Roughly 17.3 percent of all office space in Manhattan is available for lease, the highest proportion in at least three decades. Asking rents on the island have dropped to just over $74 a square foot, from nearly $82 at the beginning of 2020, according to a recent report by the real estate services company Newmark. Elsewhere, asking rents have largely stayed flat from a year ago, including in Boston and Houston, but have climbed slightly in Chicago.
The Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, whose United States headquarters are in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, recently relocated to another office building nearby, an open layout with tables designed for its work force of 130 people who will come into the office only a few days a week. Many of its office workers will keep working remotely after the pandemic, while some employees, like those in the marketing department, will hold meetings occasionally in SoHo.
“As a leader, it has been challenging because meeting people face-to-face is so important,” said Daisuke Tsukagoshi, the chief executive of Uniqlo USA. “However, since we are a Japanese company with global reach, the need for remote collaboration among many centers has always been part of our culture.”
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The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs, even as the wider stock market and some companies in other industries like airlines and hotels that were hit hard by the pandemic have hit new highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.
Fitch Ratings estimated that office landlords’ profits would fall 15 percent if companies allowed workers to be at home just one and a half days a week on average. Three days at home could slash income by 30 percent.
Senior executives at property companies claim not to be worried. They argue that working from home will quickly fade once most of the country is vaccinated. Their reasons to think this? They say many corporate executives have told them that it is hard to effectively get workers to collaborate or train young professionals when they are not together.
The annual letter to shareholders by JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, was published early Wednesday. The letter, which is widely read on Wall Street, is not just an overview of the bank’s business but also covers Mr. Dimon’s thoughts on everything from leadership lessons to public policy prescriptions.
“The U.S. economy will likely boom.” A combination of excess savings, deficit spending, vaccinations and “euphoria around the end of the pandemic,” Mr. Dimon wrote, may create a boom that “could easily run into 2023.” That could justify high stock valuations, but not the price of U.S. debt, given the “huge supply” soon to hit the market. There is a chance that a rise in inflation will be “more than temporary,” he wrote, forcing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates aggressively. “Rapidly raising rates to offset an overheating economy is a typical cause of a recession,” he wrote, but he hopes for “the Goldilocks scenario” of fast growth, gently increasing inflation and a measured rise in interest rates.
“Banks are playing an increasingly smaller role in the financial system.” Mr. Dimon cited competition from an already large shadow banking system and fintech companies, as well as “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and now Walmart.” He argued that those nonbank competitors should be more strictly regulated; their growth has “partially been made possible” by avoiding banking rules, he wrote. And when it comes to tougher regulation of big banks, he wrote, “the cost to the economy of having fail-safe banks may not be worth it.”
“China’s leaders believe that America is in decline.” The United States has faced tough times before, but today, “the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure and education — a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality — and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this.”
The annual letter to shareholders by JPMorgan Chase’s chief Jamie Dimon was just published. The widely read letter is not just an overview of the bank’s business but also covers Mr. Dimon’s thoughts on everything from leadership lessons to public policy prescriptions.
“The U.S. economy will likely boom.” A combination of excess savings, deficit spending, a potential infrastructure bill, vaccinations and “euphoria around the end of the pandemic,” Mr. Dimon wrote, may create a boom that “could easily run into 2023.” That could justify high equity valuations, but not the price of U.S. debt, given the “huge supply” soon to hit the market. There is a chance that a rise in inflation would be “more than temporary,” he wrote, forcing the Fed to raise interest rates aggressively. “Rapidly raising rates to offset an overheating economy is a typical cause of a recession,” he wrote, but he hopes for “the Goldilocks scenario” of fast growth, gently increasing inflation and a measured rise in interest rates.
“Banks are playing an increasingly smaller role in the financial system.” Mr. Dimon cited competition from an already large shadow banking system and fintech companies, as well as “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and now Walmart.” He argued those nonbank competitors should be more strictly regulated; their growth has “partially been made possible” by avoiding banking rules, he wrote. And when it comes to tougher regulation of big banks, he wrote, “the cost to the economy of having fail-safe banks may not be worth it.”
