Anne D’innocenzio, The Associated Press
Published Friday, November 26, 2021 5:32AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 26, 2021 3:16PM EST
NEW YORK (AP) – On this year’s Black Friday, things almost seem normal.
Malls and stores report decent-sized crowds, if not the floods of people that used to fight over the latest toys and electronics – online shopping is much too common for that now, and discounts are both more subdued and spread out over the weeks leading up to Christmas, on both websites and in stores.
But out-of-stock items due to supply crunches, higher prices for gas and food, and labor shortages that make it more difficult to respond to customers are also causing frustrations for shoppers.
The country’s largest mall, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, reported overall traffic numbers at its opening on Friday were up by more than double compared to a year ago.
“We had a fantastic start,” said Mall of America senior vice president Jill Renslow.
Like many retailers and restaurants, however, staffing issues affected the mall and it had to trim the hours it was open.
Black Friday sales in stores and online were up 12% by mid-morning, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending broadly across cards and cash. That was tracking below its 20% growth forecast for the day.
Overall holiday sales are expected to grow this year. For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, predicts that sales will increase between 8.5% and 10.5%. Holiday sales increased about 8% in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.
While Black Friday has a strong hold on Americans’ imaginations as a day of crazed shopping, it has lost stature over the last decade as stores opened on Thanksgiving and shopping shifted to Amazon and other online retailers. Stores diluted the day’s importance further by advertising Black Friday sales on more and more days.
The pandemic led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day and push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October. That’s continuing this year, although there are deals in stores as well.
At the Fashion Centre mall in the northern Virginia suburbs, window signs advertised 50% off boots at Aldo, 40% off full price items at J.Crew, and 30% off at Forever 21. At the Capital Mall in Olympia, Washington, stores advertised sales of 35% to 50% off.
Big retailers like Walmart aren’t blasting “doorbuster” deals in their ads, said DealNews.com analyst Julie Ramhold. Meanwhile, smaller chains like Victoria’s Secret and Gap are having harder time managing supply issues. Victoria’s Secret said recently that 45% of its holiday merchandise is still stuck in transit.
Supply chain hold-ups are a major concern this year, and both stores and shoppers are trying to find workarounds. Some of the biggest U.S. retailers are rerouting goods to less congested ports, even chartering their own vessels.
Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said the company is prepared. “We are deep and we are ready,” he said, noting inventory levels are up 20% compared to last year. “We are in good shape.” But many sales floors looked different than in years past, when tall piles of merchandise used to be on display. At Macy’s in Manhattan, gone were the shoes stacked so high shoppers couldn’t reach them.
Fears of not being able to get the items they want helped drive people back to physical stores.
Tim Clayburn was shopping at Fashion Centre in Pentagon City, Virginia on Friday morning because he wanted to make sure he could get the gifts he wanted for his relatives.
“Everyone is so worried about not having things shipped to you on time,” he said. “I’d rather just get stuff in person so I don’t have to worry about the shipping.”
That didn’t work out for everyone, though. Christian MacDonald, the first person in a line of about 75 people waiting for a Costa Mesa, California Target store to open, came away empty-handed.
“I came here because I figured since it was Black Friday, they’d have the new Switch OLED in stock, but they didn’t,” said MacDonald, who waited an hour and a half to get in for the sought-after Nintendo video game console. “So I’m just going to go home, I guess.”
Still, experts believe Black Friday will again be the busiest shopping day this year. U.S. retail sales, excluding auto and gas, from this past Monday through Sunday are expected to increase 10% from last year and 12% from the 2019 holiday season, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.
Several malls on Long Island were busier than last year, but there was no frenzy, said Marshall Cohen of market research firm NPD Group. In the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey, lines formed outside Pandora and Bath & Body Works around noon, while some small shops were largely empty. At Fashion Centre mall in the D.C. suburbs in the afternoon, Macy’s was jammed with people, making it difficult to move around the store, while Forever 21 security guards had to help clear congestion. Across the country, there were roughly three dozen people in line at a Denver-area Best Buy when doors opened at 5 a.m., said shopper Edmond Kunath, which he found underwhelming.
