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Le Château goes bust, becoming latest retail victim of COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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Retailer Le Château is seeking court protection from its creditors while it winds down its operations and liquidates its assets.

The Montreal-based fashion chain with 123 locations across Canada and 1,400 employees said in a release Friday that it has applied for protection from its creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, or CCAA.

In a release, management said it had “come to the very difficult decision that the company can no longer continue its operations as a going concern after having used its best efforts over the preceding months, with the assistance of professional advisers, to refinance or sell the company to a third party that would continue operating the business.”

The chain said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had an “evident impact on consumer demand for Le Château’s holiday party and occasion wear, which represents the core of our offering [and] has diminished Le Château’s ability to pursue its activities. Regrettably, these circumstances leave the company with no option other than to commence the liquidation process.”

The retailer was scheduled to have its annual general meeting in Montreal on Thursday but abruptly cancelled the event two days prior without explanation beyond saying that the company “will provide further updates in due course.”

In the three-month period up until July 25, Le Château racked up just $14.7 million in sales across its network of stores and online. That’s down from almost $50 million in the same period last year. As of July, the company says it had about $118 million in assets, against $201 million worth of liabilities.

At the time, the chain thanked its landlords for granting it $4.6 million worth of rent relief for July and August. Despite that, it still warned there was some doubt about the chain’s “ability to continue as a going concern for the next 12 months.”

The chain is just the latest Canadian retail brand to file for CCAA amid COVID-19, including clothier Reitmans, drink seller DavidsTea, outdoor gear sellers MEC and Sail, fashion chain Mendocino, the company that owns Ricki’s Cleo and Bootlegger, and shoe retailer Aldo.

Fashion journalist Jeanne Beker says the chain has fallen on tough times of late, but for many years Le Château was at the vanguard of Canada’s fashion industry. (Peter Power/CBC)

The CCAA proceedings will mean Le Château will soon begin the process of selling off all its remaining merchandise and shutting stores. It brings an end to the chain’s 60-year history and an end to a Canadian brand that was at various points at the top of Canada’s fashion world, fashion journalist Jeanne Beker said.

Founded in 1960 in Montreal, the chain was a major driver of what Beker calls the “youthquake” in fashion at the time, when all of a sudden children didn’t want to wear the clothes their parents got for them, and instead establish a style of their own.

“Le Château was at the vanguard of all that,” Beker said in an interview Friday. “Le Château was the hip place where you went to get the hip cool styles — a lot of styles that had not been that readily available in Canada before … at a price that was affordable, too.”

While COVID-19 seems to have been “the final nail in their coffin,” as Beker puts it, the chain had problems before, as it struggled to keep up with not only the capricious nature of fashion but also a growing movement toward sustainability in supply chains.

“Fashion has changed in a big way. The way that we consume fashion has changed, the way we buy it, the way we wear it — all those things have changed,” Beker said. “It was only a matter of time.”

LISTEN — Jeanne Beker explains what Le Château has meant to Canada’s fashion landscape

8:56Jeanne Beker on Le Château

Fashion journalist Jeanne Beker says the chain that’s seeking court protection from its creditors was on the vanguard of Canadian fashion for many years before falling on tough times. 8:56

Young people who once would have been the chain’s target demographic “are marching to the beat of a whole new drummer now,” she said. 

“They don’t want the cheap and cheerful [thing to] wear for a season or two.”

“Value Village … that’s the hip thing to do, not to buy a prom dress at Le Château.”

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'This is actually terrifying': Toronto-area small businesses fight for survival as new lockdown takes effect – theglobeandmail.com

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In Scarborough, Karahi Boys restaurant owner Taha Yasin, seen here in Toronto on Nov. 23, 2020, has spent $35,000 to build a patio with proper heating and ventilation to entice winter diners. ‘All that investment has gone down the drain,’ Mr. Yasin said.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Independent retailers, bars and restaurants in the Toronto region are scrambling to figure out how they will survive the crucial holiday season as renewed lockdown measures forced them to close their doors again on Monday while some big-box store chains can remain open.

