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COVID-19 roundup: You’re not the only one buying more online

A woman wears a mask as she walks through Toronto's Eaton Centre shopping mall in March 2020. The Canadian Press/Chris Young
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It’s day 136 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 113,068 as of publication time, up 396 since yesterday—an 18.6 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of 486.9 new cases. At its peak on May 3, the seven-day average was 1,603 new cases a day. 

The virus killed one person every eight minutes in Florida yesterday.

An online shopping surge: Canadian retail e-commerce sales rose 99.3 per cent between February and May 2020, according to a Statistics Canada report released Friday, as locked-down businesses and shut-in shoppers leaned on online transactions. Digital purchases peaked in April, at 11.4 per cent of total consumer buying.

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Many grocery stores have remained open through the pandemic, so food and beverage sales at physical locations rose 3.3 per cent between February and April, even as online buying jumped 107 per cent. But retailers offering more discretionary items saw a much sharper shift. Furniture and home-furnishings businesses saw the largest e-commerce increase, rising 191.2 per cent over the same period, though they lost 69.6 per cent of in-store sales. Brick-and-mortar trade dropped 79 per cent for sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, but online output rose 154.9 per cent. Such retailers were closed for a combined average of 22 and 27 days, respectively, across March and April. Only clothing and accessories stores stayed shut longer, for 33 days across the two months. 

E-commerce’s share of retail sales dropped slightly in May to 10 per cent, an indication that at least some of the online buying will revert to brick-and-mortar stores once they reopen. But there are signs that the pandemic may have permanently accelerated the digitization of Canadian consumption. 

“Canadians who rushed to get back into stores when they reopened at the end of May haven’t forsaken the online marketplace altogether,” RBC economist Colin Guldimann wrote last week, noting that credit- and debit-card spending data from the bank’s customers showed the online spending increase kept going through the end of the month. Scotiabank clients’ plastic use was up 10 per cent year over year for the week of July 20; credit-card spending has been higher than 2019 all month, while more money has been coming off debit cards since the end of May. “Growth in digital spending [is] holding up,” wrote Nikita Perevalov, director of economic forecasting, in a Thursday report, which shows particular spikes in computer software and digital goods.

Most banks say their customers still aren’t spending as much on travel, restaurants or entertainment as they did before the pandemic. Many of those businesses remain shut or are operating at much-reduced capacity, and few people are flying anywhere at the moment. 

In the markets: Global stocks fell Friday after China ordered the U.S. to close its Chengdu consulate, the latest escalation between the two countries. China’s CSI 300 index closed down 4.4 per cent while Europe’s benchmark, the Stoxx 600, fell 1.7 per cent. 

U.S. equities were also hurt by Intel’s announcement of a six-month delay in its next generation chips. Intel fell over 16 per cent on the news, while the Nasdaq fell the most of any major North American index. The drops came despite a report that French and German business sentiment picked up. 

Gold reached a new all-time record as a growing number of investors seek a safe haven from the ongoing volatility. The U.S. dollar fell against the Japanese yen and the euro, but gained against the loonie. The Canadian dollar fell to 74.50 cents U.S. in late afternoon trading. 

“Another government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people imo”: Elon Musk offered his take on the government’s role during crises on Twitter, noting that the “goal of government should be to maximize the happiness of the people.” 

Cross-country checkup: The federal government announced $625 million to help parents find safe and affordable child care so they can return to work. B.C. is restricting short-term rental housing in a bid to stymie the COVID-19 resurgence. Contact tracing is taking longer in Alberta—from an average of about six hours to notify someone that they’ve been in contact with a COVID-19-positive person to now several days—as the number of cases in the province continues to increase. Two-thirds of the 195 new cases reported in Ontario on Friday were in people under 40 years old.

Bay Street to Main Street: The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) reported a $218-million net loss for its fiscal year 2020, a more than $1-billion drop from its $885.6 million in net income reported for 2019. The Crown corporation attributed the losses to the pandemic, specifically on higher provisions to cover expected credit losses and the depreciation of asset values. Losses from its venture capital business made up nearly half of BDC’s shortfall: it reported a $102-million loss in the space compared to $194.2 million in profit in 2019. Still, the bank saw its overall financing portfolio grow 7.3 per cent for 2020, from $26.5 billion to $28.5 billion. 

  • Companies in government-owned buildings are facing difficulties accessing rent relief. 
  • The federal government is spending $4.8 million to establish a cleantech accelerator at Trent University. 
  • The City of Toronto committed $250,000 over five years to DMZ’s Black Innovation Fellowship. 

Drinking from the firehose: 

  • Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, laid off “several dozen” employees across multiple departments. 
  • Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said rentals for treehouses and Airstreams have spiked during the pandemic, suggesting more interest in what he described as “intimate” forms of travel. 
  • U.S. businesses initially hit hard by the pandemic are now rehiring millions of workers, driving the jobs growth in the country. 
  • Berkeley, Calif.-based Kiwi is using its fleet of robots to deliver food for some 120 businesses in San Jose
  • The NHL will use technology from airport-security firm Clear to screen players and staff for COVID-19 during the playoffs.
  • The NBA is teaming up with Microsoft to equip courts with virtual stands using LED screens to simulate a live crowd. 

Around the world: The World Health Organization has reported the greatest single-day increase in global cases yet: the total rose by 284,196 in 24 hours. A new U.S. Congress bill is proposing to ban evictions and foreclosures for a year. Some Senate Republicans are advocating for the new coronavirus stimulus package to include “policies that will bolster jobs and innovation” in clean energy. U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted the government “didn’t understand” the virus for “the first few weeks and months.” The head of the International Federation of Red Cross warned that the pandemic could spark huge waves of migration once borders reopen as people try to replace lost livelihoods. India is experiencing a bicycle boom.

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Did you hear that? According to new research by seismologists, the last few months have been the longest period of “human quiet” ever recorded.

* We’re emphasizing new cases, rather than running totals, because “flattening the curve” is when each day’s new cases are fewer than those of the previous day. The percentage increase is determined based on how today’s cases compare to a rolling seven-day prior average.

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