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Square rallies on hope Senate bill keeps small business afloat

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Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey speaks during a press event at CES 2019 on January 9, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

David Becker | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Shares of Square surged 13% Wednesday after the White House and Senate leaders reached a deal on a bill that would help keep small businesses afloat and would allow some nonbank lenders to participate in the emergency loan program. 

The $2 trillion bill — said to be the largest rescue package in history — includes small business loans to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus slowdown. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill as early as Wednesday evening. The House has not yet voted on it.

Square has become a popular lending option for businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants, many of which are closed due to “shelter in place” measures in major cities.

As part of the terms agreed to on Wednesday, “additional lenders” can be approved through the Secretary of the Treasury if they have the “necessary qualifications to process, close, disburse and service loans made with the guarantee of the administration.”

Square and other fintech companies had been lobbying to be included in the bill and touted their speed and automated underwriting as a reason for inclusion. Financial Innovation Now — an industry group representing SquarePayPal, Intuit, Stripe and other nonbank finance companies — sent a letter to Congress on Friday asking that their members be included in any emergency U.S. government funding. 

When asked about it on a call with investors Tuesday evening, CEO Jack Dorsey said Square would be “happy to help” and “was definitely open to working with the government” on distributing loans. The “speed aspect is critical,” said Dorsey, who is also the CEO of Twitter. 

“The benefit we would add to disbursement is really around speed,” Dorsey said. “Square Capital can get a loan to a business in under 24 hours.”

Coronavirus a ‘bump in the road’

Square held an investor day Tuesday evening that outlined a near-term slowdown from the coronavirus shutdown. The company cut first-quarter guidance and withdrew its full-year guidance due to “uncertainty” around the virus. Square now expects total net revenue of $1.3 billion to $1.34 billion, versus the $1.34 billion to $1.36 billion range originally forecast. 

The slowdown is already hitting Square’s first-quarter profitability, according to CFO Amrita Ahuja. Over the past 10 days, gross payment volume was 25% lower than it was this time last year. Payment volumes are down 45% year over year in metro areas such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle, according to the company.

But the drag from COVID-19 will likely be “a mere bump in the road,” according to Dan Dolev, Macquarie senior payments analyst. 

“We see SQ emerging stronger post crisis, accelerated share gains by adapting to change faster than many competitors, and building a more balanced business and customer mix,” Dolev said in a note to clients Wednesday. He also said the government stimulus to individuals and relief for small businesses “can be a near-term benefit.”

Despite the March slowdown, Square outlined strong growth in January and February before the outbreak threatened to cripple the U.S. economy. Square saw 51% gross profit growth in those two months. Its Cash app, a competitor to Venmo, grew 118% vs. 104% in the fourth quarter. 

Instanet analyst Bill Carcache upgraded Square to “neutral” from “reduce” on Wednesday. 

“While it’s too early to ascertain the failure rate of SQ’s large SME customer base, we no longer believe a Reduce rating is appropriate given the 46% decline in shares from their February highs,” Carcache said in a note to clients.

Square had planned to invest in a brand awareness campaign. Instead, Square’s Ahuja said the company is focusing on helping existing customers navigate the current environment. For example, it expedited the launch of no-contact delivery and curbside pickup and will be debuting a public, web-based directory of Square sellers to promote electronic gift card purchases. 

Even with the help of government stimulus, the economic slowdown from coronavirus is weighing on Square’s lending program. Square Capital head Jackie Reses said the company was reining in loan origination growth and tightening lending standards. It’s also offering a payment relief for some small business loans, she said. 

Correction: The Senate and White House agreed to terms of a proposed bailout bill on Wednesday, but the bill has not been passed.

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UK housing market saw ‘mini-boom’ in July, Halifax says | Reuters | Business

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LONDON (Reuters) – British house prices saw a “mini-boom” as the market reopened following the coronavirus lockdown, mortgage lender Halifax said on Friday.

House prices rose 1.6% month-on-month, the biggest rise this year after being flat in June, Halifax said.

