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Opinion

The April 1st Rent Payment Conundrum

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OPINION

By Brad Umansky, President, Progressive Real Estate Partners

It seems that the hottest topic of conversation over the past few days is what to do when a tenant’s business is adversely affected by “the virus”.  Based upon conversations with landlords, tenants and property managers there is no doubt that many tenants and landlords are already thinking about how to handle the April 1st rent payment.  Since we work with both, I’m writing this blog from both perspectives.  Please note that whether you are a tenant or landlord, I encourage you to read the entire blog as there are overlapping ideas in each section.

It is important to recognize that we are in an interdependent economy and that there are many very financially stable tenants as well as some that are struggling and, for those in particular, this crisis will exacerbate the situation.  At the same time there are many well capitalized landlords with the financial capacity to make concessions to help a tenant’s business when warranted, but there may also be less capitalized landlords who are in a similar situation as a struggling tenant.

So hopefully everyone will WORK TOGETHER as fairly as possible to minimize the economic damage that we are all observing and that many are experiencing. With these thoughts in mind, here are my recommendations.

What to Do as a Tenant

  • Be Honest – One problem is that over the past decade many tenants have made it a part of their practice to ask for rent reductions and other concessions just to see if they can extract something from a landlord whether or not the request is warranted resulting in many landlords being skeptical of any request. This “dishonestly” as I see it has damaged the landlord/tenant relationship in many cases. Now is the chance to repair the relationship and honesty is critical so if you really don’t need a concession, don’t ask for one.
  • Be Prepared – If you need a concession, be prepared to provide the landlord with 2019 sales reports and year-to-date 2020 sales so the landlord can review and compare the sales history. Also, if your business is independently owned, be ready to provide personal financial statements. Although your sales may be down, if you are sitting on cash or other liquid assets, you need to be ready to utilize such assets. Understand that having cash doesn’t necessarily mean the landlord won’t work with you. They recognize that you have other obligations, but being forthcoming with all the information will gain significant goodwill with most landlords.
  • Full Disclosure – Be ready to tell the whole story. Is your business currently closed? If so, when did it close? Did you elect to close it or were you mandated to close it? Are you partially open? If so, what are you doing to mitigate your losses? What will a rent concession help you accomplish?
  • Know Your Obligations – Recognize that you signed a binding contract that obligates you to pay a fixed rent whether your business “knocks it out of the park” OR “strikes out”. In my opinion, you should do everything possible to fulfill your contract. That being said, be prepared to be creative. Maybe you have a lease that expires in 2021. It might very well be reasonable to ask for 50% rent relief for the next 6 months if you agree to extend your lease term. Or maybe you can waive certain rights that you have relative to exclusives, rights of first refusal, or prohibiting other uses in the center. Keep in mind, leases are in-depth documents with a lot of provisions. It is not simply the rent and lease term that may be up for negotiation.

What to Do as a Landlord

  • Listen to the Story – Generally speaking I believe that a tenant should pay their rent or leave BUT these are different times. Although I understand that some may be skeptical, there are many hard working independent business owners that are doing everything they can to keep their businesses afloat while also addressing their personal needs. There are also many quality corporate tenants that are simply going to be in a cash flow crunch and are going to need help from numerous parties to get them to the point where their business can recover.
  • Ask for Information – Request 2019 and 2020 monthly sales reports, personal financial statements (if appropriate) and a written description of the status of their business including what they foresee is required to return to normal. For example, they may indicate that the day their business is allowed to re-open, they believe they will be fine OR they may think that even if the world starts to return to normal, it is going to take a while for their business to ramp back up.
  • Request an Offer from the Tenant – Let the tenant tell you what they really need. Is it rent abatement (free rent), a rent concession (discounted rent), or rent deferral (effectively a loan).
  • Communicate – Even if you need some time to think about the tenant’s proposal, make sure you get back to them as quickly as possible. This is a very stressful time and communication will be key. You wouldn’t want a situation where you were about to grant rent relief only to find out that because you waited too long they closed your location and put their resources elsewhere where the ownership was more responsive.
  • Make a Deal – I suggest avoiding giving away anything. If you are going to make a concession, there should be a tradeoff.  Here are some approaches you might take:
    • If you are going to abate the rent or make a rent concession make it contingent upon the tenant fulfilling the balance of their lease term without default. This way they have a greater incentive to stay current once the world improves.
    • In certain circumstances, it might make sense to obtain the right to terminate the tenant’s lease. Make an agreement to allow the tenant a 50% rent discount but you have the right to terminate the lease if you find another user to take their space. This would not be a mutual termination. Only the landlord would have this right. For tenants who could easily relocate to another space if you terminated (i.e. furniture, clothing), this could be a win/win.
    • Defer the rent currently and add it to an extended term. If you gave a tenant a $30,000 concession in 2020, but then increased their rent by $500/month over the 5 years that starts in 2022, this could help you especially if you plan to sell or refinance after 2022 (assuming you believe the tenant will survive).
    • Avoid an agreement that goes too long, but also one that goes too short. It seems pretty obvious that this is not just going to be an April rent problem. It could easily be 4 to 6 months or longer. So instead of going through this dance repeatedly, make a deal that at least covers the next few months so that everyone, including yourself, can plan accordingly. BUT if the tenant asks for concessions for the next 18 months, then I view this as bad faith on their part and negotiating with someone who makes such an ask is usually not someone who warrants a counter offer.
  • Franchisees – If dealing with a franchisee, ask what the franchisor is doing to help. If the franchisor isn’t doing anything, this could tell you that the tenant is bluffing or that the franchisor doesn’t believe in the viability of the tenant either. Also, make sure you get the same sales reports that they send to the franchisor. And, if you agree to provide assistance, make sure the franchisor knows that you helped in case the franchisee just doesn’t survive. In this case, hopefully the franchisor will try and help you find another franchisee since they know you tried to help their brand at your center.

