Verizon commits more than $45 billion to 5G spectrum bid


On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the winners of an $81 billion auction for the license to use important airwaves that are ideal for 5G.

The big winners were Verizon and AT&T, which need these airwaves in order to build 5G networks that are significantly faster than current wireless service.

Verizon, through its Cellco Partnership subsidiary, bid nearly $45.5 billion on the airwaves. AT&T, through AT&T Spectrum Frontiers, bid $23.4 billion. The third-largest U.S. carrier, T-Mobile, bid the third largest amount of money on the spectrum at $9.3 billion.

The sums spent by the companies ended up much higher than expectations for the auction last summer, which reflects how important securing licenses for the airwaves are for the carriers.

“These record-breaking results highlight the demand and critical need for more licensed mid-band spectrum and demonstrate the importance of developing a robust spectrum auction pipeline,” said CTIA CEO Meredith Baker in a statment. CTIA is a trade group that represents the wireless industry. Bidders are still under a quiet period where they are not permitted to publicly comment.

The 280 megahertz of spectrum up for grabs in this auction is mid-band spectrum, sometimes called the “goldilocks band,” which means that it’s well suited for 5G networks, combing both the ability to transmit huge amounts of data with a wavelength that can travel distances.

The results are in-line with previous industry expectations. Verizon and AT&T were expected to be the biggest bidders, because they did not have a lot of mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile had already acquired some mid-band through its merger with Sprint.

Not all the spectrum was sold at once. The 280 MHz of spectrum was split into smaller 20 MHz blocks, and further divided into 406 geographic regions. All together, there were 5,684 licenses up for grabs.

In total, the three biggest U.S. carriers won 90% of the licenses up for auction.

Here are the top five bidders, according to the FCC:

  • Cellco Partnership: $45,454,843,197
  • AT&T Spectrum Frontiers LLC: $23,406,860,839
  • T-Mobile License LLC: $9,336,125,147
  • United States Cellular Corporation :$1,282,641,542
  • NewLevel II, L.P.: $1,277,395,688

The top five bidders by number of licenses granted were:

  • Cellco Partnership: 3,511
  • AT&T Spectrum Frontiers LLC: 1,621
  • United States Cellular Corp.: 254
  • T-Mobile License LLC: 142
  • Canopy Spectrum, LLC: 84

 U.S. Cellular is the fourth-largest U.S. carrier. NewLevel II represents private equity firm Grain Management, while Canopy Spectrum is a venture between former Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche investor and Edward Moise Jr., according to LightReading.

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Heathrow passenger numbers fall to 1970s' levels



Covid “devastated” air travel in 2020, the UK’s largest airport says, as it sinks to a £2bn loss.

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Where are the checks, Joe?



The Democrats have a lot of good excuses to explain why they have not yet delivered a third round of COVID-19 stimulus checks.

It’s only been a month. The Republicans haven’t cooperated. The previous president required some seeing-to.

Unfortunately, desperate Americans can’t feed their kids with excuses.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appears to grasp this concept, if mostly while taking digs at her colleagues across the aisle. As bipartisan talks around a proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package collapsed recently, Pelosi declared, “Americans need help. House Republicans don’t care.”

But Democrats have not yet effectively demonstrated that they care either.

They surely feel obligated to help, whether out of the kindness of their hearts or because it’s part of the brand they’ve cultivated over the years. Caring, however, might be a stretch.

If the Dems truly cared, they’d betray more understanding of the urgency shared among the eight million Americans who fell into poverty between June and November, let alone the millions more dangling over the precipice of the abyss. Many of those who lost jobs during the pandemic are currently struggling to stay healthy and sane and find a way to put food on the table in a weak job market. Their bank accounts are almost entirely eroded. They can’t afford to feed their pets. Every day, they wake up to the deepest trouble of their lives.

This isn’t a situation where American families could sure use some extra money. It’s a situation where many of them are a single unpaid bill away from going unhoused—and begging the government to throw them a lifeline.

