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Trump’s real-estate empire pays the price for poisonous politics

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Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s slashing rhetorical style and divisive politics allowed him to essentially take over the Republican Party. His supporters are so devoted that most believe his false claim that he lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud.

But the same tactics that have inspired fierce political loyalty have undermined Trump’s business, built around real-estate development and branding deals that have allowed him to make millions by licensing his name.

Trump’s business brand was once synonymous with wealth and success, an image that now clashes sharply with a political brand rooted in the anger of his largely rural and working-class voter base. His presidency is now associated in the minds of many with its violent end, as supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Those searing images, along with years of bitter rhetoric, are costing Trump money. Revenues from some of his high-end properties have declined, vacancies in office buildings have increased and his lenders are warning that the company’s revenues may not be sufficient to cover his debt payments, according to Trump’s financial disclosures as president, Trump Organization records filed with government agencies, and reports from companies that track real-estate company finances.

Prospective tenants in New York are shunning his buildings, one real-estate broker said, to avoid being associated with Trump. Organizers of golf tournaments have pulled events from his courses.

Trump’s focus on the political brand has increasingly overtaken his identity as a real-estate mogul, says one hospitality industry veteran.

“Prior to his political career, the Trump brand was about luxury – the casinos, the golf resorts,” said Scott Smith, a former hotel executive and hospitality professor at the University of South Carolina. “When he entered into politics, he took the Trump brand in an entirely different direction.”

Trump’s business also remains under the cloud of a joint criminal fraud investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the New York Attorney General. The company and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have been charged with a scheme to evade payroll taxes, and investigators continue to probe whether Trump or his representatives committed fraud by misrepresenting financials in loan applications and tax returns. Weisselberg and the company deny wrongdoing and are contesting the charges.

As his development business struggles, Trump has announced his first major deal since leaving office — and it has nothing to do with real-estate. On Oct. 20, he said he will build a new social media platform aimed in part at giving him a political forum after being banned by Facebook and Twitter, who said after the U.S. Capitol riots that Trump used their platforms to incite violence.

That deal could prove lucrative for Trump regardless of whether the platform succeeds. Investors rushed to buy shares in Digital World Acquisition Corp, the publicly traded blank-check acquisition company that plans to merge with the newly announced Trump Media and Technology Group. Digital World shares surged and are now worth about $2 billion. Trump’s new media company will have at least a 69% stake in the combined company, but Trump has not disclosed his level of ownership in Trump Media.

Trump has also been raising money for his political operation, which reported having $100 million on June 30, as he hints at a 2024 presidential run.

Eric Trump, the former president’s middle son and a Trump Organization executive, said in an interview that the company is now in “a phenomenal spot.” He cited a refinancing of a loan on San Francisco office buildings that gave the Trump business about $162 million in cash, according to loan documents and a release by Vornado Realty Trust, the venture’s majority owner.

“We’re sitting on a tremendous amount of cash,” Eric Trump told Reuters.

In an email, a spokesperson for Donald Trump denied that the business has slumped since he entered politics.

“The real estate company is doing extremely well, and this is evident in Florida and elsewhere,” Liz Harrington said in an emailed statement. “Considering the coronavirus pandemic, in which the hotel industry was hit particularly hard, Mr. Trump’s company is doing phenomenally well.”

Financial records show Trump’s real-estate business has declined. Income from the family’s holdings, heavy on golf courses and hotels, took a beating during 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Revenues at his Las Vegas hotel, for instance, fell from $22.9 million in 2017 to $9.2 million during 2020 and the first 20 days of 2021, according to Trump’s financial disclosures.

Trump is now making a second attempt to sell his lease on one high-profile property, the Trump International Hotel, housed in a former federal building in Washington, D.C., after failing to secure a buyer at the original asking price of $500 million. Meanwhile, the business is paying the federal government $3 million annually in lease payments, according to documents released earlier this month by the House Oversight Committee of the U.S. Congress. Those records show Trump’s Washington hotel lost more than $73 million since 2016.

