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Record demand for online grocery shopping amid the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the apps for grocery pickup and delivery services up the charts. Walmart Grocery, as a result, has now hit an all-time high in downloads -- grabbing the No. 1 ranking position across all Shopping apps in the U.S. on April 5, 2020, and surpassing Amazon by 20%, according to a new analysis from app intelligence firm App Annie. The Walmart Grocery application retained that No. 1 position for at least two days, the firm said, citing data from both the Google Play store and the Apple App Store, combined.
(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia and Russia have agreed on the outline of a deal to cut oil production in an effort to lift the market from a pandemic-driven collapse.The two nations appear to have buried differences that led to a huge supply surplus, delegates said. The rapprochement came just before the extraordinary virtual meeting of OPEC and its allies kicked off.It’s however still unclear how some of the obstacles will be cleared. Saudi Arabia was pushing for any supply curbs to be measured against a higher baseline -- its April production of above 12 million barrels a day, delegates said earlier. At the same time, Russia showed no sign of weakening its insistence that a deal was only possible if the U.S. cuts output too.Oil surged as much as 11%.Moscow, whose grudge against U.S. shale could still arguably prevent a final deal, said Wednesday it’s willing to reduce output by 1.6 million barrels a day, or roughly 15%. Saudi Arabia was also discussing a cut of 15% to 17% on Thursday, delegates said, asking not to be identified because the talks were private.However, the two sides were still disagreeing over the baseline for those reductions, the delegates said. It’s a debate that could make a huge difference to the size of the production cut. As the Saudis have pushed for their contribution to be measured against current record output, Russia has favored using an average of the first quarter, when the kingdom pumped about 9.8 million barrels a day.At stake is the fate of entire oil-dependent economies, thousands of companies and millions of oil industry jobs as the OPEC+ coalition and Group of 20 energy ministers gather in two key video conferences this week. Crude futures have plunged to the lowest levels in almost two decades as the lockdowns around the world slash oil demand by as much as 70% in some places and Russia and Saudi Arabia battle for their share of a shrinking market.See also: Goldman Warns Global Oil Output Cuts of 10M B/D Won’t Be EnoughWith Trump pressing hard for a deal, and the whole Group of 20 involved too, a lot is riding on this week’s negotiations. Following the OPEC+ meeting, Saudi Arabia will lead a virtual conference of G-20 energy ministers on Friday at 3 p.m. Riyadh time.So far, the Kremlin has insisted the U.S. should do more than just let market forces reduce its record production. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has put huge diplomatic pressure on Russia and Saudi Arabia, while saying America’s cut will happen “automatically” as low prices put America’s shale patch in dire straits.“I think they’ll straighten it out -- a lot of progress has been made over the past week,” Trump said at a White House briefing Wednesday. “We have a tremendously powerful energy industry in this country now, number one in the world, and I don’t want those jobs being lost.”The pressure on Saudi Arabia to prop up oil prices has been immense, with U.S. government officials and lawmakers all abandoning their traditional stance that cheap gasoline is good for America. Republican lawmakers in particular have sent pointed letters to Riyadh, demanding quick action. On Wednesday evening, a group of 48 Congressmen wrote to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman saying the kingdom was “artificially” depressing global oil prices, hurting American interests.Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world that can boast crude production that’s profitable in the current environment. But the kingdom’s economy is at risk, too, as Riyadh needs much higher prices to fund its budget. So does Russia.Oil FloodThe two largest oil exporters broke a historic pact to curb production in March, unleashing a flood of crude that’s overwhelming storage facilities worldwide just as the Covid-19 crisis wipes out demand. Russia argued at the time that it wasn’t willing to keep sacrificing production at its companies to prop up prices while shale explorers in the U.S. benefited from the cuts without contributing to them.Moscow hasn’t walked back from that view, but its apparent movement toward a deal after days of intense negotiation coincided with a slew of data showing the decline in oil demand caused by coronavirus lockdowns is deepening. Russia doesn’t have enough storage capacity to keep pumping crude if no one is buying it.While China is expected to ramp up oil processing in April, providing a glimmer of hope to the market, the move likely won’t negate historic declines in the U.S., India and elsewhere.U.S. demand now has fallen to 14.4 million barrels a day, the lowest level in data going back to 1990 and down more than 30% from pre-crisis levels, government figures showed Wednesday. In India, the world’s third biggest oil consumer, official data showed demand plunged nearly 18% in March, despite the fact the country went into lockdown only on March 25. And refiners privately said demand was down as much as 70% in early April.The staggering losses, coupled with anecdotal declines of up to 70% in Europe, mean the world may be consuming even less oil than previously thought, traders said. In normal times, the world uses about 100 million barrels a day, but some traders believe it’s consuming just 65 million, or even less.“Ultimately, the size of the demand shock is simply too large for a coordinated supply cut,” said Damien Courvalin, oil analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The cut may prop up prices briefly but “this support will soon give way to lower prices with downside risk to our near-term WTI $20 a barrel forecast.”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) -- Cara McIlwaine recently lost her marketing job due to the economic collapse wrought by the coronavirus. Finding a new gig at the moment isn't easy, and it doesn't help that she's had to spend just as much time lately on another essential project -- securing an online grocery delivery slot. For four days last month, McIlwaine, who has a toddler at home, tried and failed to secure a delivery time from Fresh Direct Inc., resorting to obscure Reddit forums to discern the time when new slots came available. The screen listing available delivery windows would invariably freeze, and when it came back, everything was taken.