STAMFORD, Conn. & PASADENA, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–United Rentals, Inc. (NYSE: URI) (“United Rentals” or “the company”) and General Finance Corporation (NASDAQ: GFN) (“General Finance”) today announced their entry into a definitive agreement under which United Rentals will acquire General Finance for $19 per share in cash, representing a total enterprise value of approximately $996 million, including the assumption of $400 million of net debt. The transaction is expected to be accretive to EPS and free cash flow upon close.
General Finance, which operates as Pac-Van and Container King in the U.S. and Canada, and as Royal Wolf in Australia and New Zealand, is a leading provider of mobile storage and modular office space. Its network of 106 branches and over 900 employees serves diverse end markets, including construction, commercial, industrial, retail, transportation, petrochemical, consumer, natural resources, governmental and education.
As of December 31, 2020, on a trailing 12-month basis, General Finance generated $94 million of adjusted EBITDA on $346 million of total revenue, translating to a 27.2% adjusted EBITDA margin. As of March 31, 2021, General Finance’s rental fleet consisted of approximately 100,000 units at an original cost of approximately $639 million.
The boards of directors of United Rentals and General Finance unanimously approved the transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, including the expiration or early termination of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 and other regulatory approvals. United Rentals intends to commence a tender offer by April 26, 2021, to acquire all of the outstanding shares of GFN common stock for $19 per share in cash. Following completion of the tender offer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Rentals will merge with and into General Finance and shares of General Finance common stock that have not been tendered and purchased in the tender offer will be converted into the right to receive $19 per share in cash. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021. The company plans to update its 2021 financial outlook to reflect the combined operations following the completion of the transaction.
Strong Strategic Rationale
General Finance’s positioning as a leader in the North American sector for mobile storage and office solutions strongly complements United Rentals’ leading positions in general construction and industrial rentals and specialty rentals. This will further differentiate the company through its ability to deliver value as a one-stop-shop for customers.
General Finance operates in 52 of the top 100 MSAs in North America served by United Rentals locations, which will create immediate cross-sell opportunities. Importantly, United Rentals will have the ability to introduce mobile storage and modular office solutions in its MSAs currently not served by General Finance.
General Finance’s mobile storage and office business in Australia and New Zealand will give United Rentals entry into these geographies with an established platform run by a seasoned management team, and with a strong growth strategy already in place.
General Finance shares many cultural similarities with United Rentals, including a customer-first business philosophy, long-term customer relationships across diverse end markets and a strong focus on safety.
Approximately 900 General Finance employees will bring a wealth of experience to United Rentals in the combination. They will benefit from industry-leading technology, state-of-the-art training and safety programs and other resources, and have greater opportunities for career development within the larger company.
Robust Financial Drivers
United Rentals sees significant potential upside to profitability from the transaction over the next several years, driven by synergies within the combined operations, complementary services, efficiencies of scale and an aggressive growth strategy. The company is targeting $65 million of total revenue synergies in the first three years post-close.
The company expects to realize a $17 million benefit to adjusted EBITDA by the end of year two from cost synergies achieved through the integration, including operational efficiencies and a reduction in corporate overhead. This is equivalent to 4.9% of General Finance’s trailing 12-months total revenue, and 10.4% of the combined cost of leasing operations and selling and general expenses over the same period.
The company expects to realize approximately $19 million in net present value of tax benefits included in the $996 million purchase price.
Net of synergies, the purchase price represents a multiple of 9.0 times trailing 12-month adjusted EBITDA, and an adjusted purchase multiple of 8.8 times, including the net present value of acquired tax benefits.
Return on invested capital is expected to exceed the cost of capital within 18 months of closing on a run-rate basis, with an attractive IRR and NPV.
The company expects to maintain an as-reported leverage ratio of less than 2.5 times net debt to EBITDA at closing, and a pro forma leverage ratio of less than 2.4 times at closing.
The transaction is not conditioned on financing. United Rentals expects to use a combination of cash and existing capacity under its ABL facility to fund the transaction and related expenses.
Matthew Flannery, president and chief executive officer of United Rentals, said, “Our acquisition of General Finance will be a significant opportunity for us to further differentiate our value in the eyes of our customers, while providing attractive, long-term returns for our shareholders. We see strong growth potential from this combination, including our ability cross-sell mobile storage and office solutions to our customers. Our expansion into this space comfortably checks all three boxes of our M&A criteria — strategic rationale, financial impact and cultural fit.”
Flannery continued, “We’re confident the time is right to reengage in M&A with this highly strategic combination, as our end markets recover from the challenges of 2020. General Finance is a customer-focused organization with excellent field operators and specialized expertise that complements our own. We look forward to welcoming our new employees and customers as an important part of our future.”
Jody Miller, chief executive officer of General Finance, commented, “Our combination with United Rentals — the industry leader in equipment rentals — is a strong outcome for everyone involved. Our customers will benefit from United’s extensive solutions and geographic footprint, and our employees will have new opportunities as part of the largest rental team in the world.”
Key Acquisition and Transaction Statistics
Financial information in $ millions
Present Value of Acquired Tax Assets
Total Revenue (full-year calendar 2020)
Adjusted EBITDA (full-year calendar 2020)
Estimated Annualized Cost Synergies Achieved by End of Year Two
Estimated Annualized Cross-selling Benefits Achieved by End of Year Three
Original Equipment Cost of Fleet
Number of Rental Units
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP acted as United Rentals’ legal advisor in the transaction, and Morrison and Foerster LLP acted as General Finance’s legal advisor.
United Rentals will hold a conference call tomorrow, April 16, 2021, at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The conference call number is (855) 458-4217 (international: (574) 990-3618). The replay of the call can be accessed at (404) 537-3406, passcode 7279967.
General Finance’s adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP financial measure as defined under the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission. United Rentals believes that this non-GAAP financial measure provides useful information about the proposed transaction; however, it should not be considered as an alternative to GAAP net income. A reconciliation between General Finance’s adjusted EBITDA and GAAP net income, as well as other financial data, is provided in the investor presentation available on the company’s website.
