Signs of Life

Businesses say that people are preparing to go out again.

By Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jason Karaian, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch and Ephrat Livni

Leading indicators

Almost a year ago — on March 11, to be exact — the World Health Organization officially declared that the spread of the coronavirus was a pandemic. Lockdowns and social distancing soon became a fact of life, and companies that rely on people gathering and moving around were hit hard.

But in recent weeks, many of these businesses have said they see signs that people are preparing to go out again: to the office, on vacation and elsewhere. Taken together, these indicators suggest that a reopening might be around the corner, as vaccines roll out, the weather changes or people simply seek out something new after so long in isolation.

Clothes. Richard Hayne, the C.E.O. of Urban Outfitters, told investors this week that its brands had recently been selling more “going out-type apparel.” In the last week of February, seven of Anthropologie’s top 10 sellers online were dresses, which may suggest that shoppers are preparing for life beyond Zoom. “Over the past year, we were lucky if they included one or two dresses,” Mr. Hayne said.

Concert tickets. “We’re feeling more optimistic than we were a month ago,” Live Nation’s chief executive, Michael Rapino, said on an earnings call last week. When the company recently released nearly 200,000 tickets for summer music festivals in Britain, they sold in days.

Trips to Vegas. Tom Reeg, the C.E.O. of the casino giant Caesars Entertainment, told analysts that bookings were up 20 percent month on month. “It’s almost like a switch was flipped sometime late January, early February,” he said last week. Apollo’s co-head of private equity, David Sambur, cited these numbers when explaining the firm’s big bet on a Las Vegas recovery: the $6.25 billion acquisition of the Venetian casino and expo center announced yesterday.

Cruise bookings. Royal Caribbean’s chief executive, Michael Bayley, recently told investors that the company recorded a 30 percent jump in new bookings this year, compared with the last two months of 2020. A large share are people over 65, who are counting on being vaccinated soon, Mr. Bayley suggested. The company, which suspended most cruises through April, launched a $1.5 billion stock sale this week.

Gym memberships. January marked the first month that Planet Fitness saw a net increase in memberships since the pandemic began, according to Chris Rondeau, the gym chain’s chief. The uptick “reinforces our belief that people want to return to bricks-and-mortar fitness,” he told analysts.

But not movie tickets (yet). Alamo Drafthouse filed for bankruptcy yesterday, making it one of the most prominent movie chains to seek Chapter 11 protection during the pandemic. Still, it expressed some optimism, “because of the increase in vaccination availability, a very exciting slate of new releases and pent-up audience demand,” said Tim League, the company’s founder.

What else? Have you spotted any other indicators that the economy might be reopening? Let us know: [email protected]

P.S.: Here’s why scientists say that people should be careful even after being vaccinated.

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

President Biden limits eligibility for stimulus checks. He agreed to stricter income limits for the next round of stimulus checks to win over moderate Democrats in the Senate, as he tries to corral support for his $1.9 trillion rescue bill, which will be debated in the Senate starting today. Separately, the House abruptly canceled its session today amid warnings of a potential militia plot.

Google plans to halt advertising based on users’ browsing history. The search giant said it would eventually stop selling web ads targeted to individuals’ internet habits. But Recode notes that Google won’t stop collecting user data, particularly on mobile devices and through its own properties like Google search.

Facebook restarts political advertising. After imposing a ban to clamp down on misinformation during the election, the social network told political advertisers it would begin to allow new ads about “social issues, elections or politics.”

Latest Updates

Many businesses plan to maintain mask requirements in Texas. Target, Macy’s, Kroger and others said they would still demand that customers and employees wear face masks after the state lifted its mandate this week. Frontline workers are likely to shoulder more responsibility for enforcement, and perhaps more harassment in response.

Britain’s economic revival plan: spend now, tax later. The country’s finance minister, Rishi Sunak, set out a budget yesterday that increases pandemic spending to $480 billion, including an extension for a furlough program through September. The budget also calls for higher corporate taxes starting in 2023, their first rise in Britain since the 1970s.

Too much of a good thing?

The economy is recovering from the pandemic — see above — and a $1.9 trillion stimulus is making its way through Congress to provide even more support. So, naturally, investors are getting a little worried, The Times’s Matt Phillips writes.

Stock and bond markets are wobbling. Another sharp drop in S&P 500 yesterday came after the index recorded its worst weekly performance in a month last week. (Stars of the pandemic, like Shopify and Zoom, have suffered in particular.) Bond yields are up sharply so far this year.

The Coronavirus Outbreak ›

Let Us Help You Better Understand the Coronavirus

    • Are coronavirus case counts rising in your region? Our maps will help you determine how your state, county or country is faring.
    • Vaccines are rolling out and will reach many of us by spring. We’ve answered some common questions about the vaccines.
    • Now that we are all getting used to living in a pandemic, you may have new questions about how to go about your routine safely, how your children will be impacted, how to travel and more. We’re answering those questions as well.
    • So far, the coronavirus outbreak has sickened more than 106 million people globally. More than two million people have died. A timeline of the events that led to these numbers may help you understand how we got here.

