Gap Earnings Improve as Activewear Sales Boom

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Credit…Benjamin Lowy for The New York Times

For a glimpse into how America has been dressing this summer, look no further than Gap Inc. Its only brand to post a sales increase in the second quarter was Athleta, its athleisure chain, while its worst drop was at the office garb-focused Banana Republic, which saw its business halved.

Still, Gap, which also owns Old Navy and its namesake chain, appeared to be getting its business back on track on Thursday, as it reported an 18 percent sales decline to $3.3 billion for the three months ended Aug. 1 and a net loss of $62 million. While those would be grim figures in pre-pandemic times, the clothing giant had previously reported a net sales plunge of 43 percent to $2.1 billion in the three months ended May 2 and a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion as it struggled with temporary store closures.

Gap said on its earnings call that it sold $130 million in face masks during the quarter and secured the No. 1 Google search result for “face mask style guide.”

Gap, with its roughly 2,700 stores in North America, is often seen as a barometer of apparel spending among Americans, with its family-friendly, casual styles at Old Navy and Gap, professional clothing at Banana Republic and pricey activewear at Athleta. The retailer said that quarterly sales fell by 5 percent at Old Navy and 28 percent at Gap.

The company nearly doubled its e-commerce business in the quarter, while store sales fell by almost 50 percent. The shift — e-commerce accounted for half of its North America sales — demonstrated “our ability to pivot to a digitally-led culture,” Sonia Syngal, Gap’s chief executive, said in the statement. The San Francisco-based retailer, which has been embroiled in legal disputes with its landlords around unpaid rent during the pandemic, said that about 90 percent of its global stores were open as of Aug. 1.

While apparel chains and department stores have been battered by the outbreak, national chains like Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods have seen sales jump this summer as many Americans shifted their spending to items to use at home or while socially distancing outdoors.

The Federal Reserve, in a significant shift that could keep interest rates low for longer periods, said it would focus on keeping unemployment low and allow inflation to run slightly higher in good times.

The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, announced the change in a speech on Thursday at the Kansas City Fed’s annual Jackson Hole symposium that was accompanied by an updated long-run statement describing the Fed’s policy strategy. He said the shifts would allow the gains of a strong economy to benefit a wide range of workers.

“Our revised statement emphasizes that maximum employment is a broad-based and inclusive goal,” Mr. Powell said in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday, and “this change reflects our appreciation for the benefits of a strong labor market, particularly for many in low- and moderate-income communities.”

The Fed had been raising rates as joblessness fell to avoid economic overheating ending in breakaway inflation, but in recent years, price gains have been tepid. The changes are an explicit recognition that too low, rather than too high, inflation is the problem.

By emphasizing the importance of a strong labor market and underlining the Fed’s modesty in understanding how long, and how far, unemployment can fall, Mr. Powell and his colleagues used their updated framework to lay the groundwork for longer periods of low interest rates, which could translate into both long periods of cheap mortgages and business loans and stronger future job markets.

Mr. Powell, in explaining the changes, said that “with interest rates generally running closer to their effective lower bound even in good times, the Fed has less scope to support the economy during an economic downturn by simply cutting the federal funds rate.”

The result, he said, “can be worse economic outcomes in terms of both employment and price stability, with the costs of such outcomes likely falling hardest on those least able to bear them.”

Mr. Powell acknowledged that it might seem “counterintuitive that the Fed would want to push up inflation,” which raises prices. But he said the trade-off was a less robust economy that did not deliver gains evenly.

“We are certainly mindful that higher prices for essential items, such as food, gasoline, and shelter, add to the burdens faced by many families, especially those struggling with lost jobs and incomes,” he said. “However, inflation that is persistently too low can pose serious risks to the economy.”

Credit…Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Lord & Taylor, the department store company that traces its roots to 1826, said on Thursday that it was starting liquidation sales at its 38 stores and website after filing for bankruptcy earlier this month and failing to find a buyer.

The retailer is owned by the clothing rental start-up Le Tote, which purchased Lord & Taylor in an unusual $100 million deal last year. The companies sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Aug. 2, saying that they were already under pressure before the pandemic “greatly compounded” their challenges. At the time, the companies said that they had started “soft” store closing sales at various locations, which they planned to halt if a potential acquirer expressed interest in certain stores.

The elimination of Lord & Taylor’s stores and website remove a notable retailer from the American landscape. The company was started by Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor, both English immigrants, as a dry goods store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and it maintained a Fifth Avenue flagship location for about a century.

The liquidation will also strip more Americans of their jobs. Representatives for Lord & Taylor and Le Tote have declined to provide details of employee counts, but last year, Le Tote told The New York Times that it had 250 employees, while Lord & Taylor had 180 corporate employees and 4,000 workers involved with stores.

Ed Kremer, chief restructuring officer of Le Tote and Lord & Taylor, said the company was still seeking a going concern buyer.