“China’s leaders believe that America is in decline.” While the U.S. has faced tough times before, today “the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure and education — a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality — and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this.”
a leveraged buyout offer from the private equity firm CVC Capital, sending its shares to a four-year high. Toshiba has had a series of scandals, and faces pressure from activist investors.
raising the corporate rate to help pay for President Biden’s infrastructure plans — though he didn’t mention the White House’s proposed rate, 28 percent. Other corporate chiefs are privately criticizing the potential tax rise.
The company behind the Johnson & Johnson vaccine mix-up has a history of errors. Emergent BioSolutions, which the U.S. relied on to produce doses by J.&J. and AstraZeneca, had a made manufacturing errors before. Experts worry this may leave some Americans more wary of getting vaccinated, even as Mr. Biden has moved up the eligibility deadline for U.S. inoculations.
An electric aircraft maker sues a rival for intellectual property theft. Wisk, which is backed by Boeing and the Google founder Larry Page, said that former employees downloaded confidential information before joining Archer, a competitor. Archer, which is going public by merging with a SPAC run by Moelis & Company and which counts United Airlines as an investor, denied wrongdoing and said it was cooperating with a government investigation.
A blistering start for venture capital in 2021. Start-ups set a fund-raising quarterly record in the first three months of the year, raising more than $62 billion, according to the MoneyTree report from PwC and CB Insights. That’s more than twice the total a year earlier and represents nearly half of what start-ups raised in all of 2020.
Why is the Amazon union vote taking so long?
Voting in the union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., ended on March 29, and counting began the next day, but the outcome is still unknown. What’s going on? It’s less about the number of ballots than how they’re counted.
The stakes are high, for both Amazon and the labor movement. Progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders have argued a victory for the union, the first at an Amazon facility in the U.S., could inspire workers elsewhere to unionize. And Amazon is facing increased scrutiny for its market power and labor practices.
a painstaking process:
Once Amazon and the union have gone back and forth over disputed voters, the N.L.R.B. counts the uncontested ballots anonymously and by hand, on a video conference open to reporters. This could start today.
“Economic fortunes within countries and across countries are diverging dangerously.”
— Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the I.M.F., on how the uneven rollout of vaccines poses a threat to the global economic recovery.
Credit Suisse’s expensive mistakes
After the 2008 financial crisis, Credit Suisse emerged battered by high-risk bets and promised to do better. A series of recent scandals suggests it hasn’t, The Times’s Jack Ewing writes.
A recap of the Swiss bank’s troubles over the past year or so:
A spying scandal that led to the ouster of Tidjane Thiam as C.E.O.
Ties to Greensill Capital, the SoftBank-backed lender that has filed for insolvency and will lead to losses at the Swiss bank.
Its involvement with Archegos, whose hugely leveraged stock bets went south, saddling the bank with a big hit.
30-day comment period on to-be-drafted regulations that would make it harder to obscure who controls a company. Among the details to be worked out are what entities should report and when; how to collect, protect and update information for a database; and the criteria for sharing with law enforcement.
“We could not be more excited,” Kenneth Blanco, the director of the Treasury’s Financial Criminal Enforcement Network (FinCEN), told bankers recently. The U.S. has been under pressure to address its vulnerability to money laundering and financial crimes:
In 2016, the international Financial Action Task Force gave the country a failing grade on transparency of company ownership.
In 2018, banks and financial institutions began having to collect that information from clients to help law enforcement identify individuals.
In January, Congress passed the Corporate Transparency Act, which requires businesses to report ownership to the government.
