Mixed fortunes for London shops hit by pandemic

Michael Falkowski is pictured at his bicycle repair shop, ImpressedLondon, in north London. Bike shops have seen a surge in demand during lockdown. (AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

Mixed fortunes for London shops hit by pandemic

  • Businesses like bike shops and cafes are enjoying a spike in demand

LONDON: Behind the colorful shopfronts in England’s Lane, a picture-postcard street near north London’s Primrose Hill, business owners are experiencing mixed fortunes as a result of the pandemic lockdown.

While window displays stay empty and shutters are drawn, including at The Washington pub, certain shops are benefitting as customers avoid big queues elsewhere and seek out items that are hard to find at major retailers.

The newsagent and stationery store are enjoying fresh custom from people working remotely and home-schooling their children.

The street’s bike shop has meanwhile struggled to keep up with demand.

“It’s madness right now, everyone is cycling,” Michael Falkowski, co-owner of the Impressed store, tells AFP as he busily fixes a bike.

The Grain bakery has expanded its offering, transforming itself into a mini grocer by replacing tables for customers with shelves.

Owner Kristin Labrague, who has temporarily laid off two of her workers, told AFP that while “it’s a bit frightening to take public transport... we wanted to stay open and feed the community.”

Across the street, the Chamomile cafe has shut.

Irit Reed, who runs the eatery with husband David, says “the decision to close was based on the safety of our staff, our customers.”

Ordinarily the cafe would have people waiting patiently for a table and brunch, but it now has a notice attached to its pale blue exterior with a message asking for help.

“Like many other small businesses and industries who have been required to close, we have been hit pretty hard,” it reads.

“If anyone is able to donate to help us and our team through this next challenging period, we would be eternally grateful.

“In return we will be offering a free hot drink or discount once through this crisis,” the message adds.

Irit speaks of the “shock” she has felt.

“We’ve worked hard all our lives, all of a sudden not being able to work is devastating.”

UK retail sales dived by a record 18.1 percent in April with the country in coronavirus lockdown.

But most shops will soon be allowed to reopen, as Britain — with the world’s second-highest death toll in the coronavirus outbreak — took its biggest step out of lockdown on Monday.

Outdoor markets and car showrooms reopened as businesses seek to lure back customers and recoup losses suffered since Britain effectively shut down on March 23.

In England’s Lane, the Visage hair salon must wait a while longer to reopen, along with pubs, restaurants and gyms throughout Britain.

Without state funding “I don’t know what we would have done,” says co-owner Estella Cicek, referring to government measures to pay workers’ wages and delay payment of taxes during the lockdown.

Irit is meanwhile upbeat about the future.

“The cafe will reopen no question,” she insists.


Oil giants’ production cuts come to 1m bpd as they post massive write-downs

Updated 10 August 2020

Oil giants’ production cuts come to 1m bpd as they post massive write-downs

  • Crude output worldwide dropped sharply after the market crashed in April

LONDON: The world’s five largest oil companies collectively cut the value of their assets by nearly $50 billion in the second quarter, and slashed production rates as the coronavirus pandemic caused a drastic fall in fuel prices and demand.

The dramatic reductions in asset valuations and decline in output show the depth of the pain in the second quarter. Fuel demand at one point was down by more than 30 percent worldwide.

Several executives said they took massive write-downs because they expect demand to remain impaired for several more quarters as people travel less and use less fuel due to the ongoing global pandemic.

Of those five companies, only Exxon Mobil did not book sizeable impairments. But an ongoing reevaluation of its plans could lead to a “significant portion” of its assets being impaired, it reported, and signal the elimination of 20 percent or 4.4 billion barrels of its oil and gas reserves.

By contrast, BP took a $17 billion hit. It said it plans to recenter its spending in coming years around renewables and less on oil and natural gas.

Weak demand means oil producers must revisit business plans, said Lee Maginniss, managing director at consultants Alarez & Marsal. He said the goal should be to pump only what generates cash in excess of overhead costs.

“It’s low-cost production mode through the end of 2021 for sure, and to 2022 to the extent there are new development plans being contemplated,” Maginniss said.

London-based BP has previously said it plans to cut its overall output by roughly 1 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOEPD) by the end of 2030 from its current 3.6 million BOEPD.

Of the five, Exxon is the largest producer, with daily output of 3.64 million BOEPD, but its production dropped 408,000 BOEPD between the first and second quarters. The five majors, which include Chevron Corp, Royal Dutch Shell and Total SA, also cut capital expenditures by a combined $25 billion between the quarters.

Crude output worldwide dropped sharply after the market crashed in April. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to cut output by nearly 10 million barrels a day to balance out supply and demand in the market.