Even as Gas Prices Rattle Economy, Americans Can’t Stay off the Road

No relief in sight to high prices at the pump, as the fallout ripples through society

By Evan Halper
May 20, 2022

School officials in Davenport, Iowa, expected that keeping the tanks of district buses filled would be a challenge in these days of high gas prices. What they were not prepared for was prices at the pump making it such a challenge to keep students fed.

As gas prices climbed past $4, snacks of rainbow carrots and other enticing fresh fruits and vegetables delivered as part of federal grant to promote healthy eating were suddenly in jeopardy. The grant got drained as the vendor tacked on extra charges to cover the high price of fuel, forcing some schools to end deliveries early.

Troubles with bread came next. The company delivering it first asked for hefty fuel surcharges before ultimately telling the district not to bother. It said it can’t afford to keep loaves coming to schools next year at all. The district has turned to another company, paying nearly double — $40,000 more  — for less frequent deliveries.

Why gasoline prices remain high even as crude oil prices fall

“It’s very stressful,” said Coni Dobbels, the Davenport school district’s food and nutrition services director. “People keep saying, ‘Aren’t things at schools better this year than they were last year?’ They’re not. I have never experienced anything like this.”

The shocks of high gasoline costs are ricocheting through the economy, as prices at the pump continue to rise, and industry analysts see little relief on the horizon. Even as drivers are loath to change their habits, with Americans eager to get on the road after pandemic cabin fever, the fallout from high gas prices is touching every corner of society.

Retailers and trucking companies are in a state of high anxiety over worsening diesel shortages, with an increasing threat that the fuel will need to be intermittently rationed at filling stations in some parts of the country. Similar worries are gripping the airline industry, as jet fuel becomes more scarce.

Concern about soaring fuel prices is spreading to restaurateurs, as dining out tends to be high on the list of spending that gets cut when household budgets are strained by filling up at the pump. Manufacturers are wrestling with the cost of plastic packaging, which is made from the same crude oil in high demand for gasoline. Boaters are weighing whether they should delay putting their vessels in the water, now that filling their tanks can run hundreds more dollars.

Biden takes additional steps to ease gas prices as inflation rises

Gas prices keep passing earlier milestones, now averaging more than $4.59 per gallon nationwide. That is 50 percent higher than gas was at this time last year, according to AAA, as factors converge to create supply shortages not seen since the run-up to the Great Recession in 2008.

While the war in Ukraine is playing a major role, as the world shuns Russian oil, it is not the only challenge. The plunge in fuel demand during the pandemic moved producers to cut back on their investments in drilling and refining capacity. The oil-and-gas sector now finds itself ill-equipped to meet the demand of a society getting back on the road. The federal government has exhausted most of the limited tools it has to confront price spikes, such as releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“The bottom line is, it is going to be an expensive summer,” said Michael Tran, managing director for global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets. The warning was echoed this week, albeit in more subdued language, by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who said during a visit to Germany pressure on energy prices is likely to continue in the near-term.

Yellen warns of global ‘stagflationary’ risk from gas, food prices

As climbing gas prices force Americans to change their spending habits, one thing Americans aren’t doing very much of is driving less. All that driving in this moment of low fuel supply pushes prices up further. “As we reopen, there is a lot of pent to makeup demand,” Tran said. “People are willing to pay higher prices up for lost travel over the last few years.”

It is a different economic landscape than when gas prices last spiked like this, in the summer of 2008. At the time, Americans had been on a spending frenzy for a while and household savings rates were particularly low. Nonessential driving was a luxury more Americans could not afford then. Gas prices dropped again relatively quickly following a brief surge.

By contrast, household savings right now are at record highs, after people spent less during the coronavirus pandemic. “We were never, as a population, more ready to absorb high gas prices than we are right now,” Tran said. So even as prices keep going up, demand is not easing, which puts pressure on prices to go up even further.

Memorial Day Weekend is expected to bring 37.9 million Americans to the road, more than traveled by car over that holiday weekend before the pandemic hit, and an increase of 8.5 percent over last year, when gas prices were considerably lower, according to projections by the location data firm Arrivalist. The firm attributes the trend, in part, to Americans forgoing air travel. Plane ticket prices have become prohibitively expensive the airline industry struggles with its own fuel scarcity.

While Arrivalist’s pronouncement that “the American road trip is thriving” is hardly an overstatement, some drivers are stunned by what they are seeing at the pump.

Amanda Laudwein of Silver Spring was finally able to attend her nephew’s wedding in Death Valley National Park, which spans Nevada and California, this month after it was twice postponed because of covid. The already expensive trip came with an unexpected cost: The price for a gallon of unleaded at Death Valley’s Furnace Creek gas station, the only place to gas up for miles, was $8.25.

“It cost us $120 to fill up our van,” she said. “It was quite a shock.”

Like many other Americans, though, the 67-year-old has no plans to cut back on her travel. She is looking forward to a cross-country road trip in the fall regardless of whether gas prices are high then. “People have been so careful with their money for so long,” she said. “It is not going to stop us from going where we want. … I want to see the big prairies.”

Even as old driving habits remain, the high gas prices are forcing Americans to make other adjustments to accommodate them. Walmart this week saw its stocks suffer their biggest decline since 1987 amid an earnings report that acknowledged high gas prices are hammering its business. They are creating unanticipated operational costs for the company and also changing the ways consumers shop, as they try to consolidate their trips to the store and forgo purchasing items that are not daily necessities.

As they see so much of their money going into their gas tanks, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said on an earnings call this week, “customers are even more price sensitive right now. … They’re paying close attention.” He described Walmart shoppers at this moment as “portfolio managers” carefully balancing their budgets and more reluctant to buy something like a piece of sporting equipment unless they see a price drop.

Consumers are also impacted in unexpected ways. A decade-old study found obesity rates tend to go down when gas prices spike. Not so much because people abandon their car to walk or bike, but because they cut out of their budgets services like house cleaning and gardening, opting to burn the calories doing it themselves.

