Category Archives: Small Business

The Collapse of Main Street and Local Tax Revenues Cannot Be Reversed

The core problem is the U.S. economy has been fully financialized, and so costs are unaffordable.

(Charles Hugh Smith) To understand the long-term consequences of the pandemic on Main Street and local tax revenues, we need to consider first and second order effects. The immediate consequences of lock downs and changes in consumer behavior are first-order effects: closures of Main Street, job losses, massive Federal Reserve bailouts of the top 0.1%, loan programs for small businesses, stimulus checks to households that earned less than $200,000 last year, and so on.

The second-order effects cannot be bailed out or controlled by central authorities. Second-order effects are the result of consequences have their own consequences.

The first-order effects of the pandemic on Main Street are painfully obvious: small businesses that have barely kept their heads above water as costs have soared have laid off employees as they’ve closed their doors.

The second-order effects are still spooling out: how many businesses will close for good because the owners don’t want to risk losing everything by chancing re-opening? How many will give it the old college try and close a few weeks later as they conclude they can’t survive on 60% of their previous revenues? How many enjoy a brief spurt of business as everyone rushes back, but then reality kicks in and business starts sliding after the initial burst wears off?

How many will be unable to hire back everyone who was laid off?

As for local tax revenues based on local sales taxes, income taxes, business license fees, and property taxes: the first three will fall off a cliff, and if cities and counties respond to the drop in tax revenues by jacking up property taxes, this will only hasten the collapse of businesses that were already hanging on by a thread before the pandemic.

The federal government can bail out local governments this year, but what about next year, and every year after that? The hit to local tax revenues is permanent, as the economy became dependent on debt and financialization pushed costs up.

Amazon and online sellers don’t pay local taxes, except in the locales where their fulfillment centers are located. Yes, online sellers pay state and local sales taxes, but these sales are for goods; most of the small businesses that have supported local tax revenues are services: bars, cafes, restaurants, etc. As these close for good, the likelihood of new businesses taking on the same high costs (rent, fees, labor, overhead, etc.) is near-zero, and anyone foolish enough to try will be bankrupted in short order.

Now that work-at-home has been institutionalized, the private sector no longer needs millions of square feet of office space. As revenues drop and profits vanish, businesses will be seeking to cut costs, and vacating unused office space is the obvious first step.

What’s the value of empty commercial space? If demand is near-zero, the value is also near-zero. Local government will be desperate to raise tax revenues, and they will naturally look at bubble-era valuations on all real estate as a cash cow. But they will find that raising property taxes on money-losing properties will only accelerate the rate of property-owner insolvencies.

At some point valuations will adjust down to reality, and property taxes collected will adjust down accordingly. If municipalities think they can make up the losses by jacking up the taxes paid by the survivors, they will quickly find the ranks of the survivors thinned.

This doesn’t exhaust the second-order effects: once Main Street is half-empty, the attraction of the remaining businesses declines; there’s not enough to attract customers, and the virtuous-circle of sales rising for everyone because the district is lively and attractive reverses: the survivors struggle and give up, further hollowing out the district.

The core problem is the U.S. economy has been fully financialized, and so costs are unaffordable. The commercial property owner overpaid for the buildings with cheap borrowed money, and now the owner must collect nose-bleed high rents or he can’t make the mortgage and property tax payments.

Local governments spend every dime of tax revenues, as their costs are insanely high as well. They cannot survive a 10% decline in tax revenues, much less a 40% drop.

The metaphor I’ve used to explain this in the past is the Yellowstone forest fire. The deadwood of bad debt, extreme leverage, zombie companies and all the other fallen branches of financialization pile up, but the central banks no longer allow any creative destruction of unpayable debt and mis-allocated capital; every brush fire is instantly suppressed with more stimulus, more liquidity and lower interest rates.

As a result, the deadwood sapping the real economy of productivity and innovation is allowed to pile higher.

The only possible output of this suppression is an economy piled high with explosive risk. Eventually Nature supplies a lightning strike, and the resulting conflagration consumes the entire economy.

Gordon Long and I look at two highly correlated second-order effectsthe collapse of Main Street and local tax revenues.

Source: Charles Hugh Smith | Of Two Minds

Small Town Suburbia Faces Dire Financial Crisis As Companies, Millennials Flee To Big Cities

College graduates and other young Americans are increasingly clustering in urban centers like New York City, Chicago and Boston. And now, American companies are starting to follow them. Companies looking to appeal to, and be near, young professionals versed in the world of e-commerce, software analytics, digital engineering, marketing and finance are flocking to cities. But in many cases, they’re leaving their former suburban homes to face significant financial difficulties, according to the Washington Post.

