(Bloomberg) — Brigita, a director at one of China’s largest car dealers, is running out of options. Her firm’s 100 outlets have been closed for about a month because of the coronavirus, cash reserves are dwindling and banks are reluctant to extend deadlines on billions of yuan in debt coming due over the next few months. There are also other creditors to think about.
“If we can’t pay back the bonds, it will be very, very bad,” said Brigita, whose company has 10,000 employees and sells mid- to high-end car brands such as BMWs. She asked that only her first name be used and that her firm not be identified because she isn’t authorized to speak to the press.
With much of China’s economy still idled as authorities try to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 75,000 people, millions of companies across the country are in a race against the clock to stay afloat.
A survey of small- and medium-sized Chinese companies conducted this month showed that a third of respondents only had enough cash to cover fixed expenses for a month, with another third running out within two months.
While China’s government has cut interest rates, ordered banks to boost lending and loosened criteria for companies to restart operations, many of the nation’s private businesses say they’ve been unable to access the funding they need to meet upcoming deadlines for debt and salary payments. Without more financial support or a sudden rebound in China’s economy, some may have to shut for good.
“If China fails to contain the virus in the first quarter, I expect a vast number of small businesses would go under,” said Lv Changshun, an analyst at Beijing Zhonghe Yingtai Management Consultant Co.
Despite accounting for 60% of the economy and 80% of jobs in China, private businesses have long struggled to tap funding to help them expand during booms and survive crises.
President Xi Jinping over the weekend pledged a greater focus on reviving the economy, with a more proactive fiscal policy, accelerated construction projects and freer reserves for commercial lenders to unleash more funding.
Support from China’s banking giants in response to the outbreak has so far been piecemeal, mostly earmarked for directly combating the virus. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the nation’s largest lender, has offered relief to about 5% of its small business clients.
In an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg News, ICBC said it has allocated 5.4 billion yuan ($770 million) to help companies fight the virus. “We approve qualified small businesses’ loan applications as soon as they arrive,” the bank said.
As a group, Chinese banks had offered about 794 billion yuan in loans related to the containment effort as of Feb. 20, according to the banking industry association, with foreign lenders such as Citigroup Inc. also lowering rates. To put that into perspective, China’s small businesses typically face interest payments on about 36.9 trillion yuan of loans every quarter.
Stringent requirements and shortlists restrict who can access special loans earmarked by the central bank for virus-related businesses, while local governments and banks have imposed caps on the amounts, according to people familiar with the matter. A debt banker at one of China’s largest brokerages said his firm opened a fast lane to ease debt sales by businesses involved in the containment effort, with borrowers required to prove they will use at least 10% of the proceeds to fight the disease.
That’s of little help to a car dealership. Brigita, whose firm owes money to dozens of banks, said she has so far only reached an agreement with a handful to extend payment deadlines by two months. For now, the company is still paying salaries.
Many of China’s businesses were already grasping for lifelines before the virus hit, pummeled by a trade war and lending crackdown that sent economic growth to a three-decade low last year.
At most risk are the labor-intensive catering and restaurant industries, travel agencies, airlines, hotels and shopping malls, according to Lianhe Rating.
Yang, a property manager of a seven-story mall in Shanghai, says a tenant who runs a 150-room hotel that’s usually busy has called asking for a month’s rent waiver after business dried up. She expects the massage parlor that rents space in the mall is also struggling and is open to extending some help.
A deputy financing director at a small developer in central Anhui province said his firm is even being denied loans under existing credit lines. A drop in sales has hurt the company’s credit profile and a dearth of new projects means there’s no collateral to put up. Without access to credit, the business can survive for about four months, or maybe longer if some payments can be delayed, he said.
Banks are hardly any better off themselves. Many are under-capitalized and on the ropes after two years of record debt defaults. Rating firm S&P Global has estimated that a prolonged emergency could cause the banking system’s bad loan ratio to more than triple to about 6.3%, amounting to an increase of 5.6 trillion yuan.
Wu Hai, owner of Mei KTV, a chain of 100 Karaoke bars across China, took to the nation’s premier outlet of discontent, social media platform WeChat, to voice his despair.
KTV’s bars have been closed by the government because of the virus, choking off its cash flow. The special loans from the authorities will be of little help and no bank will provide a loan without enough collateral and cash flow, he said on his official WeChat account earlier this month.
Wu couldn’t be reached for a direct comment, but on WeChat he gave himself two months before he has to shutter his business.