Credit…Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The chief executive of Delta Air Lines said in a letter to staff on Thursday that the carrier had barred about 240 customers from flying for refusing to wear masks aboard its planes and in its lounges and gate areas, about twice the number it had put on its no-fly list just a month ago.

Most airlines started requiring masks on planes this spring as the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread across the United States. After complaints mounted that many passengers were disregarding the mask requirement, carriers promised to step up enforcement as the summer travel season began. Like Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have all introduced similar policies. United, for example, has so far barred more than 150 people from flying.

The bans are typically used as a last resort, a consequence for passengers who refuse to where a mask while traveling despite repeated verbal and written warnings. Most bans are temporary and meant to last as long as the mask policies are in place. More recently, several airlines have tightened the policies, removing exceptions to the rule even for passengers who have disabilities or other medical reasons that prevent them from wearing a mask.

Since being introduced, the policies have attracted national attention. In June, American banned a conservative activist who tested its policy shortly after it was introduced. This month, Southwest was criticized after removing a woman, her 1-year-old daughter and her 3-year-old son, who has autism, from a flight after the son refused to wear a mask. Last week, Delta banned a former Navy SEAL who posted a photograph of himself flouting the rule.

  • Stocks on Wall Street continued to climb on Thursday, as investors weighed a policy change by the Federal Reserve that signaled a looser approach to stimulating the economy, news of a fast coronavirus test and new data showing the continuing toll of the coronavirus on the economy.

  • Trading was volatile, with the S&P 500 swinging from gains to losses and back again. It rose 0.17 percent for its sixth consecutive daily gain. Stocks have climbed more than 6 percent in August, and about 56 percent from their lowest point in March.

  • Abbott Laboratories was one of the best-performing stocks in the S&P 500, gaining about 8 percent, after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval for a cheap and portable coronavirus test that gives results in 15 minutes. Companies in the travel and entertainment industry — which stand to benefit as the pandemic is controlled — all rallied. Royal Caribbean Cruises, United Airlines, Marriott International and concert organizer Live Nation Entertainment were all sharply higher.

  • Investors were also considering the latest U.S. weekly unemployment claims, which again topped one million, according to data released by the Labor Department.

  • In an address Thursday morning, Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, summarized a nearly two-year review of the central bank’s policy tools. Mr. Powell said the central bank would allow higher inflation and lower unemployment before raising interest rates.

  • The economy contracted slightly less in the spring than initially believed. The Commerce Department on Thursday said U.S. gross domestic product shrank 9.1 percent in the second quarter (an annual rate of decline of 31.7 percent), a bit better than the initially reported 9.5 percent decline. The quarter was still the worst on record.

Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

It has been nearly a month since the $600 a week in extra federal unemployment assistance ran out. For most of the nearly 30 million Americans receiving benefits, the wait for additional help is likely to drag on for weeks more.

President Trump this month announced a plan to use federal emergency funds to provide $300 a week in extra payments to most unemployed workers. (States can choose to chip in an additional $100 a week, but few are doing so.) As of Wednesday, 34 states had been approved for grants under the program, known as Lost Wages Assistance.

Arizona, the first state to turn the grants into payments, sent $252.6 million to about 400,000 recipients last week, a sum that included retroactive payments for the first two weeks of August. Texas this week has paid out $424 million and expects to deliver nearly $1 billion more to cover the first three weeks of benefits. A handful of other states are paying benefits or expect to begin doing so within days.

Most, however, said it could take until mid-September or later to reprogram computer systems and take other steps to get the money to recipients. Some states don’t expect to send out funds until early October.

Once the money starts flowing, it may not last long. Mr. Trump’s order authorized spending up to $44 billion, which federal officials said last week would cover four or five weeks of payments. That means jobless workers in many states may receive a lump sum covering several weeks of retroactive benefits, but nothing more without congressional action.

Credit…William Widmer for The New York Times

Just over one million Americans filed new claims for state jobless benefits last week, the latest sign that the economy is losing momentum just as federal aid to the unemployed has been pulled away.

Weekly claims briefly dipped below the one million mark earlier this month, offering a glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy job market. But filings jumped back above one million the following week, and stayed there last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

“It’s devastating how stubbornly high initial claims are,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter. “There are still huge numbers of layoffs taking place.”

Another 608,000 people filed for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers aid to independent contractors, self-employed workers and others not covered by regular state programs. That number, unlike the figures for state claims, is not seasonally adjusted.

Initial weekly unemployment claims,

both regular and those under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program

1.0 million regular claims last week after rising above 1 million the week before

Initial weekly unemployment claims, both regular and those under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program

1.0 million regular claims last week after rising above 1 million the week before

Other recent indicators also suggest that the recovery is faltering. Job growth slowed in July, and real-time data from private-sector sources suggests that hiring has slumped further in August. On Tuesday, American Airlines said it would furlough 19,000 workers on Oct. 1, the latest in a string of such announcements from major corporations.