“It’s just like Ticketmaster,” she said. “I genuinely don’t think I will ever get a time again.”Across the country, millions of consumers are turning to Fresh Direct, Instacart Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Peapod and other services to fill their fridges via online delivery rather than brave going to a supermarket. But many are finding that the online grocery networks have been completely knocked flat by a triple whammy of unprecedented demand, unreliable inventory and unavailable employees. While early reports from the pandemic suggested that shuttered stores and shut-in consumers would be a boon for e-commerce, the sudden growth spurt has grocers scrambling to soothe harried shoppers and worried whether disgruntled first-time web shoppers will go back online once the crisis passes.“Everyone is struggling,” said Brendan Witcher, a digital strategy analyst at Forrester Research. “Supply chains are designed to not break from a single incident, but now multiple incidents are hitting all at once and that has caused a breakdown. People in the industry know the reasons, but the average consumer does not know why there is a problem. All they know is this is a bad experience.”Fresh Direct said in a social media posting that it’s “working around the clock” to fill orders but it has many fewer employees. “An easy solution is not in sight,” it said. Before the pandemic, online shoppers accounted for about 5% of the $800 billion U.S. grocery market, with most online orders going to Walmart, Instacart and Amazon. The social-distancing era could easily double that, some analysts thought. A survey from RBC Capital found that more than a third of those who have shopped for groceries online over the past month were doing so for the first time.Such rosy projections, though, don’t square with the angst-ridden reality many people now face. Nearly one in three Americans surveyed by market researcher CivicScience on April 6 said they had a problem with a recent online order. That explains why the likelihood that a shopper will use a specific service again plummeted from 74% in August to 43% in March, according to Brick Meets Click, a retail sales and marketing firm.Take Steve Faktor, who runs an innovation consultancy in New York. He’s a big fan of Trader Joe’s, but the quirky chain doesn't deliver in New York City anymore and Faktor could do without the long queues and masks. So he tried Fresh Direct, only to be stymied by a dearth of delivery slots.“People like me are searching for options right now,” he said. “I know times are challenging, but it’s a missed opportunity for them.”Mason Kalfus, a 44-year-old legal recruiter in Washington, D.C., has taken to shopping at Fresh Direct, Amazon and occasionally Peapod or Instacart. “All of the services now are a disaster,” he says, ticking off his grievances. He’s annoyed at Amazon, which fulfills some online orders through its Whole Foods Market chain, for allowing him to fill an entire cart when there were no delivery slots available, “so I just wasted all that time.”Fresh Direct — which doesn’t operate any stores and delivers from warehouses along the East Coast — earned his ire for not communicating what items in his basket were out of stock until he submitted his order, like the low-sodium imported lacey swiss cheese. So instead of $100 of groceries, he ended up with just $23 worth. Kalfus is one of many shoppers hedging their slot bets, downloading multiple apps and refreshing order pages at all hours of the day in the hopes that a precious window will open. Downloads of Walmart’s grocery app rose 164% over the past five weeks, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg, while the number of active shoppers on Instacart’s platform has grown from 200,000 to more than 350,000. “The customer demand we expected over the next two-to-four years has happened on the Instacart platform in the last two-to-four weeks,” CEO Apoorva Mehta said. Traffic to Peapod, which is owned by the U.S. subsidiary of European grocer Ahold Delhaize, has risen as much as fivefold on certain days recently, e-commerce chief J.J. Fleeman said in an interview.But all that traffic means little if customers can’t buy anything -- delivery slots for Peapod in some high-demand zip codes are sold out for two weeks, Fleeman said, so it’s adding drivers and has ordered several thousand new wrist-mounted mobile devices that help associates fulfill orders.Walmart has compressed its window of pickup slots from one week to two or three days to ease the burden on its more than 40,000 online order-pickers and reduce the potential for out-of-stock items. Instacart has introduced a service called “Fast and Flexible” whereby customers can get orders picked by the next available Instacart shopper, rather than schedule it for a specific window. While some shoppers say they sympathize, others are not so kind, and conspiracy theories now abound on social media and Reddit forums about nefarious delivery algorithms, along with accusations that online grocers are giving longtime users short shrift to lure new customers on board. It doesn’t help that some workers at Instacart and Shipt, a delivery service owned by Target Corp. that delivers to its customers and those of other retailers, have walked off the job to protest what they claim are unsafe working conditions. Some intrepid web developers have even created browser extensions -- bots, basically -- that will scour delivery slots and ping you when one opens up.Kelly Caruso, Shipt's CEO, said the company will supply safety kits with gloves and hand sanitizer to those who pick groceries in high-risk areas. Instacart said it "absolutely" respects the rights of workers to voice their concerns.Some smaller grocers are going old school to keep shoppers happy. Caputo’s, a chain of seven supermarkets in the Chicago suburbs, had to suspend home deliveries when it got too busy. But when an elderly person who’s a good customer called, Matt Idstein, the company’s e-commerce director, took her order, found her items in the aisles, threw the bags in his own car and dropped it all off at her house. “She thought I was just a new delivery driver,” Idstein says. “She really had no idea.”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.
To stay connected amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown, people across the world are relying heavily on the Internet, which brightens up prospects for cloud players.