(Adds details on economic measures in eighth paragraph, updates lending in 10th.)
–With assistance from Jun Luo, Emma Dong and Yinan Zhao.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Evelyn Yu in Shanghai at firstname.lastname@example.org;Ken Wang in Beijing at email@example.com;Zheng Li in Shanghai at firstname.lastname@example.org;Xize Kang in Beijing at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Candice Zachariahs at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jonas Bergman, Michael Patterson
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Why Canada is unlocking its vault of maple syrup – CBC.ca
Canada’s maple syrup industry has become an international focus in recent days, with headlines shouting that the country has been forced to tap into its strategic reserve to make up for shortages.
Quebec produces about 73 per cent of the all maple syrup in the world. And the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP), an organization that governs the province’s maple syrup producers, has said it will release about 22.7 million kilograms of maple syrup from its strategic reserve into the market by February.
For some, the headlines may have been an eye-opener that Canada even has a stockpile of maple syrup. CBC Explains the purpose of this reserve, why it had to be tapped into, and explores whether there was ever a shortage of maple syrup.
What is the strategic reserve?
Quebec’s maple syrup industry is subject to a supply-management system, meaning it employs a quota system run by the QMSP which dictates market volume. The QMSP also controls the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, which can hold more than 45 million kilograms of maple syrup.
The reserve was created in 2000 to keep syrup in stock and ensure a constant supply for national and international markets, regardless of the size of the harvest, Hélène Normandin, a spokeswoman for QMSP told CBC’s As It Happens.
One site, the Laurierville Plant and Warehouse, in the Centre-du-Québec region, covers an area of 24,805 square metres – the equivalent of five football fields. That site alone can store 25 million kilograms of maple syrup, or 94,000 barrels.
When properly stored in barrels, maple syrup can last for many years, said Michael Farrell, the former director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research and extension field station in Lake Placid, N.Y.
In years when the yield is good, and more syrup is produced than needed, the extra can be sold to the QMSP and stored “so that when there’s bad years, you have enough to keep people stocked up with syrup on their pancakes,” Farrell said.
“Without this in reserve [this year], there would be much less syrup up on store shelves, and the price would be much higher.”
Why did they have to tap into the reserve this year?
In 2021, there was about 60 million kilograms of maple syrup produced, an average amount when compared to past years but down 18 million kilograms compared to 2020.
“It was an average season, not bad, but not as big as the two last seasons — 2019 and 2020 were just amazing, wonderful years of production,” Normandin said.
However, worldwide demand has increased by more than 20 per cent — a spike industry experts believe was partly fuelled by more people cooking at home during the pandemic — and that has strained the supply
How did the weather affect the yield?
Not every year is a perfect year for every agricultural harvest. And this was one of those years which was not ideal in terms of maple syrup production, said Abby van den Berg, a research associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill, Vt.
Many places didn’t have good weather for sap flow until later in the production season, she said.
In order for sap to flow, there has to be freezing temperatures, followed by above-freezing temperatures, she said.
“There just weren’t that many sap flow days,” Van den Berg said.
Was there really a ‘shortage’ of syrup.
‘Canada tapping reserve maple syrup supply amid shortage’
‘Facing shortages, Canada taps its strategic reserve of maple syrup’
It was headlines like those that made Van den Berg bristle, she said.
“We had a year where the harvest was not super. It actually wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t as good as it had been in past years, and the reserve was there to perform its function,” she said. “And there was no disruption in supply. There is no shortage.”
“All of the headlines said ‘maple syrup shortage,'” she said. “And literally, there is no shortage because of the reserve.”
Philippe Charest-Beudry, the owner of Ste-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Que.-based Brien Maple Sweets, which packages and sells bottles of maple syrup, said his company has been able to fill every contract so far this year.
“I’ve not heard in the industry other players that we’re not able to meet contracts,” he said.
Has the reserve ever run into trouble with its stock?
Between 2011 and and 2012 around 3,000 tonnes were stolen from a storage facility in Quebec. But it was a few years earlier than that when the strategic reserve actually did run dry.
“People probably don’t remember, but in 2008, after two or three years in a row of bad production, just bad weather, [they] ran out of syrup in the reserve,” said Mike Farrell
“There was nothing there and there wasn’t enough syrup to go around. Prices spiked. We lost a lot of markets for pure maple syrup,”he said.
Ray Bonenberg, former president of the International Maple Syrup Institute and a maple syrup producer near Pembroke, Ont., said 2008 was an “awful year in production.”