    The likely reason is a little counterintuitive. The strong economic rebound might presage a long-feared rise in inflation, which may spur the Fed to finally raise interest rates. Or as Lisa Shalett, the chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, put it: “The better and better things are, the less and less rationale the Fed has for keeping rates at zero.”

    Expect Jay Powell to get questions about it today. The Fed chair is set to speak at a Wall Street Journal event at noon Eastern, and may have something to say about the markets. The Times’s Jeanna Smialek outlines what steps the central bank could take, when or if it finally feels compelled to act to address rising bond yields.

    “Our SPAC’s are multi-year, not quick flip type of investments. I’d caution retail investors against investing in these SPAC’s.”

    — Vinod Khosla, whose venture firm launched its fourth SPAC last month, explaining the risks (and rewards) of blank-check companies on Twitter.

    Former financial regulators to Supreme Court: ‘Tread carefully’

    A group of former S.E.C. officials urged Supreme Court justices to “tread carefully” in a new “friend of the court” brief supporting pension funds in a class-action case against Goldman Sachs. The funds argue that Goldman misled them in its corporate statements, and the bank hopes to prevent them being able to bring the case as a group. The ex-regulators warn that a victory for the bank on this would harm market integrity: “Companies and corporate executives can have considerable incentives to maintain a falsehood that is propping up a stock price.”

    “Private cases play a crucial police function,” Robert Jackson Jr., an N.Y.U. law professor and former S.E.C. commissioner, told DealBook, arguing that the court should let investors sue as a group.

    To recap, the funds say Goldman’s statements misled them before a 2010 S.E.C. fraud case, which hit Goldman’s stock price. Lower courts let them sue as a group on the presumption that all investors indirectly rely on company statements when deciding to buy a stock. Goldman says this is wrong and warns of an onslaught of litigation if it loses.

    “For the capital markets to work, the people actually putting money in have got to know they are getting good information,” said Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the S.E.C. “When you don’t have that, and the information is bad, investors flee, like during the 2008 mortgage finance crisis.” If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Goldman, “we could have another crisis within 10 years, maybe sooner,” he said.

    Signatories of the brief include Mr. Turner, Mr. Jackson and two former S.E.C. chairmen, William Donaldson and Arthur Levitt Jr., in addition to the former commissioners Bevis Longstreth, Luis Aguilar and Kara Stein. Last month, a different group of former S.E.C. officials filed a brief in support of Goldman. Arguments in the case will be held this month and the justices are expected to rule by late June.

    Dallas does Dogecoin

    Dogecoin is a cryptocurrency based on a 2013 meme — old in internet years — featuring a perplexed Shiba Inu dog. The token was created to mock crypto culture, but is now worth serious money and embraced by the likes of Elon Musk and Snoop Dogg. As of today, it’s also a way to pay for tickets and merchandise for the N.B.A.’s Dallas Mavericks.

    Mark Cuban said the basketball team decided to accept Dogecoin “because we can!” In announcing the move, which DealBook is first to report, the billionaire owner of the team added in a statement, “Sometimes in business you have to do things that are fun.” The transactions will be processed by the crypto payments company BitPay, which has handled Bitcoin purchases for the Mavs since 2019.

    Dogecoin got a boost during the recent meme-stock frenzy, and businesses have noticed. The crypto A.T.M. company CoinFlip just added the token to its services.

    Still confused? “For those of you who would like to learn more about Dogecoin,” Mr. Cuban said, “we strongly encourage you to talk to your teenagers who are on TikTok and ask them about it. They will be able to explain it all to you.”

    THE SPEED READ

    Deals

    Apollo agreed to buy Michaels, the crafts retailer, for $5 billion. (NYT)

    The workplace software company Okta agreed to buy a rival, Auth0, for $6.5 billion. (WSJ)

    Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant owned by Walmart, is reportedly considering going public in the U.S. by merging with a SPAC, with a valuation target of at least $35 billion. (Bloomberg)

    Politics and policy

    A government watchdog found that Elaine Chao, President Donald Trump’s transportation secretary, used her office to help her family’s shipping business, which has ties to China. (NYT)

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York apologized for his behavior after three women accused him of sexual harassment, but he refused to resign. (NYT)

    Tech

    Kevin Mayer, the former Disney executive and C.E.O. of TikTok, will become chairman of the sports streaming service DAZN. (WSJ)

    Arizona lawmakers passed a bill to curtail Apple and Google’s efforts to collect commissions on in-app purchases. Separately, Britain’s antitrust regulator opened an investigation into Apple’s App Store practices. (The Verge, C.M.A.)

    The conservative social network Parler withdrew a lawsuit over Amazon’s canceling its web-hosting agreement, but filed a new one accusing it of trying to “destroy” its business. (Reuters)

    Best of the rest

    Interpol said it has broken up a global criminal network that was selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines. (Insider)

    Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse is reportedly poised to sell for $50 million, down from an asking price of $88 million. (WSJ)

    “The race to become a Clubhouse influencer” (Recode)

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