(Bloomberg) -- There has been concern for months in Silicon Valley that the eventual Democratic presidential candidate would be someone who wanted to break up large technology companies. Bernie Sanders’s decision Wednesday to end his campaign effectively ends that scenario, leaving a presumptive nominee—former vice president Joe Biden—who is comparatively content with the way Silicon Valley does business.The turn in the primary race corresponds with an upheaval in political priorities due to the Covid-19 crisis. It’s still uncertain how the aftermath of the pandemic will play out, but the political landscape the industry faces in 2020 has almost certainly been transformed over the last six weeks.The primary process first took a hostile turn to the tech industry last spring when Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a plan to force Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. to spin off parts of their businesses. Sanders, the democratic socialist senator from Vermont, later said he would “absolutely” aim to break up large technology companies if elected. At the same time, multiple investigations into allegations of anticompetitive behavior from large technology companies were accelerating.For his part, Biden has called it “premature” to call for breaking up companies like Facebook. The former vice president has criticized tech companies and their leaders, particularly Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, telling the New York Times editorial board that he had “never been a big Zuckerberg fan.” In the same interview, Biden suggested revoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law protecting tech companies from legal liability for what their users post. The industry has made defending the law one of its top political priorities.But Biden’s attacks have never provoked the concerns as those from Sanders and Warren. He has deep ties to the tech industry; his former director of communications, Jay Carney, is now Amazon’s top spokesman. Biden has also repeatedly framed his administration as a continuation of the Obama years, and several former Obama officials have set up shop in Silicon Valley.While the tech industry rank-and-file mostly donated to the industry’s antagonists, its executives seemed most excited about younger moderates Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker. Biden is a happy consolation prize.An open question is who Biden surrounds himself with now that he seems to have locked up the nomination. Neither Warren nor Sanders has endorsed him, and may hold out to push Biden to pick staff supporting their priorities.The anti-tech momentum may also fade because of the coronavirus pandemic. While state and federal antitrust investigations will continue, new antitrust rules will likely take a back seat to more economic rescue legislation. Tech services seem even more vital when large swaths of the population are confined to their houses. And Google, Facebook, Apple Inc., and others have been quick to offer help in various ways.President Donald Trump has been vocally critical of technology companies, and he’s widely unpopular among tech workers. He has regularly called for crackdowns on social media companies and other perceived enemies in the industry. But his top policy achievement, a major corporate tax cut, helped send tech stock prices soaring. (They have since come back down after coronavirus fears have sunk the entire market.) Trump has also seemed to pick favorites among the tech sector, cozying up to Oracle Corp. and Apple, while repeatedly criticizing Amazon and Facebook.Silicon Valley voters generally lean Democratic. But it’s even harder than usual to predict what the upcoming election will look like. Even basic questions about the mechanics of voting remain unresolved. But for now, the things the tech industry was worried about at the beginning of this year seem like a distant memory.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.
Expectations of a drastic reduction in output are growing after Russia’s energy ministry said Moscow was ready to reduce output by 1.6 million barrels a day as part of a deal that includes producers in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, and beyond. This prompted Algerian Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab, who holds OPEC’s rotating presidency, to say that the emergency meeting of the OPEC+ coalition on Thursday will discuss a “massive output reduction.” “While this is around 15% of their total output and would be a meaningful cut, it would still be a struggle for the whole of OPEC+ to reach 10MMbbls/d, and therefore require the help of other oil producers if they are to get near this target,” ING analysts said in a research note.
(Bloomberg) -- Chief executive officers and founders from a dozen of some of the U.K.’s largest tech startups have warned their sector is at risk unless the government urgently changes its coronavirus stimulus package.In a letter sent to U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, startups including Deliveroo and Citymapper said they fall through the cracks of the more-than 330 billion-pound ($409 billion) Covid-19 rescue package pledged by the government last month.The young, and in many cases loss-making companies say they can’t qualify for corporate finance loans, which require mature credit ratings and high profits, but that they’re also too big for small business relief.“Our sector will be crucial to helping the U.K. economy bounce back quickly after the pandemic,” the executives jointly wrote in the letter. “However, it has not yet received government support, unlike our competitors in France and Germany.”The letter is signed by the bosses of Babylon Healthcare Services Ltd., BenevolentAI Ltd., Blockchain Access U.K. Ltd., Bulb Energy Ltd., Citymapper, Darktrace Ltd., Deliveroo, Faculty Science Ltd., Five AI Ltd., GoCardless Ltd., Graphcore Ltd. and Improbable Worlds Ltd.They say the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme are inaccessible.Finance minister Sunak should “urgently set up a taskforce meeting” of companies and Treasury officials to work out how they and similar ventures can access government relief, they added.Representatives for the Treasury didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Critical WorkersDeliveroo is in a particularly complex position. Britain’s tough-talking merger watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, has previously thrown up potential obstacles to a proposed $575 million minority investment from Amazon.com Inc. The funding would give the meal-delivery company a much-needed lifeline.But Deliveroo’s employees have also been designated as critical workers by the government and act as an entirely different kind of lifeline to vulnerable people.Citymapper, an app that helps people navigate public transport networks around the world, was reported by Sky News in January to be exploring a potential sale. Its business is built around selling travel passes to make regular journeys cheaper, but cities coming to a standstill this year will have made this model even more challenging. (Updates with context in final three paragraphs)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) -- Oil demand in the world’s third-biggest consumer has collapsed by as much as 70% as India endures the planet’s largest national lockdown, according to officials at the country’s refiners.The estimate for the current demand loss is a stark reminder of the challenge facing oil producers as they haggle over a deal to cut supply and prop up the global energy industry. Consumption for the entire month could average about 50% below last year’s levels but that’s based on India’s three-week lockdown ending April 15 as planned, according to the officials.The reduction equates to a staggering 3.1 million barrels a day of lost oil demand, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. To put that in perspective, it means the decline in India alone would eat away a third of the 10 million barrel-a-day supply cut that President Donald Trump last week touted as being under consideration by the world’s biggest crude producers in talks due to culminate this week.