About United Rentals
United Rentals, Inc. is the largest equipment rental company in the world. The company has an integrated network of 1,154 rental locations in North America and 11 in Europe. In North America, the company operates in 49 states and every Canadian province. The company’s approximately 18,250 employees serve construction and industrial customers, utilities, municipalities, homeowners and others. The company offers approximately 4,000 classes of equipment for rent with a total original cost of $13.78 billion. United Rentals is a member of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, the Barron’s 400 Index and the Russell 3000 Index® and is headquartered in Stamford, Conn. Additional information about United Rentals is available at unitedrentals.com.
About General Finance Corporation
Headquartered in Pasadena, California, General Finance Corporation (NASDAQ: GFN) is a leading specialty rental services company offering portable storage, modular space and liquid containment solutions. General Finance’s North America operations consist of wholly-owned subsidiaries Pac-Van, Inc., a leading provider of portable storage and office containers, mobile offices and modular buildings; and Lone Star Tank Rental Inc., a provider of liquid storage tank containers. Additionally, General Finance has wholly-owned subsidiaries Royal Wolf, a leading lessor of portable storage solutions in Australia and New Zealand; and Southern Frac, LLC, a manufacturer of portable liquid storage tank containers in North America and, under the trade name Southern Fabrication Specialties, other steel products.
This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, known as the PSLRA. Forward-looking statements involve significant risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from such forward-looking statements. These statements are based on current plans, estimates and projections, and, therefore, you should not place undue reliance on them. No forward-looking statement, including any such statement concerning the completion and anticipated benefits of the proposed transaction, can be guaranteed, and actual results may differ materially from those projected. Forward-looking statements are not historical facts, but rather are based on current expectations, estimates, assumptions and projections about the business and future financial results of the equipment rental industries, and other legal, regulatory and economic developments. United Rentals and General Finance use words such as “anticipates,” “believes,” “plans,” “expects,” “projects,” “future,” “intends,” “may,” “will,” “should,” “could,” “estimates,” “predicts,” “potential,” “continue,” “guidance” and similar expressions to identify these forward-looking statements that are intended to be covered by the safe harbor provisions of the PSLRA. Actual results could differ materially from the results contemplated by these forward-looking statements due to a number of factors, including, but not limited to, those described in the SEC reports filed by United Rentals and General Finance, as well as the possibility that (1) United Rentals may be unable to obtain regulatory approvals required for the proposed transaction or may be required to accept conditions that could reduce the anticipated benefits of the acquisition as a condition to obtaining regulatory approvals; (2) the length of time necessary to consummate the proposed transaction may be longer than anticipated; (3) problems may arise in successfully integrating the businesses of United Rentals and General Finance, including, without limitation, problems associated with the potential loss of any key employees of General Finance; (4) the proposed transaction may involve unexpected costs, including, without limitation, the exposure to any unrecorded liabilities or unidentified issues that United Rentals failed to discover during the due diligence investigation of General Finance or that are not covered by insurance, as well as potential unfavorable accounting treatment and unexpected increases in taxes; (5) United Rentals’ business may suffer as a result of uncertainty surrounding the proposed transaction, any adverse effects on our ability to maintain relationships with customers, employees and suppliers, or the inherent risk associated with entering a geographic area or line of business in which United Rentals has no or limited experience; and (6) the industry may be subject to future risks that are described in the “Risk Factors” section of the Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q and other documents filed from time to time with the SEC by United Rentals and General Finance. United Rentals and General Finance give no assurance that they will achieve their expectations and do not assume any responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the forward-looking statements.
The foregoing list of factors is not exhaustive. You should carefully consider the foregoing factors and the other risks and uncertainties that affect the businesses of United Rentals and General Finance described in the “Risk Factors” section of the Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q and other documents filed from time to time with the SEC by United Rentals and General Finance. This press release is not intended to be a recommendation to buy, sell or hold securities and does not constitute an offer for the sale of, or the solicitation of an offer to buy securities in any jurisdiction, including the United States. Any such offer will only be made by means of a prospectus or offering memorandum, and in compliance with applicable securities laws. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date hereof. United Rentals and General Finance undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required by applicable securities laws.
Additional Information and Where to Find It
This press release is for informational purposes only and is neither an offer to purchase nor a solicitation of an offer to sell securities. The tender offer described in this press release has not commenced. At the time the tender offer is commenced, United Rentals will file, or will cause to be filed, tender offer materials on Schedule TO with the SEC and General Finance will file a Solicitation/Recommendation Statement on Schedule 14D-9 with the SEC, in each case with respect to the tender offer. The tender offer materials (including an offer to purchase, a related letter of transmittal and other offer documents) and the solicitation/recommendation statement will contain important information that should be read carefully when they become available and considered before any decision is made with respect to the tender offer. Those materials and all other documents filed by, or caused to be filed by, United Rentals and General Finance with the SEC will be available at no charge on the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov. The tender offer materials and related materials also may be obtained for free (when available) under the “Our Company—Investor Relations—SEC Filings” section of United Rental’s website at https://unitedrentals.gcs-web.com/sec-filings, and the Solicitation/Recommendation Statement and such other documents also may be obtained for free (when available) from General Finance under the “Investor Information—SEC Information” section of General Finance’s website at https://generalfinance.com/sec-information/.
My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Ireland, Portugal and Italy for August and September. We are only reserving hotels with free cancellation policies and our airline tickets can be changed to a future date. Knowing that much of Europe is closed right now to United States citizens because of the virus, is there much hope that our plans will materialize, or are we wasting our time? What should I watch for? Kathy
Although there are some signs of life — Iceland is newly open to fully vaccinated travelers and Greece will reopen to vaccinated or virus-tested visitors next month — Europe, where case counts are rising in some parts and the vaccine rollout has been disappointingly slow, is still largely closed to Americans. Ireland is open to United States citizens with a combination of testing and quarantine, but Portugal and Italy, like most of the continent, for now remain off limits. Italy, in particular, was hard-hit by the virus in the early months of the pandemic; and in March, the spread of a contagious variant from Britain pushed the country back into another lockdown.