New rules could make forming small businesses, special purpose vehicles and other closely held entities “significantly” more burdensome, said Steve Ganis of Mintz, an expert in anti-money laundering regulation. “FinCEN’s new regime will make things much more complicated for start-ups, where control and ownership are highly fluid,” he said. Public companies and many larger businesses would be exempt because they already face stricter scrutiny.
THE SPEED READ
Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce company owned by Walmart, is reportedly planning to go public through an I.P.O. this year. (Bloomberg)
Grab, the Singaporean tech giant, is near a deal to merge with a SPAC backed by Altimeter Capital at a $35 billion valuation. It would be the biggest-ever blank check deal. (FT)
Fox sued the owner of FanDuel over the price of its option to buy a stake in the sports betting service. (CNBC)
Politics and policy
Coinbase, whose direct listing is set for next week, said it collected more revenue in the first quarter this year than in all of 2020. (CNBC)
The audio chat start-up Clubhouse is said to be raising funds at a $4 billion valuation. (Bloomberg)
The S.E.C. accused an actor of running a $690 million Ponzi scheme built around false claims of deals with Netflix and HBO. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
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Until recently, Bill Hwang sat atop one of the biggest — and perhaps least known — fortunes on Wall Street. Then his luck ran out.
Mr. Hwang, a 57-year-old veteran investor, managed $10 billion through his private investment firm, Archegos Capital Management. He borrowed billions of dollars from Wall Street banks to build enormous positions in a few American and Chinese stocks. By mid-March, Mr. Hwang was the financial force behind $20 billion in shares of ViacomCBS, effectively making him the media company’s single largest institutional shareholder. But few knew about his total exposure, since the shares were mostly held through complex financial instruments, called derivatives, created by the banks.
That changed in late March, after shares of ViacomCBS fell precipitously and the lenders demanded their money. When Archegos couldn’t pay, they seized its assets and sold them off, leading to one of the biggest implosions of an investment firm since the 2008 financial crisis.
Almost overnight, Mr. Hwang’s personal wealth shriveled. It’s a tale as old as Wall Street itself, where the right combination of ambition, savvy and timing can generate fantastic profits — only to crumble in an instant when conditions change.
in a 2019 speech. “I couldn’t go to school that much, to be honest.”
Grace and Mercy Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that sponsors Bible readings and religious book clubs, growing it to $500 million in assets from $70 million in under a decade. The foundation has donated tens of millions of dollars to Christian organizations.
“He’s giving ridiculous amounts,” said John Bai, a co-founder and managing partner of the equity research firm Fundstrat Global Advisors, who has known Mr. Hwang for roughly three decades. “But he’s doing it in a very unassuming, humble, non-boastful way.”
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But in his investing approach, he embraced risk and his firm ran afoul of regulators. In 2008, Tiger Asia lost money when the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy at the peak of the financial crisis. The next year, Hong Kong regulators accused the fund of using confidential information it had received to trade some Chinese stocks.
In 2012, Mr. Hwang reached a civil settlement with U.S. securities regulators in a separate insider trading investigation and was fined $44 million. That same year, Tiger Asia pleaded guilty to federal insider-trading charges in the same investigation and returned money to its investors. Mr. Hwang was barred from managing public money for at least five years. Regulators formally lifted the ban last year.
ViacomCBS announced plans to sell new shares to the public, a deal it hoped would generate $3 billion in new cash to fund its strategic plans. Morgan Stanley was running the deal. As bankers canvassed the investor community, they were counting on Mr. Hwang to be the anchor investor who would buy at least $300 million of the shares, four people involved with the offering said.
But sometime between the deal’s announcement and its completion that Wednesday morning, Mr. Hwang changed plans. The reasons aren’t entirely clear, but RLX, the Chinese e-cigarette company, and GSX, the education company, had both spiraled in Asian markets around the same time. His decision caused the ViacomCBS fund-raising effort to end with $2.65 billion in new capital, significantly short of the original target.