“This is an unprecedented situation, I have neither seen nor heard anything like this in my entire life,” said R.S. Sharma, former chairman of Oil & Natural Gas Corp., India’s biggest producer, which also has two refining units. “There’s lot of turmoil and things are going to worsen,” said Sharma, an oil industry veteran who helmed ONGC during the 2008 financial crisis.India’s March 25 decision to impose a three-week lockdown on its 1.3 billion people was the most far-reaching measure undertaken by any government to curb the spread of the coronavirus. It has helped plunge global energy markets deeper into turmoil just as hopes had started to surface that resurgent Chinese demand could offer some support as the world’s biggest consumer emerged from its own lockdown.The scale of the demand loss also puts into perspective India’s plans to add to its strategic reserves, a sign of its support for the global measures to help stabilize the oil market. The country has only 15 million barrels of spare capacity in its strategic reserves.Spokespeople for the oil ministry and state refiners Bharat Petroleum Corp. and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. didn’t respond to requests for comment.“Our demand is running at 30% to 40% of normal, varying from product to product,” said Sanjiv Singh, chairman of the biggest state refiner, Indian Oil Corp. “We will get a boost when things start opening up, but probably not to the pre-Covid level. That may still take some time.”For now, India’s streets remain deserted, factories shut and cargo movement has pretty much ground to a halt with transportation of goods by road collapsing to less than 10% of normal levels.The shutdown is catastrophic for fuel demand. The three state refiners that account for more than 90% of the nation’s fuel sales are predicting a decline of about 60% in gasoline consumption in April compared with last year and a 40% slump in diesel use, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential. They’re banking on an improvement in demand in the second half of the month as the lockdown ends.India consumed 4.48 million barrels a day of oil in April 2019, including about 690,000 barrels a day of gasoline and 1.8 million barrels of diesel, according to government data.Deal HopesOptimism that producers are inching closer to a global deal has helped prop up oil prices that collapsed more than 60% since the beginning of the year. The U.S. on Tuesday said its production will drop dramatically in 2020, helping pave the way for Saudi Arabia and Russia to coordinate output cuts at Thursday’s virtual OPEC+ meeting. Moscow said Wednesday it’s willing to reduce output by 1.6 million barrels a day, or roughly 15%. On Friday, they’ll seek cooperation from other nations in a Group of 20 conference.However, even a cut by 10 million barrels a day may only dent the supply glut caused by the lockdown of billions of people around the world to slow the spread of the virus, which is estimated to have reduced demand by as much as 35 million barrels a day. The destruction of India’s oil consumption represents a significant share of that. An additional 4 million barrels a day of price induced shut-ins would still be necessary, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said on Wednesday.“India’s oil demand is falling off a cliff, as the whole nation has come to a standstill,” said Senthil Kumaran, an oil markets consultant at Facts Global Energy. “Demand for key oil products should shrink by 53% year-on-year to just 1.8 million barrels a day in April.”London-based consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. sees India’s total oil demand dropping by at least 1.5 million barrels a day in April, down about 30% from a year ago.Demand was already suffering before the lockdown as economic activity and travel slowed around the world. Diesel sales by India’s three biggest state-run fuel retailers declined by about a quarter in March. Gasoline sales were 17% lower while jet fuel sales plunged by a third as air travel was suspended. The only fuel showing growth was liquefied petroleum gas as people cook more at home.The collapse has forced refiners to slash operations by as much as half. And as demand has crashed, the government advised them late last month that they could invoke a rarely used legal clause to walk away from contracts to import crude oil.Indian Oil declared force majeure for some April crude shipments as it slashed processing rates at most of its refineries by as much as 30%. Before this, HPCL and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals sought refuge under the clause as plunging demand filled up storage, while BPCL was said to be considering a similar move.The steepest declines in demand are expected in the first half of the month and “in all likelihood, some form of social distancing will continue through mid-May, according to our sources, so we assume demand in May will be lower by 10%,” Energy Aspects analyst Sandra Octavia said. “We expect April Indian refinery runs to drop by over 40% from the previous month to just 3 million barrels a day.”(Updates with oil-deal developments from 12th 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) -- Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos made a surprise visit Wednesday to a company warehouse near Dallas, one of more than 100 sites around the U.S. where employees are toiling to meet a surge in online orders from customers sheltering at home.Photos of the world’s wealthiest man donning a face mask, jeans and a button-down shirt circulated on social media. He can be seen walking beneath conveyor belts and beside yellow bins. Some warehouse workers in masks took a moment to get selfies with their boss.Other employees wrote on social media that the executive failed to adhere to social-distancing guidelines put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19. In one image, he is followed closely by another person.Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the photos. Bezos was in the Dallas area Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to disclose Bezos’s location.Read more: Amazon Warehouse Warned Staff Not to Touch Shipments for 24 HoursBezos has maintained a fairly low profile through the crisis compared to other tech CEOs such as Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook. Bezos posted an MSNBC clip to his Instagram account on Wednesday that heralded an Amazon warehouse worker as its “Hero of the Day.” He also recently announced a $100 million donation to Feeding America to help meet demand for food at a time when donations from restaurants and other shuttered businesses are dropping.Amazon has emerged as an indispensable service during the Covid-19 pandemic. Customers can avoid crowded stores by ordering essentials online, though the retailer is taking weeks to deliver some items and many must-have products including toilet paper and hand sanitizer are out of stock. The company in March announced plans to hire 100,000 workers and give temporary pay bumps to meet surging demand.Amazon employees around the country have staged protests and walkouts to highlight their concerns about working conditions, including a lack of social distancing, protective gear, hand sanitizer and not enough time to clean their hands.The company has said it is enforcing social distancing guidelines in its facilities, checking employee temperatures at the start of shifts and stepping up cleaning. Amazon stresses it has enough masks and hand sanitizer for employees at all its facilities and staff can wash their hands without it jeopardizing their performance. Only a small number of workers have participated in protests, the company has also said.