“This environment is so challenging because there is significant pressure for countries that rely on tourism to rebound, which counterbalances much slower vaccination rates in Europe,” said Fallon Lieberman, who runs the leisure-travel division of Skylark, a travel agency affiliated with the Virtuoso travel network. “So unfortunately, those two forces are at odds with one another.”
Your question, like many related to the pandemic, involves various degrees of risk. First, let’s look at the concrete risk: If you book now for late summer, how likely are you to lose money?
flexibility with seats beyond Basic Economy, and now, especially, it’s wise to book tickets that can be easily changed. Delta Air Lines has eliminated change and cancellation fees for all flights originating from North America, and Delta eCredits set to expire this year — including for new tickets purchased this year — can be used for travel through 2022. United Airlines has also permanently eliminated change fees.
Unlike a plane ticket, which can always be changed (either for free or for a fee), a nonrefundable hotel reservation is generally exactly that: a use-it-or-lose-it investment.
The good news: “Hotels in Europe — and around the world, really — are being quite flexible,” said Ms. Lieberman, who has helped hundreds of Skylark clients cancel and rebook last year’s felled Europe trips, many to this summer and beyond. “While this is a very challenging time, many suppliers are providing maximum flexibility.”
Cancellation policies vary by property, but many of the multinational companies have made it easy, and relatively risk-free, to plan ahead. Companies like Hilton and Four Seasons are allowing cancellations up to 24 hours before check-in. Hyatt is allowing fee-free cancellations up to 24 hours in advance for arrivals through July 31 (and it’s always possible that date will be extended). For points nerds, most of the big hotel chains allow most award nights to be canceled scot-free, with the points redeposited, within a day or two of the expected check-in.
More complicated than physical refunds, though, is the larger, metaphysical risk: How likely is it that this trip is actually going to happen? What forces can help predict whether the Europe trips we book today will actually materialize in August and September?
France and Italy have just been locked down again, interest in Europe is rising, aided, no doubt, by signs that President Biden could lift the ban on European visitors to the United States as early as next month, news of the possibility of European health passes, rumors that Spain and Britain could both restart international tourism in mid May, and more.
At Hopper, a travel-booking app that analyzes and predicts flight and hotel prices, bookings for Europe-bound summer 2021 travel surged 68 percent week-over-week between the last week of February and the first week of March. Searches for round-trip flights to Europe departing this summer increased a whopping 86 percent in the 30 days following February 22.
According to TripAdvisor data of hotel searches from the United States for this summer, five of the 10 most-searched European destinations were in Greece, but Rome — and Paris, for that matter — were also on the list.
To make sense of how traveler zeal will jibe with the realities of the pandemic, analysts and travel industry experts are eyeing several factors, including flight schedules.
According to PlaneStats, the aviation-data portal from Oliver Wyman, an international consulting firm, the number of Europe-bound flights scheduled to depart the United States this month is around 26 percent of the number that departed the United States for Europe in April 2019. Next month compared to May 2019, that figure is looking even higher so far: 35 percent. (April and May 2020, by contrast, both clocked in at 5 percent.) That’s lower than normal, but it’s still a drastic uptick from any other point during the pandemic. Although many will be connecting flights (Americans can still transit through Europe) or culminate in destinations like London (Americans can visit England, though multiple testing and quarantines are required), schedules still remain a key indicator.
Khalid Usman, a partner and aviation expert at Oliver Wyman. “What airlines don’t want to do is put out schedules where people are not going to be traveling.”
Pandemic Navigator, which simulates day-by-day immunity growth. “That’s good news for the domestic market, but in the context of international travel, we do have to realize that it’s not just about one country — it’s a country at the other end as well.”
Factoring in the spotty vaccine rollout across the pond, Mr. Usman said it’s reasonable to assume that Europe’s herd immunity will lag several months behind the United States. Over the next several months, he added, European countries will follow in Iceland’s footsteps and open individually, complete with their own regulations about vaccinations, testing and quarantines. To spur travel across the continent this summer, the European Union is considering adopting a vaccine certificate for its own residents and their families.
“It’s not going to be a binary open-or-shut,” Mr. Usman said. “Countries are going to start getting more selective about who they’re going to start letting in.”
Italy’s numbers — plus new lockdowns and growing Covid variants — seem to be stifling optimism; Hopper flight searches from the United States to Italy have remained relatively flat.
For now, Ms. Lieberman, of Skylark, has adopted a “beyond the boot” mind-set: “Our theory is that if you’re willing to go beyond the boot — meaning, Italy — there will be fabulous, desirable summer destinations for you to take advantage of.”
Portugal surged in January but has recently eased lockdown measures as infection rates have slowed. The country is now aiming for a 70 percent vaccination rate this summer.
American interest in Portugal is spiking in response. In the first week of March, following an announcement that Portugal could welcome tourists from Britain as soon as mid-May, Hopper searches on flights from the United States to Lisbon rose 63 percent. (That’s not far behind Athens, for which travel searches shot up 75 percent in the same time period.)
will next month start nonstop service between Boston and Reykjavik — and resume its Iceland service from New York City and Minneapolis.
“Unless demand spikes rapidly enough to outpace the increase in supply, flash sales can be found as airlines attempt to entice travelers to return amid piecemeal easings of travel restrictions,” said Mr. Damodaran. Icelandair, for example, is running sales on flights and packages through April 13.
And with prices for summer flights to Europe still relatively low in general — down by more than 10 percent from 2019, according to Hopper — experts see little downside in penciling in a trip.
“If you’re willing to take some risk, plan early and lock in your preferred accommodations and ideal itineraries,” Ms. Lieberman said. “But of course we caution you to be prepared to have to move deposits and dates if it comes to that.”
WASHINGTON — A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The worrisome development comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth surge of infections.
Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in the United States, leading to a huge increase in cases and deaths.
At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at an all-time high. From that peak, the numbers all declined until late February, according to a New York Times database. After several weeks at a plateau, new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again. The average number of new cases in the country has reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as in the New York City region. That is an increase of 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, who warned last week that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of these so-called “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.
60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.
The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.
That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.
against the warnings of some scientists.
Federal health officials are tracking reports of increasing cases associated with day care centers and youth sports, and hospitals are seeing more younger adults — people in their 30s and 40s who are admitted with “severe disease,” Dr. Walensky said.