ViacomCBS executives hadn’t known of Mr. Hwang’s enormous influence on the company’s share price, nor that he had canceled plans to invest in the share offering, until after it was completed, two people close to ViacomCBS said. They were frustrated to hear of it, the people said. At the same time, investors who had received larger-than-expected stakes in the new share offering and had seen it fall short, were selling the stock, driving its price down even further. (Morgan Stanley declined to comment.)
By Thursday, March 25, Archegos was in critical condition. ViacomCBS’s plummeting stock price was setting off “margin calls,” or demands for additional cash or assets, from its prime brokers that the firm couldn’t fully meet. Hoping to buy time, Archegos called a meeting with its lenders, asking for patience as it unloaded assets quietly, a person close to the firm said.
Those hopes were dashed. Sensing imminent failure, Goldman began selling Archegos’s assets the next morning, followed by Morgan Stanley, to recoup their money. Other banks soon followed.
As ViacomCBS shares flooded onto the market that Friday because of the banks’ enormous sales, Mr. Hwang’s wealth plummeted. Credit Suisse, which had acted too slowly to stanch the damage, announced the possibility of significant losses; Nomura announced as much as $2 billion in losses. Goldman finished unwinding its position but did not record a loss, a person familiar with the matter said. ViacomCBS shares are down more than 50 percent since hitting their peak on March 22.
Mr. Hwang has laid low, issuing only a short statement calling this a “challenging time” for Archegos.
Last fall, after some of the restrictions had eased in Germany, Trivago, a travel company based in Düsseldorf, let employees work remotely three weeks of the month and then spend one week in the office. The office weeks were designed for collaboration and were treated like celebrations, with balloons hanging from the ceilings and employees plied with coffee and muffins, said Anja Honnefelder, the chief people officer and general counsel of the company.
But the experiment failed, she said. “We saw that many of the people only came back for two or three days during the week because it felt unnatural, all of the social interactions,” said Ms. Honnefelder, who described her staff as young and made up largely of software engineers and data scientists. “They felt like they couldn’t get their work done and that it was disorienting.”
So, in January, Trivago announced that employees would come back to the office two days a week, but it has not been able to implement the plan because Germany has imposed new restrictions because of a rise in coronavirus cases.
“What we think will happen is that employees will use the two days to socialize, have extended lunches and work with their teams because they know, for the rest of the week, they will have time to focus and manage their own work and not be distracted,” Ms. Honnefelder said.
The ability to focus on work without distractions from other employees is the main reason Mr. Jaakola, the Minneapolis software engineer, does not want to return to the office. He admits he finds dealing with other people kind of “draining,” and hopes his company won’t force him to return to the office, even for a few days a week.
“My sense is that my company will try to go back to how things were before and I think they’ll quickly realize there are a lot of remote possibilities out there for us,” he said. “If they try to force us to come in without a legitimate reason, I can get another job if I don’t want to come in.”
Gillian Friedman and Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.
Spotify’s headquarters in the United States fills 16 floors of 4 World Trade Center, a towering office building in Lower Manhattan that was the first to rise on the site of the 2001 terror attacks. Its offices will probably never be full again: Spotify has told employees they can work anywhere, even in another state.
A few floors down, MediaMath, an advertising tech company, is planning to abandon its space, a decision fueled by its new remote-work arrangements during the pandemic.
In Midtown Manhattan, Salesforce, whose name adorns a 630-foot building overlooking Bryant Park, expects workers to be in the office just one to three days a week. A nearby law firm, Lowenstein Sandler, is weighing whether to renew its lease on its Avenue of the Americas office, where 140 lawyers used to work five days a week.
“I could find few people, including myself, who think we are going to go back to the way it was,” said Joseph J. Palermo, the firm’s chief operating officer.
sparked an extraordinary exodus of workers from office buildings, what had seemed like a short-term inconvenience is now clearly becoming a permanent and tectonic shift in how and where people work. Employers and employees have both embraced the advantages of remote work, including lower office costs and greater flexibility for employees, especially those with families.
