Congress Reaches Coronavirus Aid Deal
Congress has reached a deal for $900 billion in new coronavirus aid, ending several months of wrangling that had Republicans and Democrats at loggerheads as an economic recovery started showing signs of faltering.
To get the latest deal done, Republicans gave up limiting the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending power to stimulate the economy while Democrats backed away from sending financial help to cities and states dealing with strained budgets. Congress could vote on the final version of the aid package as soon as Monday.
The deal’s top line elements include $300 in weekly supplemental unemployment benefits for 11 weeks and a $600 direct payment to adults earning up to $75,000, though dependents 17 and older won’t be eligible in this round. Both are half the amounts approved and sent out with the $2.2 trillion package in late March.
Supplemental unemployment benefits expired at the end of July. Other federal unemployment benefits were set to expire at the end of the year for some 12 million people.
The Labor Department reported last week that 20.6 million people were using some form of unemployment benefit. New claims rose to 885,000 for the week ending Dec. 12, marking the second consecutive week of increases.
The package includes money to help small businesses, which have struggled in the pandemic and face more troubles as cities tighten restrictions with a new surge in coronavirus cases.
Entertainment and music venues got financial help. Roughly $15 billion was included in the latest deal after venues were forced to close as cities and states locked down and capacity limitations have remained in place.
Dayna Frank, president of the National Independent Venue Association, said in a statement Sunday the funds will provide a “crucial lifeline” for struggling venues. “We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come,” Frank said.
Wawa Opens Its First Drive-Thru
Wawa, the operator of the East Coast convenience store and gas station chain, opened its first drive-thru.
With much fanfare, the Pennsylvania chain opened the feature in Westhampton Township, New Jersey, on the other side of the state line from Philadelphia.
Wawa has locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C. It opened its 900th store over the summer in Springfield, New Jersey.
The chain had been leaning toward building drive-thrus prior to the pandemic. Brian Schaller, the company’s chief real estate officer, told NJ.com that the coronavirus accelerated those plans.
A second drive-thru is under construction in Falls Township, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb across the Delaware River from Trenton, New Jersey. That is planned to be the company’s first standalone drive-thru.
Across the country convenience stores often times were deemed essential during the early shutdowns and allowed to stay open. Wawa added curbside pickup at locations for customers who didn’t want to go into the stores.
Meanwhile, many fast food chains mostly survived the shutdowns by ramping up their drive-thru service. Chains now have been reconfiguring their footprints at locations to focus more on drive-thru.
Dick’s Adds Same-Day Delivery
Dick’s Sporting Goods chose online grocery delivery company Instacart to handle same-day service from 150 of its stores.
The stores are located in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington D.C. Pittsburgh-based Dick’s has 732 locations across the country.
"People across the country have embraced outdoor activities this year as a way to stay active and safe, and we've seen a meaningful increase in demand for sporting goods across our marketplace,” Chris Rogers, vice president of retail at Instacart, said in a statement.
For the quarter that ended Oct. 31, Dick’s reported online sales increased 95%, while sales at brick-and-mortar stores more than doubled. The company said it was its best performance since going public nearly 20 years ago. Net sales hit $2.41 billion, a 22.9% increase over the same quarter last year.
The retailer, like others in that business, have benefited in the pandemic from sales of products such as fishing gear, golf equipment, bikes and home fitness equipment.
Property Investment Concern
Company executives around the world have discussed in earnings calls during the pandemic that to save on real estate expenses, office space may need to be cut, bank branch closings accelerated, rents renegotiated on warehouses and some data centers closed, according to a Bloomberg report on Friday.
Bloomberg used artificial intelligence technology to cull information from 4,767 global earnings calls between July 21 and Dec. 8. In those calls, Bloomberg found that one in eight machine-generated transcripts showed firms rethinking their real estate needs.
On an Oct. 15 call, for example, Charlotte-based Truist Financial, which was created from a merger between SunTrust Bank and BB&T a year ago, revealed that it plans to close 104 branches in December and January. Daryl Bible, Truist’s chief financial officer, said the bank also is “looking at ways to bring forward more branch closures in 2021.”
Truist isn’t the only one looking at closing branches. Tupelo, Mississippi-based Renasant Corp. and Coral Gable, Florida-based Amerant Bancorp are considering branch closures.
Fewer people were visiting branches before the pandemic and that accelerated in the outbreak.
The struggling global airline industry has sought rent reductions on facilities.
Bloomberg noted Brookdale Senior Living’s efforts to cut its rent expense. Brookdale, based in the Nashville, Tennessee, suburb of Brentwood, secured more than $500 million in rent reductions, Bloomberg reported Lucinda Baier, Brookdale’s CFO, saying on an earnings call in August.