It is difficult for scientists to say exactly how much of the current patterns of infection are because of the growing frequency of B.1.1.7.
“It’s muddled by the reopening that’s going on and changes in behavior,” said Dr. Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan.
But he noted that people were becoming less cautious at a time when they should be raising their guard against a more contagious variant. “It’s worrisome,” he said.
At the same time, the United States is currently vaccinating an average of about three million people a day, and states have rushed to make all adults eligible. The C.D.C. reported on Tuesday that about 108.3 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 64.4 million people who have been fully vaccinated. New Mexico, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Alaska are leading the states, with about 25 percent of their total populations fully vaccinated.
Scientists hope that vaccination will blunt any potential fourth surge.
On Tuesday, President Biden moved up his vaccination timetable by two weeks, calling states to make every American adult eligible by April 19. All states have already met or expect to beat this goal after he initially asked that they do so by May 1.
hundreds of genomes predicted that this variant could become predominant in the country in a month. At that time, the C.D.C. was struggling to sequence the new variants, which made it difficult to track them.
But those efforts have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to grow, in large part because of $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package that Mr. Biden signed into law last month. By contrast, Britain, which has a more centralized health care system, began a highly promoted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.
“We knew this was going to happen: This variant is a lot more transmissible, much more infectious than the parent strain, and that obviously has implications,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at Emory University. In addition to spreading more efficiently, he said, the B.1.1.7 strain appears to cause more severe disease, “so that gives you a double whammy.”
Perhaps even more troubling is the emergence of the virulent P.1 variant in North America. First identified in Brazil, it has become the dominant variant in that country, helping to drive its hospitals to the breaking point. In Canada, the P.1 variant emerged as a cluster in Ontario, then shut down the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. On Wednesday, the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks said at least 21 players and four staff members had been infected with the coronavirus.
“This is a stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and its serious impact, even among healthy, young athletes,” the team’s doctor, Jim Bovard, said in a statement.
Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the H&M Group — the world’s second-largest clothing retailer — promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region.
But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on the company’s renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.
The furor underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums — a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.
ban on imports. Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs.
Myanmar and Bangladesh, where cheap costs of production reflect alarming safety conditions.
genocide. As many as a million Uyghurs have been herded into detention camps, and deployed as forced labor.
As China has transformed itself from an impoverished country into the world’s second-largest economy, it has leaned on the textile and apparel industries. China has courted foreign companies with the promise of low-wage workers operating free from the intrusions of unions.
regional government said last year.
statement reported by Reuters.
That assertion flew in the face of a growing body of literature, including a recent statement from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “serious concerns” about reports of forced labor.
The Better Cotton Initiative declined a request for an interview to discuss how it had come to its conclusion.
“We are a not-for-profit organization with a small team,” the initiative’s communications manager, Joe Woodruff, said in an email.
The body’s membership includes some of the world’s largest, most profitable clothing manufacturers and retailers — among them Inditex, the Spanish conglomerate that owns Zara, and Nike, whose sales last year exceeded $37 billion.
Trump administration furthered the trend by pressuring American multinational companies to abandon China.
“All of the economic forces that pushed this production to China are really no longer at work,” said Pietra Rivoli, a trade expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
Still, China retains attributes not easily replicated — the world’s largest ports, plus a cluster of related industries, from chemicals to plastics.
Cambodia in response to its government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.
Some global brands are seeking Beijing’s permission to import more cotton into China from the United States and Australia. They could employ that cotton to make products destined for Europe and North America, while using the Xinjiang crop for the Chinese market.
Yet that approach may leave the apparel companies exposed to the same risks they face now.
“If the brand is labeled as ‘They are still using forced labor, but they are just using it for the Chinese market,’ is this going to suffice?” said Ms. Collinson, the industry lobbyist.
Last week, H&M issued a new communication, beseeching Chinese consumers to return. “We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges,” said the statement, which did not mention Xinjiang. “China is a very important market to us.”
Those words appear to have satisfied no one — not the human rights organizations skeptical of claims that apparel companies have severed links to Xinjiang; not Chinese consumers angry over a perceived national indignity.
On Chinese social media, criticism of H&M remained fierce.
“For you, China is still an important market,” one post declared. “But for China, you are just an unnecessary brand.”
All these differences help us see ants as they really are: rich in diversity, earned over millions of years of evolution as they adapted to a world’s worth of habitats, ecosystems and survival strategies. Dr. Rice calls ants “the Bauhaus creations of the natural world.” Like the architectural principle that form follows function, each strange-looking adaptation represents a major commitment in creatures with “little space for extravagance” and so illustrates yet another of the multitudinous ways that there are to be an ant. “To answer the question posed by an ant’s form,” Dr. Rice writes, “is to begin to untangle the intricate relationships that scaffold our world.”
The naturalist and author Edward O. Wilson discovered this early in his scientific career, when a mentor sent him a note about a group of ants with strange, long mandibles that could spring shut like traps. (“Wilson, find out what dacetines eat,” he wrote. “What do they hunt and catch creeping around with those weird mandibles?”) A question about morphology became a clue about a food web. The ants, it turned out, were eating springtails, a kind of hexapod that can fling itself rapidly through the air to avoid predators, but not quickly enough to outrun the incredible speed of the ants’ jaws. It was a race, Dr. Wilson wrote in “Tales From the Ant World”: “each using its own explosive devices, one to capture, the other to avoid capture.” Mr. Niga’s photographs show trap-jaw ants with mandibles like scimitars or lobster claws; some can close their jaws in barely one-tenth of a millisecond, slamming shut at speeds reaching 145 miles per hour.
We also meet Cataglyphis bicolor, with its long, spidery legs — an invaluable adaptation if you live, as this ant does, in the Sahara and need speed and height to keep you cool above the blazing sand. (For Oecophylla smaragdina, or weaver ants, long legs serve a different purpose: spanning gaps in the tree canopy as they construct nests of leaves and silk.) Leaf-cutter ants look fierce, their bodies covered in spines and spikes, but all that armor is meant not for fighting but, in effect, as a gardening tool. The ants are agriculturalists, ferrying food to the fungus that they cultivate in elaborate underground chambers, and the spikes allow them to better balance their leafy loads. In the tropics, they work in such diligent numbers that you can see the ant highways that their tiny ant feet wear into forest floors.