Earlier this summer, health-insurer Aetna said it would move its executives, plus most of technology-focused employees to New York City from Hartford, Conn., the city where the company was founded, and where it prospered for more than 150 years. GE said last year it would leave its Fairfield, Conn., campus for a new global headquarters in Boston. Marriott International is moving from an emptying Maryland office park into the center of Bethesda.

https://i0.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user245717/imageroot/2017/2017.07.18mcdonalds_0.JPG

Meanwhile, Caterpillar is moving many of its executives and non-manufacturing employees to Deerfield, Ill. from Peoria, Ill., the manufacturing hub that CAT has long called home. And McDonald’s is leaving its longtime home in Oak Brook, Ill. for a new corporate campus in Chicago.

Visitors to the McDonald’s wooded corporate campus enter on a driveway named for the late chief executive Ray Kroc, then turn onto Ronald Lane before reaching Hamburger University, where more than 80,000 people have been trained as fast-food managers.

Surrounded by quiet neighborhoods and easy highway connections, this 86-acre suburban compound adorned with walking paths and duck ponds was for four decades considered the ideal place to attract top executives as the company rose to global dominance.

Now its leafy environs are considered a liability. Locked in a battle with companies of all stripes to woo top tech workers and young professionals, McDonald’s executives announced last year that they were putting the property up for sale and moving to the West Loop of Chicago where “L” trains arrive every few minutes and construction cranes dot the skyline.”

The migration to urban centers, according to WaPo, threatens the prosperity outlying suburbs have long enjoyed, bringing a dose of pain felt by rural communities and exacerbating stark gaps in earnings and wealth that Donald Trump capitalized on in winning the presidency.

Many of these itinerant companies aren’t really moving – or at least not entirely. Some, like Caterpillar, are only moving executives, along with workers involved in technology and marketing work, while other employees remain behind.

Machinery giant Caterpillar said this year that it was moving its headquarters from Peoria to Deerfield, which is closer to Chicago. It said it would keep about 12,000 manufacturing, engineering and research jobs in its original home town. But top-paying office jobs — the type that Caterpillar’s higher-ups enjoy — are being lost, and the company is canceling plans for a 3,200-person headquarters aimed at revitalizing Peoria’s downtown.”

Big corporate moves can be seriously disruptive for a cohort of smaller enterprises that feed on their proximity to big companies, from restaurants and janitorial operations to other subcontractors who located nearby. Plus, the cancellation of the new headquarters was a serious blow. Not to mention the rollback in public investment.

“It was really hard. I mean, you know that $800 million headquarters translated into hundreds and hundreds of good construction jobs over a number of years,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis (R) said.

For the village of Oak Brook, being the home of McDonald’s has always been a point of pride. Over the year’s the town’s brand has become closely intertwined with the company’s. But as McDonald’s came under pressure to update its offerings for the Internet age, it opened an office in San Francisco and a year later moved additional digital operations to downtown Chicago, strategically near tech incubators as well as digital outposts of companies that included Yelp and eBay. That precipitated the much larger move it is now planning to make.

“The village of Oak Brook and McDonald’s sort of grew up together. So, when the news came, it was a jolt from the blue — we were really not expecting it,” said Gopal G. Lalmalani, a cardiologist who also serves as the village president.

Lalmalani is no stranger to the desire of young professionals to live in cities: His adult daughters, a lawyer and an actress, live in Chicago. When McDonald’s arrived in Oak Brook, in 1971, many Americans were migrating in the opposite direction, away from the city. In the years since, the tiny village’s identity became closely linked with the fast-food chain as McDonald’s forged a brand that spread across postwar suburbia one Happy Meal at a time.

“It was fun to be traveling and tell someone you’re from Oak Brook and have them say, ‘Well, I never heard of that,’ and then tell them, ‘Yes, you have. Look at the back of the ketchup package from McDonald’s,’ ” said former village president Karen Bushy. Her son held his wedding reception at the hotel on campus, sometimes called McLodge.

The village showed its gratitude — there is no property tax — and McDonald’s reciprocated with donations such as $100,000 annually for the Fourth of July fireworks display and with an outsize status for a town of fewer than 8,000 people.”

Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who is now a McDonald’s executive vice president, said the company had decided that it needed to be closer not just to workers who build e-commerce tools but also to the customers who use them.

 “The decision is really grounded in getting closer to our customers,” Gibbs said.

Some in Oak Brook have begun to invent conspiracy theories about why McDonald’s is moving, including one theory that the company is trying to shake off its lifetime employees in Oak Brook in favor of hiring cheaper and younger urban workers.