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) -- China’s stimulus for the auto industry has been all over the map. Measures that help some players wind up setting back priorities for others. But one thing is clear: The billions of yuan that vaulted China to become the world’s largest car market aren’t there. Don’t be fooled by the numbers you see in coming months.All told, China’s aid package adds up to around 8 billion yuan ($1.13 billion), according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. That’s a far cry from the 25 billion yuan to 30 billion yuan spent just on electric vehicle incentives last year, or the 100-billion-yuan-plus laid out in the 2015 to 2017 stimulus cycle. There’s a bigger problem than fiscal constraints, though. Beijing’s policies will do little to boost consumer demand and only add volume — exactly what a market awash in supply doesn’t need. Big discretionary spending items like cars are unlikely to top post-coronavirus shopping lists, even if people are initially wary of public transportation.In recent weeks, policymakers have laid out a slew of measures to boost sales, which were slumping even before Covid-19. Subsidies that were supposed to end this year have been extended to 2022. The government is incentivizing auto companies in several provinces to meet targets and high growth rates, and urging them to offer sweeteners for bulk purchases. In other cities, like Hangzhou, restrictions on license plates — aimed at curbing excessive sales — are being loosened and quotas expanded. Yet all this easing of limits on conventional cars has come at the cost of the drive toward greener ones. Electric-vehicle specific policies have been lackluster.The latest program looks a lot like the U.S.'s cash for clunkers experiment of 2009. In places like Tianjin and Hebei, the central government is turning to vouchers and coupons instead of the usual subsidies. In Beijing, for instance, car owners can get 7,000 yuan this year, and a little less next year, for scrapping older, higher emission models or transferring them out of the city. Local officials are also urging automakers to match or exceed government offers for shoppers who then go and buy new vehicles. In theory, this program cleans out old stock, encourages sales and makes people feel like they can start spending again. In the U.S., this ultimately backfired because it shifted demand to cheaper cars and reduced spending.Most of the perks laid out, if they stick, will result in soaring sales and a steep recovery. (Electric car sales, meanwhile, will remain subdued.) Local brands like Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., SAIC Motor Corp., Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. and BYD Co. will likely post figures closer to those before the viral outbreak. But things will look good for all the wrong reasons.For clues about the health of China’s auto market, investors may be better served looking elsewhere. Dealership traffic and sales of foreign, especially luxury, carmakers that stayed ahead of the broader market will be a clearer indication of demand. While 98.8% of dealers have re-opened and are aggressively luring consumers, showroom traffic is still around 66%. The SAIC-General Motors Corp.-Wuling venture for instance, is subsidizing buyers with a targeted total amount of 1 billion yuan, according to CLSA Ltd. Last month, they launched a no-questions-asked return policy within 30 days for their newly launched Baojun series.Another area to watch is premium car sales and pricing. Big luxury automakers haven’t been major beneficiaries partly because some of the perks are focused on lower-tier cities, where there are more joint ventures with foreign players that haven’t done so well. No one’s scrapping a Beemer anytime soon.Since many of the incentives are coming from local governments, it will also be important to assess sales on a city-by-city or regional basis. Shanghai and Hangzhou are saturated markets – their ability to significantly boost purchases by loosening restrictions is much lower than areas in central and western China, where numbers may start rising a lot faster.The other lever Beijing will lean on is household credit. While China relies less on auto financing than other countries, the sector is still growing quickly. The market for auto asset-backed securities, backed by pools of car loans, is also booming, so performance here will be key. Prepayments will be another tell-tale sign; who is paying and who isn't. Already, delinquency rates for some buyers are rising faster than others.In the bust, boost and boom cycle of China’s car market, there will be more losers than winners — the glossy stimulus headlines won’t help you find them. It’ll take a bit more digging.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal. 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.
(Bloomberg) -- Senator Kelly Loeffler said Wednesday she and her husband are liquidating their investment portfolio following criticism of their sales and purchases of millions of dollars worth of stocks amid the coronavirus outbreak.The Georgia Republican, who is running to keep her Senate seat in a Nov. 3 nonpartisan primary, announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion-page article that the couple’s stock holdings will be converted to mutual funds and exchange-traded funds to be controlled by third-party advisers.She and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the chief executive of Intercontinental Exchange, parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, have a net worth estimated at more than $500 million.“While the American people are enduring the impact of Covid-19, I have become a top target of baseless attacks from political adversaries and the media,” wrote Loeffler in the article headlined “I Never Traded on Confidential Coronavirus Information.”In an effort to move on past “these distractions,” said Loeffler, she and her husband’s holdings would be converted.Loeffler was appointed in December by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to finish the term of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired.Loeffler has been criticized about her sales and purchases of stocks following government briefings to Congress on the virus. She and her husband sold $46,027 worth of stock in an online travel company in the day leading up to President Donald Trump’s announcement of a ban on most European travel to the U.S. They had purchased that stock just days earlier.Some stock sales by another senator, Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, have prompted a government inquiry.In a press release Wednesday, Loeffler’s Senate campaign said her investments are managed by third-party money-managing advisers at Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Sepio Capital, and Wells Fargo. Loeffler had previously refused to identify her advisers.“These professionals buy, sell and option stocks on behalf of Senator Loeffler and her husband,” the campaign release stated. “Neither Senator Loeffler nor her husband directed trading in these accounts.”Primary ChallengersLoeffler is also quoted as saying she and her husband put the arrangement in place to insulate themselves “from these sorts of unfounded accusations.”She faces several challengers in Georgia’s Nov. 3 primary for her Senate seat from Representative Doug Collins, a fellow Republican, as well as three Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent.If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two will be in a runoff likely in January.Collins has raised the controversy over Loeffler’s stock trades in his campaign. His campaign spokesman Dan McLagan said in an email Wednesday regarding her move, “This is essentially a guilty plea, and Georgians who just saw their retirement plans crater while she profited are not going to agree to the plea deal.”“Same advisers, different funds and no blind trust? We’re not buying it,” McLagan said.Helen Kalla, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement, “Nothing can undo the damage that’s already been done with voters who have no reason to trust anything she says or does in public office.”(Adds Democratic group’s statement in last paragraph; an earlier version corrected ‘billion’ to ‘million’ in third 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.