Learning the ways of ants teaches us that their lives are very different from our own. The ants we encounter in our own lives are almost exclusively female; the males are, in Dr. Wilson’s words, “little more than flying sperm missiles” that don’t live long and are often unrecognizable as ants at all. Queens are made, not born; fertilized eggs have the potential to be queens or workers, and will develop differently based on what the youngster is fed as she grows, a diet and a future that will be dictated by the needs of the colony. Ants also have an unusually high number of odor receptors, which allow them to decode chemical trails and messages. Some species also have three simple light-detecting eyes, called ocelli, to help them fly and navigate, in addition to the standard two compound eyes.
There are many reasons to understand ants better. Whole ecosystems are built around them, and large numbers of species, from plants to beetles to birds, are “ant obligates,” meaning that they depend entirely on their relationships with ant colonies to survive. Winnow ants disperse so many herbaceous seeds in North America, Dr. Rice notes, that “removing them causes wildflower abundance to drop by 50 percent.”
Moviegoers sent a message to Hollywood over the weekend: We’re ready to return to theaters — and will buy tickets even if the same film is instantly available in our living rooms — but we want to leave our grim world for a silly fantasy one.
“Godzilla vs. Kong,” a throwback monster movie in which a lizard with atomic breath battles a computer-generated ape on top of an aircraft carrier (before everyone decamps to the hollow center of the Earth), took in an estimated $48.5 million at 3,064 North American cinemas between Wednesday and Sunday. It was the largest turnout (by far) for a movie since the pandemic began.
The PG-13 movie was not even an exclusive offering to theaters. “Godzilla vs. Kong,” produced by Legendary Entertainment, was also available on HBO Max, a streaming service that sells monthly subscriptions for $15, less than the cost of one adult ticket at cinemas in major cities.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in 2019 or “Kong: Skull Island” in 2017.
As Hollywood adapts to the streaming age by making new movies more promptly available for home viewing — to the consternation of theater owners — quality matters more than ever, along with size and scope: What is worth a trip to theaters (with face coverings for the foreseeable future) and what is not?
Non-franchise films without spectacular visual effects may have a hard time, box office analysts say, pointing to the disappointing arrival of “Raya and the Last Dragon” last month. Godzilla and King Kong, on the other hand, are cinematic comfort food: time-tested, larger-than-life nonsensical fun. A large percentage of weekend ticket sales for “Godzilla vs. Kong” came from large-format theaters that charge a premium for tickets. Imax, for instance, said that about 1,000 of its screenings in North America were sellouts.
“Audiences are demonstrating that pent-up demand to experience blockbuster moviemaking on the grandest scale,” David King, an Imax distribution executive, said in an email.
That was certainly true of Iveth Vacao, who brought her 8-year-old son, Jayden, to an Imax matinee of “Godzilla vs. Kong” at the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.
“We don’t usually come to theaters, but we wanted to experience something,” Vacao said before the lights went down. “Covid has made us appreciate this kind of thing more. Sure you can get the same movie at home, but not the same experience.”
Jayden did not care to wager a guess about which creature would emerge as victorious. (“Can they both?”) But he was certain about one thing.
“When the next ‘Venom’ comes out, we’re definitely coming back,” he said, referring to “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” scheduled from Sony in the fall. “I want to see it on the biggest screen.”
AMMAN, Jordan — Marwa Alomari’s compassionate and patient style made her a popular English teacher, filling her classes in Irbid, Jordan, with eager students and her off hours with private tutoring.
A university graduate, she was paid up to $3,000 a month, far more than most fellow Jordanians.
But after she married an army officer and moved in with his family, he began to resent that she was paid more than he was. Even though she contributed to the household with both money and housework, he and his family discouraged her from working and the marriage nearly fell apart, she said.
“I became adamant that I wasn’t going to quit, but eventually I found no support and I just got tired and gave up,” said Ms. Alomari, 35. “I went back to cooking, cleaning, gossiping with women. And this wasn’t my ambition.”
Her story reflects what is happening across Jordan — a small Arab monarchy that has been a steadfast ally of Western countries — where women’s status in terms of labor force participation, health and politics has been regressing for years, even lagging behind more conservative countries in the region.
Global Gender Gap Report, which tracks gaps between women and men in employment, education, health and politics.
86 percent of women in the country are absent from the work force, according to government figures and the latest Global Gender Gap Report. That is the highest rate in the world for a country not at war, according to the World Bank.
In contrast, Western Europe has moved the most toward gender parity and is continuing in that direction, followed by North America.
recent amendments allowed women to also be considered a “head of household,” at least in theory.
Traditional attitudes, discriminatory legislation, a lack of access to public transportation and pay disparities are hindering women’s advancement in Jordan.
World Bank research found that men in Jordan are paid as much as 40 percent more than women are for the same job in the private sector. In the public sector, the gap is 28 percent.
The disparity in employment — 53 percent of men are in the labor force compared with 14 percent of women — is nearly double that of neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Traditional roles in Jordan are enshrined in laws that differentiate between women’s and men’s rights and responsibilities. There is no law prohibiting gender discrimination in the workplace. And while the Constitution provides that “every worker shall receive wages commensurate with the quantity and quality of his work,” there is no right to equal pay for women and men.
For Muslims, who make up most of Jordan’s population of nearly 11 million, matters of marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance are governed by Shariah, or Islamic law, and adjudicated in Shariah courts rather than civil or military courts. Under Shariah law, for example, women can inherit property, but daughters receive half as much as sons.
And during the Arab Spring a decade ago, many women and human rights activists assailed a parliamentary committee for breaking its promise to include the word gender in the Constitution’s Article 6, which is supposed to guarantee the equality of all Jordanians. It states, “There shall be no discrimination between Jordanians with regard to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language or religion.”
Despite the obstacles, some women have managed to succeed professionally.