The site of the new headquarters, being built in place of the studio where Oprah Winfrey’s show was filmed, is in Fulton Market, a bustling neighborhood filled with new apartments and some of the city’s most highly rated new restaurants.

Bushy and others in Oak Brook wondered aloud if part of the reasoning for the relocation was to effectively get rid of the employees who have built lives around commuting to Oak Brook and may not follow the company downtown. Gibbs said that was not the intention.

‘Our assumption is not that some amount [of our staff] will not come. Some may not. In some ways that’s probably some personal decision. I think we’ve got a workforce that’s actually quite excited with the move,’ he said.”

Despite Chicago’s rapidly rising murder rate and one would think its reputation as an indebted, crime-ridden metropolis would repel companies looking for a new location for their headquarters. But crime and violence rarely penetrate Chicago’s tony neighborhoods like the Loop, where most corporate office space is located.

“Chicago’s arrival as a magnet for corporations belies statistics that would normally give corporate movers pause. High homicide rates and concerns about the police department have eroded Emanuel’s popularity locally, but those issues seem confined to other parts of the city as young professionals crowd into the Loop, Chicago’s lively central business district.

Chicago has been ranked the No. 1 city in the United States for corporate investment for the past four years by Site Selection Magazine, a real estate trade publication.

Emanuel said crime is not something executives scouting new offices routinely express concerns about. Rather, he touts data points such as 140,000 — the number of new graduates local colleges produce every year.

“Corporations tell me the number one concern that t: Zerohey have — workforce,” he said.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the old model, where executives chose locations near where they wanted to live has been upturned by the growing influence of technology in nearly every industry. Years ago, IT operations were an afterthought. Now, people with such expertise are driving top-level corporate decisions, and many of them prefer to live in cities.

“It used to be the IT division was in a back office somewhere,” Emanuel said. “The IT division and software, computer and data mining, et cetera, is now next to the CEO. Otherwise, that company is gone.”

Source: ZeroHedge

From Real Estate To Stocks To Commodities, Is Deflation The New Reality?

https://s17-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=http%3A%2F%2Finflationdeflationreport.com%2Fimg%2Finflation-deflation.png&sp=75efb5cfc5c7f9e2c62158e85cd7e535

  • Rising interest rates are a negative for real estate.
  • Gold and oil are still dropping.
  • Company earnings are not beating expectations.
 

So, where do we begin?

The economy has been firing on all eight cylinders for several years now. So long, in fact, that many do not or cannot accept the fact that all good things must come to an end. Since the 2008 recession, the only negative that has remained constant is the continuing dilemma of the “underemployed”.

Let me digress for a while and delve into the real issues I see as storm clouds on the horizon. Below are the top five storms I see brewing:

  1. Real estate
  2. Subprime auto loans
  3. Falling commodity prices
  4. Stalling equity markets and corporate earnings
  5. Unpaid student loan debt

1. Real Estate

Just this past week there was an article detailing data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), disclosing that existing home sales dropped 10.5% on an annual basis to 3.76 million units. This was the sharpest decline in over five years. The blame for the drop was tied to new required regulations for home buyers. What is perplexing about this excuse is NAR economist Lawrence Yun’s comments. The article cited Yun as saying that:

“most of November’s decline was likely due to regulations that came into effect in October aimed at simplifying paperwork for home purchasing. Yun said it appeared lenders and closing companies were being cautious about using the new mandated paperwork.”

Here is what I do not understand. How can simplifying paperwork make lenders “more cautious about using… the new mandated paperwork”?

Also noted was the fact that median home prices increased 6.3% in November to $220,300. This comes as interest rates are on the cusp of finally rising, thus putting pressure (albeit minor) on monthly mortgage rate payments. This has the very real possibility of pricing out investors whose eligibility for financing was borderline to begin with.

2. Subprime auto loans

Casey Research has a terrific article that sums up the problems in the subprime auto market. I strongly suggest that you read the article. Just a few of the highlights of the article are the following points:

  • The value of U.S. car loans now tops $1 trillion for the first time ever. This means the car loan market is 47% larger than all U.S. credit card debt combined.
  • According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, lenders have approved 96.7% of car loan applicants this year. In 2013, they only approved 89.7% of loan applicants.
  • It’s also never been cheaper to borrow. In 2007, the average rate for an auto loan was 7.8%. Today, it’s only 4.1%.
  • For combined Q2 2015 and Q3 2015, 64% of all new auto loans were classified as subprime.
  • The average loan term for a new car loan is 67 months. For a used car, the average loan term is 62 months. Both are records.

