Tax Blog

What’s Next for a Stimulus Bill?

The Senate Republicans’ slimmed-down stimulus bill recently failed to materialize after receiving less than the 60 votes needed to move forward. The “skinny” stimulus bill, with a price tag of only $650 billion, was intended to be a way to quickly inject stimulus into the economy and bypass both the multi-trillion-dollar Republican HEALS Act and the Democratic HEROES Act.

The current stimulus limbo leaves millions of Americans in a position of uncertainty. Four main areas that the Senate bill intended to address but are now up in the air include a second round of stimulus checks and the impact on struggling tenants and homeowners, as well as the long-term unemployed.

Next Round of Stimulus Checks

The first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, sent more than $300 billion in stimulus checks to Americans back in March to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 slowdowns. While this helped millions, many people’s jobs or businesses remain impaired due to the economic impact of the pandemic, and they are hoping for a second stimulus check to help them get by.

With the failure of the Senate bill and the stalemate in the House, the chances of a second round of checks continues to diminish. On the bright side, the U.S. Treasury noted it is ready to print and mail the checks as soon as something is authorized.

Troubled Tenants and Homeowners

The economic fallout from the pandemic placed many tenants and homeowners in the position of being evicted or foreclosed. The CARES Act from March placed a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, sparing millions. Following this measure, President Trump issued an executive order in August granting the CDC authority to cease evictions as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC took this order and announced a stop to all evictions until the end of 2020.

For homeowners with federally backed mortgages, the CARES Act moratoriums on single-family foreclosures were also extended until the end of 2020. Moreover, many states passed laws protecting those without federally backed loans from foreclosure.

For both renters and homeowners, these protections will disappear once we enter 2021 unless the government steps in with new legislation or regulations. Keep in mind that for both renters and mortgage holders, payments are being deferred and not canceled – so ultimately, they will still need to make the payments.

Long-Term Unemployment

Millions remain unemployed due to the pandemic; without federal help, their unemployment benefits will expire soon. The CARES Act gave an additional 13 weeks of benefits on top of the initial 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits; however, for those impacted on the front-end of the pandemic, these extended benefits will expire at the end of November.

The Senate bill included $300 per week of benefits through the last week of 2020; however, with this failing and without additional aid to state funds, the long-term unemployed won’t have anything to rely on if Congress does nothing.

Conclusion

Democrats responded with a smaller version of their original second-round stimulus bill, coming in a price tag of $2.2 trillion, down from the original $3.4 trillion. This is likely too high a price tag still to garner Republican support. If nothing happens before the mid-October recess, then we will all be waiting until after the Nov. 3 election.

Plan for Business Continuity if Second Wave of COVID Hits

With winter around the corner and the threat of seasonal viruses looming, a second wave of COVID-19 poses a real threat to our health and business operations, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that the 2019-2020 flu season took 24,000 lives and sickened 39 million individuals. Then when we add the fact that there are children who might not be receiving vaccinations – be it for the measles, whooping cough, and others – due to COVID-19, the risk for infections multiply.

Based on these factors, there’s a real possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses impacting business operations for the worse.

As the State of Washington’s Department of Commerce explains, there are many things that businesses can do to prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus. Here are a few recommendations that can be applied and modified, depending on the type of business.

The Washington State Department of Commerce recommends businesses use their digital presence, such as email, a website, blog or social media, to inform and connect with customers. There’s a balance that companies need to find between marketing and selling products or services and not sounding tone-deaf to the situation that COVID-19 has created.

For example, by creating a brief blog or social media post, companies can acknowledge that COVID-19 is a stressful time for everyone, but the company will still be there for them. Explaining how they’re taking care of their employees (social distancing, letting employees work from home and/or take time off for themselves or family members) and how they’re welcoming customers in-store or making house calls (with masks, social distancing, using technology when appropriate), it can create empathy and promote a sense of goodwill.

Another way to leverage digital communication channels is to create a standalone email address to funnel visitor and customer questions regarding COVID-19 concerns.