Older drivers who lived through the gas shortages and accompanying stagflation of the 1970 s, meanwhile, are more likely to associate rising prices at the pump with a souring economy and cut back their spending sooner, according to a recent study built on extensive survey data from Gallup.

“I grew up waiting in line to get gas,” said James Cassel, an investment banker in Miami. “Most people don’t remember that.”

While Cassel said he’s relieved not to be reliving the long lines at the pump endured during the 1970s, the soaring prices are creating a cascade of headaches for the midsize companies he invests in. Fuel and other costs for manufacturers are mounting so fast, he said, that big-box retailers are easing their rules on when manufacturers can hike the price of products on store shelves.

But that doesn’t mean consumers won’t just turn to buying generics. Cassel is working with a food company struggling to readjust its budget for excessive gas costs, as it weighs whether they will lose more customers if they increase the price of their product, or instead cut costs by shrinking its size.

Economists and energy analysts warn the prospects are dim for this cycle of increasing energy prices driving evermore inflation to end anytime soon. There are only a few things that could bring it to a close. One is a huge uptick in available oil, gas and renewable energy, which most analysts say is years away. The other is a recession.

A less-painful alternative to a recession would be consumers tiring of the high prices and moderately pulling back on their spending on gas and other products, driving down demand for fuel.

“If this were not the covid reopening year, I would say consumers start to pull back when gas hits $5 a gallon,” Tran said. “But I am reluctant to make those predictions for this summer. A year from now, maybe everyone has had their fill of travel and demand starts to drop.”

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2022 Prestigious Women Awards

May 2022

SENIOR MANAGEMENT

LAURA SALPETER
DIRECTOR OF CASSEL SALPETER

Laura Salpeter, a director at Cassel Salpeter & Co., draws on her experience in the legal sector to provide a thorough, efficient analysis of complex financial transactions. In this role, she contributes to the firms M&A, restructuring and financial advisory services.

Laura is a member of both The Florida Bar and the District of Columbia Bar and has become a member of the board of directors for ACG South Florida.

Prior to joining Cassel Salpeter, she worked at Conrad & Scherer and Ephraim Roy Hess. She also clerked at the 17th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Broward County for the Honorable Judge Paul Backman.

Laura received her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Central Florida and her Juris Doctor from Nova Southeastern University.

What Challenges Have You Faced in Your Career? How Did You Overcome Those Challenges?

I have to work twice as hard as my male counterparts and be twice as good.

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Cassel Salpeter & Co. Director Laura Salpeter Receives Prestigious Women Award for Leadership

Cassel Salpeter & Co., an independent investment banking firm that provides advice to middle-market and emerging growth companies in the U.S. and worldwide, is pleased to announce that firm Director Laura Salpeter has been recognized as an Honoree for South Florida Business & Wealth’s 2022 Prestigious Women Awards.

The Honoree distinction was conferred on Laura for her outstanding efforts as a female business leader whose innovative methodologies and superior performance at the firm help drive the South Florida economy, making her one of the region’s most distinguished female professionals. Laura joins four other South Florida women business leader honorees in the senior management category in this second year of the awards series. 

“I feel honored to be named a SFBW Prestigious Women Honoree,” said Laura Salpeter. “This distinction confirms that the commitment to performing at our best on behalf of Cassel Salpeter’s clients is making a positive impact that extends throughout our community and region.” 

“We are proud of Laura’s achievement in being named an Honoree,” said James S. Cassel, Chairman and Co-Founder of Cassel Salpeter & Co. “We are also delighted by her continued growth as a professional, and thrilled that her drive and determination as a business leader is being highlighted by this distinction.” 

To Learn more, click here.

About Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC
Cassel Salpeter & Co. is an investment banking firm with professionals who have more than forty years of financial experience. They deliver smart, straightforward advisory services to middle-market companies across America. With a thorough understanding of their clients’ industries and a keen sense of the economy, the Cassel Salpeter team provides independent, timely advice so clients can capitalize on a rapidly changing global environment. Headquartered in Miami, Florida, Cassel Salpeter is led by James Cassel and Scott Salpeter. Member FINRA and SIPC.

Parking Authority Appoints to Board

James S. Cassel

Week of Thursday, February 24

The Miami Parking Authority has appointed James S. Cassel to its board of directors.

 

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The Aaron’s Company to Acquire Brandsmart U.S.A., a Leading Regional Appliance and Electronics Retailer

Offers Thousands of Products Through Large Format Stores with 2021 Revenue of $757 Million Provides Significant Revenue and Earnings Growth Opportunity Expected to be Accretive to Adjusted EBITDA and Non-GAAP EPS Immediately Following Closing

NEWS PROVIDED BY The Aaron’s Company, Inc. February 23, 2022

ATLANTA, Feb. 23, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Aaron’s Company, Inc. (“Aaron’s”) (NYSE: AAN), a leading technology-enabled, omnichannel provider of lease-to-own and purchase solutions, today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire BrandsMart U.S.A. (“BrandsMart”). Under the terms of the agreement, total consideration is approximately $230 million in cash, subject to certain closing adjustments, and the transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022. With this transaction, we believe that Aaron’s will deliver over $3 billion in total annual revenues and over $300 million in adjusted EBITDA by year-end 2026.

Founded in 1977, BrandsMart is one of the leading appliance and consumer electronics retailers in the southeast United States and one of the largest appliance retailers in the country with ten stores in Florida and Georgia and a growing e-commerce presence on brandsmartusa.com. The company offers best-in-class pricing, a wide selection of brands, and thousands of products, including large and small appliances, consumer electronics, computers, furniture and other home goods. BrandsMart’s value proposition has attracted a loyal and recurring customer base, resulting in revenue, EBITDA, and free cash flow growth. For the twelve months ended December 25, 2021, BrandsMart generated revenues of $757 million and Adjusted EBITDA of $46 million.

