Peloton Is Riding the K-Shaped Recovery
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Peloton’s pricey stationary bikes and virtual spin classes have been a lifesaver for well-to-do Americans barred from their usual gym routines because of Covid-19. But the brand’s staggering growth also points to a disconcerting trend: The pandemic is exacerbating the gap between the country’s haves and have-nots.
Shares of Peloton Interactive Inc. have more than tripled in price this year as more people look to work out at home. On Thursday, the company said its revenue in the latest quarter surged 172% and forecast at least $3.5 billion in sales for fiscal 2021, far outpacing analysts’ expectations. Peloton’s subscriber base now exceeds 1 million and should top 2 million this year. Its market value eclipsed $25 billion this month — which, to put that into perspective, makes it more valuable than Delta Air Lines Inc. and the parent of Hilton hotels.
Peloton’s popularity is surging at the same time that a slew of gyms catering to middle-class Americans are closing their doors, after government-ordered shutdowns left them unable to generate membership dues and pay their debt obligations. Gold’s Gym International Inc. and 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc. have sought bankruptcy protection; Town Sports International Holdings Inc., the owner of the New York Sports Club and Lucille Roberts chains, is said to be planning to file imminently. Even where gyms have reopened, smaller studios may be unable to make ends meet amid new safety protocols, including operating at lower capacity and enhancing air-conditioning systems. (Read my interview with a Queens, New York, fitness studio owner who had to permanently close her business.)
The widening economic disparity can be seen everywhere, not just the fitness space. Take a look at housing: Sales of newly built U.S. homes climbed in July to the highest level in almost 14 years, and sales of previously owned houses jumped the most on record. Families that can afford to take advantage of all-time low mortgage rates are upgrading to more-spacious, work-from-home-friendly dwellings with backyards. Meanwhile, almost 16% of Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages — a program to help lower-income families afford home ownership — were delinquent as of the second quarter, the highest level in records dating back to 1979. Turning to the garage: Automobile sales overall are down quite a bit this year, but prices for new vehicles are soaring as wealthier shoppers splurge on SUVs. Automakers’ focus on these bigger, more lucrative vehicles makes it hard for less well-off customers to buy.
In a year when most brick-and-mortar retailers are hurting, RH (formerly known as Restoration Hardware) this week cited the “booming” market for second homes as boosting sales of its high-end home furnishings. RH’s stock price surged 20% on Thursday — the same day that off-price department store Century 21 filed for bankruptcy and said it will shut down. Likewise, discounter Stein Mart Inc. has filed Chapter 11, as have major mall tenants such as J.C. Penney Co., Men’s Wearhouse parent Tailored Brands Inc., Loft parent Ascena Retail Group Inc. and many more. As those companies succumb to their debt loads, deep-pocketed corporate giants such as AT&T Inc. are tapping the bond market at an astonishing pace.
Speaking of wireless companies, Apple Inc. will soon release its 5G-enabled iPhone, and it's going to cost a pretty penny. While the exact price point isn’t yet known, for reference, the iPhone 11 that came out a year ago retails for $699, with the Pro version starting at $999. Meanwhile, millions of Americans still don’t have reliable internet service at home, even as some schools switch to remote learning due to the virus. After the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge expired in July, customers facing financial hardship may have also lost service.
This is the K-shaped economic “recovery” my Opinion colleague Barry Ritholtz wrote about recently — two lines moving in opposite directions, representing the country’s worsening wealth inequality. The impasse in Congress over the next round of stimulus money is ensuring that “K” is branded onto the face of the U.S.
J.C. Penney won a respite this week after mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partnersagreed to buy it out of bankruptcy.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the business of entertainment and telecommunications, as well as broader deals. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.
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