Planning on how to deal with food that won’t be used is an important step for organizations that deal with mass quantities of food. For schools, colleges, or universities that were open but have closed or others that want to make contingencies to close, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends a few different avenues to make good use of food that would otherwise spoil. Organizations should make plans to donate to food banks or food rescue organizations; and there is also the EPA’s Excess Food Opportunities Map, which can direct unused food to composting options for businesses.

Another way for companies to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19, as the State of Washington’s Department of Commerce points out, is to ensure all documents are up-to-date and accessible via hard copy and electronically. Example documents include minutes and resolutions from official business meetings, tax records – especially any recently filed quarterly estimate payments – and lists of vendors. Companies also should ensure that digital files are encrypted, protected by passwords and that the cloud provider has a firewall, security scanning, and continually addresses vulnerabilities. 

Business owners should have contingency plans to deal with supply chain issues. One way to mitigate supplier issues, according to McKinsey & Company, is to negotiate with existing suppliers that have cash or liquidity issues.

By offering essential suppliers with loans, often at attractive interest rates compared to lenders, as a way to keep suppliers in business, businesses may be able to negotiate for exclusive or high priority production agreements. This can be done while looking for alternate suppliers, either domestically or in other parts of the world.

While the second wave of COVID-19 is a real possibility, taking steps to prepare for any surge in cases will help companies increase their chances to make it out of the pandemic.

Sources

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/first-and-second-waves-of-coronavirus

https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/recycling-and-sustainable-management-food-during-coronavirus-covid-19-public-health#02

A ‘Between Waves’ COVID-19 Planner for Small Businesses

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/coronavirus-and-technology-supply-chains-how-to-restart-and-rebuild

https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/recycling-and-sustainable-management-food-during-coronavirus-covid-19-public-health

Examining Fed’s New Targeted Inflation Policy

Looking back to 2012, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) – a collaboration of the 12 regional Fed banks and the Federal Reserve Governors in Washington – came together and published a Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy.

This officially rang in the FOMC’s public commitment to maintain inflation at 2 percent. It is based on a yearly change in the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, and is in accordance with The Federal Reserve’s “mandate for maximum employment and price stability.”

Guided by three events in the economy, according to the Brookings Institution, the FOMC was prompted to take a second look at 2012’s existing framework. The first factor, an approximation of the “neutral level” of interest rates, or interest rate levels correlated “with full employment” and inflation targets, kept dropping globally. The “lower neutral rate” is achieved when short-term interest rates, which are controlled by The Fed, stay at levels closer to zero versus higher levels. When this occurs, The Fed has little room to further lower interest rates, and therefore stimulate the economy. The next factor involves inflation rates and anticipation for future inflation rates to stay below The Fed’s 2 percent target. The last factor was unemployment falling to a five-decade low.

The FOMC’s Aug. 27 update reveals that the inflation rate has been lower than the 2 percent inflation target in recent years, despite housing, food, and energy increasing in price for consumers.

When there’s too little inflation, as The Fed explains, it can negatively impact the economy. If inflation remains below The Fed’s “longer-run inflation goal,” it can propel a self-fulfilling prophecy of further declining inflation levels.

As originally explained in 2012 and updated in August, the FOMC’s purpose is to “promote maximum employment,” keep prices stable, and “moderate long-term interest rates.” It also guides individuals and business owners with more information to make decisions, promotes greater “economic and financial certainty” and increases “transparency and accountability.”

The Fed, based on their FAQ section, has said that when inflation runs below 2 percent for an extended period of time, monetary policy will adjust to run above 2 percent for a period of time. Therefore, the FOMC is hoping to ensure that “longer-run inflation” will average at 2 percent.

The FOMC’s monetary policy is a big determinate in keeping the economy stable when the economy and financial systems are put out of balance due to factors such as inflation, long-term interest rates, and employment. The FOMC accomplishes its monetary policy via the “target range for the federal funds rate.”