Compared with a year ago, prices were 3.8% higher – the largest annual increase since January.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Sarah Young)



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VIDEO: ‘Ringing off the hook’: N.S. campground having busy summer season | Regional-Business | Business

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FREEPORT — If there’s such a thing as a COVID-19 success story in the tourism industry, you’ll find it on Long Island, a short ferry ride from Digby Neck.

A campground in its infancy is having a booming season, better than ever, to the utter shock of its owners.

Whale of a Time Camping in Freeport is owned by Gail and Reid Gillis. It’s built on a cliff with stunning views of the Bay of Fundy, where the sunset is so spectacular the place is abuzz every evening to find the perfect spot to soak it in and capture every colour.

It’s also a place where you can see (from your tent) whales puff water into the air.

The sun sets in behind Brier Island on Saturday, August 1, 2020. Brier Island is just a short ferry ride from Long Island. - Ryan Taplin
The sun sets in behind Brier Island on Saturday, August 1, 2020. Brier Island is just a short ferry ride from Long Island. – Ryan Taplin

It started as Reid’s dream, said Gail. He grew up on the island and owned the undeveloped property since he was 18. She’s from P.E.I., but now she’s utterly in love with the place.

“Four years ago we decided to put the road in, thinking we were going to live at the top (of the cliff) and we had people coming and saying, ‘You should really open a campground.’”

They started with a couple of sites to see if there was interest. Over the past three years, they’ve slowly built up the site to host 15 spots on the shore, seven on top of the cliff, and two cottages, all with their two young sons in tow. This year was going to be their first full season and they had high hopes. Instead, they were just happy they could open in July.

“We were grateful we were allowed to open but we never anticipated this volume. We thought maybe a few people here and there . . . and now the phone is ringing off the hook,” Gail said.

“We just look at each other every night and we’re like, ‘We’re doing it. It’s working! People love what we love.’”

Visitors to the Whale of a Time campground take in the view near sunset on Saturday, August 1, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
Visitors to the Whale of a Time campground take in the view near sunset on Saturday, August 1, 2020. – Ryan Taplin

Within two weeks of opening, they were filling up. They even needed to hire a staff member to help with demand.

Most of the customers are Nova Scotians, with a few from the Atlantic bubble, who have never journeyed to this part of the province before. Some of them didn’t know the area existed.

“We can’t thank Nova Scotia enough, really, for supporting us. These amazing people are supporting their community, supporting their province,” said Gail.

“We’ve had tears in our eyes because we can’t believe how welcoming everybody is to the project.”

It’s also been a boon to the community. The town’s store loves the extra business, and guests are taking in multiple whale-watching tours.

Amanda Crocker, a guide with Freeport Whale and Seabird Tours, also grew up on the island and has known Reid since she was three. She is thrilled they’re creating a sustainable business in the community when so many of their peers have moved away.

Amanda Crocker leads a whale watching tour for Freeport Whale and Seabird Tours on Saturday, August 1, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
Amanda Crocker leads a whale watching tour for Freeport Whale and Seabird Tours on Saturday, August 1, 2020. – Ryan Taplin

“I’m glad to see people my age staying around here and making a living because so many of us, once they graduate, they leave and don’t come back. They go and find their careers in other places,” she said.

“With COVID happening, this would be one of the biggest reasons people wouldn’t come to the area anymore and they’re still full. So obviously this place is going to be around for awhile . . . and hopefully I’ll be able to see them pass their campground on to their kids.”

But the whale-watching business hasn’t been doing as well. Crocker said that last summer they operated 131 trips but only 15-20 so far this year.

“We work hard to be able to stay here,” said Crocker, who has been a tour guide for 25 years.

“We’re not in trouble yet with things but it’s definitely making things harder. We don’t have a whole lot of extra money to have around right now for extra things, but we love our way of life here and can’t imagine anything else other than this.”