After a weekend spent dealing with long lineups and last-minute spending sprees, reality set in on Monday. Frances Watson, a clothing boutique on Toronto’s Queen Street West, typically pulls in half of its annual sales in November and December, and three-quarters of its business comes from walk-in customers – who are now barred from entry.

“This is actually terrifying,” owner Meg Watson said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s really about health when there are other huge stores packed with 60 people in them. … You’re closing me and letting Walmart open?”

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Premier Doug Ford announced sweeping shutdowns Friday for Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region that will force small businesses in the massive metropolitan area that sell goods deemed non-essential to rely on pickup and delivery – ahead of a holiday season that many entrepreneurs depend on to help them survive slow winters. Chains including Walmart and Costco, which are exempt from closing because they sell groceries, are allowed to stay open with new 50-per-cent capacity limits.

“Doug Ford signed the death warrant for thousands of small businesses over the weekend,” said Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in an interview. He hopes the Ontario government will turn around and offer additional subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and suggests the province could top up the differentials businesses receive from federal rent and wage subsides, which were recently expanded and extended.

“The Ford government has been the slowest in providing any degree of substantive support to independent businesses,” Mr. Kelly said. In a tweet Monday, he decried another apparent provincial inconsistency as people began tweeting that The Bay department store at Queen and Yonge Streets in Toronto was open because it sells food in its basement. Though Ontario later clarified that only big-box retailers with “a full grocery store component” were eligible to stay open (and it specified The Bay is not eligible), it added to the confusion.

Mr. Kelly tweeted that if The Bay could stay open selling groceries, the province should allow “every shuttered small firm to sell chips and chocolate and declare themselves as an essential retailer.”

The CFIB has offered other suggestions to keep small businesses open, including extra-cautious customer limits for indoor shopping. But Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business, Prabmeet Sarkaria, declined on Monday to say whether the province was considering the CFIB’s proposals or reversing course in other ways. “The decisions that were made and put forward were with the best advice of health officials advising the government,” he told reporters.

Entrepreneurs in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, where COVID-19 cases have been rising faster than in other parts of the province, now face at least 28 days with no foot traffic, while stores and restaurants in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Vaughan and Oakville are far less restricted. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, even big-box stores can only sell essential goods such as food in-store, with the rest left for pickup.

Manitoba is also offering up to $5,000 in “bridge grants” to locked-down entrepreneurs to cover costs as revenues collapse, with the possibility of more to come, while Quebec has offered locked-down businesses in affected cities up to $15,000 a month to cover eligible costs. Ontario’s new lockdown subsidies have been limited to topping up an existing pool of funding to reduce electricity and property-tax bills, doubling it to $600-million.

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“The next five weeks is the biggest time of the year for retailers,” said Steve Long, president of musical instrument and equipment retailer Long & McQuade, which was forced to shut down six locations Sunday evening.

Picking out a guitar or drum kit is often a purchase based on feel or experience – and now Mr. Long worries consumers will instead turn to still-open big-box chains such as Walmart to find other holiday gifts instead. “If you’re going to close retail, don’t close half of retail,” Mr. Long said.

As lockdowns tighten, the country’s economic outlook has dimmed. Prior to the second wave, Bank of Montreal estimated that Canada’s GDP would grow at about an 8-per-cent annualized rate in the fourth quarter. Now, it projects zero growth in the quarter, “which might be optimistic,” strategist Benjamin Reitzes said Monday in a note to clients.

“The structure of the lockdowns in Toronto and Peel will likely have the largest impact on small businesses who are now forced to shut down, driving shoppers to big-box stores,” he said. “This is where the real damage is going to be from this government decision.”

SMBs in Toronto and Peel spent the weekend scrambling. Some bars discounted draught beer to empty their kegs for customers sitting on patios that will no longer be used, while some retailers saw block-long lineups. Mr. Long, of Long & McQuade, said foot traffic was up about 50 per cent on Saturday.

In Scarborough, Taha Yasin has spent $35,000 to build a patio with proper heating and ventilation to entice winter diners to his Pakistani restaurant, Karahi Boys, which specializes in Lahori foods and has another location in Mississauga.