By John Jannarone, IPO Edge Is it possible for grocers and markets to offer delivery at normal prices to consumers? Unfortunately, razor-thin gross margins along with high costs of additional labor and fleets make it extremely difficult to do so profitably. Even Amazon.com, Inc. appears to offer grocery deliveries at a loss - which is […]
(Bloomberg) -- Last week, a manager at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in eastern Pennsylvania issued a stark warning to his team on how to handle shipments from another Amazon facility afflicted with the coronavirus: Don’t touch them for 24 hours. “As a precaution surrounding Covid-19 concerns, a directive came in today to let ALL loads from AVP1 sit for 24 hours prior to opening/receiving,” the manager said in an email reviewed by Bloomberg. “Please do not process any AVP1 trailers before the 24-hour mark.”The AVP1 warehouse in Hazle Township is among dozens of Amazon facilities where employees have been diagnosed with Covid-19, including a warehouse on Staten Island that has been roiled by worker protests. But the cluster of at least 21 positive tests at AVP1 appears to be one of the most severe in Amazon’s sprawling logistics network. With many workers now afraid to come to work, employees said the company is struggling to keep the facility open and orders flowing, which an Amazon spokeswoman disputed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday that it is opening an investigation into working conditions at AVP1. One of 10 such warehouses in Amazon’s U.S. fulfillment network, AVP1 is an important cog in the smooth functioning of the online retailer’s logistics machine, according to Marc Wulfraat, a consultant who studies the company’s operations. Extended closures of Amazon facilities could fracture the company’s finely tuned network, delaying deliveries to customers who would rather avoid stores and shop online instead.Employees at AVP1 were informed of at least 21 cases in their ranks, according to voicemails and text messages from the facility’s management reviewed by Bloomberg. Three employees said more cases disclosed in meetings may not be included in the tally of 21. The employees, two of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from their employer, said paranoia is rife that the virus is spreading from employee to employee in the building, though they have no hard evidence to back up that suggestion. In the meantime, absenteeism has surged, the employees said. “It’s kind of a Petri dish,” said Andrea Houtsch, who last worked March 27 and has been taking unpaid time off so she doesn’t catch the virus. “Any time you’ve got hundreds of people in the same building, breathing the same air, no matter how far you stay apart, there’s that chance.” She added: “Amazon is not responsible for this pandemic, nobody was prepared for this. They just need to be realistic about what’s happening here. Once things get better, I have no problem going back.”Amazon said the guidance about goods coming from AVP1 was a mistake. “This was an error in communication made locally with positive intentions but was misinformed—it has since been corrected,” Kristen Kish, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. “Based on guidance from the CDC, the WHO, and the Surgeon General, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through packages. It’s a belief within the infectious disease community that if there was transmission through packages there would have been immediate global spread early in the outbreak, that did not happen and it confirms the risk as incredibly low.”Kish declined to provide a complete count of Covid-19 cases at AVP1 or comment on the OSHA investigation. Amazon says it has stepped up cleaning measures at all of its facilities, in line with federal guidance for employers allowed to stay open as state orders close many businesses. The Seattle company has staggered shift start times, reorganized break rooms and repositioned workstations to prevent employees from congregating.This week, Amazon is rolling out temperature screenings and a limited supply of masks for employees to wear during their shifts. The company has also offered temporary raises and more lucrative overtime to people who keep working, and said it will give two weeks of sick pay to those diagnosed with Covid-19 or quarantined after being exposed to someone with the disease.Still, concerns about getting sick, or infecting loved ones, continue to fester. Hazleton, home to about 25,000 people, has been hit hard by the coronavirus. It is in Luzerne County, which has the third most cases per capita in Pennsylvania, behind nearby Lehigh and Monroe counties, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data. Commodities giant Cargill Inc. this week idled a beef plant located near AVP1 after workers there tested positive for Covid-19. “People are scared to death,” said another employee at AVP1. One worker, afraid of spreading the disease to family members at home, last week broke down and started crying in the break room, two colleagues said.The Hazle Township facility, west of the town of Hazleton, opened in 2008, one of the first in a decade-long expansion from a handful of warehouses to hundreds across the U.S. AVP1 is the anchor of a cluster of depots Amazon built in Pennsylvania to take advantage of cheap real estate, a workforce reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs and a relatively short trip to major cities like New York and Philadelphia. Amazon’s warehouses are best known for orange robots zipping around, ferrying products to workers who place them in bins and send them along a conveyor belt to be shipped out. AVP1 is different. Called an inbound cross-dock, it receives pallets of goods from manufacturers, many of them overseas, breaks them down and then ships them on to Amazon warehouses. The facility handles all manner of goods, and shipments in recent weeks included sought-after items such as Lysol wipes, as well as bedsheets, books and toys, workers said.On March 26, AVP1 staff were informed of the first Covid-19 cases and quickly shared the information with the Hazelton News 1 website. More people began calling in sick, or staying home, in the following days as managers disclosed more cases at impromptu meetings, the employees said. Some people, worried they weren’t being informed of cases from other shifts or departments, started comparing notes on social media and sharing contact details of local and federal authorities. Amazon said it’s informing all workers