Looking at the “level of the federal funds rate consistent with maximum employment and price stability over the longer run,” this rate has dropped compared to past average rates. With this in mind, the federal funds rate is generally expected to remain on the lower end of the rate spectrum more so now, versus years back. With interest rates closer to the bottom end, the FOMC believes that inflation and employment perils are more likely to stay depressed.

Based on comments from The Fed in August, the FOMC clarifies its Congressional Mandate regarding price stability and maximum employment, along with determinations on its short-term interest rate and other monetary policy considerations.

Following up on its Congressional mandate for The Fed to ensure maximum employment and price stability, the first thing to focus on is price stability or inflation.

Before, The Fed had a price stability target of 2 percent inflation, based upon the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index. The FOMC called this price stability “symmetric,” meaning that inflation above or below the target is equally concerning.

However, its new stance will now focus on attaining “inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time” after an ongoing time period of tame inflation. Based on comments from Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this is a flexible form of average inflation targeting.

This end goal of average inflation targeting suggests that when inflation is below the 2 percent target over an extended period of time, the FOMC will adjust its policy to encourage inflation above the 2 percent target to attain balance. However, The Fed didn’t give details regarding the time frame for its new averaged 2 percent inflation target, nor did it specify what actions it will implement to achieve it.

The Fed also made noteworthy changes to its “maximum employment” mandate. When it comes to this measurement, it originally compared the projections of “the long-run rate of unemployment” to the unemployment rate. According to the Brookings Institution, this also can be referred to as “the natural rate of unemployment or the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU).”

Since live estimates of the NAIRU can be unreliable, it’s no longer being considered. While the Summary of Economic Projections will still include estimates of unemployment statistics by FOMC members, it will unofficially take the place of the NAIRU readings. However, these FOMC members’ long-run estimates of unemployment will have less impact on monetary policy decisions.

How Do Interest Rates Looking Going Forward?

With these two changes to The Fed’s Congressional mandates, many expect monetary policy to be quite loose over the coming years, according to the Brookings Institution. By permitting hotter than normal inflation and low rates of unemployment, there’s a remote chance The Fed will increase interest rates prior to inflation running north of 2 percent for a measurable time period. 

Long-Term Financial Impact of COVID-19

As bad as the economy is right now due to the COVID outbreak in the United States, many economists are predicting that the long-term outlook is much bleaker. Alas, Congress and the Federal Reserve’s efforts at stimulus and interest rate management have done much to keep the economy and stock market afloat. However, small businesses – the backbone of America’s employment growth – are closing every day. As consumer spending reduces further, the impact will likely affect Wall Street. Consequently, share prices may soon begin correcting to reflect the future more so than the present.

It should come as no surprise, then, that 88 percent of respondents admit they are worried about their finances, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

This economic decline has presented an interesting mix of demographics who have or will be affected the most over the long term. For instance, many low-income workers have remained employed throughout the pandemic because their jobs are considered “essential services.” This includes check-out clerks at grocery stores; laborers who work outdoor jobs; nurses, orderlies, and nursing home attendants.

By contrast, many white-collar business owners – such as physicians and dentists– closed shop for a few months and/or have reduced the number of patients they see. Alas, 79 percent of those surveyed with a household income of more than $100,000 a year said they were at least somewhat concerned about their financial situation.

Millennials are the generation most likely to change the way they manage their finances in the future. Although many have remained employed in white-collar jobs – primarily due to their technology-enhanced skills and knowledge – they have reason to be concerned. After all, this generation has already lived through the market downturn following 9/11, the Great Recession, and now a historic economic decline caused by the coronavirus. In fact, once they finally got a foothold in their careers, this recent downturn obliterated the last five years’ worth of economic growth. Going forward, finance experts predict that these young adults will be more focused on stock-piling savings, buying modest homes when the real estate market corrects, and generally working on a long-term plan for financial stability.

While those strategies are mostly good, it’s a shame this generation had to learn the hard way – all while encumbered with historically unprecedented student loan debt. However, as these lessons are passed down through generations – much the way the Great Depression had a lasting impact on the Silent Generation – U.S. populations may see higher savings rates at the expense of lower GDP growth.