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The patio is still not finished, and he expects take-out and delivery revenues to be 25 per cent to 30 per cent of usual levels this winter. “All that investment has gone down the drain,” Mr. Yasin said. “That could have gone to other bills.”

With gyms fully closed, Habitual Fitness & Lifestyle in Mississauga is focusing again on virtual classes. “We had a good turnout in the spring” for online classes, general manager Silvio Mazzulla said. “But it was nothing compared to what we would have [normally] done in revenue during those months.”

The business improvement association in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood has joined forces with the ad agency Local Collective to launch a new shop-local campaign on Tuesday with a stunt meant to starkly illustrate what is at stake. Dozens of shops will be wrapped in “For Lease” signs to warn residents of the ghost town that could result if they desert their local stores for Amazon or big-box shopping this season.

“It’s a visual representation of what you could come to, six months from now, a year from now, if main streets are forgotten during the pandemic,” said Adam Langley, the association’s vice-chair.

With a report from Jeff Gray

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GM to recall about 7 million pickups, SUVs for faulty air bag inflators – CBC.ca

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General Motors will recall about seven million big pickup trucks and SUVs worldwide to replace potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators.

The announcement came Monday after the U.S. government told the automaker it had to recall six million of the vehicles in the U.S.

GM says it will not fight the decision, even though it believes the vehicles are safe. It will cost the company an estimated $1.2 billion US , about one third of its net income so far this year.

The automaker had petitioned the agency four times since 2016 to avoid recalls, contending the air bag inflator canisters have been safe on the road and in testing. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Monday denied the petitions, saying the inflators still run the risk of exploding.

Owners complained to the NHTSA that the company was placing profits over safety.

Exploding Takata inflators caused the largest series of auto recalls in U.S. history, with at least 63 million inflators recalled. The U.S. government says that, as of September, more than 11.1 million had not been fixed. About 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide.

27 deaths worldwide

Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to fill air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate when exposed to heat and humidity, and they can explode with too much pressure, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.

Twenty-seven people have been killed worldwide by the exploding inflators, including 18 in the U.S.

Monday’s decision by NHTSA is a major step in drawing the Takata saga to a close. It means that all Takata ammonium nitrate inflators in the U.S. will be recalled, NHTSA said. Earlier this year the agency decided against a recall of inflators with a moisture-absorbing chemical called a dessicant. NHTSA said it would monitor those inflators and take action if problems arise.

GM will recall full-size pickup trucks and SUVs from the 2007 through 2014 model years, including the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups. The Silverado is GM’s top-selling vehicle and the second-best selling vehicle in the U.S. Also covered are the Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe and Avalanche, the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Sierra 1500, 2500 and 3500, and the GMC Yukon.

It took the agency more than four years to arrive at its decision, which comes toward the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

NHTSA said in a prepared statement that it analyzed all available data on the air bags, including engineering and statistical analyses, aging tests and field data.

“Based on this information and information provided to the petition’s public docket, NHTSA concluded that the GM inflators in question are at risk of the same type of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity as other recalled Takata inflators,” the agency said.

Declared defective

The company has 30 days to give NHTSA a proposed schedule for notifying vehicle owners and starting the recall, the statement said.

GM said that although it believes a recall isn’t warranted based on the factual and scientific records, it will abide by NHTSA’s decision.

Spokesman Dan Flores said Monday that none of the inflators have blown apart in the field or in laboratory testing. But he said GM wants to avoid a drawn-out fight with the government.

“Although we are confident that the inflators in the GMT900 vehicles do not pose an unreasonable risk to safety, continue to perform as designed in the field and will continue to perform as designed in line with the results of our accelerated aging studies, we will abide by NHTSA’s decision to maintain the trust and confidence of customers and regulators,” he said in an email.

In a 2019 petition to NHTSA, GM said the inflators were designed to its specifications and are safe, with no explosions even though nearly 67,000 air bags have deployed in the field. The inflators, it said, have larger vents and steel end caps to make them stronger.

But Takata declared the GM front passenger inflators defective under a 2015 agreement with the government.

In its petition, GM said that Northrop Grumman tested 4,270 inflators by artificially exposing them to added humidity and temperature cycling, and there were no explosions or abnormal deployments.