“We are thrilled to announce our agreement to acquire BrandsMart, which we believe strengthens Aaron’s ability to deliver on our mission of enhancing people’s lives by providing easy access to high-quality products through affordable lease and retail purchase options. The acquisition is expected to provide meaningful value-creation opportunities, which include leveraging Aaron’s lease-to-own expertise to provide BrandsMart customers enhanced payment options and offering a wide selection of BrandsMart’s product assortment to millions of Aaron’s customers. Importantly, we believe the acquisition of BrandsMart will expand our addressable market and create an additional platform for accelerated growth,” said Aaron’s CEO, Douglas Lindsay.

“We are excited to welcome BrandsMart to the Aaron’s family. We look forward to partnering with their experienced management team to expand the BrandsMart footprint, and we believe that the consolidated business can deliver strong revenue and double-digit annual adjusted EBITDA growth over the next five years and beyond,” Lindsay concluded.

BrandsMart’s President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Perlman said, “I am proud to share the momentous news that BrandsMart is joining the Aaron’s family of companies. BrandsMart has been part of my family for over 45 years, and I am incredibly proud of our team and the success of the company we have built together. I am confident that the combined organization will benefit from our complementary strengths and will deliver growth opportunities and even greater value to our customers, employees and suppliers.” Upon closing of the transaction, the BrandsMart business will report to Aaron’s President, Steve Olsen, and continue to be headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Compelling Strategic and Financial Benefits

  • Broadens Customer Reach and Significantly Expands Total Addressable Market: This transaction is expected to result in a combined entity with annual revenues over $2.5 billion, 11,000 employees, and the ability to serve the full spectrum of prime and subprime customers. Combined, we will leverage each company’s capabilities and infrastructure to offer a unique customer value proposition that includes a broad assortment of products, competitive pricing, and a variety of financing and payment options. In addition, with leading brand recognition in its Florida and Georgia markets, BrandsMart offers store and omnichannel expansion opportunities to capture additional share in adjacent geographic locations.
  • Leverages Aaron’s Strengths to Create an In-House LTO Solution: Aaron’s intends to use its existing know-how and assets to provide an “in-house” lease-to-own solution to BrandsMart’s customers. This solution will be supported by our proprietary centralized lease decisioning technology, customer service expertise and last-mile reverse logistics capabilities. The combination of our best-in-class capabilities and wholesale purchasing advantage will allow us to deliver high approval rates, grow the lease-to-own program available to BrandsMart customers, and capture incremental earnings.
  • Increases Product Assortment Available to Aaron’s Customers: Aaron’s expects to create a leading direct-to-consumer lease-to-own marketplace by offering Aaron’s customers access to much of BrandsMart’s extensive product catalog. This broad assortment of products, purchased at wholesale cost, would expand Aaron’s existing value proposition of low monthly payments, high approval rates, and best-in-class customer service and is expected to produce significant revenue growth opportunities.
  • Yields Significant Purchasing Power and Cost Synergies: By leveraging Aaron’s and BrandsMart’s complementary merchandising capabilities and increased scale, we expect that the combined company will deliver significant annual product procurement savings over time.
  • Enhances Financial Profile and Provides Significant Revenue and Earnings Growth Opportunities: The transaction is expected to be accretive to 2022 Adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP EPS. Aaron’s expects to maintain its current dividend policy and continue opportunistically repurchasing shares under its existing authorization. Aaron’s is committed to managing its balance sheet conservatively to enhance our financial flexibility.

Transaction Terms and Financing

Under the terms of the agreement, Aaron’s will acquire 100% of the outstanding equity interests of Interbond Corporation of America, which does business as BrandsMart U.S.A., from the Perlman family for consideration at closing of $230 million in cash, subject to certain post-closing adjustments. The transaction is intended to be funded through a combination of cash on hand and debt financing.

In connection with the transaction, Aaron’s has secured a $200 million financing commitment from Truist Bank, Bank of America, N.A., JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and Citizens Bank, N.A., each of which is a lender in our existing senior unsecured credit facility. The financing commitment is expected to be structured as a term loan, maturing on November 9, 2025, with an initial interest rate of SOFR (Secured Overnight Financing Rate) plus 1.75%.

Conference Call and Webcast

Aaron’s will hold a conference call to discuss its quarterly results and the acquisition of BrandsMart on February 24, 2022, at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The public is invited to listen to the conference call by webcast accessible through Aaron’s investor relations website, investor.aarons.com. The webcast will be archived for playback at that same site. An investor presentation related to Aaron’s agreement to acquire BrandsMart can be found on Aaron’s investor site at investor.aarons.com. Advisors BofA Securities, Inc. is acting as financial advisor to Aaron’s and Jones Day is acting as legal advisor. Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC is acting as financial advisor to BrandsMart and Cooley LLP is acting as legal advisor.

About The Aaron’s Company

Headquartered in Atlanta, The Aaron’s Company, Inc. (NYSE: AAN) is a leading omnichannel provider of lease-to-own and purchase solutions. Aaron’s engages in direct-to-consumer sales and lease ownership of furniture, home appliances, consumer electronics and accessories through its approximately 1,300 company-operated and franchised stores in 47 states and Canada, as well as its e-commerce platform, Aarons.com. For more information, visit Aarons.com or investor.aarons.com.

About BrandsMart USA

BrandsMart USA is one of the leading appliance and consumer electronics retailers in the southeast United States and one of the largest appliance retailers in the country with ten retail stores in Florida and Georgia and a growing ecommerce presence at brandsmartusa.com. The company offers hundreds of name brands across thousands of different items, including large and small appliances, consumer electronics, computers, furniture, and home goods. For more information, visit brandsmartusa.com.