For households recovering from financial stress or looking to create a plan for stronger financial resiliency no matter what the future holds, consider the following strategies.

  • First priority: Save from three to six months’ worth of liquid, emergency funds should you encounter a large expense, such as an auto repair or a temporary loss of income.
  • Learn how to budget effectively, which includes examining if you overpay for basic household needs or do not know how much of your income is spent superfluously every month.
  • Take stock of the full scope of your financial resources, including:
    • Savings accounts
    • Investment accounts
    • Retirement accounts
    • Health savings accounts
    • College savings accounts
    • Whole life insurance
    • Real property
    • Structured settlements
    • Vehicles (auto, boat, motorcycle, recreational)
    • Art, jewelry, wine, or other high-value collectibles
    • Expensive furnishings and household items
  • Develop a Plan B to help supplement any income loss right now; a Plan C to help bolster your savings rate once you’re back to full income; and a Plan D strategy for income replacement in case you’re ever in a situation like this again.

Financial setbacks will come and go; it’s the lessons we learn from them that should have the most staying power.

Affordable Lunches for Kids Learning at Home

Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, many schools across America have transitioned to at-home learning. This alone presents a whole new set of challenges for parents, not the least of which is figuring out what to feed your kids for lunch – every single day of the week. While peanut butter and jelly is a reliable standby, here are some cheap, easy alternatives you can whip up in no time.

English Muffin Pizza

Grab some English muffins and top them with pizza sauce or marinara. Either one will work. (Hint: use the store brand because it’s comparable and usually costs less.) If you like, you can even add shredded cheese. Put them in a toaster oven and bake. Now comes the fun part: create a face. Use olives for the nose and eyes. Cut up yellow, red, and green peppers into thin slices to form a mouth and eyebrows. For the extra peppers, use ranch dressing for dipping. This one is fun and healthy!

Lunchables Knockoff

Pre-packaged meals generally cost more. So why not create your own version of this lunch-time favorite and save some money? Buy round, butter crackers with ridges on the edge (like Ritz, but buy the store brand); round, sliced lunch meat; and small, sliced squares of cheese. Place each in the spaces in a plastic divided container. Cut up some fruit (apples, pears, anything you like) and serve. If natural sugar isn’t enough for your little ones, throw in a cookie.

Pita Pockets

You can stuff these full of anything you like. Making tuna salad for a filler is always delish but takes a bit of prep, so for time’s sake, add lunch meat. After that, add lettuce and anything else your child likes. Maybe some tomatoes or cucumbers, then add a condiment, mustard, or mayo. For a side, choose local, seasonal produce. It’s always cheaper than out-of-season choices.

Meat-Free Lunch

Purchasing meat can get expensive, so why not go veggie for a few days? Your DIY lunch kit might include cheese cubes, crackers, cherry (or grape) tomatoes, and green or purple grapes. If you get inspired, cut up apples and bananas into bite-sized portions. Throwing in some nuts for a little extra crunch is always a good idea, too. If you want to make these meals a regular thing, buy reusable, compartmentalized containers like EasyLunchBoxes, affordably priced at $14 for four. You can also buy them on Amazon. Carve out some time on a Saturday afternoon and make these in bulk to save time during your busy week. You might even ask the kids to help!

Ants on a Log

Cut up some celery (the logs). Fill with peanut butter, then sprinkle raisins on top (the ants). Serve with cheese cubes, graham crackers, yogurt, and/or fresh fruit. Kids love this one, especially because of the funny name.

Pancake Lunch

Everyone loves Saturday morning pancakes, so why not serve them for lunch, too? Here’s a thought: prepare a double batch of pancakes, plus bacon and fresh fruit on the weekend; then save half for Monday and pop them in the microwave. This way, you won’t have to prepare them twice. Don’t forget the syrup!

