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DS News December 2020

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70 we move toward the end of the year without a relief package. State and local governments are screaming, if you will, for support from the federal government. is will put downward pressure on personal consumption. Retail mall operations are under significant pressure. Retail mall owners are going to have to transform and look to reposition the nature of their facilities and determine if those facilities are sustainable in the current form in which they exist. We're seeing retail mall operations, we're seeing property operations, all of which have a significant amount of debt. ey may seek bankruptcy protection as well and look to reorganize, reduce debt liability, reduce lease liabilities in the case of retail, and all that filters through right down to the main street. I would not be surprised to see an increase in bankruptcy filings, certainly an increase in Chapter 11, very likely an increase in personal bankruptcies and conversions to liquidations on the retail front. WHAT TRENDS DO YOU FORESEE ON THE UNEMPLOYMENT FRONT? First of all, the latest national report put unemployment at 6.9%. We can't forget that there was a misclassification error, so unemployment is actually over 7%. In a state like Connecticut, where I currently reside, we just received our latest number of 6.1% unemployment, but a misclassification error of 6-7%, resulting in a 12-13% unemployment, according to the Office of Research. We have a continued spread of COVID-19, the need for testing and monitoring, the absence of a vaccine in the near term, the delay in a relief package. We could look at the incentives created by that environment. None of this bodes well for the employment outlook; we have a fragile state of affairs. We have seen an increase in unemployment claims recently. It's still below a million, but it's still quite significant. You add to that an increase in long- term unemployment, 27 weeks, that number has increased. Added to the fact that the permanent job losses have also increased to 3.8 million. So, while directionally the U3 report on unemployment looks good, we've dropped from a peak of 14.7%, which was really closer to 20%, because of the misclassification error, to 6.9% or 7.3%. ese numbers are nowhere close to the pre-COVID-19 unemployment numbers, which were historic in and of themselves. It does not suggest we have a strong economy and a V-shaped recovery. It is a mischaracterization to suggest we have a V-shaped recovery. I suggest we have ascending waves of re-engagement as well as recovery that is disparate in nature. In other words, a K-shaped recovery. We're seeing a disparity as far as winners and losers as we go into this next wave of COVID-19. In essence, we're headed toward a perfect storm. All those factors that I enumerated showing weakness, add COVID-19 layer on top of that, flu season, and we're going to be confronted with a great deal of stress, both from a public health perspective and an economic perspective. So in one sense, the final word I can rely on Chairman Powell of the Federal Reserve, who has implored for, and called for, fiscal relief, which requires Congress and the President to come together to provide a relief package. e Fed, unfortunately, given its charter, cannot do much more than it already has done. It has lowered interest rates to 0%, arguably. It introduced a Main Street Lending Program, which was laudable. I would say it was helpful, in one regard. ere was over $600 or $650 billion allocated for that program. $75 billion of which was going to come from the treasury, but as of, I think September, we haven't even hit $1 billion of loans under that program. So, while it's laudable and directionally helpful, it was not widely and favorably received. In fact, the Main Street Lending Program was misnamed. It wasn't targeted toward the mom-and-pop retail store on "Main Street." It was really designed for firms that need $250,000 minimum of loans. It started off at a million, then it dropped to $500,000, and I believe in the final incarnation, a $250,000 loan program. A lot of Main Street mom-and-pop operations wouldn't even be able to call upon or support such a loan facility, because that's what's required for the loan itself. So, the Fed is right, Chairman Powell is right, to call upon the legislature and the President to come together and come up with fiscal relief. "We have a continued spread of COVID-19, the need for testing and monitoring, the absence of a vaccine in the near term, the delay in a relief package. ... None of this bodes well for the employment outlook." The Exchange By: Five Star Staff

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