The only logical conclusion that can be derived is that the finances of the average American are still so weak that they will do anything/everything to get a car. Regardless of the rate, or risks associated with it.

3. Falling commodity prices

Remember $100 crude oil prices? Or $1,700 gold prices? Or $100 ton iron ore prices? They are all distant faded memories. Currently, oil is $36 a barrel, gold is $1,070 an ounce, and iron ore is $42 a ton. Commodity stocks from Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF) to Peabody Energy (NYSE:BTU) (both of which I have written articles about) are struggling to pay off debt and keep their operations running due to the declines in commodity prices. Just this past week, Cliffs announced that it sold its coal operations to streamline its business and strengthen its balance sheet while waiting for the iron ore business to stabilize and or strengthen. Similarly, oil producers and metals mining/exploration companies are either going out of business or curtailing their operations at an ever increasing pace.

For 2016, Citi’s predictions commodity by commodity can be found here. Its outlook calls for 30% plus returns from natural gas and oil. Where are these predictions coming from? The backdrop of huge 2015 losses obviously produced a low base from which to begin 2016, but the overwhelming consensus is for oil and natural gas to be stable during 2016. This is clearly a case of Citi sticking its neck out with a prediction that will garnish plenty of attention. Give it credit for not sticking with the herd mentality on this one.

4. Stalling equity markets and corporate earnings

Historically, the equities markets have produced stellar returns. According to an article from geeksonfinace.com, the average return in equities markets from 1926 to 2010 was 9.8%. For 2015, the markets are struggling to erase negative returns. Interestingly, the Barron’s round table consensus group predicted a nearly 10% rise in equity prices in 2015 (which obviously did not materialize) and also repeated that bullish prediction for 2016 by anticipating an 8% return in the S&P. So what happened in 2015? Corporate earnings were not as robust as expected. Commodity prices put pressure on margins of commodity producing companies. Furthermore, there are headwinds from external market forces that are also weighing on the equities markets. As referenced by this article which appeared on Business Insider, equities markets are on the precipice of doing something they have not done since 1939: see negative returns during a pre-election year. Per the article, on average, the DJIA gains 10.4% during pre-election years. With less than one week to go in 2015, the DJIA is currently negative by 1.5%

5. Unpaid student loan debt

Once again, we have stumbled upon an excellent Bloomberg article discussing unpaid student loan debt. The main takeaway from the article is the fact that “about 3 million parents have $71 billion in loans, contributing to more than $1.2 trillion in federal education debt. As of May 2014, half of the balance was in deferment, racking up interest at annual rates as high as 7.9 percent.” The rate was as low as 1.8 percent just four years ago. It is key to note that this is debt that parents have taken out for the education of their children and does not include loans for their own college education.

The Institute for College Access & Success released a detailed 36 page analysis of what the class of 2014 faces regarding student debt. Some highlights:

  • 69% of college seniors who graduated from public and private non-profit colleges in 2014 had student loan debt.
  • Average debt at graduation rose 56 percent, from $18,550 to $28,950, more than double the rate of inflation (25%) over this 10-year period.

Conclusion

So, what does this all mean?

To look at any one or two of the above categories and see their potential to stymie the economy, one would be smart to be cautious. To look at all five, one needs to contemplate the very real possibility of these creating the beginnings of another downturn in the economy. I strongly suggest a cautious and conservative investment outlook for 2016. While the risk one takes should always be based on your own risk tolerance levels, they should also be balanced by the very real possibility of a slowing economy which may also include deflation. Best of health and trading to all in 2016!

by anonymous in Seeking Alpha


David Collum: The Next Recession Will Be A Barn-Burner

The War On Success Of Small Business In America

Source: Zero Hedge

This is the war on success that our government is waging. They are almost trying to make the economy worse by putting companies out of business. To Quote Jim Clifton of Gallup:

Our leadership keeps thinking that the answer to economic growth and ultimately job creation is more innovation, and we continue to invest billions in it. But an innovation is worthless until an entrepreneur creates a business model for it and turns that innovative idea in something customers will buy. Because we have misdiagnosed the cause and effect of economic growth, we have misdiagnosed the cause and effect of job creation.

For the first time in 35 years, American business deaths now outnumber business births.

Let’s get one thing clear: This economy is never truly coming back unless we reverse the birth and death trends of American businesses. It is catastrophic to be dead wrong on the biggest issue of the last 50 years — the issue of where jobs come from…when small and medium-sized businesses are dying faster than they’re being born, so is free enterprise.

And when free enterprise dies, America dies with it.

Mike Maloney explains…