It was amid this sorry state of affairs that President Joe Biden promised, on January 3, that if Georgians voted for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in that week’s special election, $2,000 stimulus checks would “go out the door immediately.”

Political scientists could spend years dissecting the direct impact of this concrete promise on the outcome of that election. It was a unique situation. After a year in which Republicans seemed to force Democrats into whittling their ambitious, if possibly pork-riddled $3.4 trillion surplus package down to the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act, which ultimately fizzled out in favor of a $900 billion relief bill with a paltry $600 direct payment, here was an opportunity to completely remove Republicans from the stimulus equation.

There’s little doubt that Biden’s explicit promise to end the gridlock helped put Ossoff and Warnock over the top. Imagine the relief among those who need help the most, upon hearing that no more impediments stood in the way between them and a potentially life-changing amount of money!

Now imagine how quickly that relief curdled into disappointment when reality settled in.

As it turned out, rather than the promised $2,000, the stimulus checks would actually amount to $1,400, and rather than “immediately,” they would arrive vaguely soon-ish. (The current earliest estimate is mid-March.)

How could this be happening? Do the Democrats, those standard-bearers of caring, not currently control both houses of the legislature as well as the executive branch of the U.S. government?

The logic around $1,400 is baffling, for starters. Of all the moving parts in a stimulus package that could possibly use a bonsai trim, direct payments are low, if not last, on the list. The idea is ostensibly that the $1,400 would piggyback on top of December’s $600 payment to form the requisite $2,000. It’s bait-and-switch math that appears technically accurate if you squint at it—but only if the checks arrived very shortly after the first batch, rather than at least two and a half months later.

Besides, there is nothing to be gained from this kind of penny-pinching right now, especially when other countries such as Canada are paying citizens that same $2,000 every month to stay home. This is a pandemic, and money isn’t real. This isn’t the time for wasting precious days targeting payments. It’s the time to focus on the survival of millions of Americans at a time when 500,000 have already died from COVID-19 itself.

Any lawmaker whose fear of impoverished people not getting money they need is dwarfed by a fear of people who are not impoverished getting money they don’t need is probably a sociopath and should not be making laws.

Part of the reason the bill has ultimately taken so long—and part of the reason the direct payments are so modest—is because Biden and the Dems hoped to pass COVID-19 relief with bipartisan support. Not only would inviting Republicans to the table in good faith offer up some of that unity Biden campaigned on, but it would also speed up the deal, as the only alternative with such a slim Senate margin—passing the bill through budget reconciliation—is a longer, more complicated process than a floor vote.

However, it’s been clear for at least a month now that Republicans will not be wooed by the temptation of helping President Joe Biden get a win, no matter how many needlessly suffering individuals would also get a win from it. (Read: survive.) Even the most moderate of Republicans seems bewildered by the proposed bill.

The moment that it became clear that even Senator Collins seemed beyond reach, back in January, the freshly sworn-in Biden should have focused on the task of whipping the most conservative Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin. (He was officially on board as of February 2.)

As we head into late February of 2021, the Democrats finally appear on the brink of approving a stimulus package, and with it a third round of checks. Beyond direct payments, the proposed bill would renew federal unemployment benefits, increase funds for distributing COVID-19 vaccines, and possibly increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and unload some student loan debt. It’s a bold, muscular bill that enjoys broad bipartisan support from the American public.

But seriously, where are the damn checks already?

Is this really the foot the Biden administration wants to put forward walking into this term? Sure, it’s only been a month, but that recency is dwindling by the minute. The people who have lost their livelihood through no fault of their own and are struggling for subsistence after only receiving a grand total of $1,800 from the government during the pandemic—those people can’t be expected to wait until mid-March. I’m not even sure what waiting is supposed to look like when one’s best option for getting by is starting a GoFundMe.

Mid-March may seem soon enough for most politicians, but those barely scraping by are bound to feel the edge of every single second of it.

If Democrats aren’t afraid of putting those people through such an experience, they should at least be afraid of how long those people will remember that it happened.