Remember that you can only help those that want to help themselves. Some tenants are simply going to take actions like closing their store and moving their inventory out and then possibly threatening you to make a deal of their liking or they will never reopen. If a tenant does this, you should probably hire an attorney. There is likely not going to be a way to salvage this relationship. You are going to have to pick and choose your battles.

A Few Other Items

  • Insurance – we have discussed with a very knowledgeable advisor whether property or liability insurance held by either the tenant or landlord may be beneficial in this situation. He indicates that with all likelihood it will not be and that most policies have language that “specifically exclude loss caused by virus or bacteria or exclude loss caused by communicable disease.”
  • Federal Programs – there may be some federal and state grant and loan programs that tenants can apply for. The following is a link to the Small Business Administration’s website that provides a lot of guidance regarding Federal programs that are available. This may be helpful to both tenants and landlords. https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources
  • Other Resources – Here is a page that provides resources in California and Los Angeles County https://laedc.org/coronavirus/

I truly hope that this blog is a valuable resource to both tenants and property owners. If we work together in good faith versus as adversaries, I am confident that good relationships, goodwill and positive outcomes will result from this very challenging situation.

The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.

Economy

No Near-term Recession Says Leading Forecast; Supercharged Consumers will Propel U.S. Economy into 2023

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Recession Potential Will Grow If Federal Reserve Tightens To Control Inflation… But The Sooner The Better; California On Verge of Recovering All Jobs Lost To Pandemic

Despite real signs of stress in parts of the system, for now, consumers will carry the U.S. economy through this year and into 2023 without a downturn, according to Beacon Economics‘ latest outlook for the United States and California. The wealth created by the excessive fiscal stimulus enacted in 2020 and 2021 continues to drive a consumer consumption binge and the new forecast anticipates economic growth to look better in the second half of 2022 (when final numbers are available) than it did in the first half.

Inflation will continue to run hot, and interest rates will continue to rise as a result, but those circumstances are not recession causing, according to the outlook. Instead, expect a slow pace of overall economic growth, with weaker numbers from the more rate sensitive sectors.

“Functionally speaking, policymakers went from maximum acceleration – the stimulus – to maximum braking – tightening by the Fed – over a single year, something that would create turbulence in even the healthiest economy,” said Christopher Thornberg, Founding Partner of Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “But in the near-term, while parts of the economy will remain cool due to rising interest rates, that supercharged U.S. consumer, armed with a $30 trillion increase in household wealth over the pandemic period, will keep momentum going.”

The new forecast also argues that inflation may have peaked but will not decelerate rapidly. “Until the Fed gets serious about tightening, that is reducing the money supply and raising interest rates, expect price growth to remain elevated,” said Thornberg.

Although the potential for a real recession in the nation will increase if and when the Fed applies more aggressive quantitative tightening to control inflation and push up real (rather than nominal) interest rates, the faster the Fed acts the better in order to prevent a truly deep negative business cycle, according to the forecast.

Starting in 2023, if Fed action is inadequate the United States may be looking at 3 or more years of very weak growth, with consumers in a relatively poor financial position at the end. If the Fed stamps out inflation in the near-term by aggressively reducing its balance sheet, it will drive up interest rates, cool financial markets sharply, and possibly create a modest recession next year led by consumer cutbacks. However, the nation would come out of it with a strong private sector.

In California, the state is on the brink of a milestone: recovering all the jobs it lost during the pandemic-driven downturn. While many states have already reached full recovery, as of this writing, California still has a 73,000 job deficit. However, if the economy adds the same number of jobs as it did in the latest numbers in the next data release, the state’s job count will be above water.

