual states implement their own measures for tackling the coronavirus pandemic. He reiterated that call Monday and urged for increased testing for the virus across the country.“I built a lot of confidence over the last week that the president and his team are heading in the right direction,” Ackman said, adding that he had no “inside knowledge” of what the federal government will do next.Chipotle, ZoomOne portfolio business he wasn’t able to increase his position in was Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which he said was trading at “crazy” prices. He said Chipotle is one of the businesses that stands to gain from the current crisis as people turn to delivery apps amid self-quarantine orders across the country.“Some companies are actually going to be long-term beneficiaries. It’s not just Zoom,” he said, referring to the video conferencing company whose shares have soared 130% this year. “Chipotle, we think, is going to be a very long-term beneficiary of what’s taken place here.”He said the sell-off on companies such as Hilton have been overdone. Pershing Square is looking at the cash flow of companies, like Hilton, which don’t carry a lot of debt, and discounting their earnings over the next 12 to 18 months. He said that shaves about 5% off their value, not 50%.Boeing, Buffett“If you can buy Hilton at $60 when it was trading at almost $120, it’s going to be a bargain,” he said.Others, like Boeing Co., will need support to get through the current turbulence, either through government aid or the private sector, from someone such as Buffett, according to Ackman.“If Buffett will do it, I don’t think the Treasury secretary should,” he said.(Updates with Ackman’s comments in seventh paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Starbucks is boosting the wages of its employees who choose to work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Starbucks (SBUX) is temporarily suspending indoor access to all of its 15,000-plus U.S. cafés and will move to a drive-thru and delivery only as the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread.
(Bloomberg) -- Coronavirus is sending Americans back home for dinner, creating a crisis for a restaurant industry that was already slowing down.The viral outbreak is wreaking havoc as diners isolate themselves at home and states restrict operations to carryout and delivery only. Large swaths of the industry are facing weeks, or perhaps months, with reduced or nonexistent revenue.This is a grim prospect for restaurants that were already struggling with brutal competition for a stagnant pool of customers. To make matters worse, some chains have opted to expand aggressively in recent years, which has over-saturated the market and helped to fuel an increase in restaurant debt levels, increasing the risk factor for many companies.Add rising wages to the mix -- which are likely to continue climbing due to the sudden, urgent need for expanded sick leave and benefits -- and the industry is poised for a shakeout.“You’re going to see a lot of bankruptcies,” said Michael Halen, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, adding that smaller chains that managed to hang on because of cheap debt are the most at risk. “You’re going to see more chains go under.”The looming bankruptcies are a major problem for landlords that have relied on restaurants as stable tenants as other parts of the retail landscape are decimated by e-commerce. In recent years, fast-food chains have taken up more and more space at malls and shopping centers as apparel companies and department stores struggle. But with coronavirus now shutting down both restaurants and retailers, landlords will likely have to choose between either cutting rents or losing tenants.“Its definitely a concern,” said Vince Tibone, an analyst at Green Street Advisors. “The most likely outcome is landlords will have to concede on lower rent for a period of time.”‘Oversupply’The growth in fast-food restaurants had already slowed to the lowest rate in at least 20 years in 2019 as companies start to curb the rapid growth of the previous years. Still, capacity still outstrips demand, according to Noah Shaffer, senior director at real estate services firm Confidant Asset Management.“When you just look at what consumers can spend in a market and how many restaurants are already there serving it, you start seeing there is an oversupply,” Shaffer said. “And that happens in quite a few markets.”For years, the biggest fast-food companies, like Subway Restaurants and Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. expanded aggressively across the U.S. -- peppering cities and suburbs with new locations on what seemed like every corner.Much of the expansion was financed with cheap debt as companies took advantage of low interest rates. Restaurants in the Russell 2000 Restaurants Index more than doubled their debt load as a share of earnings over the last five years, reaching a record high in 2019 after an accounting rule change required them to record more leases on their balance sheets. Even before the accounting change, the ratio had trended upwards in in recent years.“If they are pretty levered up already, they don’t have ability to tap into additional capital to sustain,” Shaffer said. “The risk and concern for some landlords is starting already.”Restaurant equity, meanwhile, has taken a brutal blow in recent weeks. The Russell 2000 Restaurants Index had plunged more than 50% this month, with companies like Jack in the Box Inc., Brinker International Inc. and Denny’s Corp. registering declines of about 70% in March. On the S&P 500 Index, Starbucks Corp. McDonald’s Corp., and Yum! Brands Inc. had all declined about 20% or more in the same period. Restaurant stocks broadly rebounded on Thursday along with U.S. equity markets.In a sign of the rising levels of distress, the National Restaurant Association, an industry chamber, sent a letter to President Trump on Wednesday calling for relief including tax credits and increased access to funding. The group sees a decline in sales by $225 billion in next three months, leading to 5 million to 7 million job losses. For context, it says it currently employs 15.6 million in the U.S. and is the nation’s second largest employer.It’s clear the pain is already starting: Union Square Hospitality announced it laid off 2,000 workers after closing its restaurants which include LoBall and Gramercy Tavern.Companies are also moving to immediately curb expansion. Darden Restaurant Inc. -- the owner of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse -- told investors in a conference call Thursday that it’s halting all new restaurant construction. The company also pulled its forecast for the year and suspended its dividend.At the same time, the debt issue is likely to get much worse very quickly. Darden, Denny’s Corp., and Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc. recently announced they’re accessing or increasing credit lines. The biggest companies are seeing an impact as well: Starbucks said it will temporarily exceed the top of its self-imposed debt ratio as the outbreak has an impact on earnings, although the company isn’t changing its overall leverage policy.“There are a lot of chains that are in trouble,” Bloomberg Intelligence’s Halen said. “A lot of these restaurant chains and restaurant groups have a ton of debt and they are not equipped to deal with a situation where basically sales are getting shut down overnight”(Updates share trading in 13th paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected Starbucks leverage position.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.