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I’m 28, have no debt, 401(k), Roth IRA and $45K. My parents want me to save for a home. I want a Tesla Model 3. Who’s right?


Dear Quentin,

I’ve been flip-flopping back and forth between buying a new car or putting a down payment on my first home. With my parents being very money-minded and keeping a careful eye on my finances (still), I’m caught in a predicament.

The original plan was to save up 20% to 30% for a down payment on a condo in the suburbs of Los Angeles and buy into the market within the two years or so, and right now I’m about 40% towards that goal.

However, with the Green Act possibly on the horizon again, the Model 3 has been a temptation, especially with all the extra bonus incentives my state offers, with a net final price of around $27,000. I’m not desperately in need of a new car, but this seems like a great way to save some money on a vehicle with smart features.


With the Green Act possibly on the horizon again, the Model 3 has been a temptation, especially with all the extra bonus incentives my state offers.

I am 28 years old with zero debt as of January 2021. Retirement wise, I am well on my way to maxing out 401(k) contributions this year, and I have already maxed out my Roth IRA contributions, and if everything stays the same, I’ll have about $60,000 in retirement by the end of the year.

In terms of liquid assets and investments, I’m sitting on about $45,000 as of right now. I currently save and/or invest 50% to 60% of my take-home pay, since I moved back home with my parents after being laid off last year, and started a new job remotely.

I don’t know if I should (a) purchase the car straight up and empty out my savings as I will probably have the time to save up the money again before a potential housing crash, (b) not purchase the car and keep saving for the down payment, (c) do both or (d) invest the money elsewhere.

As financial conservatives, my parents are strongly against me buying the car because it’s a depreciating asset, and they believe entering the market should be my priority, so they think that I should have the down payment waiting, to jump into the market whenever I see a good deal.

I believe I can buy the car and strap down, and save more aggressively to replenish the funds. Any advice for me?

Pressured by the Parents

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Dear Pressured,

What the hell! Give into your impulse, splash out on the Tesla
TSLA,
-2.19%
Model 3. You will be empowered by the knowledge that you are using your spending power to get America back on its feet, while making a cool statement that you have finally arrived. Fully embrace the American dream of being smack-bang-wallop in the middle of the eco-warrior, Tesla-driving, tech-savvy zeitgeist. All any of us have is today, after all and global warming is coming for us all in the end.

Cruise the neighborhoods where you would like to buy a home in your 30s, 40s or 50s (it will all depend on how the property market fares between now and then). Take a good look at those homes, assuming they are not obscured by manicured hedges, and enjoy the view. Drive back to your parents’ house, honk the horn so they can marvel at Elon Musk’s bold vision for themselves, and then and only then ask them nicely if they would make space in their driveway for your Model 3.

I am kidding, of course. You have done everything right so far. Buy the house first and the $27,000 electric car later. You already have a destination in mind. Don’t allow an automobile, regardless of how cool you think it would be to drive, to deter you from that destination. Listen to your parents. They have seen more than you have. They are trying to set you on the road to financial freedom. And as nice as they are to drive and to be seen driving, you don’t need a Tesla to achieve that.

The Moneyist:‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
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 group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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Japan appoints a ‘Minister of Solitude’ over the rise in suicides for the first time in 11 years


More people died in Japan from suicide than from COVID-19 in October 2020.


2 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.


Japan appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” this month to help reduce social isolation among the population due to the first increase in suicide rates in 11 years.

As reported by the Japan Times , Tetsushi Sakamoto, who served as the minister seeking to reverse the decline in the birth rate in Japan, will take over overseeing government policies to deal with loneliness and isolation.

“Women are suffering more isolation (than men) and the number of suicides is on an increasing trend,” Suga told Sakamoto at a press conference on February 12 announcing the new role, according to the Japan Times . “I hope they identify problems and promote policy measures in a comprehensive manner.”

Loneliness is a recurring mental health problem in Japan that is known as “hikikomori” when it reaches the extreme, something that has increased due to social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This appears to have caused suicides to rise for the first time in more than a decade .