Cottage Cheese and Fruit

This lunch might well be the quickest of all to make. Place two scoops of cottage cheese in a leak-proof container, then add some canned fruit such as peaches, pineapple or mandarin oranges. Crackers (graham or saltines) with a little vat of peanut butter for dipping completes this easy, peasy meal.

We hope that these cost-saving lunches help save time and worry. With all that’s going on, you’ve got enough on your plate!

Sources

https://blog.cheapism.com/easy-school-lunches-14435/#slide=8

Space Weather Forecasting, New Safety and Transparency Reporting Guidelines, Paying to Charge Federal Electric Vehicles, and a Plan to Celebrate Route 66

PROSWIFT Act (S 881) – This Act was sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on March 26, 2019. The legislation is designed to improve understanding and forecasting of weather events in space. The bill details provisions designed to improve the ability of the United States to both forecast and mitigate the effects of space weather. The bill designates the National Science and Technology Council’s Space Weather Operations, Research, and Mitigation Working Group as the authority to direct other agency initiatives. The bill establishes a pilot program to enable the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enter into contracts with the commercial sector to provide space weather data, in adherence to certain standards. The bill passed in the Senate in July and in the House in September, and is currently waiting to be enacted by the President.

CHARGE Act (S 2193) – This bill requires the General Services Administration to issue a charge card to federal agencies in order to pay for charging up federal electric motor vehicles at commercial charging stations. The bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) on July 19, 2019. It was passed in the Senate in November 2019 and in the House on Sept. 14, 2020. It is currently awaiting signature by the President.

PIPES Act of 2020 (S 2299) – This bill would amend title 49 of the United States Code to enhance the safety and reliability of pipeline transportation. It was introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) on July 25, 2019, passed in the Senate on Aug. 6, 2020. It is currently in the House for consideration. This bill would fund appropriations through the fiscal year 2023 to address pipeline safety and infrastructure as authorized under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002.

Microloan Transparency and Accountability Act of 2020 (HR 6078) – Introduced by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) on March 4, this legislation modifies disbursement and reporting protocols for certain financial assistance by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Specifically, the bill establishes a technical assistance grant of 5 percent for intermediaries who issue 25 percent of their loans to rural small businesses. The legislation also requires the SBA to report, among other metrics, the number, amount, and percentage of such loans that went into default in the previous year; the number of microloans issued to small businesses in rural areas; and the average size, rate of interest and amount of fees charged for each microloan. This bill passed in the House on Sept. 14 and is in the Senate for consideration.

Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2020 (HR 4894) – Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced this legislation on Oct. 29, 2019. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to make many of the budget justification materials submitted to Congress also available to the public. The legislation passed in the House on Sept. 14 and is now in the Senate for consideration.

Route 66 Centennial Commission Act (S 1014) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on April 3, 2019. It establishes a Route 66 Centennial Commission and specifies the duties of the commission, including membership, powers, reporting requirements, and a termination date of no later than June 30, 2027. The intent is to honor U.S. Route 66 on the occasion of its centennial anniversary in 2026. This bill passed in the Senate on Aug. 10 and goes to the House next for consideration. A similar bill (HR 66: Route 66 Centennial Commission Act) was introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and passed in the House in February 2019, giving the current Senate bill a high probability of making it into law.

3 State Level Tax Hikes That Might Be Coming Due to COVID-19

No surprise, but Americans are consuming and spending less since the coronavirus kicked in.  Retail sales dropped to 8.7 percent in March, the largest month-over-month decline since the Census Bureau started tracking this data. Previously, the sharpest decline was less than half this – at 3.9 percent from October 2008 to November 2008, during the previous economic crisis. The reduction in consumer spending is due in part to lockdowns, spending more time at home for fear of the virus, and the economic impact – whether it’s losing a job, reduced hours, or in anticipation of tougher times ahead.

While consumer spending is down at a net level, there appear to be some winners and some losers in the post-COVID world of staying in and working from home. Restaurants and apparel are the hardest hit, whereas online retailers, home, garden, grocery, and alcohol sales are all up.