Jamileh Shetewi is by all accounts an exception among Jordanian women. She grew up in a one-room mud-walled home with her eight siblings and parents, and spent her childhood days picking tomatoes, eggplants and bananas in hot and shadeless farms with her four sisters.
The odds were stacked against her.
She dropped out of school at age 17 and married at 18. As a young farmer from 1997 to 2002, she was paid $3 a day less than the men she worked alongside, and she had to cook for them on top of her job.
She decided to go back to school, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in archaeology. Today she heads the Department of Antiquities for the Jordan Valley region.
“Yes, I defied all expectations,” said Ms. Shetewi, 50. “I fought and shattered the culture of shame.” But without changing laws and perceptions, she said, most women will not be able to advance.
“I didn’t care what people had to say, and I told my husband, ‘I need your support to make our lives better,’” she said. “We aren’t the enemy. Do you think a country can reform and prosper without half its population?”
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Many companies made changes to survive the pandemic. For tech companies, the changes were also about seizing opportunities to thrive as life abruptly moved online. Few companies have juggled these risks and rewards in as many industries, across as many countries, as Prosus, an Amsterdam-based conglomerate that in 2019 was spun out of Naspers, the South African tech and media giant.
Prosus’ holdings run from e-commerce and classifieds to food delivery, fintech and more. The group is valued at around $180 billion, which makes it one of continental Europe’s 10 largest companies. It operates in more than 80 countries and owns sizable stakes in the internet giants Tencent of China and Mail.ru of Russia. The companies that Prosus controls employ around 20,000 people, and many more work as contractors or at companies in which Prosus holds smaller stakes.
Uber, DoorDash and others. But Prosus companies like Delivery Hero and iFood took steps to help preserve long-term good will with its partners at the expense of short-term profits. In Brazil, for example, “we paid restaurants much quicker than we usually did,” Mr. van Dijk said. “From a cash-flow point of view, that was actually pretty important” in keeping restaurants in their good graces, reducing potential tensions between restaurants struggling during the pandemic and online delivery apps seeing demand soar.
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It was a similar story in India for classifieds. “We reduced fees substantially, or we waived fees,” he said. “That allowed people to preserve cash. When things started to come back again, there was a lot of appreciation around that.”
digital services taxes throughout Europe, meant to collect more revenue from multinational companies that do extensive business in countries without much of a physical presence within their borders. Those wouldn’t apply to Prosus, Mr. van Dijk said — “we invest locally and pay taxes” — but he added that the charges could erode the industry’s profit margins.
“I understand where it comes from,” he said, but “sometimes the regulation is a little blunt.”
What could hurt Prosus, Mr. van Dijk said, are changes to the gig economy, particularly efforts to entitle delivery drivers to worker benefits. Some drivers prefer the flexibility of being contractors, he said, and “we try to pay people properly regardless of what the legislation is.” As far as he could recall, Prosus has never lobbied against classifying workers as employees, as rivals like Uber have.
Another area to watch is China, which has moved to rein in some of its homegrown internet behemoths. Though officials have focused largely on Alibaba, Tencent hasn’t escaped their gaze: The company, which Prosus bought into back in 2001, was among those fined last month for violating antitrust rules. It is Prosus’ single biggest investment, and a tougher crackdown could batter the conglomerate’s market value.
Despite the stakes, Mr. van Dijk downplayed the threat. “Our impression is that China is still very supportive of its tech giants,” he said.
Adevinta of Norway for $9.2 billion. That defeat followed a losing effort to acquire the restaurant delivery company Just Eat, which Takeaway.com bought for $7.8 billion.
Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. van Dijk said Prosus hadn’t encountered much competition from special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, which have raised nearly $100 billion this year and are very active acquirers of tech companies. This may be in part because SPACs are largely a U.S. phenomenon, although other countries have been trying to court the blank-check firms.
Mr. van Dijk said Prosus might eventually find itself competing with SPACs, particularly for later-stage private companies. In the meantime, Prosus itself invested $500 million in a SPAC last year when the shell company merged with Skillsoft, an education technology firm.
Lately, Prosus has mostly been investing in its existing businesses. “Putting money into there is still a good idea,” Mr. van Dijk said. And a few months ago the company announced that it would buy back $5 billion of its shares.
Things are looking slightly more measured these days, Mr. van Dijk said, with valuations coming down “to much more sustainable levels.” For a serial dealmaker, that means opportunity: “It’s easier to do acquisitions in a market that is cooling off.”
Employers added 916,000 jobs in March, up from 416,000 in February and the most since August, the Labor Department said Friday. The leisure and hospitality sector led the way, adding 280,000 jobs as Americans returned to restaurants and resorts in greater numbers. Construction firms added 110,000 jobs as the housing market stayed strong and activity resumed following winter storms in February.
The unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, down from 6.2 percent in February.
“March’s jobs report is the most optimistic report since the pandemic began,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist of the career site Glassdoor. “It’s not the largest gain in payrolls since the pandemic began, but it’s the first where it seems like the finish line is in sight.”
The report came one year after the pandemic ripped a hole in the American labor market. The U.S. economy lost 1.7 million jobs in March 2020 and more than 20 million in April, when the unemployment rate peaked at nearly 15 percent.
The job market bounced back quickly at first, but progress began to slow as virus cases surged and states reimposed restrictions on businesses. Over the winter, the recovery stalled out, with employers cutting more than 300,000 jobs in December.
Economists said the latest data marked a turning point. Last month was the third straight month of accelerating hiring, and even bigger gains are likely in the months ahead. The March data was collected early in the month, before most states broadened vaccine access and before most Americans began receiving $1,400 checks from the federal government as part of the most recent relief package.
“The tide is turning,” said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist for Bank of America. The report, she said, “reaffirms this idea that the economy is accelerating meaningfully in the spring.”
The United States still has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic. Even if employers kept hiring at the pace they did in March, it would take months to fill the gap. More than four million people have been out of work for more than six months, a number that continued rising in March.
And the virus remains a risk. Coronavirus cases are rising again in much of the country as states have begun easing restrictions. If that trend turns into a full-blown new wave of infections, it could force some states to backpedal, impeding the recovery.