For example, Japan’s National Police Agency reported that more people died from suicide than from COVID-19 in October 2020 , with women having increased by 70% annually.

“I look forward to activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and protect ties between people,” Sakamoto said at the February 12 press conference.

Japan’s new loneliness minister said he plans to hold an emergency forum in late February to hear the concerns of people facing loneliness and isolation.

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Haulier swaps the high road for burgeoning home deliveries after family farm shop purchase


A former haulier-turned-shopkeeper has stepped into the driving seat of a long-established rural retail outlet after securing funds to fuel his entrepreneurial aspirations.

Michael Fisher parked a career as a long-distance driver when his father-in-law John Money decided to hang his apron at the popular Stallingborough Farm Shop.

And the 30-year-old business is now increasing its presence on the road, having bought three vans to expand a burgeoning home delivery service.

Nine new staff members have also been hired to meet demand for fresh fruit, veg, meats and flowers.

He said: “I always like the idea of running my own business and when the opportunity arose to secure the future of the business and give my father-in-law a long and well-deserved retirement plan, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

“I knew from the outset that running my own business would be a challenging and exciting journey, but when we signed on the dotted line, little did we appreciate just how much and how quickly the business would need to adapt as a result of Covid-19.”

Funds initially stopped the dream, with a need to purchase the business and stock. After exploring different ways of raising money needed, a friend suggested Finance For Enterprise – a delivery partner of British Business Bank-backed Start Up Loans UK.



Michael and Maria Fisher at Stallingborough Farm Shop.

He discussed his plans with Grimsby-based investment manager Jane Cusse who helped Mr Fisher and his wife Maria to secure £40,000 through two start-up loans, topped up by funds provided direct. “The financial support we received helped us to manage our cashflow, particularly during our first few months of trading when we didn’t know how lockdown would affect the business,” he said.

“The Farm Shop had always offered a home delivery service, but the funds we were able to secure from Finance For Enterprise enabled us to continue trading by delivering the fresh produce to the doors of our customers and as a result, we’ve managed to grow the business and create new jobs, something I feel incredibly proud to have achieved.

“Jane was amazing, she took the stress and worry away and kept us regularly updated through the application process.”

A willingness to go ‘above and beyond’ the call of duty has seen the company receive rave reviews from its growing numbers of customers, with plans afoot to further expand the delivery fleet.

Jane said: “The retail sector has been particularly hard hit during the Covid pandemic, Michael and Maria spotted an opportunity to build and diversify their new business and they seized the opportunity.

“After spending time reviewing their business plans I put together a lending package which enabled them to not only acquire the existing company, but one which would help them to put their own mark on the business.

“Despite working in a challenging business climate, Michael and Maria’s hard work has really paid off and the amount of positive feedback they’ve received from their customers is a testament to their dedication and hard work. The Farm Shop is something of an institution in the Grimsby area and it’s great to see that its future is in safe hands.

“Accessing finance is one of the greatest challenges that many new business owners face, but the Start Up Loans scheme was specifically created to support new entrepreneurs. Michael and Maria presented a well thought out business plan, backed by forecasts based on the historical performance of the business and under their leadership the business has gone from strength-to-strength.”

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Top 5 Investment Tips From Mark Cuban – Jewish Business News


Top 5 Investment Tips From Mark Cuban

When you don’t know what to do, do nothing!

Mark Cuban is surely the kind of person who you would ask for investment tips. Not so much for a tip on a hot stock as they say, but more for general ideas of how best to make your money grow.

Obviously, the billionaires can afford to make big investments, become activist investors, buy out whole companies and get the big hedge funds to take their money and do all of the investment work for them. But you, me and more than 90% of all people do not have that much in capitol just lying around.

This, however, does not mean that we cannot learn from the investment philosophies of the major players out there.

So here now is part three of our series on investment tips from the most successful investors. You can see our previous articles on how George Soros and Carl Icahn invest their money. And now its Mark Cuban’s turn.

Pay Off Debt

If you find yourself with extra money, lets say from a tax refund or an unexpected inheritance, the first thing that Mark Cuban would do is pay off any currently held debt. This is especially so with credit card debt.