Forward-Looking Statements

Statements in this news release regarding our business that are not historical facts are “forward-looking statements” that involve risks and uncertainties which could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements generally can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology, such as “remain,” “believe,” “outlook,” “expect,” “assume,” “assumed,” and similar terminology. These risks and uncertainties include factors such as (i) any ongoing impact of the COVID19 pandemic due to new variants or efficacy and rate of vaccinations, as well as related measures taken by governmental or regulatory authorities to combat the pandemic; (ii) the occurrence of any event, change or other circumstances that could give rise to the termination of the purchase agreement related to the proposed acquisition; (iii) the risk that the necessary regulatory approvals may not be obtained or may be obtained subject to conditions that are not anticipated; (iv) the risk that the proposed acquisition will not be consummated in a timely manner or at all; (v) risks that any of the closing conditions to the proposed acquisition may not be satisfied or may not be satisfied in a timely manner; (vi) risks related to the disruption of management time from ongoing business operations due to the proposed acquisition; (vii) failure to realize the benefits expected from the proposed acquisition, including projected synergies; (viii) failure to promptly and effectively integrate the proposed acquisition; (ix) the effect of the announcement of the proposed acquisition on our operating results and businesses and on the ability of Aaron’s and BrandsMart to retain and hire key personnel, maintain relationships with suppliers; (x) the risks associated with our strategy and strategic priorities not being successful, including our e-commerce and real estate repositioning and optimization initiatives or being more costly than anticipated; (xi) our ability to adjust pricing to offset, or partially offset, inflationary pressure on the cost of our products and services; (xii) supply chain delays and disruptions, including adverse consequences to our supply chain function from decreased procurement volumes and from the COVID-19 pandemic; and (xiii) the other risks and uncertainties discussed under “Risk Factors” in the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021 and any subsequent reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Statements in this press release that are “forward-looking” include without limitation statements with respect to the Company’s goals, plans, expectations, projections regarding the expected benefits of the proposed acquisition, management’s plans, projections and objectives for the proposed acquisition, future operations, scale and performance, integration plans and expected synergies therefrom, the timing of completion of the proposed acquisition, and our financial position, results of operations, market position, capital allocation strategy, initiatives, business strategy and expectations of our management following the completion of the proposed acquisition. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this press release. Except as required by law, the Company undertakes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances after the date of this press release.

SOURCE The Aaron’s Company, Inc.

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U.S. National Debt Surpasses $30 Trillion: What This Means For You

By E. Napoletano, Contributor
February 16, 2022

On Feb. 1, the U.S. Treasury Department reported that the U.S. gross national debt surpassed $30 trillion for the first time, a figure that’s incomprehensible at the best of times, let alone when many Americans are still dealing with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But as unfathomable as this number is, the national debt can impact ordinary
Americans’ lives.

Daniel Rodriguez, COO at Hill Wealth Strategies, says that if the government wants to maintain the same level of benefits and services to Americans and its international allies without running up both the deficit and the national debt, more revenue will be required.

“The only way to get more revenue is to increase taxes on the American people or reduce spending,” he says. “The government may choose to reduce spending on things like infrastructure, social safety nets, first responders, and education. Those programs have direct impacts on Americans’ day-to-day lives.”

Here’s what the national debt is, the factors responsible for making it rise and fall and how it can impact your life.

What Is the National Debt?

Just like the debt you have is a figure that represents how much you owe your creditors, the national debt represents how much the United States government owes its creditors.

When the U.S. government spends more money than the revenues it brings in each year, it creates an imbalance called a budget deficit. The government must then borrow money to cover its expenses.

It’s more common than not for the government to run a deficit, regardless of which party is in charge. In fact, the government has run a deficit for 77 of the past 90 years and first carried debt after the Revolutionary War in 1790.

How Could the National Debt Impact Consumers?

Congress is responsible for ensuring the government stays funded, but you might still be curious about the national debt and how it relates to the federal deficit.

Here are six ways the rising national debt could potentially impact Americans.

  1. Higher Interest Rates
    When the government needs to borrow more, they’ll need to increase yields on Treasury bills, I Bonds and other fixed-income instruments to make those investments attractive to investors. And while this can translate into higher yields on savings accounts, it also means higher mortgage rates, making the housing market unaffordable to some Americans. Consumers will likely pay more in interest on their credit cards and other loans as well, since those interest rates rise when the Fed raises interest rates, too.
  2. Higher Product Prices
    While America’s grappling with paying more at the grocery store, the national debt at current levels could cause inflationary trends to continue. Increased Treasury yields could make American businesses appear to be riskier investments abroad, which could force companies to raise yields on new bonds to make them attractive investments. The more companies have to pay to keep their debts in good standing, the more pressure to increase product prices. Higher product prices mean higher revenues, which is how companies can pay their debt obligations.
  3. Lower Home Prices
    As interest rates go up, Americans will likely qualify to borrow less since more of their payment each month goes to interest and less toward principal. Thus, buyers won’t be able to afford as many homes as they would when interest rates are lower. This will place downward pressure on home prices, which can impact the equity of all homeowners.
  4. Less to Spend on Other Government Initiatives
    The more money the U.S. has to spend on meeting its debt obligations as interest rates increase, the less financial capacity it could have to fund programs focused on education, veterans benefits and transportation.
    This breakdown of the 2019 Federal Budget from the Council on Foreign Relations shows how the budget pie is only so big, so when one area increases (like interest payments), another must decrease.

    Source: Congressional Budget Office

  5.  National Security Issues
    The higher the national debt becomes, the more the U.S. is seen as a global credit risk. This could impact the U.S.’s ability to borrow money in times of increased global pressure and put us at risk for not being able to meet our obligations to our allies—especially in wartime. This could negatively impact the U.S.’s position as a global political, economic and social power.
  6. Lower Returns on your Investments
    Bonds issued by the Treasury are typically seen as low-risk investments. When interest rates rise, the yield on these low-risk investments also rises, making them more attractive investments for income-minded investors over other riskier income-generating investments like corporate bonds.
    This could leave companies that typically rely on bonds short on the loans they need to finance expansions and operations and translate into lower returns for equity investors when companies fail to meet revenue targets.

