Retailers wrestle with mountain of unsold stock

Adidas announced a first quarter profit plunge of 93 percent amid a huge decline in demand for the clothing sector. (AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

Retailers wrestle with mountain of unsold stock

  • Many stores are likely to pursue a combination of holding sales as well selling stock to off-price retailers

MADRID: Forget fast or slow fashion, now it’s ground to a halt.

A mountain of apparel stock has been piling up in stores, distribution centers, warehouses and even shipping containers during months of COVID-19 lockdowns. As retailers reopen around the world, they have to work out how to get rid of it.

Their main options? Keep it in storage, hold a sale, offload it to “off-price” retailers like TJ Maxx which sell branded goods at deep discounts, or move it to online resale sites.

None are ideal, and all are damage-limitation.

Real estate company Knight Frank told Reuters it had fielded inquiries for excess stock for over 6 million square feet(557,500 square meters) of short-term let warehouse space in Britain since the pandemic took hold there in March.

Yet storage is only a realistic option for evergreen “basics” that are not tied to one particular year and could be sold at a later date should consumer demand bounce back — items like underwear, t-shirts, chinos and classic sneakers.

Apparel chains including British high-street retailer Next and German sportswear brand Adidas said they had stashed away unsold basics, with the aim to offer them to shoppers next year instead.

But stowing away piles of inventory is risky.

“This is not like wine that gets better with age. Your inventory gets worse,” said Emanuel Chirico, chief executive of PVH Corp, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, on a recent earnings call.

In the US, clothing sales fell 89 percent in April from the same month in 2019, while in the UK clothing sales sank by 50 percent compared with a squeezed March.

Retailers hope that easing of lockdown measures will see shoppers return to stores, eager to unleash pent-up demand. But there is no guarantee that sales will rebound any time soon.

Many stores are likely to pursue a combination of holding sales as well selling stock to off-price retailers. The mix will depend on consumer appetite, how much stock stores have to shift and how fast they must free up space for new collections.

In-store discounts are usually a better option as dumping inventory in bulk to off-price players returns just pennies on the dollar for the retailers.

Off-price retail group TJX, which started opening its TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores this month, said in May there was “incredible availability” of stock on the market.


Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

Updated 16 July 2020

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

  • The circumstances of the hijack are still unclear and the boat has been tracked to Iranian waters

DUBAI: An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the UAE, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US

David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond said that he had no other details about the vessel.

TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. 

Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.

The Emirati government, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, at that time named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. 

The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the US government said.

Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

“Because a US bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”

That civil action was believed to be still pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

Data from the MT Gulf Sky’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but Iranian vessels routinely turn theirs off to mask their movements.

Meanwhile, the 28 Indian sailors on board the vessel found themselves stuck on board without pay for months, according to the International Labor Organization. It filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners since March off Khorfakkan. The ILO did not respond to a request for comment.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.