But few economists expect a repeat of the winter, when a spike in Covid-19 cases pushed the recovery into reverse. More than a quarter of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and more than two million people a day are being inoculated. That should allow economic activity to continue to rebound.
“This time is different, and that’s because of vaccines,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter. “It’s real this time.”
The labor market is healing, pushing the unemployment rate steadily lower. But alternative measures of the job market show more weakness remaining than the most frequently cited data might suggest.
When the pandemic hit the economy, two big issues began to mess with the unemployment rate. A big chunk of people were classified as “employed but not at work” when they should have been counted as laid off. And many people dropped out of the labor market altogether. Since the unemployment rate only counts people who are actively applying to jobs, that means a lot of would-be workers were suddenly left out.
The jobless rate fell to 6 percent in March from a high of 14.8 percent in April, but that overstates the labor market’s healing. An expanded measure that adjusts for misclassified workers and those on the sidelines — using a methodology that closely tracks a gauge Federal Reserve officials often reference — shows that the “real” unemployment rate was around 9.1 percent in March.
To be sure, that expanded measure is down sharply from a peak of nearly 24 percent last April. But it shows the extent of the damage yet to be repaired since the pandemic shuttered broad parts of the economy in 2020.
Fed officials, who are tasked with returning the labor market to maximum employment, are keeping a close eye on broad measures of slack as they try to assess how far the job market remains from full strength. Another point they often raise is that total employment in the economy remains well below its prepandemic level — as of March, 8.4 million jobs were missing compared with February 2020.
“It’s just a lot of people who need to get back to work and it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take some time,” Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said at a news conference last month.
For months, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, arguably the most powerful individual in the oil business, has urged his fellow producers to keep a tight rein on output, fearing additional crude could flood the world’s markets and cause prices to drop. At the same time, some producers, notably Russia, have been chafing to open the spigot a bit more.
On Thursday, the prince seemed to relent, as the group called OPEC Plus — the members of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies like Russia — agreed to modest output increases over the next three months.
Analysts said the prince, who is the chair of OPEC Plus, appeared to be calculating that by appeasing other producers who want to produce more oil, he can remain in control over the longer term.
The prince repeated his go-slow message on Thursday, arguing that the global economic recovery from the pandemic remained fragile, and so his willingness to sign off on an increase came as something of a surprise. But the decision seemed to be an acknowledgment of the diversity of opinions within OPEC Plus, and that he must take the views of other key producers like Russia and the United Arab Emirates into account to maintain leadership and to keep them from going their own way.
“It is not my decision, it is everybody’s decision,” he said at a news conference after Thursday’s OPEC Plus meeting.
So far traders have signaled their approval by pushing up prices in what had been a weak market. On Friday, Brent crude, the international benchmark was up about 3.4 percent to $64.86 a barrel.
Under the deal agreed Thursday, OPEC Plus will gradually increase production by 350,000 barrels a day in May and June and 441,000 barrels a day in July. Over the same period, the Saudis will also relax the one million barrels a day they have been voluntarily keeping off the market, bringing the total increase to about 2.1 million barrels a day by July.
The plan “points to a still cautious and orderly ramp-up from OPEC Plus, still allowing for a tight oil market,” rather than a flood, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
OPEC Plus also retain the option of adjusting output at monthly meetings. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter, can also take unilateral decisions to trim supplies.
This ability to quickly backtrack “provides the prince with comfort that he is exercising a fairly low-risk option,” Helima Croft, a strategist at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients.
Economists think the big job gains reported on Friday are just the beginning. One reason: Americans have plenty of cash, and they are ready to spend it.
U.S. households had $2.4 trillion in savings in February, $1 trillion more than a year earlier. And that was before the latest wave of $1,400 relief checks started going out in March.
The primary factor holding back spending has been the pandemic, which has prevented people from spending on restaurant meals, vacations and concert tickets. But with the vaccine rollout accelerating, that could soon change.
About 35 percent of Americans plan to spend more on travel over the next 12 months than they do in a typical year, according to a survey conducted last month for The New York Times by the online research firm SurveyMonkey. About 28 percent plan to spend more than usual at restaurants. And over all, close to 70 percent of adults plan to spend more than usual in at least one category, at least if the health situation allows.
“They have the money in the bank, they’re ready to spend it, but what was holding them back was not having a comfort about being able to go out,” said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo. “We’re getting into a critical mass of people that are feeling comfortable beginning to go out again.”
But there are signs that Americans remain cautious. The survey was conducted in mid-March, just as the Treasury was preparing to send the $1,400 checks to millions of households. More than half the survey respondents who expected to receive checks said they planned to save most of the money or pay down debt. One-third said they would use it for immediate needs like food or rent. Only 10 percent said they planned to spend most of the money on discretionary items.
And while many Americans may be dreaming up ways to spend the money they saved during the pandemic, those hardest hit by the crisis are still trying to regain their financial footing. Among the unemployed, 62 percent said they planned to use their stimulus check to meet immediate needs, compared with 29 percent of the employed. Only 3 percent of the unemployed said they planned to use their stimulus checks on discretionary purchases.
Tesla said on Friday that it more than doubled the number of cars it delivered in the first quarter, bouncing back after the coronavirus slowed sales in the same period a year ago.
The electric carmaker said it sold 184,8000 vehicles in the first three months of the year, up from 88,500 a year ago. It produced 180,338 vehicles, compared to 102,672 in the first quarter of 2020.
Tesla was helped by the arrival of the Model Y, a roomier version of its Model 3 sedan. Those two cars accounted for almost all of its deliveries in the first quarter. It reported just 2,020 deliveries of its high-end cars — the Model S luxury sedan and the Model X sport-utility vehicle.
General Motors reported a modest rise in car sales in North America for the first quarter, but its operations continue to be hampered by a shortage of computer chips.
G.M. said on Thursday that it sold 642,250 cars and light trucks in the first three months of the year, up just 4 percent even though sales a year ago slowed sharply as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
By contrast, Toyota Motor showed a strong rebound in sales compared with a year ago. The Japanese company reported that sales in North America jumped 22 percent in the first three months of 2021, to 603,066 cars and light trucks. Its March sales were a record high for that month.