However, NHTSA hired air bag chemical expert Harold Blomquist, who holds 25 air bag patents, to review the data, and he concluded that the GM air bags were similar to other Takata inflators that had exploded.

Test results for the GM inflators included abnormally high-pressure events “indicative of potential future rupture risk,” NHTSA said in documents. “These findings illustrate that GM’s inflators have a similar, if not identical, degradation continuum” to other Takata inflators that have exploded, the agency wrote.

Flores said GM already has purchased 1.6 million replacement inflators made by ZF-TRW that do not use ammonium nitrate.

‘Unexploded hand grenade’

Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, which opposed GM’s petitions to avoid recalls, said it’s a good day for millions of GM owners who had to wait four years for a decision on “whether they are driving with an unexploded hand grenade in their steering wheel.”

Shares of GM rose nearly 3 per cent in Monday morning trading to $44.21. The company said the recalls will be phased in based on replacement inflator availability, and will cost $400 million this year.

Drivers can check to see if their vehicles have been recalled by going to nhtsa.gov/recalls and keying in their 17-digit vehicle identification number.

The previous Takata recalls drove the Japanese company into bankruptcy and brought criminal charges against the company. Eventually it was purchased by a Chinese-owned auto parts supplier.

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Market Crash Alert: What Goes up Must Come Down – The Motley Fool Canada

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Investing in stocks has risks, because the market is never predictable. If you can transfer people’s day-to-day behaviour or routine to the stock market, then everyone would be rich. Unfortunately, it won’t happen. The only sure thing is that prices will rise and fall.

Innate behaviour of the stock market

Stocks behave depending on emerging or prevailing market or business environments. Since the market comes in cycles, traders rely on trends or patterns to make profitable investments. The key to successful stock investing is the execution of the strategy, although it’s not easy.

You must also understand that during a cycle, some asset classes will perform better than others. For example, the energy sector is in a rut at present because of low oil prices and weak demand. Investors stay away from energy or oil stocks because of elevated volatility. The same goes for airline stocks.

When oil prices begin to surge, along with demand, it will start a new cycle. In such a case, you follow the golden rule: buy low and sell high. Investors will follow the trend and ride on the momentum. As energy stock prices rise, investors will profit take at some high point.

TSX rally

The pandemic triggered a stock market crash in March 2020, causing a market-wide carnage. The S&P/TSX Composite Index saw its biggest one-day drop since 1940. On March 12, 2020, the TSX fell 12.34% from 14,270.10 to 12, 508.50. Canada’s main stock market sunk further a week later to 11,228.50.

However, the bloodletting did not last long, as a bull rally ensued. On November 18, 2020, the TSX finished at 16,889.80, or a +50.42% climb from its COVID-low. It has recovered from the losses and is down by only 1.02% year to date. Of the 11 primary sectors, five are in positive territory and six remain in the red.

Thus far, the top three performing sectors are information technology (+38.05%), materials (+16.83%), and industrials (+13.05%). The energy sector is the worst performer with its -44.02% loss.

Bucking the pandemic

If you’re wary of the present market uncertainty, North West Company (TSX:NWC) is proving to be irrepressible and pandemic-resistant in 2020. Investors in this consumer-defensive stock are winning by 25.31% year to date. Likewise, its 4.35% dividend yield should be safe and maintainable, given the 57.39% payout ratio.

This $1.6 billion Canada-based multinational grocery and retail company serves communities in extreme geographies. It has a monopoly of the markets. Even an e-commerce juggernaut is hardly a threat.

You can find North West stores in underserved rural communities and urban neighborhoods in northern Canada, western Canada, rural Alaska, the South Pacific islands, and the Caribbean. Customers in these markets can buy a broad range of products and avail of various services. The highest preference, however, is food.

If you were to invest today, the share price of $32.84 is a good entry. Analysts forecast the stock to climb further by 15.71% to $38 in the next 12 months.

Reversible trend

Expect the TSX to get hotter once the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine becomes a certainty. However, don’t get too excited, as rising infections and a return to lockdowns could reverse the trend.

Speaking of a possible market crash if stocks can’t sustain rising prices…

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