The decline and shift in consumer spending are having a strong negative impact on state sales tax revenues. Nationwide, sales taxes account for approximately 20 percent of all state revenue, so the decline in consumer spending will have a material impact on state budgets. As a result, states are looking at new ways to generate or increase revenue to offset the trend. Below we’ll look at three ways states are looking to raise taxes to make up for holes in their budgets.

Grocery Staples 

Eating out less and working from home mean Americans are spending more at the grocery store; approximately 13 percent more year-over-year, per Census data. The issue for states is that groceries are generally not taxed or low-taxed, although there are a few items that apply the full tax rate.

Kansas, for example, applies the full sales tax rate to groceries. The consequence of this is that grocery sales make up about 15 percent of Kansas’ total sales tax revenue. The consequence of this policy is that the state’s sales tax revenue has barely taken a hit year-to-date.

States are taking notice and may move to the trend of taxing groceries as a way to recover part of their declining sales tax revenues.

Digital Taxes

Another trend is the increase in streaming services and one-time rentals/purchases of digital goods for entertainment and working at home. Currently, 22 states tax streaming services, and 30 states tax digital goods. Other states will look to start taxing these services as well, and digital taxes will start to expand into cloud storage and other services as more people work remotely.

Sin Taxes

Sin taxes are taxes on goods and services that are “bad” for us; think alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and marijuana (where it’s legal). Increases in sin taxes are generally easier to pass as they don’t apply to the overall general population and politicians can play the moral angle.

During the last recession, for example, lawmakers in more than 12 states increased tobacco and liquor taxes. Newer sin taxes are being instituted, such as those on vaping equipment and supplies.

Conclusion

The exact form and structure will vary, but one thing is certain: States will institute or increase taxes in areas where the money is being spent to ensure their sales tax revenue remains stable. 

Three Strategies Companies Can Implement to Recover Faster

Small businesses nationwide were already facing cash problems before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to McKinsey & Company. The firm found that almost one-third of small businesses were either seeing losses or making just enough to stay in business, but not realizing profitability.

Looking at businesses selling essential and non-essential items, McKinsey & Company reports that before satisfying their “interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization” obligations and accountings, they were facing challenging times. When it comes to selling essential items, such as food, business owners in this industry only had margins of 5 percent. For businesses selling non-essential items, this sector saw margins of less than 10 percent.

Restaurants provide an example of one way that outfits can pivot and increase margins by modifying their business models. While the Harvard Business Review (HBR) explains that restaurants have created additional seating near the kitchen to maintain social distancing, other examples of business model changes include increasing takeout, delivery, and catering as a way to increase sales for businesses with limited in-store dining.

While these ideas are simply expanding upon existing models to make up for lost in-dining experiences, HBR offers another way that a restaurant can better distinguish its establishment: developing a subscription model for customers. By slimming down menu choices for more efficient and faster preparation, restaurants could give customers the option to receive a certain number of meals per week or day for a fixed price.

Increasing Margins

While there are different types of margins for business owners to keep an eye on, an important one is a gross margin and how it impacts a business’ bottom line. Since the onset of COVID-19, businesses have been trying to survive as we work our way through the pandemic.

Regardless of the type of product being sold, by reducing the number of options available to customers, businesses can increase their margins by still meeting customer demand for necessities while also getting better prices from their suppliers through larger orders. This strategy also can be applied with contract manufacturers.

Re-engineering products and the ingredients that go into them can help to increase margins. For example, if there is a variety of pre-packaged foods that sell for the same price, but there are specialty or costlier ingredients like meat instead of vegetables, pausing selling pre-packed meals with meat can increase profit margins.

McKinsey & Company explains that small businesses are able to increase their hygiene and safety protocols by encouraging and implementing contactless experiences. Along with reducing person-to-person contact by using mobile apps, restaurants also have made delivery and takeout a bigger part of their sales.

