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Latest news

  • The pace of coronavirus infection in the UK looked to be slowing as a key measure of its spread fell below 1.0 for the first time since early September

  • The head of the global pharma trade association said there could be 10 Covid-19 vaccines available by the middle of next year (Reuters)

  • Airbus said it was confident about increasing its production of A320 jets next year despite the global slump in air travel (Bloomberg)

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Arcadia faces administration

Today’s news of mounting financial problems at the UK’s Arcadia Group, owner of high street names such as Topshop and Burton, is the latest sign of distress from bricks-and-mortar retailers poleaxed by the pandemic. The fate of department store Debenhams (established 1778) is also likely to be decided within the next few days. 

The Arcadia news comes on one of the most significant days in the retail calendar. Today is Black Friday, which signals the beginning of the frenetic shopping period leading up to Christmas which can generate up to half a year’s sales for some non-food retailers.

This year’s event was providing a huge boost for ecommerce with many shoppers still unable or disinclined to visit stores — especially in the US, where record numbers of new coronavirus infections were putting paid to the traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping trip and where buyers were splashing out billions of dollars from their smartphones and laptops.

Online sales in the US alone are set to increase 40 per cent from last year’s Black Friday to reach more than $10bn, with retail giants Amazon, Walmart and Target the biggest beneficiaries. Amazon revenues for the quarter are likely to top $100bn for the first time.

Animated gif of US online consumer spend, Nov 1 to Dec 31 ($bn), showing that record online spending is forecast for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The seasonal surge in ecommerce has also led to a parallel increase in online fraud, which in the UK has more than doubled since the start of October. 

Luxury is one of the key sectors in traditional retail that is under footfall pressure, especially in places such as London, which is suffering from a cocktail of high rents, Brexit and the end of a tax refund scheme for tourists. The head of handbag maker Mulberry, which joins names such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Tiffany in suffering from international travel restrictions, lamented in particular the dwindling numbers of Chinese tourists on lucrative shopping trips.

Still, the age of the fancy store is not over just yet. As attendees at the FT’s Business of Luxury conference heard from the likes of Estée Lauder chairman William Lauder this week, the virtual retail experience should be about augmenting rather than replacing physical venues.

As retail correspondent Jonathan Eley points out, the shift online means profound changes for our urban environments with town centres forced to offer more concentrated and diverse shopping opportunities. The only question is how long it will take to get there, he writes.

Markets

Vaccine breakthroughs and imminent closure on a fraught US election mean global stocks are on track for their best month ever. “The US election coupled with the vaccine [news] has removed two quite significant tail risks from the market,” said one fund manager, adding that further gains were still possible.

Column chart of FTSE All-World index showing Global stocks heading for best month on record

Sweden expanded its bond-buying programme as concerns rose about the impact of the pandemic amid a new wave of infections and questions over the country’s failed strategy to contain the virus.

The destructive effect of Covid-19 and sanctions is driving North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to evermore extreme measures: a currency trader has been executed as part of a crackdown on foreign exchange markets after the North Korean won appreciated 20 per cent against the US dollar.

Business

Pharma industry veteran and US “vaccine tsar” Moncef Slaoui says Donald Trump’s “Warp Speed” vaccine programme was instrumental in recent breakthroughs. AstraZeneca and Oxford university, meanwhile, are addressing doubts over their vaccine trial data.

New lockdown restrictions in England are attracting growing flak from politicians and business, especially in the hospitality sector, where 80 per cent of pubs face a “perilous position”. Local authority finances have also taken a severe hit.

Maps showing that England’s new tiers will put many areas of the country into higher restrictions than before the national lockdown

Facing its largest ever loss, Japan’s biggest airline ANA aims to raise ¥332.1bn ($3.2bn) in a new share offering. Delta and Alitalia are launching “quarantine free” flights to Italy, which is welcome news for the only country in Europe with more than 1m hotel rooms and an industry suffering from a heavy debt burden because of the pandemic.

Global economy

India, until recently the world’s fastest-growing large economy, suffered a fall in gross domestic product of 7.5 per cent in the third quarter, following a plunge of 24 per cent in the second, when the country was largely shut down. India has the world’s second-highest total of confirmed coronavirus cases at 9.3m and almost 140,000 deaths.

Germany is planning to borrow €180bn next year, double its original intention, with more money earmarked to help business and to purchase vaccines. The European Commission said business and consumer confidence in the eurozone had fallen for the first time in seven months, with Italy and France the worst affected.

The US Federal Reserve seems to be getting closer to agreement on changes to its bond-buying programme as new jobless claims fuelled fears that economic recovery was stalling amid rises in infections as well as the winding down of fiscal support.

Have your say

Coronavirus vaccines mean light at the end of the tunnel at last. But there’s a long way to go before the world can say goodbye to pandemic disruptions. Can governments roll out vaccine programmes swiftly, efficiently and fairly? And who should have priority? Please share your views with us — email us at covid@ft.com. Thanks.

Trecar comments on They’ve saved Christmas — now save small businesses

I own a small business that is not incorporated and I do not qualify for [UK] government support and yet they turn to me and ask me to help those in trouble. Like others in a similar position, I am watching my savings be eaten up supporting my business. I accept that is the way it is and get on with it. If my business survives, it will be because I enabled it to and not because the government did. However, what I am seeing is my future income becoming decimated, just as is the majority of the country. What I take from this, is that trust in government is not something I will be indulging in for a long time to come.

The essentials

UK reporters Andy Bounds and Chris Tighe report on the pros and cons of starting a business in the middle of a pandemic. Despite a backdrop of economic doom and company failures, the crisis has also thrown up entrepreneurial opportunities, they write.

One side effect of the pandemic chaos has been the trend for the divorced wealthy to attempt to reduce payments to ex-partners amid confusion over the value of assets such as businesses. Making retrospective changes is still, however, difficult: many tried and failed to rewrite settlements during the 2008 financial crisis.

Final thought

When life gives you lemons — make a martini. Drinks editor Alice Lascelles describes how cocktail hour became an unexpected comfort in a year of total chaos.

Alice Lascelles’ Instagram highlights of her year in homemade cocktails
Alice Lascelles’ Instagram highlights of her year in homemade cocktails © @alicelascelles

We would really like to hear from you. Please send your reactions or suggestions to covid@ft.com. Thanks

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