“It was abnormally cold until April 1st and then it got really warm, and I know my season was like eight days so it was disastrous,” he said. “The reserve was right down to the bottom, and has been building it up.”
What does this mean for next year?
Farrell said the 22.7 million kilograms of maple syrup represents a “significant amount to take out the reserve this year.” But what does that mean for the near future of the reserve?
There are currently around 50 million maple syrup taps in Quebec. In July, the QMSP approved the issuance of seven million new ones to meet the demand.
“From our perspective, we believe it should solve the issue on the short term basis,” said Charest-Beudry, “I don’t see a season next year where there’s no more maple syrup in the grocery store.”
RBC hiking dividend, buying back shares despite Q4 profit miss – BNN
Royal Bank of Canada announced a dividend hike and plans to repurchase tens of millions of its shares on Wednesday despite also reporting quarterly profit that trailed expectations.
In a release, RBC said it will raise its quarterly dividend 11 per cent to $1.20 per share. The bank said it’s also seeking approval from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) to buy back up to 45 million of its common shares.
It’s the second such move this week, after Bank of Nova Scotia similarly announced plans for a buyback and dividend hike on Tuesday. Both banks are doing so after OSFI recently lifted its pandemic-era prohibition on share repurchases and buybacks.
RBC also said on Wednesday its 2021 fiscal year profit climbed 40 per cent year-over-year to $16.1 billion. In the fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Oct. 31, the bank’s net income rose 20 per cent to $3.89 billion. That bottom-line performance was helped in part by a release of $227 million from funds that were previously set aside for loans that could go bad. It’s the third consecutive quarter that RBC moved cash out of its provisions for credit losses and funneled that money into its profit stream.
On an adjusted basis, the quarterly profit worked out to $2.71 per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting $2.81.
“Our overall performance in 2021 reflected strong earnings, premium shareholder performance, and highlighted our ability to successfully navigate a complex operating environment while continuing to invest in talent and innovations to support future growth,” said Dave McKay, RBC’s president and chief executive, in a release.
RBC’s bread-and-butter personal and commercial banking unit was the primary profit driver in the latest quarter, as net income in that division rose 35 per cent year-over-year to $2.03 billion, in part thanks to the release of $208 million that was previously provisioned for potentially sour loans.
Royal Bank’s domestic banking business also benefitted from double-digit growth in its mortgage book. Indeed, in a supplemental release Wednesday, RBC said it had an average Canadian mortgage balance of $329.5 billion in the fourth quarter; that represents year-over-year growth of almost 13 per cent compared to the balance of $293 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2020.
Fourth-quarter profit from the bank’s capital markets unit rose 10 per cent to $920 million, with RBC attributing some of that to a rise in mergers and acquisitions activity.
Meanwhile, earnings from RBC’s wealth management business inched up two per cent year-over-year to $558 million.
Ontario passes new rules aimed at work-life balance for employees – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The Ontario government has passed new laws it says will help employees disconnect from the office and create a better work-life balance.
On Tuesday, the government said it passed the “Working for Workers Act,” which requires Ontario businesses with 25 people or more to have a written policy about employees’ rights when it comes to disconnecting from their job at the end of the day.
These workplace policies could include, for example, expectations about response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they aren’t working, the government says.
According to the act, between January 1 and March 1 of each year an employer must ensure it has a written policy in place for all employees with respect to disconnecting from work.
“We are determined to rebalance the scales and put workers in the driver’s seat of Ontario’s economic growth while attracting the best workers to our great province,” Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, said in a statement Tuesday.
The act also bans the use of non-compete clauses, which prevent people from exploring other work opportunities and higher salaries at other jobs.
According to the government, Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada, and one of the first in North America, to ban non-compete agreements in employment.
McNaughton says the new laws not only protects workers’ rights, but also will help to attract top talent and investments to the province.
The act also removes “unfair” work experience requirements for foreign-trained immigrants trying to work in their professions.
It also introduces a mandatory licencing framework for temporary help agencies and recruiters to help prevent labour trafficking.
“This legislation is another step towards building back a better province and cementing Ontario’s position as a global leader, for others to follow, as the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family,” McNaughton said.
A government spokesperson told CTV News Toronto that while the act has not yet received royal assent, it is expected to later this week.
Timelines for when each law under the Working For Workers Act will come into effect have not been announced yet and the government said it there will be a initial grace period for businesses.
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