With small businesses like boutiques and farmers, HBR illustrates how these entities can explore different sales channels. With stores facing shortages and an inability to stock essential goods –  especially food items – small farmers saw an opportunity to reinvent their business models after restaurants and gourmet markets dropped purchases from them during the stay-at-home orders.

An investment in an online presence, shipping and logistics, and sustained sales and marketing efforts have real potential for businesses to become profitable as trends point to a direct-to-consumer model. However, going with a digital storefront such as Shopify and selling directly to retail customers, HBR pointed out that some farmers are able to capture local customers (15 miles or less). This shows how farmers have been able to migrate from one source of revenue to another.

While the pandemic is ongoing, these are just a few ways that companies can implement new strategies to generate cash flow and attempt to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sources

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/us-small-business-recovery-after-the-covid-19-crisis

https://hbr.org/2020/07/how-businesses-have-successfully-pivoted-during-the-pandemic

How Will Monetary Policy Impact Markets Going Forward?

With gold hitting $2,000 an ounce in recent days, coupled with the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy creating a lot of liquidity, how will markets perform for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

Based on a reading from the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its July 28 to July 29 meeting, the Fed remarked that the ongoing pandemic would continue to put a strain on the economy, slowing expansion and causing additional damage to the country’s monetary framework.

The Fed highlighted the nation’s GDP drop by 32.9 percent in the second quarter. While Q3 growth is expected to be positive, that was not quantified. Additionally, the Federal government’s debt has grown by $3 trillion since the onset of COVID-19, reaching $26.6 trillion. The release of these minutes sent stock prices downward and helped the U.S. dollar gain.

Forward guidance or communication to the general public and business owners of the Fed’s goals for inflation and unemployment target figures could be upgraded, but no time frame was given. More details on how the target range for the federal funds rate’s path would be appropriate at some point, per the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) minutes. How the target range of the federal funds rate evolves is outcome-based or based upon meeting certain economic goals before rates see further movement. For now, The Fed’s mandate is to ensure full employment and price stability.

The FOMC is expected to keep the current overnight borrowing rate between 0 percent and 0.25 percent until the U.S. economy has emerged from its current situation and on course to achieve the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals.

The July meeting kept short-term interest rates at near-zero because the economy is still not at its pre-pandemic economic activity levels. Given that COVID-19 has already impacted the jobs picture, the value of the U.S. dollar, and how well the economy is functioning already in the near term, the FOMC see the pandemic continuing to impact economic growth in the medium term.    

The Fed remarked that the U.S. Congress needs to pass another economic stimulus plan, especially when it comes to renewing unemployment insurance that recently expired. The FOMC meeting also noted that the Fed is not expected to purchase bonds to control yields on government bonds. However, it did speak to how it has played a role in buying bonds on the open market to support liquidity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The meeting also determined that bond purchases by the Fed grew by more than $2.5 trillion, increasing to $7 trillion – up from $4.4 trillion over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. While skepticism by the Fed’s FOMC members regarding the use of purchasing bonds to manipulate the government bond yield curve wasn’t given much consideration, it’s still noteworthy to explain this versus what many refer to as quantitative easing or QE.

If the Fed’s efforts to bring down short-term interest rates, the rate that banks earn on overnight deposits, to zero with no positive economic effects, another tool the Fed has is Yield Curve Control (YCC). Whatever longer-term rate the Fed has in mind, YCC would involve an ongoing campaign of buying long-term bonds to maintain rates below its target rate by increasing the bond’s price and lowering the bond’s longer-term rates.

This is in contrast to QE, where the Fed purchases a fixed amount of bonds from the open market. It’s done by central banks to increase the money supply in hopes of spurring spending and investing by Main Street. It’s an important tool that central banks rely on when rates are at or near zero. This helps banks with their reserve requirements, giving them more liquidity to provide more loans to consumers and commercial borrowers.

Quantitative Easing Considerations

As central banks increase the money supply, it can create inflation. If it does create inflation, but there’s no measurable economic growth, this can lead to stagflation.

It is noteworthy that QE and the resulting lending attempt to stimulate the economy is effective only if individuals and commercial operations take loans and use them to spend and invest in the economy.