People pay high rates on their credit card debt. This gives them nothing in return and they do not realize that this form of deferred payment just raises the price of all items purchased. Just add however much you might have paid the credit card company in a given year for letting you owe to the prices of whatever you bought which was not essential.

“Using a credit card is OK if you pay it off at the end of the month,” Cuban said in an interview with Yahoo. “Just recognize that the 18% or 20% or 30% you’re paying in credit card debt is going to cost you a lot more than you ever could earn anywhere else.”

Would you have really gotten that new model smart phone or tablet if the price had been double or even triple what was listed? Probably not. So if you have some sort of windfall pay of debts first before even thinking of making any investments. The interest that you are paying on it is probably higher than any expected returns on an investment.

Don’t Put More Than 10% in Risky Investments

They always say the greater the risk the greater the reward. So if you think that there is a chance to even double your money (this rarely if ever happens) then there is a much higher probability that you will lose your shirt.

So do as Mark Cuban advises and never put more than 10% of your money in something risky. That is 10% of the funds which you have set aside for investments.

“If you’re a true adventurer and you really want to throw the hail Mary, you might take 10 percent and put it in bitcoin or Ethereum, but if you do that, you’ve got to pretend you’ve already lost your money,” Cuban once told Vanity Fair.

Save Your Money First

Mark Cuban advises that people be sure to have enough cash available to pay their day to day living expenses for up to a year before investing. In other words, if you are not looking for what to do with your already existing retirement fund then start saving fist. Once you are sure that you can make the rent and buy the groceries regardless of what happens with your investment then you are ready to risk money on the markets.

Remember, even if your investment does not drop, you will need to be patient and wait a while for results. The money that you put away will probably need to be left in whatever account or fund for years.

Mark Cuban told CNBC, “Once you’re able to save [for] a year of expenses, then you can start investing and putting it into something that can appreciate, like a low cost mutual fund or the Standard and Poor’s Index.”

Don’t Be Impulsive: When you don’t know what to do, do nothing!

Probably the worst thing that an individual investor can do is rush things. Don’t ever make quick moves like selling off one investment to put the money all in something else just because you heard something on the news. Avoid fads or trends. Be patient.

Day trading doesn’t really work. Think through each and every move that you make ahead of time. Wait a few days before deciding on changing your investments.

Mark Cuban warned would be investors on LinkedIn, “Remember the market is where it was less than a year ago. No one freaked out when it went up too fast. No reason to freak out when it goes down quickly. Remember, I follow the No. 1 rule of investing: When you don’t know what to do, do nothing.”

Invest in Yourself

Mark Cuban told Men’s Health in an interview, “When you’re first starting, you may or may not have a job. You don’t have any money. You [have] complete uncertainty about your career. But what I learned early on is that if I put in the effort, I can learn almost anything.”

So take the time and put in the effort to learn. You need to teach yourself about investments. There is plenty of information out there. If you are going to risk your money then invest some of it in a subscription to a serious financial publication or a credible website/service which offers daily information and online tutorials.

For more information on that read “Top 5 Websites for Investment Advice.”


Read more about: Mark Cuban


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Thai banks net profit stood at 146.2 billion baht in 2020


Ms. Suwannee Jatsadasak, Senior Director, Bank of Thailand, reported on the Thai banking system’s performance in 2020 that the Thai banking system remained resilient with high levels of capital fund, loan loss provision and liquidity to support economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Credit assistance measures, coupled with revisions to rules on loan classification and provisioning supported bank loan expansion and alleviated the deterioration of bank loan quality.  Meanwhile, banking system’s profitability declined as banks continued to set aside loan loss provision at a high level as a cushion against a potential adverse impact of COVID-19 on loan quality. 

Details are as follows:

 Capital Fund of the Thai banking system was at 2,994.3 billion baht, equivalent to capital adequacy ratio (BIS ratio) of 20.1%.  Loan loss provision remained high at 799.1 billion baht with NPL coverage ratio of 149.2%.  Liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) registered at 179.6%.