Beyond New York, some of the country’s largest cities have yet to see a substantial return of employees, even where there have been less stringent government-imposed lockdowns, and some companies have announced that they are not going to have all workers come back all the time.
In recent weeks, major corporations, including Ford in Michigan and Target in Minnesota, have said they are giving up significant office space because of their changing workplace practices, while Salesforce, whose headquarters occupies the tallest building in San Francisco, said only a small fraction of its employees will be in the office full time.
But no city in the United States, and perhaps the world, must reckon with this transformation more than New York, and in particular Manhattan, an island whose economy has been sustained, from the corner hot dog vendor to Broadway theaters, by more than 1.6 million commuters every day.
to return in early May, in part as a signal to other employers that filling New York’s buildings is a key to its recovery.
“This is an important step for the city, and it’s another important step on the way to the full recovery of New York City,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Still, about 90 percent of Manhattan office workers are working remotely, a rate that has remained unchanged for months, according to a recent survey of major employers by the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group, which estimated that less than half of office workers would return by September.
Across Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the country’s two largest central business districts, there has never been more office space — 16.4 percent — for lease, much higher than in past crises, including after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008.
As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.
Sarah Patellos, who is on Spotify’s music team, has been working from a dining room table in Truckee, Calif., a mountain town near Lake Tahoe where she has spent most of the past year after flying there for a weekend trip in March 2020 and getting stuck because of government-imposed lockdowns.
on CNBC. “As for everyone working from home all the time, there is also zero chance of that.’’
from the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package: $5.95 billion in direct aid and another $4 billion for schools, a City Hall spokeswoman said.
While that addresses immediate needs, the city still faces an estimated $5 billion budget deficit next year and similar deficits in the following years, and a changing work culture could hobble New York’s recovery.
The amount of office space in Manhattan on the market has risen in recent months to 101 million square feet, roughly 37 percent higher than a year ago and more than all the combined downtown office space in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas. “This trend has shown little signs of slowing down,” said Victor Rodriguez, director of analytics at CoStar, a real estate company.
At least one industry, however, is charging in the opposite direction. Led by some of the world’s largest companies, the technology sector has expanded its footprint in New York during the pandemic. Facebook has added 1 million square feet of Manhattan office space, and Apple added two floors in a Midtown Manhattan building.
And the surge in available commercial real estate has actually been a boon for some new businesses that have been able to find spaces at rents that are lower than they were before the pandemic.
“I’ve seen the obituary for New York City many times,” said Brian S. Waterman, the executive vice chairman of Newmark, a commercial real estate services firm. “The office reboarding will start to occur in May, June and July, and you are going to have a much fuller occupancy once we hit September.”
rally behind an idea that seemed unthinkable before the pandemic: converting distressed office buildings in Manhattan into low-income housing.
The record vacancy rate has been driven by companies across almost all industries, from media to fashion, that have discovered the advantages of remote work.
Beside the cost savings of operating a scaled-down office or no office at all, modern technology and communications have allowed workers to stay connected, collaborate from afar and be more productive without lengthy commutes. Parents are also clamoring for more flexibility to care for their children.
“We believe that we’re on top of the next change, which is the Distributed Age, where people can be more valuable in how they work, which doesn’t really matter where you spend your time,” said Alexander Westerdahl, the vice president of human resources at Spotify, the Stockholm-based streaming music giant that has 6,500 employees worldwide.
For now, Spotify does not plan to reduce its New York footprint, but as of February, the company told its United States employees — 2,100 of whom had worked at the Manhattan office — that they could work from pretty much anywhere.
“The change is mainly driven by globalization and digitalization, and our tools are much, much better at allowing for people to work from anywhere,” Mr. Westerdahl said.
Remote work, of course, is not without significant downsides.
The blurry lines that already existed between work and personal life have been all but obliterated during the pandemic. Without the time spent commuting in the morning and at night, people are logging on to work earlier in the day and staying connected later into the night.