QE also can devalue the currency. It can help domestic manufacturers export goods (because the currency is cheaper), and anything that’s imported is more expensive. Consumers are hit with higher prices for imported goods, along with domestic producers using higher-priced imported raw materials for their final products.

With the economy still facing the headwinds of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fed has played a major role in stabilizing the economy. While the increase of liquidity has certainly provided a lifeline for the markets, the price of gold can be seen as a hedge against this liquidity – with inflation as one potential outcome. For the rest of 2020, The Fed will be ready and able to assist the markets but will leave lingering questions about the value of the U.S. and other global currencies. 

Tips for Retiring in the Next 10 Years

The stock market continues to perform with relative resilience, despite the current economic decline. But to be clear, without 100 percent participation in the economy – in terms of small business job creation, consumer spending, and company growth and expansion – the stock market is apt to reposition prices to reflect slower growth. With no containment or control of the pandemic on the horizon, there is plenty of uncertainty associated with future financial planning.

Anyone looking to retire in the next 10 years or so may want to take a fresh look at their current retirement income plan. In fact, they might need a Plan A, B, and C in order to stay flexible – with C being the option to continue working longer. The following are portfolio tips to consider for a 10-year time frame until retirement.

Emergency Fund

If there was one financial tip worth following pre-pandemic, it was to have liquid cash savings of six months to a year’s worth of expenses available. Workers who did are probably pretty relieved about now if they lost their job or had hours reduced. Having substantial cash available can save you from raiding retirement accounts and/or your investment portfolio.

In preparation for retirement, that cash buffer is even more important. Some advisors recommend a liquid savings fund to cover one to three years’ worth of expenses. That’s because once you’re on a fixed income, you’re not likely to replenish that account. What it can do is supplement variable retirement income that is reliant on the markets. Having a cash buffer gives investments time to recover from temporary losses so you don’t have to plunder your principal.

Status of Social Security

While you may know what your benefit level is for retirement at a certain date, be aware that your benefit could change – even after you’ve retired. Recent research has found that thanks to the loss of FICA revenues resulting from COVID-19, the Social Security Trust Fund might run out of money four years earlier than predicted: as early as 2032. You may want to consider other forms of reliable income in case your benefits are reduced in the future.

Guaranteed Income

Speaking of reliable income, Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Wharton School’s Pension Research Council, recommends that an annuity option become a staple in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Annuities generally offer an option for issuer-guaranteed income for life. With 10 years until retirement, allocating money to an annuity can help build a separate income stream to supplement Social Security benefits. Even if your employer doesn’t offer an annuity option in your 401(k) plan, you can purchase one separately using other assets.

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Speaking of the 401(k), consider that when this plan was first established in 1980, the marginal federal income tax rate was 43 percent. Today’s tax rates are historically quite low, so for the time being you might want to consider allocating more savings into a Roth IRA. This means you’ll pay taxes on that money at today’s low rates, but going forward it can grow tax-deferred and be withdrawn tax-free. But don’t leave money on the table if your employer offers a matching 401(k) contribution. Roth IRA contributions are limited to $7,000 (2020) and some deferred income can help reduce your taxes today – so plan accordingly.

Roth Conversion

By the same token, you may want to take advantage of today’s lower tax rates by converting at least some traditional IRA funds to a Roth or by making backdoor Roth IRA contributions. Be aware, however, that you must pay taxes on converted funds, so consider a gradual transition over multiple years to help you stay in a lower tax bracket.

Investor Portfolio

Some market analysts are predicting a “new normal” going forward, which could provide some interesting investment opportunities. Ideas include new operating business models based on a largely remote workforce, population spread as people move out of cities into more affordable rural areas, and innovations borne out of newly created demand. While a buy-and-hold strategy is a common advice for equities, it’s important to stay flexible. As long as you remain within your customized asset allocation strategy, you might want to use your equity portion to explore new ideas that could offer higher return opportunities over the next decade.