Toyota’s big jump helped it outsell Ford Motor, which has also been hit by the semiconductor shortage. Ford’s sales in the first quarter were up just 1 percent, to 521,334. Stellantis — the company formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and France’s Peugeot SA — reported its U.S. sales increased 5 percent in the first quarter.
Ford and G.M. both enjoyed substantial increases in sales to individual customers at dealerships while reporting declines in sales to fleet operators like rental car companies and governments.
G.M. and Ford have had to halt or slow production at a handful of plants. G.M. has resorted to making some vehicles without parts containing computer chips with the intention of installing those components before sale when supply improves.
In a statement, G.M. said it hoped its strategy for building cars without some components would help it “quickly meet strong expected customer demand during the year.”
That approach to building cars “underscores the dire nature” of the semiconductor shortage, an analyst at CFRA Research, Garrett Nelson, said in a report. “One of the key questions is how much better the U.S. auto sales recovery can get from here.”
The chip shortage is reflected in G.M.’s unusually low inventory of 334,628 vehicles. That is about 76,000 less than at the end of the fourth quarter and is half the number of vehicles its dealers held in stock a year ago. Ford’s inventory was 56,100 lower than at the end of 2020.
G.M.’s sluggish sales were confined to its Chevrolet brand, whose sales fell 2 percent in the first quarter. That included a 13 percent decline in sales of its full-size Silverado pickup truck, a critical profit maker for the company. The Buick, Cadillac and G.M.C. brands reported strong sales in the quarter.
Toyota also reported a drop in sales of its full-size pickup, the Tundra. But the decline was more than offset by big increases in sales of its RAV4, Highlander and 4Runner sport-utility vehicles and cars from its Lexus luxury brand.
Also on Thursday, Honda Motor reported its first-quarter sales in North America had increased 16 percent, to 347,091 vehicles.
For two weeks, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola had been under pressure from activists and Black executives who wanted the companies to publicly oppose a new law in Georgia that makes it harder for people to vote. On Wednesday, six days after the law was passed, both companies stated their “crystal clear” opposition to it.
Now Republicans are mad at the companies for speaking out. Hours after the companies made their statements, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, took aim at Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta, accusing him of spreading “the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.” And Republicans in the Georgia state legislature floated the idea of increasing taxes on Delta as retribution.
On Thursday, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida posted a video in which he called Delta and Coca-Cola “woke corporate hypocrites.” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said Coca-Cola was “caving to the ‘woke’ left.” And Stephen Miller, an adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, said on Twitter, “Unelected, multinational corporations are now openly attacking sovereign U.S. states & the right of their citizens to secure their own elections. This is a corporate ambush on Democracy.”
It was another illustration of just how fraught it is for big companies to wade in to partisan politics, where any support for the left draws the ire of the right, and vice versa.
Other big Georgia companies have managed to stay on the sidelines. UPS, which is based in Atlanta, also refrained from criticizing the new law before it was passed. On Thursday, the company said it “believes that voting laws and legislation should make it easier, not harder, for Americans to exercise their right to vote.” It made no mention of the law.
In the fallout of Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing and sale last year, the retailer abandoned a warehouse in Connecticut full of junk — mannequins, sewing machines and a whole section of Christmas trees.
Ever since, the couple that owns the warehouse, Chip and Rosanna LaBonte, has been scrambling to figure out how to get rid of it all.
Junk removal companies have told them it will cost at least $240,000 to clear the space, which Brooks Brothers had rented through November, Sapna Maheshwari and Vanessa Friedman report for The New York Times. In order to pay the bill, the LaBontes are going to have to sell their home.
Brooks Brothers, which was founded in 1818 and is the oldest continuously operated apparel brand in the United States, began renting the warehouse in Enfield in 2011, most recently at a rate of roughly $20,000 a month.
The couple bought the warehouse in 2010. They said that it was their first foray into commercial real estate and that they worked on residential projects before that. They have other tenants and a self-storage section, but are frustrated about the mess and the fact they can’t use the space for anything else until it is cleared.
The couple’s plight illustrates the far-reaching consequences of retail bankruptcies, which cascaded during the pandemic and affected everyone from factory workers to executives. Smaller vendors and landlords have often been left holding the short end of the stick during lengthy byzantine bankruptcy proceedings, particularly with limits on what they can spend on legal bills compared with larger corporations. And once bankrupt brands are sold, people like the LaBontes are typically left in the dust.
General Motors reported a modest rise in car sales in North America for the first quarter, but its operations continue to be hampered by a shortage of computer chips.
The automaker said on Thursday that it sold 642,250 cars and light trucks in the first three months of the year, up just 4 percent even though sales a year ago slowed sharply as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
By contrast, Toyota Motor showed a strong rebound in sales compared with a year ago. The Japanese company reported sales in North America jumped 22 percent in the first three months of 2021, to 603,066 cars and light trucks. Its March sales were a record high for that month.
G.M. has had to halt or slow production at a handful of plants and has resorted to making some vehicles without parts containing computer chips, with the intention of installing those components later when the supply improves.
In a statement, G.M. said that it hoped its strategy for building cars without some components would help it “quickly meet strong expected customer demand during the year.”
That approach to building cars “underscores the dire nature” of the semiconductor shortage, an analyst at CFRA Research, Garrett Nelson, said in a report. “One of the key questions is how much better the U.S. auto sales recovery can get from here.”
The chip shortage is reflected in G.M.’s unusually low inventory of 334,628 vehicles. That is about 76,000 less than at the end of the fourth quarter, and half the number of vehicles its dealers held in stock a year ago.
G.M.’s sluggish sales were confined to its Chevrolet brand, whose sales fell 2 percent in the first quarter. That includes a 13 percent decline in sales of its full-size Silverado pickup truck, a critical profit maker for the company. The Buick, Cadillac and G.M.C. brands reported strong sales in the quarter.
Toyota also reported a drop in sales of its full-size pickup, the Tundra. But the decline was more than offset by big increases in sales of its RAV4, Highlander and 4Runner sport-utility vehicles and cars from its Lexus luxury brand.
Also on Thursday, Honda Motor reported its first-quarter sales in North America increased 16 percent, to 347,091 vehicles.