And despite modern technology and video conferencing capabilities, companies are struggling to foster workplace cultures and make employees, especially new hires, feel welcome and part of a team.
Those concerns have weighed heavily on executives at Kelley Drye, a law firm founded in 1836 in New York, which is moving from Park Avenue near Grand Central Terminal to 3 World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
“Zoom and Teams are great,” said Andrea L. Calvaruso, a lawyer who is the chair of the firm’s trademark and copyright group, but she added that “there’s no substitute for sitting down in a beautiful new collaborative and working together without distractions.”
But Ms. Patellos, despite being unprepared after being stuck in California — she had to buy a keyboard and monitor — soon found herself connecting with colleagues all over the world just as she had in her New York office.
“I fell into a rhythm,” said Ms. Patellos, who is still deciding where to eventually move. “I maintained a bit of East Coast hours, starting my days a little earlier and ending a bit earlier. Before I knew it, it became the norm and a routine.”
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, by an 81-to-17 vote.
Despite the concerns, Mr. Biden was met with praise in Chester, Pa., when he visited Smith Flooring, a Black-owned business that supplies and installs flooring. White House officials said the shop cut payroll over the last year, from 22 union employees to 12, after revenues declined by 20 percent during the pandemic. It has survived, the officials said, thanks in part to two rounds of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress established last year during the Trump administration to help small businesses.
“This is a great outfit. This is a union shop,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks. Its employees, he said, “work like the devil, and they can make a decent wage, a living wage.”
The owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, secured their second loan from the program as part of one of the Biden administration’s changes, which created a two-week exclusive period for certain very small businesses to receive loans. They thanked Mr. Biden for his efforts and for visiting Chester.
Mr. Biden’s aid bill, signed last week, added $7 billion to the program and funded others to help struggling businesses, including a $28 billion grant fund for restaurants. The law also set aside additional money for other relief efforts run by the Small Business Administration, including a long-delayed grant program for music clubs and other live-event businesses, which the agency said would start accepting applications early next month.
Lenders are scrambling to carry out the administration’s changes to the Paycheck Protection Program and finish processing a flood of applications before March 31. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants called the deadline “unrealistic,” and 10 banking groups sent a letter to lawmakers urging Congress to give them more time.
JPMorgan Chase is currently planning for summer interns in New York and London to come to the office this year, people briefed on the matter said on Tuesday, as big financial firms anticipate a return to something approaching normality and the pandemic starts to loosen its hold on the workplace.
The plan to bring back in-person internships in June (not July as was earlier reported here) is another sign that corporate giants believe a version of pre-pandemic working life is near. JPMorgan usually hires hundreds of summer interns each year, and last year’s class, as at most Wall Street firms, was virtual.
In London, the bank plans to let its teams start bringing in employees on March 29, when the British government will end “stay at home” rules imposed in December, according to one of the people briefed on the matter. But in-person staffing will not surpass 50 percent of a building’s capacity, and teams are likely to rely on scheduled rotations of employees.
Big banks, more than many other industries, have been eager to re-establish some level of in-office working, but are wrestling with when and how to do it. Leaders like Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, and David Solomon, his counterpart at Goldman Sachs, have expressed worries that prolonged remote working could hurt businesses like trading and fray corporate cultures.
Mr. Solomon said at an industry conference in February. “It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
Both JPMorgan and Goldman were among the banks that moved to bring more workers back to the office last summer, though they were forced to ask employees to self-isolate after workers tested positive for Covid-19 cases.
In New York, JPMorgan teams have been allowed to bring some employees into the office at their discretion, in keeping with government rules.
News of JPMorgan’s internship plans was reported earlier by Financial News.
The latest revision of the Paycheck Protection Program appeared to be a victory for the most vulnerable small businesses, offering more generous relief to companies like solo ventures that were eligible for only tiny loans — or none at all.
If only they could take advantage of the changes.