“California’s labor force contracted during the pandemic and employers have struggled to hire the workers they need, especially in coastal communities,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “These difficulties circle directly back to the long-term affordability crisis facing the state as the labor forces in more expensive coastal areas have declined while they have grown in relatively affordable inland communities.”

View the new The Beacon Outlook including full forecast tables here.

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Economy

It’s The Demand Curve, Stupid…

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It’s The Demand Curve, Stupid…

By Christopher Thornberg

The biggest obstacle to slowing inflation is that the real causes of it—excessive consumer demand and rapidly rising wages—are too politically toxic to acknowledge.

The August CPI report showed prices in the United States continuing to increase, contrary to the predictions of most Blue-Chip forecasts and the Federal Reserve. This has spooked the markets and caused a sharp decline in the various indexes—the S&P 500 dropped over 4%. The decline in the markets doesn’t surprise me—they are the ultimate drama queens of the economy, overreacting to everything. They will likely bounce back soon enough.

What does perplex me is how we collectively continue to be surprised when the official inflation forecasts fall well below reality. This same kabuki dance has been repeated almost monthly for more than a year now, with expert economists assuring us that price growth will soon decelerate and maybe even reverse, followed by a gnashing of teeth and predictions of doom when it turns out the data is not living up to the optimism.

I am certainly not suggesting that inflation is easy to forecast—especially on a month-to-month basis. But the problem I see here is different. The major forecasts and official prognostications aren’t just missing the mark, they have consistently predicted lower inflation rates than have been occurring. In statistical parlance the forecasts have bias. And this bias stems from the fact that the cause of inflation has been misinterpreted as primarily a supply chain issue, when in fact it is an excess demand and labor cost issue.

Consider the various explanations for inflation over the last year. They have typically attributed the problem to parts shortages (e.g., empty car dealer lots and high used-car prices), energy markets (the high cost of gasoline), the war in Ukraine and grain markets (food prices) among other issues. The following quote is from a Wall Street Journal reporter discussing her interviews with various economists prior to the summer CPI estimates:

“[June] will probably prove to be the peak for the annual measure of CPI. That’s because pretty much all of the major drivers of the inflation surge this year and last year are fading or outright reversing. Energy prices are on the downswing, most obviously gasoline prices. Upstream, energy and food commodity prices have come down a lot in recent weeks too, which suggests that there’s more easing to feed through to consumers in store, particularly on the grocery front. Supply-chain pressures seem to be gradually improving.”[1]

If we think about inflation as being strictly driven by limitations in inputs, then any relief in those supply pressures should cause prices to fall. But this is not the case today, as the August number clearly demonstrates. The supply-chain theory of inflation is wrong. And the reason many experts continue to get it wrong is because the true causes of today’s inflation—excess consumer demand and rapidly rising labor costs—are politically toxic and difficult to acknowledge in these terse populist times.

Excess consumer demand has been caused by an overstimulation of the economy on the part of the Feds. As I have written many times, the pandemic hit to the economy was never the crisis it was portrayed to be, and the $6.5 trillion in fiscal stimulus, largely funded by $5 trillion in new money created through the Fed’s quantitative easing program, was vastly more than necessary. It set financial markets to new (unsustainable) highs and ultimately generated a 25% bump in household net worth ($30 trillion in new wealth) in just 2 years. This new “wealth” has driven consumer spending to new highs, and that is what is causing inflation. As Milton Friedman famously quipped: “Inflation is caused by too much money chasing after too few goods.”

Looking at the supply side only mistakes the symptoms for the disease. Gasoline prices shot up because the minor issues with supply were magnified by the major jump in demand. Estimates of short-run demand elasticity for gasoline suggest the market is inelastic, but still, an increase in price will lead to a decrease in consumption if those prices are only being driven by supply constraints. Yet, the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ GDP data shows that in the last 18 months, even as energy prices rose 97%, consumption of energy products increased by 7%. Prices rose so dramatically because of the surge in demand, not the limitations on supply.

And now that energy prices are falling as supply catches up, money not spent on energy is simply flowing to other spending—healthcare, housing, restaurants, travel—and causing more inflation in those categories. And those sectors also have supply shortages—driven by labor shortages rather than supply chain issues. Just as excess demand drove up energy prices, excess demand is also causing a rapid increase in worker earnings, which is another important contributor to business costs and output prices. According to the Atlanta Fed’s wage tracker, U.S. worker earnings are now growing at a 6.7% annual pace—the highest rate ever recorded in the 40 years of data they have created.

And therein lies the political problem. If we acknowledge that inflation is being driven by excessive consumer demand, then we must admit that Americans are overconsuming. That’s an idea that doesn’t fit the miserabilist narrative that underpins political debate today. Both parties consistently tell their supporters how terrible they have it and then immediately blame the other party’s policies. Apparently, in the political world, most U.S. households are living hand to mouth, workers are highly underpaid, and we’re all just one paycheck away from financial disaster. To suggest otherwise would be gauche.