The damage to Trump’s business image started early in his presidency. One consultant for Trump, arguing in a 2017 public hearing for a lower tax bill at his Doral golf resort, said Trump’s politics had damaged his business model.

“It’s actually not about the property, it is about the brand,” said consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak, at a December 2017 hearing of the Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board, in a video recording reviewed by Reuters. She cited a meeting she attended where top Trump Organization executives had described “severe ramifications” to his golf business from, for instance, tournaments and charity events being canceled by organizations wanting to avoid associating with Trump.

The resort saw revenues fall from $92 million in 2015 to $75 million in 2017, she said at another hearing the following year. Trump’s presidential financial disclosure listed Doral revenues at $44 million last year.

Vachiratevanurak declined a Reuters request for comment.

“This is obviously false as Doral is doing very well,” Trump spokesperson Harrington said.

In Trump’s home base of New York, the Trump name has become increasingly toxic. One high-profile property, the Trump SoHo hotel in lower Manhattan, was rebranded the Dominick in 2017. New York City in January canceled his leases on a golf course, two Central Park skating rinks and a carousel; Trump has sued the city for wrongful termination of the golf course lease.

At 40 Wall Street, the 72-story skyscraper that was among Trump’s proudest acquisitions, problems that started before the pandemic have gotten worse, according to reports from firms that track real-estate performance. After the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, some of Trump’s large tenants, including the Girl Scouts and a nonprofit called TB Alliance, said they were exploring whether they could get out of their leases. One commercial real-estate broker says many prospective tenants won’t consider the building because Trump’s name is on it.

The Girl Scouts did not respond to comment requests, and TB Alliance said it was “exploring all options” for leaving the Trump building.

“Most New York tenants want nothing to do with it, and that’s been the case for five years now,” said Ruth Colp-Haber, who said she has placed seven clients in the building over the years, but can’t interest anyone now. “It’s the biggest bargain going, but they won’t look at it.”

Occupancy was 84% in March 2021, well below the average of about 89% for that downtown New York office market, according to Mike Brotschol, managing director of KBRA Analytics LLC. The rents Trump has been able to charge are lower, too – between $38 and $42 per square foot in a market where the average runs closer to $50, he said.

The property’s financials have tumbled into risky territory, the reports say.

Trump took out a $160 million loan in 2015 to refinance 40 Wall Street – personally guaranteeing $26 million. Last year, the building was placed on an industry watchlist for commercial mortgage-backed securities at risk of defaulting, according to reports by KBRA and Trepp, which also monitors real-estate loans. In the first quarter of the year, according to the KBRA report, the debt-service coverage ratio, a statistic monitored by banks, dipped to a number indicating that the building’s cash flow can’t cover its debt payments.

In the statement for Trump, Harrington blamed “the disastrous policies of Bill de Blasio,” New York’s mayor, for the downturn in the city’s office market. “Despite all these serious headwinds, Mr. Trump has very little debt relative to value and the company is doing very well,” she said.

The Doral resort and Washington hotel, along with a hotel in Chicago, are secured by about $340 million in loans from Deutsche Bank AG, Trump’s biggest lender. But the bank has no appetite for more business with Trump and has no plans to extend the loans after they come due in 2023 and 2024, a senior Deutsche Bank source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Asked about the bank’s unwillingness to work with Trump, his spokeswoman said: “So what?”

Experts say the prospect of any new Trump-branded development faces long odds. One hotel industry executive said hotel developers – worried about cutting themselves off from the millions of customers turned off by Trump – will likely think twice before signing any branding deals to put the Trump name on their properties.

“People have choices. You can go to the Ritz Carlton, you can go to the Four Seasons, and not bring the politics into it one way or the other,” said Vicki Richman, chief operating officer of HVS Asset Management, a hospitality industry consultancy and property manager.

The Trump Organization tried to take its premium luxury hotel brand downmarket with two new brands: Scion, a mid-priced offering, and American Idea for budget travelers. The company scrapped plans for both in 2019, citing difficulties doing business in a contentious political environment.

