Aug 4, 2020

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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🎙 “Catty is not cool. I can't think of anything less becoming than a man who talks about people behind their backs.” - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: M&A is back!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A slew of high-profile headlines led by Microsoft's expected acquisition of social media video app TikTok helped bring the Nasdaq to another record high on Monday.

Why it matters: The M&A market looks like it's bouncing back, joining the revived credit and equity markets as well as the market for new public companies through IPOs and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).

  • (Goldman Sachs did warn in a recent note to clients that the 51 SPAC offerings this year — raising a record $21.5 billion that's up 145% from the same period a year ago — have lagged on performance so far.)

What happened: In addition to Microsoft's big pickup, security company ADT saw its shares jump 56.6% on news that Google plans to buy a nearly 7% stake for $450 million to use ADT services in its Nest home security devices.

  • Varian Medical Systems jumped 22% on news of a $16 billion buyout by Germany’s Siemens Healthineers, and Kansas City Southern gained after a report of a takeover bid expected to be worth $20 billion, Reuters reported.

Flashback: Data firm CB Insights reported last month that M&A deals started picking back up in the back half of the second quarter, but with significantly more deals in Asia where VC deal activity rose 20% quarter over quarter.

  • North America and the rest of the world now look to be picking up the pace.

The big picture: “The market is revolving around M&A activity possibly picking up,” Jake Dollarhide, CEO of Longbow Asset Management, told Reuters. “It means CEOs are more confident about the future. Otherwise, why would they lay out billions of dollars?”

Yes, but: As Axios' Dan Primack noted in mid-July, the approval time for big deals has been increasing as the coronavirus pandemic has slowed and scattered government agencies needed to sign off on them.

  • In general, U.S. regulators have beefed up scrutiny of new deals, especially when there are multibillion-dollar companies involved.
  • This could mean that even as more firms agree to tie-ups in 2020, they could be delayed through the end of the year.

By the numbers: The announced deal value for U.S.-based companies through July 9 was 64% lower than the same period in 2019, according to Refinitiv, with aggregate deal value between Q1 and Q2 2020 down more than 40%.

2. Catch up quick

At least 25 major retailers, including Manhattan mainstay Lord & Taylor and the parent company of Men's Warehouse and JoS. A. Bank, have filed for bankruptcy this year, with 10 coming over the last five weeks. (Bloomberg)

SoftBank under-reported income to Japan’s tax authorities by around $380 million last year, according to an unnamed source. (Reuters)

Twitter is being investigated by the FTC for allegedly using phone numbers uploaded for security to target people with ads and could face a $250 million fine. (Mashable)

President Trump said he may extend a nationwide moratorium on evictions and enact a payroll tax holiday through executive actions. (Bloomberg)

3. Chamber finds "inequality on Main Street"

Attitudes and beliefs about racial inequality are changing quickly as protests and media attention have helped highlight the gaps in opportunity between white- and minority-owned businesses in the United States.

Driving the news: A new survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife provided early to Axios shows a 17 percentage point increase in the number of small business owners who say minority-owned small businesses face more challenges than non-minority-owned ones.

By the numbers: In July, 69% of respondents said minority-owned companies faced a tougher road, compared to 52% in January.

  • The change was most notable among white-owned small businesses, with 67% now saying they agree, and 24% saying they disagree.
  • In the first quarter, 47% of white-owned businesses said they agreed and 40% disagreed. 

To wit, two-thirds (66%) of all small businesses acknowledge that minority-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

What they're saying: "The pandemic could exacerbate and elongate the economic struggles already facing minority-owned businesses and families," Suzanne P. Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber, said in a statement.

Yes, but: Tiffiany Howard, a UNLV political science professor and recent international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Axios that while "there has been a recognition and acknowledgement of racism because they fundamentally know it has existed, and that they have benefited from racist power structures," attitude changes must lead to tangible actions.

  • "Until substantive action is taken to address the disenfranchisement, and efforts are made to invest in Black businesses, then while we may witness public acknowledgement, nothing will actually change."

Where it stands: The Chamber's survey also asked small business owners about current conditions.

  • They found minority-owned business owners are more likely than their white counterparts to report difficulty obtaining loans, express fears about permanently closing, and predict declining revenues in the coming year.
  • The poll finds that 66% of minority-owned small businesses are concerned about having to permanently close their doors compared to 57% for white-owned small businesses.
  • However, the gap has narrowed from May, when 78% for minority-owned companies reported concern compared to 52% of white-owned firms.
4. Best Buy continues to defy the retail apocalypse
Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

One company bucking the woeful news from the world of retail is Best Buy, which saw its stock price hit a record high Monday.

What's happening: Last week Best Buy announced that sales have increased from last year despite the coronavirus pandemic. It also has promised permanent wage increases for employees.

  • The retail chain said that sales in the second quarter rose 2.5% from the same period in 2019, and have risen 15% since stores began reopening June 15, per MarketWatch.

Between the lines: Best Buy managed to hang onto its sales numbers through appointment-only visits that held visit rates at around 40% of normal levels in the early stages of the recovery, notes foot traffic analysis firm

  • analysts argue "the best might still be on the horizon with a critical back-to-school season dovetailing with a rise in the value and importance of the home office."
  • "Even the potential for college students to be working remotely could drive an increase in the need for at-home technologies."
5. U.S. manufacturing activity hits highest since March 2018
Data:; Chart: Axios Visuals

A gauge of U.S. manufacturing activity jumped to its highest level in nearly a year and a half last month as manufacturing firms said orders increased despite a resurgence in new COVID-19 infections.

Yes, but: Job losses continue to mount in the industry and economists note that manufacturing surveys like this one from the Institute for Supply Management largely measure how much sentiment has increased rather than an actual tracking of revenue or new orders.

  • “After the scale of shutdowns we really should be seeing a large proportion of firms saying they are experiencing rising output,” James Knightley, chief international economist at ING, told Reuters.
  • “Jobs continue to be lost in the sector. With COVID-19 cases picking up, businesses are likely to remain cautious.”

Also: Deutsche Bank’s chief international strategist Alan Ruskin points out in a note that recent manufacturing data "are apt to give a misleading perspective on overall activity, since select sectors impacted by social distancing have seen an unprecedented collapse in levels of activity that will vastly exceed the small improvements now seen in manufacturing."

  • "Importantly, because of the way diffusion indices are constructed around questions of whether things are improving, getting worse or the same, it is also expected that steady PMI near 50 are going to be associated with a much lower level of manufacturing output than it did before the virus-led downswing."
6. Construction spending falls for 4th straight month

Outlays for construction projects fell 0.7% in June, the fourth straight month spending outlays have fallen, according to the Commerce Department.

  • Residential construction fell 1.5%, while spending on public construction projects dropped 0.7%.

Yes, but: Construction spending overall is still up from its 2019 levels — one of the few industries that has held up dollar for dollar from its 2019 numbers through the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Even after four straight months of declines, spending is up 0.1% from where it was in June 2019.
  • And construction spending at the end of June was 5% higher than it was through the first six months of 2019.
Dion Rabouin

Thanks for reading!

Quote: “Catty is not cool. I can't think of anything less becoming than a man who talks about people behind their backs.”

Why it matters: On Aug. 4, 1981, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was born in Los Angeles. Her royal wedding to Prince Harry was perhaps the greatest thing I have ever seen.