President Biden announced an abrupt overhaul two weeks ago to funnel more money to very small companies, some of which qualified for loans as small as $1 under the old guidelines. But the Small Business Administration updated its systems only on Friday, and with just three weeks before the program is set to expire, some lenders say there just isn’t enough time to adapt to the changes.
The result has been gridlock and uncertainty that have left tens of thousands of self-employed people frantic to find lenders willing to issue the more generous loans before the program ends on March 31.
JPMorgan Chase, the program’s largest lender this year in terms of dollars disbursed, doesn’t plan to act on the new loan formula before it stops accepting applications on March 19. Bank of America, the second-biggest lender, opted against updating its loan application and said it would contact self-employed applicants to manually sort out their applications — but wouldn’t accept new ones after 5 p.m. today.
forums like Reddit to hash out their options and to swap tips on which lenders are using the new formula and which ones are not. “Desperate for Guidance!” one typical post reads. “Reaching out to see if anyone can help me figure out this absolutely monstrous failure.”
The disarray is compounded by the other major change Mr. Biden announced last month: a 14-day window, which ends today, during which the Small Business Administration would accept applications only from companies with fewer than 20 employees. The intent was to get aid to needy businesses, especially those run by women and minorities. The vast majority of those businesses are sole proprietorships that would benefit from the new formula, and many rushed to take advantage of the priority period.
But the nearly two-week delay for the more generous rules put lenders in a tough spot: They could pause applications from sole proprietors, creating a backlog they would later have to unravel, or they could approve applications under the previous formula, which would result in much smaller loans for their customers.
Biz2Credit, which has made more loans this year than any other lender, temporarily stopped accepting applications while it worked to adjust to the new rules. It plans to resume this week, said Rohit Arora, its chief executive.
Other large lenders — including Cross River Bank and Customers Bank, which round out the program’s top five lenders — said they had begun processing loans on Monday using the new formula.
Hundreds of thousands of borrowers who have already received their loans have no way to reapply under the more generous rules, infuriating business owners like Bryan Cordova, who finalized a loan for his printing business in Round Rock, Texas, just days before Mr. Biden announced the changes.
stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
Even before the changes were announced last month, lenders were trying to unravel extensive errors and data verification problems that had stalled tens of thousands of applications. It would take an act of Congress to push back the deadline, and lenders and trade groups are calling, with increasing urgency, for an extension.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants called the March 31 deadline “unrealistic,” and 10 banking groups sent a letter to lawmakers last week urging Congress to give them more time.
The Biden administration has not sought an extension, but key congressional leaders have said they are willing to pass legislation that would push back the deadline. The House Small Business Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday about the status of the Paycheck Protection Program.
“It’s clear that small businesses are still feeling the effects of the Covid crisis and need P.P.P.’s support,” said Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat who leads the House committee. She said Congress must “ensure this critical lifeline isn’t abruptly pulled away from small businesses.”
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland and the leader of his chamber’s small business committee, “would be open to a bipartisan agreement” to extend the deadline, according to a spokesman, Fabion Seaton.
have been waiting for months for the federal government to open a generous $15 billion grant fund for their industry that was authorized in December. But the money will not start flowing until April at the earliest, according to Mr. Coleman, the Small Business Administration spokesman.
Businesses have been barred from taking one of those grants if they also took a Paycheck Protection Program loan this year, but the $1.9 trillion relief bill that passed the Senate on Saturday would remove that restriction and count the loan toward any grant the business receives later. The bill is now before the House and is likely to be finalized by Mr. Biden this week.
That change would allow venues like the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas to get help faster. “We were thrilled to see that come through,” said Debbie Storey, the center’s chief executive.
Ms. Storey’s organization made the “painful” choice last week to forgo the grant and seek a Paycheck Protection Program loan instead, she said. Her lender had urged the center to apply this week or risk missing the deadline.
“We couldn’t afford to miss that window,” she said.