“It is worrying because it does signal that these large companies are pessimistic about the state of the recovery and don’t think that we are going to be returning to normal anytime soon,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the career site Glassdoor.

Unemployment filings have fallen sharply since early April, when 6.6 million applied for benefits in a single week. But even after that decline, weekly filings far exceed any previous period. Close to 30 million Americans are receiving benefits under various state and federal programs.

The continued high rate of job losses comes as government support for the unemployed is waning. The $600-a-week federal supplement to state unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, and efforts to replace it have stalled in Congress. President Trump announced this month that he was using his executive authority to give jobless workers an additional $300 or $400 a week, but few states have begun paying out the new benefit, and the $44 billion allocated to the program is expected to last only a few weeks.

Economists warn that the loss of federal support could act as a brake on the recovery. Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist for the forecasting firm Oxford Economics, estimated that the lapse in extra unemployment benefits would reduce household income by $45 billion in August. That could lead to a drop in consumer spending and further layoffs, she said.

Credit…Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Williams-Sonoma, the owner of Pottery Barn, West Elm and its namesake chain, posted a sales jump in its latest quarter as many Americans spent more time at home and sought out new wares for cooking, remote work, decluttering and outdoor socializing.

The company said on Wednesday that net revenue rose 9 percent to about $1.5 billion in the quarter that ended Aug. 2, as it posted a net profit of $135 million. The Williams-Sonoma brand was the star of the quarter, attracting new and existing customers with marketing around eating well at home. Laura Alber, the Williams-Sonoma chief executive, said the company was excited about the growing interest in cooking from millennials as “it will become a lifelong skill that should drive our business over the longer term.”

The results add to rosy reports from companies including Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods this week, which have also benefited from the newly at-home lives of many Americans because of the pandemic. Consumers have been spending on home office wares, fitness equipment, athletic apparel and outdoor furniture, and have headed outdoors for socially distanced activities like golfing, bicycling and running.

One of the few weak spots mentioned by Ms. Alber was backpack sales as students prepare for remote learning. But on the bright side, she said, the company was seeing a surge in its “study-at-home solutions,” especially at Pottery Barn’s youth-oriented divisions, and was aiming to become “the destination for study from home for kids of all ages.”

Credit…Rena Effendi for The New York Times

Turkey is facing its second currency crisis in less than two years. Economists are predicting a sharp downturn after the decline of the lira raised the specter of another round of soaring prices for imported goods like medicine and fuel. And international investors are alarmed by the financial maneuvering and flood of cheap credit that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used to prop up the lira and fuel economic growth.

Turkey’s economic fate has geopolitical ramifications. Recently, Turkish armed forces have behaved aggressively in the Mediterranean toward France and Greece, which are NATO allies. Analysts view the confrontations as an attempt by Mr. Erdogan to stir up nationalist sentiment and distract Turks from their money problems. His hold on power was shaken last year after his party lost control of the municipal government in Istanbul.

The sharp devaluation of the lira, which lost 7 percent of its value in August, has already led to higher prices for food and other basics, stirring resentment.

“Everything is unbelievably expensive,” said Derya, a 41-year-old math teacher, who did not want to give her last name because she is a government employee. She said she was mixing more onions into her meatballs to make them go further. Because of the lira’s decline, she said while shopping at an Istanbul market, “we have gotten poorer.”

The government has pressured banks to lend more, helping to prop up consumer spending but also feeding inflation, which is at an annual rate of almost 12 percent. The declining buying power of the lira is one reason it has been losing value against other currencies. In addition, many foreign investors lost faith in Turkey during the last crisis, in 2018, meaning there is little demand for lira assets.

Credit…Matt Dunham/Associated Press
  • United Airlines said it plans to cut 2,850 pilots this fall unless Congress extends funding it provided to airlines under the stimulus law passed in March. The airline previously said it could furlough as many as 36,000 employees in all, including pilots, starting Oct. 1, when a ban on broad job cuts, a condition of the aid, expires.

  • Gatwick Airport, Britain’s second-largest after Heathrow, is planning to cut 600 jobs, about a quarter of its staff, as the travel industry continues to be decimated by the pandemic. Passenger numbers have declined by more than 80 percent in August compared to the previous year, the airport said on Wednesday. Gatwick is operating at just 20 percent capacity, and more than three-quarters of the staff are on the government’s furlough scheme, which will end in October. Stewart Wingate, the airport’s chief, said there were talks with the government to secure support for the aviation industry.

  • The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency authorization to Abbott Laboratories for a cheap and portable coronavirus test that gives results in 15 minutes, the company said on Wednesday. It is a so-called antigen test, which works by rapidly detecting fragments of virus in a sample. Antigen tests tend to miss more infections than slower tests based on a technology called polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R. Abbott said its new test detected the virus in 97.1 percent of people who have it, and accurately found no presence of the virus in 98.5 percent of negative cases.

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