business news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

"Barnes & Noble plans to grow its fleet by 30 stores next year, the latest sign that big-box retailers are expanding again after years of shrinking their real-estate footprints.

"The bookseller had been contracting for more than a decade as it struggled to compete with Inc. and other online retailers, and now has about 125 fewer stores than it did at its peak 14 years ago. But this year Barnes & Noble is opening more stores than it is closing, including two Boston-area stores in locations formerly occupied by Amazon Books.

"Barnes & Noble stores have experienced robust customer demand coming out of the pandemic as all booksellers benefited from people turning to books while stuck at home, according to Chief Executive James Daunt. The company also benefited from improvements it made to stores while they were closed, he added."

The story also notes that "several other big-box retailers are expanding again after years of shutting stores, a sign of the industry’s resilience emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic."  Among them:  Burlington, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

However, the Journal writes, "Big-box operators are expanding more cautiously than in the past, retail and real-estate executives say, when companies opened too many locations too quickly and sales couldn’t keep up. Retailers today are researching potential locations extensively before signing leases and using sales and location-tracking technology to pinpoint where new stores will be successful and what size footprint is needed."

In other words, they're being smart and strategic.  Never a bad thing.

•  The New York Times reports that "New Zealand on Tuesday passed extensive legislation aimed at preventing minors from becoming smokers, including a lifetime prohibition on cigarette sales to everyone born after 2008.

"Under the new laws, which take effect next year, the country’s smoking age of 18 would be raised year by year until it applied to the whole population. Beginning in 2023, those under 15 would be barred from buying cigarettes for the rest of their lives.

"The legislation is the result of more than a decade of public health campaigns. In 2011, New Zealand first announced its plans to reduce smoking levels to below 5 percent of the population by 2025, a target extending across all ethnic groups, including Indigenous Maori and Pacific Island citizens. Over the years, the price of cigarettes has been hiked to among the highest in the world, with a pack of cigarettes costing about $20.

"With these measures, smoking has declined overall. The national smoking rate for adults has halved in the past decade. Only 8 percent of New Zealand’s adult population smoked every day in 2022, according to government statistics."

I'm not sure what I'm more impressed with - the fact that New Zealand has been so responsible in terms of public health policy, or that New Zealand apparently also has banned lobbying and lobbyists.

Let's face it.  The world is a much more pleasant, healthier place for the vast majority of people now that smoking has been virtually extinguished from most indoor spaces, as well as ballparks and other outdoor public venues.  And now, New Zealand is taking the lead in going even farther in eliminating a product engineered to addict people and, potentially, kill them.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that Delta Air Lines "is expected to begin rolling out free wireless internet for its passengers as soon as early 2023, people familiar with the matter said.

"The Atlanta-based carrier is initially expected to offer free Wi-Fi on a significant portion of its airplanes before turning on the service on more of its fleet through next year, some of these people said. The move is likely to intensify competition over in-flight offerings as airlines rebound from the pandemic."

I would assume that we'll see similar developments at United and American - it is a reflection of the degree to which people want to be connected all the time, and expect (especially when paying robust amounts of money for airline tickets) it to be included in the fare.  It wasn't all that long ago when we couldn't get online at all when in the air;  now, if for some reason a plane's internet is not working, it feels like an outrageous inconvenience.  

•  Marketing Dive reports that "Major League Pickleball (MLP) has named Margaritaville as title sponsor and introduced new branding as 'MLP by Margaritaville' … The hospitality company founded by Jimmy Buffett will develop fan activations and immersive entertainment for the league. Margaritaville positioned itself as a 'driving force' behind interest in the sport, with over 30 pickleball courts across its locations.

"Margaritaville has served as the title sponsor of the USA Pickleball National Championships since 2018 and is the official lodging partner of the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA). The tie-up follows MLP restructuring amid growing brand activity around the sport."

Just love this story - I love pickleball, and am a big Buffett fan.  Next question - will pickleballs replace beachballs at Buffett concerts?

And another question:  Will Buffett write a new lyric to follow this famous one? 

"I like mine with lettuce and tomato

Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes

Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer

Well, good God almighty which way do I steer

For my … Cheeseburger in paradise …"