What Causes the National Debt to Increase?

Sometimes the government needs to increase spending to stabilize the economy, and protect Americans and businesses from unexpected economic conditions.

During The Great Recession (Dec. 2007 to Jun. 2009), for example, Congress passed legislation injecting $1.8 trillion into the economy. But that pales in comparison to the $4.5 trillion the Trump and Biden administrations have pumped into the economy since the Covid pandemic began in March 2020. However, there are other reasons the national debt increases, even during years where spending is moderate and the economy is in good shape

Tax Cuts

On one hand, tax cuts can stimulate the economy and put more money in Americans’ bank accounts every payday. But those same tax cuts mean the federal government brings in less revenue across the board.

For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 slashed taxes for individual and corporate payers, but created a $275 billion shortfall in revenue even though the economy grew. The Act caused revenue from corporate taxes to decrease by $135 billion, a 40% reduction from projected revenue.

Rising Healthcare Costs

According to data from the nonpartisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation, per capita healthcare spending in the U.S. is three times higher than in comparable developed nations like the United Kingdom and France. As America’s population ages, more people enroll in Medicare—and older Americans typically require more care. This translates to the federal budget bearing the burden for rising healthcare costs.

Interest Costs

If you’ve ever had a car loan or mortgage, you’re familiar with how much of your payment each month goes toward interest. The same is true of the federal government’s debts. As the national debt rises, the government will pay more interest to keep those debts in good standing.

Using data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation estimates that the government will pay a staggering $5.4 trillion in interest over the next 10 years.

Who’s Responsible for the Current National Debt?

In short? Pretty much every administration.

“Regardless of political affiliation, parties in power have run up the deficit through higher spending and lower revenue collection,” says Brian Rehling, head of Global Fixed Income Strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

While it’s easy to say a particular president or president’s administration caused the federal deficit and national debt to move a certain direction, it’s important to note that only Congress can authorize the type of legislation with the most impact on both figures.

Here’s a look at how Congress acted during four notable presidential administrations and how their actions impacted both the deficit and national debt.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

As the nation’s last four-term president, FDR helped Americans weather an abundance of economic crises. His presidency spanned The Great Depression and his signature New Deal economic recovery package helped lift America out of financial rock bottom. But the most significant increase to the national debt was the cost of World War II, which added roughly $186 billion to the national debt between 1942 and 1945. Congress added $236 billion to the national debt during FDR’s terms, representing an increase of 1,048%.

Ronald Reagan

During Reagan’s two terms, Congress enacted two historic tax cuts that decreased government revenue: the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. These Acts passed by Congress decreased revenue as a percent of the GDP by 1.7% between 1982 and 1990, creating a revenue shortfall that contributed to the national debt increasing 261% ($1.26 trillion) during his administration, from $924.6 billion to $2.19 trillion.

Barack Obama

Over two terms, the Obama administration oversaw both The Great Recession due to the collapse of the mortgage market and the ensuing recovery. In 2009, Congress passed the Economic Stimulus Act, which helped countless Americans save their homes from foreclosure, pumping $831 billion into the economy. Congressional tax cuts accounted for another $858 billion added to the national debt when passed by a strong bipartisan showing. All in all, Congressional action increased the national deficit by 74 percent and added $8.6 trillion to the national debt during Obama’s two terms.

Donald Trump

During his single term, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, which slashed corporate and personal income tax rates. Considered by many a boon for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, at the time of its passage, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cuts would increase the federal deficit by $1.9 trillion.

While the Treasury Secretary estimated that the tax cuts would decrease the federal deficit, the deficit increased from $665 billion in 2017 to $3.13 trillion in 2020. The tax cuts drove some of this increase but multiple Covid relief packages were responsible for the majority of the increase.

The federal debt held by the public increased from $14.6 trillion in 2017 to over $21 trillion in 2020. Public debt and intragovernmental debt (the amount owed to federal retirement trust funds like the Social Security Trust Fund) make up the national debt. It’s the amount of money the U.S. owes to outside debtors such as U.S. banks and investors, businesses, individuals, state and local governments, Federal Reserve and foreign governments and international investors like Japan and China. The money is borrowed to raise the cash needed to keep the U.S. operating. It includes Treasury bills, notes, and bonds. Other holders of public debt include Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), U.S. savings bonds and state and local government series securities.

“The national debt continues to grow as it has not for decades,” says James Cassel, chairman and co-founder of investment bank Cassel Salpeter. “This is the result of this simple concept of spending more money than you have in revenue.” Cassel also mentions that both major political parties have, at times, spoken seriously about a commitment to reduce the national debt yet conversations and strategy remain stalled.

However, the national debt is more commonly used as a bargaining chip when both parties posture about raising the debt ceiling each year. Without raising the debt ceiling, the U.S. would default on its debt obligations. Thus, Congress always votes to raise the debt ceiling (how much money the U.S. government can borrow), but not before parties negotiate on other legislation.

Are We Helpless When It Comes to the National Debt?

In some ways, yes. But there are actions you can take to mitigate the effect of the national debt on your life.

  • Pay your taxes: According to the IRS, the federal government loses $1 trillion each year due to unpaid taxes.
  • Put pressure on your Congressional reps: Call or write to your Representatives and Senators in support of tax code reform, increased funding for the IRS to track down tax cheats and closing loopholes that give the country’s most profitable companies tax bills that are lower than most Americans.
  • Follow your reps’ voting history: If you’re curious how your Representatives and Senators have voted on fiscal policy issues, that’s easy to check. You can use voting history to back up your concerns when writing or calling your reps.
  • Learn about healthcare reform: While national healthcare remains a contentious topic, it could pay to learn how other countries control healthcare costs and how those policies could benefit you, your neighbors and the impact rising healthcare costs has on the national debt.