“It is amazing how small the crowd is here this morning,” said Kunath, who was looking for deals on Apple AirPods headphones and a hard drive.
Retail workers are worried about their safety because of frustrated shoppers and thin staffing, said Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who said stores should provide security and training on how to handle irate shoppers.
One employee at the Zara in Fashion Centre, who declined to give his name, said the store seemed understaffed and he had been stressed all morning. “This is the craziest I’ve seen things in a long time,” he said. Zara’s store manager declined an interview, saying he was too busy.
At Macy’s in Manhattan, the pandemic remained in sight – employees wore masks and many shoppers did too – but there was also a sense of celebrating the fun of shopping, of things returning to how they used to be.
Carol Claridge of Bourne, England, has been coming to New York for Thanksgiving-week shopping for 15 years, but skipped it last year because of the pandemic. The U.S. reopened to travelers from the U.K. earlier in November when it lifted pandemic travel bans.
“We had to wait a long time to do this,” said Claridge, who was looking at beauty gift sets on the first floor of Macy’s with a friend. “We are picking up anything we see that we like. We call it our annual shopping outing.”
Shoppers are expected to pay on average between 5% to 17% more for toys, clothing, appliances, TVs and others purchases on Black Friday this year compared with last year, according to Aurelien Duthoit, senior sector advisor at Allianz Research, with the biggest price increases on TVs. That’s because whatever discounts available will be applied to goods that already cost more.
Aniva Pawlowski got to Macy’s just ahead of the 6 a.m. opening with plans to buy shoes and coats. Shopping on Thanksgiving Day had been a family tradition, but she stayed home last year and just shopped online. Worries about shortages drove the New Yorker to shop in person and she plans to spend about $1,000 on holiday shopping, similar to years past, even though she’s concerned about rising costs for gas and food.
“Everything is expensive,” she said.
Online shopping remains huge, and sales are expected to rise 7% for the week after the massive 46% gain a year ago, when many shoppers stayed home, according to Mastercard. For the overall holiday season, online sales should increase 10% from a year ago, compared with a 33% increase last year, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.
“What the pandemic did for retail was, it forced them to be better digital retailers,” said Cohen of the NPD Group. That means the day after Thanksgiving is no longer what it was. “With that comes the shortfall of Black Friday.”
David Zalubowski from Lone Tree, Colorado; Parker Purifoy from Arlington, Virginia; Manuel Valdes in Olympia, Washington; Bryan Gallion from Wayne, New Jersey; and Eugene Garcia from Costa Mesa, California contributed to this report.
Ackman’s Pershing Square takes new position in Netflix
Billionaire investor William Ackman has built a new stake in streaming service Netflix Inc worth more than $1 billion since its stock price tumbled starting last Thursday.
Ackman told investors that his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, started buying on Friday and now owns more than 3.1 million shares in Netflix, making Pershing Square a top 20 shareholder.
In a letter to his clients, Ackman praised the company’s “best-in-class management team” and on Twitter the manager said he has long admired Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and the “remarkable company he and his team have built.”
Netflix shares climbed as much as 5% in after-hours trading. They had tumbled more than 30% in the last five days, a much steeper swoom than the broader market. After the market closed last Thursday, Netflix forecast weak subscriber growth.
Ackman, whose firm invests $22.5 billion, wrote that he had been analyzing Netflix at the same time he was investing in Universal Music Group and was ready to buy when Netflix’ “stock price declined sharply last Friday.”
“Now with both UMG and Netflix, we are all-in on streaming as we love the business models, the industry contexts, and the management teams leading these remarkable organizations.”
To raise the cash to make the Netflix purchase, Ackman said the firm unwound a big piece of its interest rate hedge which generated profits of $1.25 billion.
He said that if he had not sold the hedge, his performance would have been better. His Pershing Square Holdings lost 13.8% in the first three weeks January, the worst start to a year for the manager in years.
Last year Ackman posted a gain of 26.9% after the fund surged 70.2% in 2020.
Ackman said Netflix benefits from highly recurring revenues, adding the company has pricing power and delivers industry-leading content.