as new cases are confirmed.The next week, dozens of new staffers arrived at AVP1, according to two employees, part of a hiring surge Amazon has unleashed to keep warehouses open and meet rising demand. Workers said Amazon is using the new hires to fill gaps left by employees who have chosen to stay away to avoid being exposed or to take care of children whose schools have closed.Trainers at AVP1, worried about working with people they don’t know or who hail from from the hard-hit New York area, refused to train the new hires, according to two employees. Instead of six hours of supervised, hands-on work in small groups, the batch of recruits spent last Monday in the break room watching instructional videos before a question and answer session with a manager.Early last week, more than half of one shift’s 500 or so workers didn’t show up, according to an employee briefed on the numbers. Then about 30 minutes before the end of the shift, managers announced there were seven additional Covid-19 cases among their coworkers. That prompted all but a handful of the more than 100 workers in the shipping department to leave rather than finish their shift, said one employee who was there. Before long, products started backing up, triggering an alarm and halting the conveyors, the employee said, and managers had to help clear the backlog and send out the final shipments. Amazon says it has adjusted staffing at its facilities to make it possible for employees to practice social distancing. Meanwhile, workers at a warehouse in nearby Pittston were told to let goods coming from the warehouse sit for at least 24 hours. “It just made us more anxious,” said an employee at the Pittston warehouse. The employee said the guidance was still in effect as of Tuesday.Workers at AVP1 last weekend were told by automated text message and voice call of four additional Covid-19 cases. On Monday evening, they were informed of nine more. The messages said the site had undergone “enhanced cleanings” since the sick employees last worked and that Amazon would send home, with pay, those who have been in close contact with the sick. The company this week also began encouraging employees to wear face masks, in line with updated federal health guidance. Employees were welcome to bring their own, and Amazon will also have “limited quantities” on site, the messages said. (Amazon on Wednesday said it had enough masks for all employees in its facilities.)“We understand the risk of exposure is low for those who weren’t in close contact with the affected associate,” the message said.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) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Wing unit is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of customers using its drone delivery service in rural Virginia during the Covid-19 pandemic.Wing, which began routine deliveries under a test program approved by the federal government last October, has added new vendors and expanded the items customers can order to better serve people during the epidemic, the company said in a statement Wednesday.“The technology is particularly useful at a time when people are homebound in many cases and the need to limit human-to-human contact is important,” spokesman Jonathan Bass said in an interview.Deliveries have more than doubled in the Christiansburg, Virginia, area where the U.S. test is being conducted and in a similar project in Australia, Bass said.In addition to partnerships with FedEx Corp. and the Walgreens drug-store chain, Wing recently began deliveries from a bakery and a coffee shop.Mockingbird Cafe sold 50% more pastries through Wing’s drones in its first weekend with the company than it typically sold in its store prior to the virus-related business disruptions.Deliveries from Walgreens have included toilet paper, medicine and toothpaste, the company said. They recently added items such as pasta and baby food to meet demands of people staying home.While the payload of Wing’s autonomous drones is limited, orders are fulfilled within minutes, Bass said.The program is being run in the community around Christianburg. Wing is working with nearby Virginia Tech, which has a drone-test program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.Amazon.com Inc., United Parcel Service Inc. and many smaller companies are also experimenting with the concept of drone deliveries.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) -- Investors betting on the resilience of bonds from the world’s top tequila maker may get some vindication after a big decline last month.Dollar-denominated debt from Mexico City-based Becle SAB, the maker of Jose Cuervo, is trading near a one-year low after emerging-market assets tumbled in March amid the sell-off sparked by the pandemic. The nation’s coronavirus caseload exceeds 2,700, among them a positive test from Becle Chief Executive Officer Juan Domingo Beckmann.But some traders say the company’s notes now look like a bargain. For one, unlike some breweries, the Jose Cuervo distillery in the town of Tequila is carrying on with production after the state government deemed it essential. Moreover, sales of booze have soared while most Americans remain on lockdown. Longer term, demand for alcohol holds up better than other products during a recession, Fitch Ratings wrote last week, keeping a stable outlook for Becle at the third-lowest investment grade.“The Cuervo bonds should do well,” said Ray Zucaro, the chief investment officer at RVX Asset Management in Miami. “I have personally drank every day of quarantine to help their top line!”That’s encouraging news for investors like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which was the largest reported holder of the notes as of Feb. 28, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Goldman declined to comment on the debt. The $500 million of bonds due in 2025 rallied by the most in almost three weeks Wednesday to 96 cents on the dollar.The Cuervo family’s road to a multi-billion dollar fortune began in the late 1700s, when Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo won the first tequila-making license from King Carlos IV of Spain. The agave-based spirit became a staple for soldiers in the Mexican-American War, while the introduction of railroads helped establish a tequila boom at the turn of the 20th century. Becle took the company public in 2017, and it’s now worth about $4.5 billion. Besides Jose Cuervo, it also makes Bushmills whiskey and Hangar 1 vodka.Becle said last month that Beckmann was in good condition as he coped with the virus at home. The company hasn’t released any updates and didn’t respond to a request for comment.The pandemic is also providing an unexpected benefit to Becle. Mexico’s peso has plunged almost 20% since the end of February, yet since the company gets more than three-quarters of its sales from abroad, that should boost revenue in peso terms while reducing its local costs, according to Fitch.