Rehling from Wells Fargo Investment Institute says that while the national debt has increased substantially over the past decade, the U.S. isn’t unique in this regard. The rest of the developed world has seen similar trends. “While these budget trends are unsustainable over the long run, there is no indication that current debt levels are overly worrisome,” he says.

Ed. note: This article has been corrected to more accurately reflect the U.S. national debt increased numbers.

 

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7 Ways Small-Business Owners Can Cope with Inflation

By Julie Bawden-Davis
January 27, 2022

SUMMARY

As the price of goods and services rises across the nation, small-business owners are feeling the pinch. Consider using these tactics to combat rising inflation at your company.

Small businesses that weathered the last two years face a new challenge: rising inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the all-items index rose 7.0 percent for the 12 months ending December 2021—the highest increase in 40 years.

The looming effects of inflation, combined with the loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and supply-chain issues, can threaten small-business profitability.

According to the Business.org report The Effects of Inflation on US Small Businesses in 2021, featuring compiled data from the Consumer Price Index and an anonymous survey of 700 small-business owners, 60 percent of business owners are concerned about the financial health of their companies and 47 percent report decreased profit margins.”

Increased Wages and High Cost of Goods

Joe Stefani owns Desert Cactus, an e-commerce shop on Amazon with NBA, NHL, U.S. Military and college and university licensing deals. “We’re finding the higher inflation rates are causing substantial increases in wages and the cost of consumer product goods,” he says.

“Some entry-level jobs for our business have seen 30 percent wage increases,” Stefani continues. “Raw materials for the production side of our business have also seen multiple price increases in a short period of time. For example, our raw materials for making stickers have increased 26 percent through two price increases in just six months.”

For many of today’s businesses, inflation is a new experience, notes James Cassel, chairman and co-founder of the investment bank Cassel Salpeter. “Most business owners have experienced minimal inflation or even pricing deflation,” he says. “Today’s small businesses need to be creative in their approach to dealing with inflation, as it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.”

Steps That May Help Your Business Address Inflation

Key insights from small business owners reveal steps you can take that may be able to ease inflation’s effect on your business.

1. Streamline and automate processes.

Stefani found that reorganizing his company’s warehouse saved money. “We invested $5,000 in new shelving. After installations, we found it nearly doubled productivity.” Improving processes may mean exploring automation for your company, suggests Ben Johnston, COO of Kapitus, a provider of growth capital to small businesses. “As the cost of labor continues to climb, re-examine processes,” he advises. “Could time-intensive work be automated? Is there software that can be deployed to automate business processes like scheduling, order taking, billing or collecting payments? Is robotic processing an opportunity when manufacturing a good or completing a repetitive task?”

2. Analyze profit margins.

“Examine your profit margins carefully,” says Sam Barrante, an e-commerce entrepreneur. “Start by re-evaluating your costs and then analyze what margins you’re facing in today’s economy. From there, start looking into solutions to increase those margins, while continuing to ensure quality products and services.”

3. Improve productivity.

The more quickly and efficiently you and your employees work, the higher your profit margins are likely to be. “Use technologies and apps that track and improve productivity,” says Cassel.

“The labor pool is very limited right now, so make sure to remain sensitive to employee needs and feelings while seeking to improve productivity. As inflation rises, employers and employees are in this together. It’s important to communicate that.”

4. Cut expenses when and where possible.

Reduce wherever you can, advises Bradley Katz, CEO and co-founder of Axon Optics, a therapeutic eyewear provider. “Consider downsizing your office,” says Katz. “For example, my business uses a hybrid remote/in-office model that allows the flexibility to move to a smaller, less expensive office.”

Also check if your company is paying for products or services that aren’t being used and cancel those items. Also consider substituting materials. You may find alternate products or ingredients that will save you money.

5. Stock up on supplies now.

Evan McCarthy has helped to insulate his company against inflation while also addressing supply chain issues by stocking up on core materials. “We reorganized our warehouse and now have pallets full of supplies reaching to the ceiling in the 10,000-square-foot space,” says McCarthy, the president of Sporting Smiles, which provides custom dental products. “We stocked up, because every time we ordered supplies, the price kept rising. Our cardboard box supplies had three major increases in 2021.”

Also consider renegotiating contracts with suppliers and buying large equipment now, as prices are likely to increase.

6. Raise prices judiciously.

While raising prices isn’t ideal, it may be helpful in combatting inflation’s effect on your business. Avoid turning off customers with dramatic across-the board price increases. Instead, raise prices slowly in modest increments and be strategic. Choose areas where customers are less likely to notice.

7. Be ready for new customers.

“Inflation automatically creates new customer segments, so go after them,” suggests Stuart Robles, a partner at Briggs Capital, a mergers and acquisitions firm for small and medium-sized businesses, and co-author of The New World of Entrepreneurship: Insiders’ Guide to Buying and Selling Your Own Business in the Digital Age. “Inflationary periods are unnerving to many,” says Robles. “As a result, customer segments and market niches previously unreachable can become attainable as your company is seen as a beacon of light in terms of potential lower prices and rates.”

The information contained herein is for generalized informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute investment, financial, tax, legal or other professional advice on any subject matter. THIS IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS ADVICE. Therefore, seek such advice in connection with any specific situation, as necessary. The views and opinions of third parties expressed herein represent the opinion of the author, speaker or participant (as the case may be) and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions and/or judgments of American Express Company or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions. American Express makes no representation as to, and is not responsible for, the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or reliability of any such opinion, advice or statement made herein.

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What can SoFla’s startup culture learn from the Theranos verdict? Experts weigh in

By David Lyons

January 8, 2021

As the fallen startup wunderkind Elizabeth Holmes awaits her sentencing for defrauding investors in her failed blood testing company, Theranos, what does the verdict the mean for venture capital investors in South Florida and elsewhere around the nation?

