May 18, 2021

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Top Story

Some Retailers Drop Mask Requirements for Vaccinated Customers

New CDC Guidelines Prompt Changes

Target (TGT), CVS Health (CVS), and Starbucks (SBUX) are among the retailers lifting mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers. The policy shift comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new mask-wearing guidelines last week. The CDC said individuals who are fully vaccinated, meaning those who received their second shot of a two-dose vaccine or their single-dose vaccine two or more weeks ago, no longer need to wear masks inside stores and restaurants. The retailers are not lifting mask rules in towns and states which still require them indoors.

Other retailers which have already lifted mask requirements include Walmart (WMT), Costco (COST), Trader Joe’s, and Publix. Companies including Home Depot (HD), Gap (GPS), and Ulta Beauty (ULTA) will maintain their current mask policies as they monitor pandemic developments.

Critics Consider Risks of Lifting Mask Recommendations

The CDC has faced backlash for its decision to change mask-wearing guidelines. The CDC hopes that lifting mask requirements for vaccinated people will encourage more of the population to get the COVID vaccine. However, critics worry that people may not always be honest about their vaccination status. This could put children under age 12 and those who have not been inoculated at increased risk of contracting the virus.

As of this weekend, the CDC said 47% of the population in the US has received one dose of the vaccine and 37% are fully vaccinated. The retailers which changed their mask policies have not announced plans to verify that customers are vaccinated. Most will likely rely on an honor system.

Looking Ahead

Retailers are mixed when it comes to mask-wearing rules for employees. CVS is still mandating that employees wear masks while Target is not requiring fully vaccinated staff members to wear masks. Target is also giving employees paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccination. Walmart is also allowing fully vaccinated employees to work without masks. The retailer is paying employees a $75 bonus if they get the vaccine.

As more Americans receive the vaccine and regulations ease, many will be eager to see how consumer habits and retail sales are impacted. Over the summer, it is likely that significant changes will take place for the retail industry, which has been battered by the pandemic.

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AT&T and Discovery Combine Their Media Assets

AT&T Retreats From Entertainment

AT&T (T) and Discovery (DISCB) are combining their media assets in a $43 billion deal to create a new stand-alone public company. AT&T has recently been taking a number of steps to exit the entertainment industry. Earlier this year AT&T sold a 30% stake in DirectTV to the private equity firm TPG for $1.8 billion.

The new company, which AT&T and Discovery have not yet named, will be headed by David Zaslav, the current CEO of Discovery. It will hold around $55 billion in debt. AT&T shareholders will own 71% of the new company and Discovery shareholders will have a 29% ownership stake. AT&T will receive a combination of cash, debt, and stock when the deal closes.

More Competition Coming

Talks to combine AT&T's Warner Media with Discovery have been ongoing for several months. The new company will be designed to take on streaming services including Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), Disney+ (DIS), and Apple (AAPL). Combined, AT&T and Discovery spend $20 billion on content, which is higher than what Netflix spends.

It is not clear what the new company's plans are for HBO Max and Discovery+, their standalone streaming services. They could remain separate or be combined to create a larger library of content.

A Smaller AT&T

AT&T plans to reduce its dividend to reflect its smaller size. The total annual payout will be between $8 billion and $8.6 billion, which is about half of what investors received in prior years. The deal will also reduce AT&T's debt, which was $169 billion as of March.

The sale of the Warner Media assets unwinds AT&T’s $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner which occurred in 2018. Back then the US Justice Department was worried the combined company would harm competition in the pay-TV market. Even three years ago, analysts did not predict what a significant impact the internet would have on pay-TV, and that streaming would hurt pay-TV more than a combined AT&T and Time Warner. The media industry will be keeping a close watch on the deal as it unfolds.

Nuvve and Stonepeak Make Plans for Electric Buses

Leveraging School Buses for EV Power

Electric vehicle charging company Nuvve (NVVE) and PE firm Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners are creating a joint venture to speed up the adoption of electric school buses. Under terms of the deal, Stonepeak Infrastructure and its portfolio company, Evolve Transition Infrastructure, will invest as much as $750 million in the new business, which will be named Levo Mobility. Stonepeak will own 49% of the company while Nuvve will own 51%.

Nuve, which went public via a SPAC deal in March 2021, has a unique technology which it believes will work well with school buses. The company stores energy from electric vehicles’ batteries and sends it to the grid to charge parked and plugged-in electric vehicles.

Nuvve’s Technology

Nuvve’s technology, known as vehicle-to-grid charging, is designed to overcome demands placed on the power grid by electric vehicles. Nuvve creates what it calls a “virtual power plant” by storing electric vehicles’ battery energy and pooling it with other batteries to send power to charging stations.

Because school buses are parked for the majority of the day, the company thinks it can use them to store significant amounts of energy and reduce emissions. There are about 480,000 school buses which use diesel fuel to transport children to and from school in the US, amounting to 5.3 million tons of greenhouse gases emitted annually.

Biden Earmarks $25 Billion for Electric Buses

Levo’s focus on school buses is timely given that President Biden has earmarked $25 billion from his $2.3 trillion proposed infrastructure bill for electric school buses. Nuvve and Stonepeak estimate about 20% of the nation’s school buses could be switched to EVs with the $25 billion. Levo will lease new buses to school districts instead of selling them outright. With the leases, schools get vehicle-to-grid charging infrastructure and maintenance.

Looking ahead, Levo plans to expand beyond school buses and wants to use its technology for last-mile delivery, ride-hailing, and municipal services. As more industries look for ways to go green, Levo could be well-positioned to help them.

Not-So-Breaking News

  • Sanofi (SNY) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) saw positive results from a Phase 2 trial of their COVID-19 vaccine. The companies said the vaccine created strong antibodies which neutralized the disease across all age groups studied. A Phase 3 international trial will kick off soon.
  • Bright Machines, a manufacturing automation company, is gearing up to go public via a deal with special purpose acquisition company SCVX Corp. (SCVX). The merger gives the company a valuation of $1.6 billion and could be announced later this week.
  • Gojek and Tokopedia, two Indonesian startups, are combining to create GoTo Group. The deal, which merges a ride-hailing company with a marketplace operator, will create the largest technology enterprise in Indonesia. GoTo will list in New York and Jakarta later this year.
  • JD.com (JD) is launching an initial public offering for its logistics unit, aiming to raise $3.4 billion. JD Logistics could be valued at as much as $34 billion in the offering. It marks the latest Chinese ecommerce company to tap the public markets to raise cash.
  • Beyond Meat (BND) is bringing its meat alternative to Pizza Hut (YUM) restaurants in Edmonton and the Greater Toronto Area. For a limited time, Pizza Hut will offer three items on its menu which include Beyond Meat's products.
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Financial Planner Tip of the Day

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