Harrington said nothing is off the table for Trump’s business.

“We have many, many things under consideration,” she said. “But we also have politics under consideration.”

 

(Reporting by Joseph Tanfani; additional reporting by Peter Eisler, Greg Roumeliotis and Matt Scuffham; editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

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Stocks sink on Powell’s hawkish taper remarks, Omicron alarm – Aljazeera.com

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Fed Chair Jerome Powell signalled the United States central bank would consider speeding up its withdrawal of bond purchases as inflation risks increase. That further upset markets already battered by the looming threat of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Wall Street’s main indexes closed lower on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signalled that the United States central bank would consider speeding up its withdrawal of bond purchases as inflation risks increase, piling pressure onto a market already nervous about the latest COVID-19 variant.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Powell indicated that he no longer considers high inflation as “transitory” and that the Fed would revisit the timeline for scaling back its bond-buying programme at its next meeting in two weeks.

The S&P 500 – a proxy for the health of retirement and college savings accounts – lost 88.27 points, or 1.9 percent, to end at 4,567 points, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index lost 245.14 points, or 1.55 percent, to 15,537.69. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 652.11 points, or 1.86 percent, to 34,483.72.

“Powell’s comments threw a monkey in the wrench in market thinking in terms of potential taper timing. You’re seeing as a result of that, risk-off across the board,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

“You also have to factor in the Omicron variant concerns. You can argue whether they’re more headline risk or reality risk but regardless, it’s having a significant impact on oil, and everything that’s tied to economic growth.”

Powell’s comments also prompted speculation among some investors about a potential acceleration in interest rate hikes.

“The principal contributor to the decline in stock prices today is the Powell commentary, regarding the upcoming Fed meeting, about accelerating the tapering of their bond-buying programme, which obviously leads to the prospect that rate hikes come sooner next year,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

“That somewhat hawkish shift in tone caught the market flat-footed,” Luschini said.

Meanwhile, the market was also left waiting for information about how dangerous the Omicron variant might be, the degree to which current coronavirus vaccinations could offer protection and the additional restrictions governments might have to impose that could hurt the economy, Luschini said.

Tuesday’s declines were broad-based, with all the 11 major S&P sectors down. Communication services was the lead decliner by late afternoon. As oil prices tumbled, energy was also under pressure throughout the session.

Monday’s rally saw stocks regain some of the ground they had lost on Friday when the market first sold off on news of the virus variant.

While the US Food and Drug Administration said it hopes to have information about the effectiveness of current COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron, vaccine companies appeared divided.

BioNTech’s chief executive said the BioNTech and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will likely offer strong protection against severe disease from the variant, while Moderna Inc’s CEO told the Financial Times that COVID-19 shots are unlikely to be as effective against the new variant as they have been previously.

Moderna shares fell while those of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc were also under pressure after it said its COVID-19 antibody treatment and other similar drugs could be less effective against Omicron.

Travel and leisure stocks slumped, with S&P 1500 Airlines and the S&P 1500 Hotels, Restaurant and Leisure indexes both declining on concerns of more border restrictions.

The virus uncertainty has triggered fresh alarm at a time when supply chain logjams are weighing on economic recovery and central banks globally are contemplating a return to pre-pandemic monetary policy to tackle a surge in inflation.

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Why Canada is unlocking its vault of maple syrup – CBC.ca

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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.

In this photo, a harvester taps a maple tree. 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. (CBC)

“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.”

Jugs of maple syrup line a shelf. In 2021, there was about 60 million kilograms of maple syrup produced, an average amount when compared to past years but down 40 million pounds compared to 2020. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

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. 

A tree is tapped for maple syrup harvest. Many places didn’t have good weather for sap flow until later in the production season, said Abby van den Berg, a research associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill, Vt. (CBC)

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.”

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RBC hiking dividend, buying back shares despite Q4 profit miss – BNN

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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.

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