Holmes’s story is startling. She quit Stanford at 19, became a Silicon Valley executive and founded a blood-testing company that made unfulfilled promises of a technology that could revolutionize the industry. The firm was buttressed by the support of private and public sector titans including computer mogul Larry Ellison, former President Bill Clinton and media baron Rupert Murdoch. Former U.S. Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger sat on the Theranos board.

But in 2015, Shultz’s grandson, Tyler, a company employee, turned whistleblower and raised questions about the truth of Theranos’ claims and the Wall Street Journal launched an investigation.

Holmes last week was convicted in a California federal court of defrauding investors who sank millions into her company. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for the conspiracy count and each of three counts of wire fraud.

The fallout, and South Florida

Post-verdict, commentators are divided on what the trial outcome means for the venture capital industry: Some insist the case was an exception rather than a sign of a flawed system that funnels billions into startups that seek to deliver new innovations to industries ranging from health care to transportation.

RELATED: Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes guilty of fraud and conspiracy »

Others believe it is symptomatic of a financial space where investors easily can be taken by “fake it until they make it” operators who offer more hype than results.

Meanwhile, South Florida has become a hotbed for startup culture, as more entrepreneurs relocate to the region from the Northeast, California and elsewhere, fueling a growing movement for entrepreneurs who need financing, mentoring and other support that will increase their odds of success.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel asked five experts familiar with the startup industry about the verdicts’ implications and how investors should proceed if they seek to join a burgeoning startup culture filled with both opportunities and risks.

They include:

  • James Cassel: investment banker, chairman and co-founder, Cassel Salpeter & Co., Miami.
  • Scott Jablonski: partner, business, finance and tax team, Berger Singerman, Fort Lauderdale.
  • Jeffrey Sonn: securities litigator, managing partner, Sonn Law Group PA, Aventura.
  • Siri Terjesen: associate dean and professor of entrepreneurship, Florida Atlantic University College of Business, Boca Raton.
  • Mark Volchek: founding partner, entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, Las Olas Venture Capital, Fort Lauderdale.

Impact on venture capital scene

Cassel: I don’t think this is a great “oh my gosh” moment that has come out that should shock people or change things drastically. There has been a very frothy situation with investors very quickly making decisions without maybe spending the time to do appropriate due diligence. And I think to a certain extent that’s what’s happened more in California than other places

Sonn: I think it’s a tip of the iceberg. I’m seeing in the last 10 years, and more so in the last five, the emergence of what we call fintech. Companies are raising small amounts from thousands and thousands of people. In the old days you would go out and raise money in large chunks. Now it’s more decentralized. We’re seeing more and more fraud out there in this type of platform.

RELATED: The SEC lowers the boom on Theranos — but there are more companies like Theranos out there »

Terjesen: I’m very glad this case is so public because people need to know, not only because there are liars and charlatans out there, but also because medical and biotechnology is an extremely risky business and not everyone does well.

Volchek: I’ve heard lots of people talk about focusing more on governance. There is no expectation that every company will be successful. I think they [investors] chalk it up to a loss and move on. I think they will say they will do more diligence. In this case there was so little oversight and so little governance. I was shocked when I saw the company was founded literally more than 15 years ago. This was a long drawn-out process of something that never worked.

How can investors avoid disaster?

Sonn: Obviously when it comes to a private deal, I think audited financial statements are key. People should not be afraid to ask. Number two, check the backgrounds of the principals. Find out if they have past bankruptcies, past tax liens, or past business failures.

You go to wherever the principals are and search the local courthouse websites to see what kind of litigation they’ve been involved in. When people invested with Elizabeth Holmes, how many of them paid attention to the fact she dropped out as a freshman from Stanford? How many paid attention to the fact she had no medical background?

Terjesen: When I look at this case, I feel like there is a halo effect happening such that once that [Holmes] got legitimacy from certain individuals and organizations, everyone else took her at her word.

RELATED: The Elizabeth Holmes story is not about the black and the blinks »

Naturally many people wanted to see a success story of a young smart woman in the medical space. Certainly, multiple people should have dug deeper and there wasn’t very effective governance. I hope it makes people more willing to do deeper due diligence in the future. I personally find it hard to attribute the lack of oversight to one particular individual, whether it was the chairman of the advisory board or the chief scientist.

Joblonski: Most venture capitalists I’ve worked with — if you think about the nature of what it is — it’s a higher risk investment that they expect to be illiquid for a while.

Professional investors in the venture space all do a basic level of due diligence because it’s high risk, because it’s illiquid, because it’s long-term and there is a great opportunity for an exit. The experienced venture investors … they have methods and they sort of get to know these founders and startups and emerging companies.

Volchek: We’re active. We get to know the management teams. We also do a lot of diligence up front. I think our diligence focuses on the founders. We certainly do background checks.

We spend a lot of time with individuals before making investments. We try to get to know folks. What I recommend to individuals is to invest in a fund, which is somewhat self-serving. People invest as a group rather than as individuals. It might be easy to fool one person, but it’s hard to fool 50 people in a room. I think it’s important to have lots of folks looking at something.

What startups should be doing

Joblonski: You don’t want to mislead investors, no matter at what stage of investment you are. That’s just the bottom line. The devil is in the details. It centers around the anti-fraud provisions of state and federal securities laws. The general advice is you don’t mislead. You should be as transparent as you can be. Investors want transparency, even if something isn’t rosy.

RELATED: Were you victimized by South Florida’s most depraved scams? »

Terjesen: At FAU in our classes we are absolutely teaching students how to speak transparently to investors and also how to consistently do due diligence in all parts of the business. We do that through classes and also having guest speakers who are successful entrepreneurs who have been there. And we can also use cases like this to show what happens when they don’t get this right.

What of South Florida’s future?

Joblonski: It’s exciting that our area geographically is seeing the volume of entrepreneurial activity in a variety of sectors that just don’t involve real estate funds. It is something that has been slow to move but has been taking off.

You’ve got a lot of people moving here. You’ve got sophisticated financial services people coming down in droves. You’ve always had the influx of diversified capital. Are we going to be Silicon Valley? No. Are we going to be Boston? No. Maybe we’re going to be our own brand of innovation locale. There is so much opportunity.