(Updates with bond move in fifth 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) -- Outside of Saudi Arabia and Russia, most oil producers are racing to deal with the historic oil price collapse by cutting back spending and in some cases production. But Mexico’s national oil company is acting like the crash never happened.Petroleos Mexicanos aims to nearly double drilling to 423 wells this year and accelerate development of 15 recent discoveries, even though experts say many are unprofitable at current prices. It hasn’t announced changes to the production goal it set out in its five-year business plan of 1.87 million barrels a day, an 11% rise compared to last year, or investment in exploration and production of 270 billion pesos ($11.1 billion).Meanwhile, the global oil and gas industry is expected to slash $100 billion in exploration and production spending in a 17% drop on year, according to consultancy Rystad Energy AS. Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Colombia’s Ecopetrol SA have both slashed capital spending, and Petrobras went as far as shutting in 200,000 barrels a day of unprofitable production in a country with little storage capacity.“If that is the path you want to go down in this environment, you will most certainly burn cash,” said Ruaraidh Montgomery, research director from oil consultancy Welligence. “Petrobras is genuinely run as independent entity that is there to generate profits, but with Pemex, the government’s priority is production growth.”While refineries across the globe are cutting runs amid slumping fuel consumption, Saudi Arabia and Russia are unleashing millions of barrels of excess crude in a battle over market share. Against this backdrop, global benchmark Brent crude posted its worst quarter in history.Mexico is part of OPEC+ that is meeting Thursday to attempt to stabilize the oil market but the country has not offered to reduce production as part of the effort.Pemex’s cavalier approach to the oil crisis matches President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s handling of the global pandemic. He spent weeks downplaying the health risks of the coronavirus and was slow to deploy containment measures out of fear for the economy. And he has shown no signs of abandoning a turnaround strategy for the cash-strapped national oil company.While Pemex announced cost control measures before the oil market cratered, analysts say they aren’t enough. Pemex will have a negative cash flow this year of $20 billion if Mexican oil trades at $30 a barrel, according to Anne Milne, a strategist at Bank of America. Investors fear that Moody’s Corp. could downgrade Pemex’s bonds to junk after Fitch Ratings Inc. cut Pemex bonds even deeper into junk earlier this month, and S&P Global Inc. also cut its rating in March. On Sunday, Lopez Obrador said he’d cut Pemex’s tax burden by an extra 65 billion pesos ($2.7 billion), although it wasn’t immediately clear if this is a new measure. The relief won’t be enough to prevent the company from using its revolving credit facilities and increasing debt in 2020, Moody’s said in a statement. Mexico is expected to make a profit on its annual oil-price hedge, the largest of its kind, which for 2020 managed to obtain a price of $49 a barrel and typically covers between 200 million and 300 million barrels. Pemex’s hedge is much smaller, at just over 85 million barrels for 2020.The bulk of government funds allocated to Pemex have been for the construction of an $8 billion refinery in Lopez Obrador’s home state of Tabasco, even as global fuel demand wanes and other projects around the world go on hold. Even before the 2020 economic crisis, the refinery was widely panned as unprofitable and politically motivated. And outside of Mexico’s two largest offshore fields, profitability is questionable.“A lot of new discoveries are not necessarily in the money in the super-low price environment,” said Schreiner Parker, the vice president for Latin America at Rystad. “We’ll continue to see a decline in Mexico’s production.”A Different ApproachPetrobras, Latin America’s biggest producer, was quick to adjust its business plan and shore up lines of credit as soon as prices crashed in March. It was the first global oil major to announce cuts to unprofitable projects. Petrobras took additional cost control measures on Wednesday, announcing an early retirement program where it expects 3,800 staff cuts and 7.6 billion reais ($1.5 billion) in savings through 2025.“They are preparing to survive at $25 a barrel,” said Jorge Camargo, the head of the energy and infrastructure group at the Brazilian Center for International Relations, a think tank in Rio de Janeiro. “Brazil is better off” than other Latin producers, he said.Mexico took an opposite path under Lopez Obrador, who halted an opening of the oil industry that was easing Pemex’s spending burden. Even before the crisis, Pemex’s finances were so bad it had already built arrears with suppliers, putting any expansion plans in doubt. It also trailed the offshore oil industry in adopting virus containment measures.He wants to give Pemex greater control over Mexico’s oil territory and has suspended competitive auctions. He aims to revitalize national output that has fallen for 15 consecutive years and reduce Mexico’s dependence on imported fuels, as well as chip away at Pemex’s debt of more than $100 billion, the highest of any oil major.More than half of the Mexican driller’s production is unprofitable at $30 a barrel, noted Welligence’s Montgomery. What Pemex should do is focus on cost control, become more efficient, and protect its balance sheet by not spending money on growth for growth’s sake, he added. “You can only keep funding your operations through debt for so long, the worst is yet to come.”(Adds Moodys comment in ninth paragraph and additional measures by Petrobras in 13th)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.
Bank of America (BAC) doesn't possess the right combination of the two key ingredients for a likely earnings beat in its upcoming report. Get prepared with the key expectations.