Banks’ overall loan growth was 5.1% year-on-year in 2020 edging up from 2.0% in 2019

 In 2020, banks’ overall loan growth was 5.1% year-on-year, edging up from 2.0% in 2019. Details on bank loan are as follows: 

Corporate loan (64.2% of total loan) expanded at 5.4% year-on-year, following a contraction of 0.8% in the previous year. This was mainly driven by an expansion in large corporate loan, where some large corporates switched their funding source from bond issuance to bank loan in the second quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, SME loan contracted at a lower rate, assisted by the soft loan scheme. 

Consumer loan grew at a slower pace at 4.6%

 Consumer loan (35.8% of total loan) grew at a slower pace at 4.6% year-on-year, compared to an expansion of 7.5% in the previous year, which was consistent with weak household purchasing power due to COVID-19. 

However, consumer loan growth improved across all portfolios in the second half of 2020 following an improvement in economic activity after the relaxation of lockdown measures.  In particular, mortgage lending expanded in line with an increase in demand for low-rise residential properties and developers’ marketing campaigns.   

On the loan quality front, debtors affected by COVID-19 continued to receive credit assistance from banks.  As a result, the gross non-performing loan (NPL or stage 3) outstanding slightly increased to 523.3 billion baht, equivalent to NPL ratio of 3.12%.  Meanwhile, the ratio of loans with significant increase in credit risk (SICR or stage 2) to total loans stood at 6.62%.   

Thai banks net profit stood at 146.2 billion baht in 2020

 The banking system recorded net profit of 146.2 billion baht in 2020, a decline from the previous year.  This was attributed to a high level of provisioning expenses to cushion against a potential impact of COVID-19 on loan quality going forward, combined with a high base effect from the recognition of extraordinary items from gains on sales of investments in 2019. 

As a result, the ratio of return on asset (ROA) declined from 1.39% in the previous year to 0.65%.  The ratio of net interest income to average interest-earning assets (Net Interest Margin: NIM) decreased from 2.73% to 2.51%.  

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Continental drift – Duty-free retail is finding new ways to grow | Business


The pandemic is pushing the industry further away from cigarettes, booze and airports, and towards China


HAINAN, A TROPICAL island 450km south-west of Hong Kong, used to be a sleepy backwater populated by budget resorts catering to Chinese tourists unable to afford a trip to Hawaii. Today it draws travellers with considerably fatter wallets. Buying a Gucci gown or a Tiffany trinket in one of Hainan’s giant, posh malls feels no different from shopping on Fifth Avenue in New York or Avenue Montaigne in Paris—until the tills are rung. Instead of walking out with their bling, visitors from mainland China pick up their items at the airport on their way home, or get them dispatched there directly. Under rules devised a decade ago, which mean that for duty purposes Hainan is treated as a separate zone from mainland China, they are exempt from a variety of taxes and duties. Savings can reach 30% as a result.

Duty-free shopping conjures up images of crowded airport terminals. As the covid-19 pandemic has emptied these of passengers, the shops inside have suffered commensurately. Having reached $86bn in 2019, according to Generation Research, a consultancy, duty-free sales collapsed by two-thirds last year. Mauro Anastasi of Bain, another consultancy, forecasts travel-retail sales will not reach those levels again in real terms before the second half of the decade. Intercontinental passengers and business travellers, the biggest spenders, are likely to take longest to return to the skies. Chinese tourists, by far the most prized by duty-free operators, are shunning countries with poor track records at handling the pandemic.

Shoppers will one day return to airports. Yet when it emerges from the current crisis, duty-free shopping will have been profoundly transformed: unabashedly focused on luxury, less connected to travel and closer to Asian high-rollers. Hainan points the way.