 

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Is the FDA’s Accelerated Approval of Molnupiravir Setting a Pharmaceutical Standard?

By Justin Honore

January 7, 2021

Ira Leiderman, Cassel Salpeter

In late December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Emergency Use Authorization of Pfizer’s Paxlovid, a pill to help treat COVID-19. The next day another pill, Merck’s Molnupiravir, was approved. This marked a big step in the fight against COVID-19, especially with these pills now available in several states. The pace at which these drugs were given the green light, though, is giving medical professionals questions and concerns. Will Molnupiravir’s and Paxlovid’s accelerated production set a new standard for pharmaceutical pill production, for better or for worse?

Dr. Kishor Wasan, Chief Medical & Scientific Officer at Skymount Medical U.S., has vast experience with drug development. He is an award-winning pharmaceutical scientist and he has published over 240 peer reviewed articles on lipid-based drug delivery and lipoprotein-drug interactions. Dr. Wasan says this accelerated approval and production isn’t a new process for the FDA or pharmaceutical researchers. So why is it drawing so much attention?

“It’s been around. The FDA is not actually skirting their processes: They’re just saying, ‘Hey, use this process.’ What is happening is this authorization is now being used a lot,” said Dr. Wasan. “The general public probably didn’t even know about it because it was probably only used in varying situations people probably didn’t know about.”

Since the initial vaccine was first made readily accessible to Americans, two variants have spread relentlessly, with the current dominant variant, Omicron, overwhelming hospitals. With these compounding factors at play, has there been a forced standard change for drug approval, one that will guide future authorization? Dr. J. Wes Ulm, a physician, medical researcher, and clinical genetics resident at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has a focus in translational medicine and has applied data-mining tools toward drug discovery and repositioning said, simply, “no.” However, according to Dr. Ulm, the FDA has been willing to shift aspects of its approval approach because of COVID’s public health urgency.

“It’s not only mortality from COVID 19 that’s been so high, but mortality from heart attacks, mortality and morbidity from strokes, from gallstones, from car accidents, from sports injuries, that’s gone up significantly because we just don’t have the staff to care for people,” said Dr. Ulm. “That’s the sort of public health emergency overwhelming hospitals that has led to a genuine rethink at the very least in the EUA process and even potentially for full approval or in the steps leading up to it.”

The key to enabling a fast-tracked approval process lies in Emergency Use Authorization that the FDA has at its disposal. Ira Leiderman, Managing Director at Cassel Salpeter and Company, said this emergency use authorization is one of many tools in the FDA’s tool belt. We asked him why, then, the FDA has been using this approach, and why it could be effective for these different forms of COVID-19 treatments.

“The FDA uses the data collected by the developers of the products looking at safety and efficacy from Phase 1 studies and ultimate efficacy from large Phase 3 studies to grant this emergency use authorization which will allow these companies to sell the products and at the same time allow them to continue collecting data and continue their filing process to get full product licensure,” said Leiderman. “This is not a cutback in quality, it is just the stop gap measure that is one of the tools the FDA has to expedite approval of products that are important and in need for public health purposes.”

At first glance it sounds like steps are being skipped when authorizing “emergency use,” but Dr. Wasan said the benefit risk analysis is heavily weighed. According to Dr. Wasan, all COVID treatments have had a limited number of patients because of the urgency of the decision, but as more data comes in, how the pill is prescribed could change. This limited data was one of the concerns in the Molnupiravir approval process which saw the FDA vote 13-10 in it’s initial recommendation.

“The initial data looked really great, it looked like it was really safe and that it seemed to have significant efficacy, but as they started to get more and more patients, they found that the efficacy actually started to go down and there were safety concerns,” said Dr. Wasan.

Moving forward Dr. Wasan can envision other cases where developers utilize already developed drugs and then modify them like they did for the COVID-19 pill as well as start the conversation with the FDA about the drug approval process before they present it to them.

 

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Miami software firm EveryMundo sold to a Houston services provider

By Lauren Lamb

Week of Thursday December 21, 2021

Miami-based software company EveryMundo has been bought for $80 million in cash and $10 million based on future stock by PROS Holdings, a software service provider.

“There is a strong cultural fit between EveryMundo and PROS,” said the deal’s broker, Chairman and co-founder of Cassel Salpeter & Co. James Cassel. EveryMundo focuses on landing pages for airlines so they are not outdone by commercial vendors like PriceLine or Travelocity.

“With some businesses, you watch deals fall apart,” Mr. Cassel said. “Not because they’re right or wrong, but just because they have different cultures.”

Mr. Cassel’s son, Seth Cassel, is co-founder and president of EveryMundo. “Today is a monumental day for our team and a next step in our quest to disrupt industry paradigms hindering market growth and opportunity for airlines and B2B organizations,” Seth Cassel said in a press release.

“Airlines want people to engage through their websites instead of using online travel agencies (OTA). The airline gives information about what they are selling directly, for example a deal on a flight to Denver, that the consumer will miss using an OTA,” said James Cassel. The PROS platform includes assets like airline revenue management software, airline digital retail and group sales optimization.

EveryMundo and PROS are a good cultural fit because they spent the time to get to know one another according to James Cassel. “What was important to PROS and EveryMundo was getting to understand how they view technology business but also how they interact with their colleagues and how their business is managed.”

Seth Cassel visited PROS’ headquarters in Houston and members from PROS visited Miami before a deal was made. “The businesses spent time up front to discuss their common vision and common approach. The first goal is to go deeper within one another’s products and see what’s available,” said James Cassel. “The first thing to do in any business situation is look for the low-hanging fruit and be collaborative. They can introduce one another to people who aren’t overlapping and combine them.”

Over the past year, EveryMundo has almost doubled in size. Said James Cassel, “Airlines need more marketing and technology that PROS will help provide.”

 

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