NOTES FROM THE FRONT LINES


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Social distancing tech booms. Wearable devices that measure athletes’ performances are being tweaked and redeployed to factory floors to tell workers when they violate social distance norms.
For example, when people wearing chip-based devices from Kinexon come within a certain distance of each other, the devices emit an audible alarm and record how long the proximity lasted.
Yet, the devices lack a way to account for mitigating factors, such as whether workers are wearing protective equipment, and also raise concerns about whether the tracking data could be used for nefarious purposes.
The devices’ makers are scrambling to meet demand from companies desperate to resume normal manufacturing activities while observing public health strictures.
Hedge funds bleed money. Investors took $33 billion out of their hedge fund accounts during the first three months of this year, the fourth largest quarterly withdrawal in history and the largest since the first three months of 2009.
During this year’s first quarter, the aggregate value of hedge fund investments declined by $133 billion, according to Hedge Fund Research (HFR).
Still, hedge funds performed less poorly than stock markets did.
HFR’s composite hedge-fund index fell 9.4 percent during the quarter while the S&P stock index was down about 20 percent.
General Electric leverages lockdown to continue streamlining. The company is laying off 13,000 workers from its plants that make jet engines for Boeing and Airbus. Both carriers have deferred purchases of hundreds of new planes for the foreseeable future.
G.E. said it plans to fire 25 percent of its aviation workforce in the months ahead as part of its larger plan to cut costs in the division by $1 billion.
The company reported a 40-percent decline in profits in its aviation unit during the first quarter of this year, with engine repair calls off by 60 percent and new engine installations down 40 percent.
Overall, G.E. downsized 78,000 workers last year after seeing profits wither in its power and other divisions. It already has sold its biopharma, financial, locomotive, media, and petroleum businesses and plans to cut $2 billion in costs company-wide.
“In the process of reacting to” the pandemic and subsequent economic lockdown, “we will accelerate the operational and cultural transformation of G.E.,” said CEO Larry Culp.
Australian pension fund ready for record withdrawals. AustralianSuper, Australia’s largest pension fund, expects members to cash out Au$4.6 billion to deal with urgencies caused by the global economic lockdown.
The fund has “heaps of liquidity,” however, and can handle the demand without difficulty, said Mark Delaney, the fund’s chief investment officer.
The government is allowing individuals to withdraw up to Au$20,000 in emergency funds without penalty.
Australia’s public and private pension funds have about Au$3 trillion in assets.
The government expects about $30 billion to be withdrawn during the global shutdown, but some analysts expect the demand to be as much as double that.
Some funds are concentrated among investors from the hospitality sector. Those could see such demand they would be forced to sell assets in a bear market to cover the withdrawals, analysts have warned.
Airbnb lays off 25 percent of employees. The lodging broker has cut 1,900 jobs and forecasts 2020 revenues will be less than half of last year’s.
Airbnb had planned an initial stock offering worth billions this year but shelved the plan after the economic lockdown kept travelers at home.
Cruise ships set sail again. Carnival Cruise Lines is setting eight cruise ships out to sea from Florida and Texas beginning 1 August, the company said. Voyages on ships based in Australia and North America, however, will remain docked until at least 31 August.
Royal Caribbean, the second-largest cruise line after Carnival, has canceled all sailings through at least 11 June. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has suspended any cruises until at least 30 June.
Neiman Marcus, Aldo go bankrupt. Neiman Marcus, the Dallas-based clothier with 42 stores in 13 states, has joined J.Crew Group and Canadian shoe company Aldo in filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The company was able to manage its debts until the mandated economic shutdown “threw everything off track,” said CEO Geoffrey van Raemdonck.
Aldo, with 700 stores and about 8,000 employees, also filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Canada.
The chains join J.Crew Group and Gold’s Gym, which also have sought court protection from creditors as a result of the global economic crash.
Trump Asserts “National Emergency,” Fed Control Over Electric Utility Purchases
In a 1 May executive order declaring a national emergency, Donald Trump has given the U.S. defense department the authority to oversee electric companies’ purchases of electronic equipment.
The order grows out of a view widely shared among U.S. intelligence agencies that adversaries such as China and Russia have secured hidden access to the American utility grid through equipment utility companies have imported from them and could trigger blackouts at will.
The order enables the defense department to control companies’ purchases of electronic gear from entities deemed to be “controlled or influenced” by foreign adversaries. The edict also establishes a process by which the federal government can examine already-installed equipment to see if it has been compromised.
The order effectively transfers issues of grid security from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the defense department and gives domestic industry an incentive to manufacture items that utilities have been buying overseas.
Americans Drink Their Way Through Home Confinement
U.S. residents spent $2 billion more on alcoholic beverages in March than they did a year previous.
Beer sales were up 20 percent to $5.5 billion, wine rose 28 percent to $2 billion, and spirits 39 percent to $1.3 billion.
Almost all of the gains came from sales at retail stores after bars and restaurants went dark as a result of the economic shutdown.
The beverage industry is scrambling to shift its operations to meet the suddenly lopsided demand.
Molson Coors is operating “pretty much flat out” to meet retailers’ orders, although drinking at home did not balance the loss of on-premises sales; the company’s overall sales declined 8.7 percent in 2020’s first quarter compared to 2019’s.
TRENDPOST: In the clear hypocrisy of making up rules, the nation’s rulers have proclaimed liquor stores an “essential business.”
Drinking at home has been increasing in tandem with a rise in domestic violence police are reporting during the lockdown. But governments are reaping the rewards as their alcohol tax revenues increase.
Thus, politicians are assured they will maintain their salaries, pensions, health benefits, etc. while those they rule lose their livelihoods, businesses, and homes.
 
 

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