A family watches a humpback whale dive in the Bay of Fundy near Long Island on Saturday, August 1, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
A family watches a humpback whale dive in the Bay of Fundy near Long Island on Saturday, August 1, 2020. – Ryan Taplin

They usually have customers from all over the world but most of them this year are from the Halifax region, Yarmouth and the Annapolis Valley. Crocker said she’s having fun getting to know her neighbours a little bit better “and seeing the people from Nova Scotia who are so close to doing these things and have never seen a whale before.”

Her family fishes for lobster in the winter and does whale-watching tours in the summer. Her kids are learning the trade, too, and she hopes they stay to make their lives here.

There must be something about this island because Gail gets emotional just talking about the experience: the natural beauty and the warm community. She calls it a magical place.

A humpback whale dives near a whale watching boat in the Bay of Fundy near Long Island on Saturday, August 1, 2020. - Ryan Taplin
A humpback whale dives near a whale watching boat in the Bay of Fundy near Long Island on Saturday, August 1, 2020. – Ryan Taplin

She says its ability to distract people from all that 2020 has brought is what has made her campground thrive this summer.

“You can just come here and forget what’s happening everywhere else and feel normal. It’s summer, and that’s just how you’re supposed to be; you’re supposed to relax, enjoy it and breathe the sea air.”

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Retired director of Kingston downtown business association had ‘a blast’

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Doug Ritchie has retired from his position as managing director of the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area after 38 years with the organization. (Ian MacAlpine/The Whig-Standard)

Ian MacAlpine / Ian MacAlpine/Whig-Standard

KINGSTON — When Doug Ritchie first entered his office in January 1983, the lights weren’t working and the rotary phone had no dial tone.

Thirty-eight years later, Ritchie has stepped down from his position as managing director of the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area. During that time, the organization has grown from a one-man operation to an award-winning association comprising more than 700 downtown businesses and property owners.

As the first and only person to hold the position, Ritchie worked to revitalize and protect Kingston’s downtown core through numerous projects. He will advise the organization for the next six months as it transitions into new leadership.

General manager Michele Langlois will assume the responsibilities of executive director on an interim basis while the board of management searches for Ritchie’s replacement.

Ritchie said the decision to step down was “mutual” between him and the board. They were in discussions about his retirement as early as January. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March sped up the negotiations.

“I was already thinking that it was well time to go, and then we were locked down, and doing Zoom meetings, and I was sort of less and less comfortable in it,” Ritchie said. “I’m sort of a face-to-face guy.”

Of his many accomplishments, Ritchie recalls his contributions to the arts particularly fondly. He’s helped establish some of the city’s most popular summer events, such as Music in the Park, Movies in the Square, Kingston Buskers Rendezvous and FebFest.

Ritchie also remembers the Limestone City Blues Festival of 1999, when the headlining band cancelled with less than 48 hours’ notice. The crisis was resolved with The Tragically Hip filling in, Dan Aykroyd singing lead and Charlie Musselwhite playing harmonica.

“It was a disastrous Thursday night at 9 o’clock, and it was quite a success and celebration Saturday night at 9 o’clock,” Ritchie said. “It was fun to use culture, showbiz, to build our downtown.”

Ritchie also supported the redevelopment of Springer Market Square, the construction of the skating rink, the building of the Leon’s Centre and the renovation of the Grand Theatre.

In partnership with the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, Ritchie created the Heritage Week Awards to draw attention to the need to preserve Kingston’s traditional architecture and heritage buildings.

He also implemented an economic development program that helps guide the workings of the organization. In this vein, he facilitated several studies that were used to support new developments downtown.

“We were busy all the time for the good of downtown, and it was a noble cause,” Ritchie said. “Downtown is resilient and doing very well in dealing with COVID-19 and the ramifications on small businesses. Downtown’s gonna be OK.”

In retirement, Ritchie is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. So far, he is enjoying summer vacation — a concept unfamiliar to him since his start in the position.

He is also exploring the possibility of consulting, specifically in the realm of how businesses need to adapt to the realities of a post-pandemic downtown.

“I’m proud and happy,” Ritchie said. “It was a blast.”

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