Rebate tectonics

Before covid-19, selling stuff to travellers had been one of the few bright spots of the brick-and-mortar retail world. The practice has been popular ever since cruise ships on the high seas plied their passengers with booze and cigarettes free of government levies. In 1950 Ireland applied the principle to aviation. As mass tourism took hold, airports the world over turned themselves into tax-free shopping malls with departure gates. Annual growth of around 8% in recent pre-pandemic years—twice the figure for other shops—was fuelled by sales of cognac, sunglasses, purses and other knick-knacks. Sales have grown eight-fold since the late 1980s (see chart). Excited marketers referred to duty-free shops as “the sixth continent”.

Covid-19 has deflated that enthusiasm. It has also, as in many other areas, accelerated pre-existing trends that were reshaping the duty-free business. The first has to do with the mix of stuff sold in duty free. Alcohol and, particularly, cigarettes have dwindled over the years. Posh brands became mainstays of airport concourses as they cottoned on these were good places to pitch to wealthy people, particularly Asian passengers. Luxury goods, perfumes and cosmetics now dominate travel retail, accounting for two-thirds of sales.

The second development is the shift away from airports. Though the terminal remains its natural habitat, duty-free shopping has in recent years expanded into locations farther afield. Spending per passenger in airports was sagging even before the coronavirus hit.

At the same time specialised downtown shops in tourist hotspots have lured visitors eligible for tax discounts if they repatriate what they buy. These locations, particularly popular in Asia, now represent nearly 40% of all sales. Rules vary globally, but some allow shopping even from those with a tenuous link to travel, for example a ticket booked several months hence.

Tax-exempt outlets are popping up across mainland China, catering to domestic travellers who have returned from overseas (and, soon, who plan to travel there in future). Chinese shoppers in Hainan, for example, now enjoy a duty-free allowance of 100,000 yuan ($15,500), thanks to a recent tripling of the tax break.

The final trend, also on display in Hainan, is duty free’s eastward drift. In 2011 Asia-Pacific overtook Europe as the largest regional market. (America, where most flights are domestic, has always been a laggard.) Before the pandemic Seoul’s Incheon, a two-hour flight from Beijing, became the biggest airport shop in the world. Revenues for Prada and Hermès in Asia excluding Japan have jumped by over 40% in 2020, owing heavily to splurges in Hainan. Sales there are reported to have reached $5bn last year, more than doubling from 2019. Industry watchers predict they could grow five-fold within a decade.

Although Chinese buyers have been the world’s biggest luxury consumers for years, accounting for a third of global sales, brands were reluctant to consider places like Hainan as top-tier luxury venues. Around two-thirds of Chinese spending on handbags, watches and other baubles took place overseas. The Communist Party is keen to change that. The ever-more-generous tax breaks for the well-heeled are “the key tenet of a long-term government mission to maximise domestic consumption and repatriate travel-related shopping from abroad,” says Martin Moodie of the Moodie Davitt Report, a travel-retail newsletter. Daniel Zipser of McKinsey, a consultancy, expects the overseas share of luxury spending to decline. As a result, luxury groups’ attitudes towards venues like Hainan “have changed dramatically”, says Cherry Leung of Bernstein, a broker.

If the Chinese continue to buy their baubles at home, that will suck away more business from the duty-free operators that have historically dominated non-Chinese airports, such as Dufry of Switzerland and DFS, part of the LVMH luxury empire. Last year China Duty Free, a state-controlled group, overtook Dufry as the world’s largest purveyor of tariff-free luxury goods. The market capitalisation of China Duty Free’s Shanghai-listed arm has more than tripled over the past year to $112bn, making it one of the most valuable retailers in the world.

In an acknowledgment of the shifting balance of spending power, some travel retailers from Europe have tried to muscle in on Hainan. Dufry has sold a stake to Alibaba in the hope that the Chinese e-commerce giant can improve its fortunes there. Last month Lagardère Travel Retail, part of a French conglomerate, launched a second shop on the island.

Airports will remain good places to find well-off shoppers. Bored people waiting for their flights to be called are perfect marks for luxury brands. Most retailers spend fortunes attracting customers to their shops or websites, points out Julián Díaz González, boss of Dufry. “For us it is just moving them from the corridor to the shops.” As the industry continues to evolve, Mr Díaz may increasingly find it is a matter of moving the duty-free shops to the customers. ■

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Fighting to breathe with my COVID compadre – Long Island Business News


I first met “Manuel” when they wheeled me up from the emergency room to the COVID ward at Huntington Hospital.