For the record, U.S. consumers are overconsuming. Consumer spending as a share of nation’s GDP is the highest it’s ever been, except during the runup to the Great Recession—not a comfortable comparison. This overconsumption is one of the root causes of the growing U.S. trade deficit, currently at almost 5% of GDP, again the widest it’s ever been except for the 2005 and 2006 period. As for the idea that real earnings growth is negative, you only get this result if you use the CPI estimate of inflation, which overstates the situation for technical reasons we won’t dive into here.[2] The appropriate deflator is the PCE deflator from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and if we use that, real earnings growth is positive, albeit not at a 40-year high pace.

Of course, this story is only explaining the mechanisms within basic monetary theory. If you want to predict how much prices will increase, you only need to look at money supply. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program expanded the money supply of the United States by 40%. Therefore, holding all else constant, prices need to go up by 40% to equilibrate the size of the economy to the size of the money supply.

While the Fed’s quantitative easing caused inflation, oddly their response to the problem has been primarily to push up the Federal Funds rate, the old tool that Ben Bernanke had largely moved past during his tenure. The big hikes in the Federal Funds rate have done very little to reduce the money supply; it has only stopped growing. If the Fed is serious about slowing inflation, they need to engage in quantitative tightening—which they say they will be starting this month.

By tightening of course, they will, by definition, cool consumer demand and weaken labor markets, as these are the ultimate sources of inflation. Given that policymakers are seemingly unwilling to acknowledge that the problem is excessive spending as well as wage growth, it unfortunately suggests they will be unwilling to do what is necessary to slow inflation.

The only question then is how much longer will we continue to be surprised by it.

[1] https://economics.cmail19.com/t/ViewEmail/d/A6E3C20BCF922DDB2540EF23F30FEDED/DE3F8A096023AA9114399806BE9B4083?alternativeLink=False

2 For more about the CPI’s inflation estimate see: https://www.clevelandfed.org/newsroom-and-events/publications/economic-trends/2014-economic-trends/et-20140417-pce-and-cpi-inflation-whats-the-difference.aspx

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Opinion

These are tech companies Americans want to work at most 

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Google is where Americans want to work the most in tech, receiving more than 487,000 searches a month Apple and Tesla take second and third, respectively

New research reveals that Google is the tech company Americans most want to work at. 

The new study from document management company SmallPDF analyzed monthly searches for openings at the biggest tech companies in the US to see which brand was getting the most interest in job opportunities. 

It found that Google comes out on top for searches, with ‘Google jobs’ receiving more than 339,000 searches a month on average in the US and the term ‘Google careers’ receiving more than 148,000 searches a month, adding up to a whopping total of 487,000 searches. This is more than 200,000 searches a month higher than second place. 

Apple comes in second place on the list, thanks to 180,000 searches every month for ‘Apple jobs’ and 99,000 searches a month on average for ‘Apple careers’, adding up to 279,000 searches a month. 

Coming in third place is a multinational automotive company, Tesla, with an average of 185,000 monthly searches for opportunities at the company. This is split down into 109,000 searches monthly for ‘Tesla jobs’ and 76,000 searches monthly for ‘Tesla careers.’ 

Facebook takes fourth place in the list, with 94,000 searches for ‘Facebook jobs’ and 49,000 searches a month for ‘Facebook careers’, which adds up to a total of 143,000 searches a month on average for Facebook work opportunities. 

Rounding out the top five is Microsoft, which receives more than 141,000 searches a month for openings at the company. ‘Microsoft jobs’ receives 66,000 searches a month, and ‘Microsoft careers’ receives 75,000 searches a month on average.

 

Company 

“Jobs” searches 

“Careers” searches 

Total 

 

Google 

339,000  

148,000  

487,000  

 

Apple 

180,000  

99,000  

279,000  

 

Tesla 

109,000  

76,000  

185,000  

 

Facebook 

94,000  

49,000  

143,000  

 

Microsoft 

66,000  

75,000  

141,000  

 

Salesforce 

52,000  

41,000  

93,000  

 

Verizon 

45,000  

41,000  

86,000  

 

Spectrum 

43,000  

38,000  

81,000  

 

Netflix 

45,000  

34,000  

79,000  

10  

AT&T 

37,000  

31,000  

68,000  

Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson from SmallPDF said: “While some of the US’s most well-known tech companies do indeed make their way into the top ten, many do not, indicating that the job searches for many people are varied and job seekers in the tech field are keeping their options open. The companies at the top of the list benefit from the prestige that their brand holds, which helps them attract the best talent, which helps them continue to lead the industry.” 

The study was conducted by SmallPDF, which offers easy PDF conversion tools, allowing you to be more productive and work smarter with documents.

 

Source: smallpdf.com

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