Pershing Square traditionally holds only a small number of investments which currently include Lowe’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Dominos Pizza Inc.
He said these companies are high quality businesses that can withstand inflationary pressures because they are able price their products to preserve profits.
Netflix’ stock price surged during the pandemic as live performances were shut down and movie theaters were largely off limits.
The company has been a favorite with prominent investors before. Roughly a decade ago Carl Icahn, an activist investor like Ackman, took a 10% position in Netflix and thought the company might need to sell itself to a technology company as its shares were undervalued. Ackman, who has pushed other companies to perform better, appears to be approaching this investment as a friendly investor. “We are delighted that the market has presented us with this opportunity,” he wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Leslie Adler, Mark Porter and David Gregorio)
Casual denim trend, higher prices fuel Levi’s upbeat forecast
Levi Strauss & Co forecast annual sales and profit above analysts’ estimates after topping quarterly results on Wednesday, bolstered by higher prices and strong demand for its jeans and jackets, sending its shares up 8% after the bell.
People shopping for casual outdoor clothing as pandemic restrictions eased and a resurgence in retro fashion styles such as high-rise and loose-fitting jeans have buoyed demand for the company’s denims.
The Signature and Levi’s 501 jeans maker said it expects revenue between $6.4 billion and $6.5 billion in fiscal year 2022, compared with analysts’ estimates of $6.37 billion, according to Refinitiv IBES data.
The robust demand has, however, coincided with increased production and shipping costs, forcing companies to raise prices to offset the inflationary pressures.
Levi plans to raise prices further in 2022 and beyond, Chief Executive Officer Chip Bergh said on a call with analysts, adding that demand outstripped supply in the quarter due to supply chain snarls.
Lower promotions, more full-price selling and the reopening of its European and Asian markets also lifted the Denizen brand owner’s sales in the reported quarter.
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, Asia net revenue was flat in the three months ended Nov. 28, recovering from a 23% slump reported in the third quarter.
Net revenue rose 22% to $1.69 billion in the fourth quarter, edging past analysts’ estimate of $1.68 billion.
Excluding items, Levi earned 41 cents per share, a cent above expectations.
Holiday season sales came in above its expectations, the company said, in contrast to downbeat estimates from retailers including Lululemon Athletica Inc and Abercrombie & Fitch Co.
San Francisco-based Levi expects adjusted full-year profit per share between $1.50 and $1.56, compared with estimates of $1.52.
(Reporting by Deborah Sophia in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and Sriraj Kalluvila)
A third of airline pilots still not flying as pandemic drags on -survey
More than one-third of airline pilots are still not flying as the pandemic continues to take its toll on aviation globally, according to a new survey, though the situation has improved from a year earlier when the majority were grounded.
A poll of more than 1700 pilots by UK-based GOOSE Recruitment and industry publication FlightGlobal, released on Wednesday, found 62% globally were employed and currently flying, up from 43% a year earlier.
The proportion of unemployed pilots fell from 30% to 20%, while 6% were on furlough, compared with 17% previously as air traffic began to bounce back from 2020 lows.
But in the Asia-Pacific region, the worst-hit globally by a drop in international travel due to tough border restrictions, the proportion of those unemployed rose from 23% to 25%. The region also had the lowest number that were employed flying at 53%.
“We have … seen some expatriates return home from the region due to concerns over quarantine or being stuck for long periods away from friends and family,” the report on the survey said.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways, a large expatriate employer in Asia, has lost hundreds of pilots through the closure of its Cathay Dragon regional arm as well as almost all of its overseas bases during the pandemic.
Pilot attrition at Cathay has also been rising amid strict layover rules that leave crew members locked https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/locked-hotels-hong-kongs-covid-19-rules-take-mental-toll-cathay-pilots-2021-11-26 in hotels when they are not flying.
Of the pilots still flying globally, 61% told the survey they were concerned about their job security.
“It appears only Northern America is back to post-COVID passenger numbers,” said an unnamed captain flying in the Middle East and Africa. “The rest of the world, especially developing nations, are still struggling to get vaccines, and are still not travelling.”
(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by David Gregorio)
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