“Hola,” he said smiling, a raspy-voiced welcome to his third roommate in as many weeks.

I was in for a rough time. Tethered to an oxygen cannula and an IV tube that restricted my movements made for long days and dark, sleepless nights.

But Manuel (not his real name) had been here for nearly a month, with impacts of the virus complicated by his diabetes and asthma. By comparison, my COVID battle would be a walk in the park.

At 73, Manuel had lived a hard life and now the virus had made it almost unbearable.

In the 26 years since he emigrated to the U.S. from the Acapulco region of Mexico, Manuel had a variety of jobs, from working on East End farms to staffing the kitchens of restaurants and country clubs in tony Long Island neighborhoods. But over the past year his work dried up, as the pandemic and its state-mandated lock-downs shuttered most of the places he could earn a meager paycheck. “No trabajo,” he lamented.

Through the despair, Manuel remained remarkably upbeat. He spent many hours on the phone with family. His days were filled listening to Mexican radio and tradi-tional music from south of the border. At times, our hospital room was transformed into a Mariachi festival, and all that was missing were the giant sombreros.

While he has been living in America since 1994, Manuel doesn’t speak or understand a word of English. He tried attending a school to learn the language, but, pointing to his head, he said it just didn’t sink in.

Fortunately, several members of the COVID ward staff spoke fluent Spanish and were able to impart information vital to his care. I leaned on the Google translator to augment my rudimentary knowledge of the language so we could communicate, however haltingly.

At just over 5 feet tall, Manuel was diminutive in stature but certainly not in spirit. He spoke with pride about his three teenage grandkids and his nephew, a professional musician who had been performing for tourists at now largely empty Mexican resorts.

Manuel gushed about Mexico’s abundant agriculture industry and how the country produces avocados, coconut, five kinds of mangos, and much more, supplying food for restaurants and grocery stores in the U.S. and other places. He talked about improving relations between his former country and America, a long-standing friendship that had been tossed asunder over the past four years.

Manuel acknowledged the horrible “violencia” that the drug cartels have wrought in his beloved Acapulco and expressed high hopes for reforms promised by Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, elected two years ago.

After a nurse told Manuel that he would need an inhaler and special medicine for 30 days after his hospital stay, he asked her “Cuánto costará?” or “How much will that cost?” She had no answer.

Manuel has no health insurance and he worries about his mounting hospital bill. He asked me if the government pays for “cuidado de la salud para todos,” or “healthcare for all.” I answered that the richest country in the world should certainly do that, but it does not.

Latinos like Manuel have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.

Hospitalization rates for COVID are highest among Latinos, at more than three times the rate among whites, according to the Center for Disease Control.

In New York City, where Latinos make up 29.1 percent of the overall population, Hispanics/Latinos have a COVID case rate of 5,288 per 100,000, compared with 3,873 per 100,000 for African Americans and 3,726 per 100,000 for Caucasians, according to statistics from nyc.gov.

The cumulative COVID death rate for Hispanics in New York City is currently 293 per 100,000; nearly double the 152 per 100,000 death rate for Caucasians.

The economics aren’t much better. Hispanics make up 22 percent of the workforce for the hospitality industry, the business most adversely impacted by the pan-demic. As a group, Latinos had a 9.4 percent unemployment rate last month, about 50 percent higher than the 6.3 percent overall unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, I was elated the day the doctors told me I could bounce from the facility, longing to finally shower, shave and continue to recover at home. That same day, other doctors told Manuel it would likely be several more days before he could return to the Huntington Station apartment he shares with family and friends.

But nonetheless, he was happy for me. When the wheelchair came to bring me downstairs, we pounded fists and he smiled.

“Vaya, mi amigo,” I said, and headed for the door.

Veteran journalist David Winzelberg covers real estate and a range of other issues for LIBN.



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