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November Monthly

Three main forces are shaping the business and investment climate:  Surging energy prices, a dramatic backing up of short-term interest rates in Anglo-American countries, and the persistence of supply chain disruptions. The US and Europe have likely…

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Three main forces are shaping the business and investment climate:  Surging energy prices, a dramatic backing up of short-term interest rates in Anglo-American countries, and the persistence of supply chain disruptions. 

The US and Europe have likely passed peak growth.  Fiscal policy will be less accommodative, and financial conditions have tightened. Japan appears to be getting a handle on Covid and after a slow start.  Its vaccination rate has surpassed the US.  The lifting of the formal state of emergency and a hefty dose of fiscal stimulus is expected to be delivered in the coming months. Many developing economies have already lifted rates, some like Brazil and Russia, aggressively so.  They will likely finish earlier too.     

US light sweet crude oil rose nearly 12% last month, even though US inventories rose last month for the first time since April.   The price of WTI rose almost 10% in September.  Statistically, the rise in oil prices is strongly correlated with the increase in inflation expectations.  OPEC+ will boost supplies by another 400k barrels a day at the start of November and is committed to the same monthly increase well into 2022.  

At the same time, new Covid infections in several Asia-Pacific countries, including China, Singapore, and Australia, warn of the risk of continued supply-chain disruptions.  In Europe, Germany and the UK recently reported the most cases since the spring. Belgium is tightening curbs.  Bulgaria is seeing a rise in infections, and Romania was at full capacity in its intensive care facilities.  The fact that Latvia lags the EU in vaccination at about 50% leaves it vulnerable.  The US may be lagging behind Europe, and the next four-six weeks will be critical.  Roughly 40% of Americans are not fully vaccinated.  

The rise in price pressures and the gradual acknowledgment by many central bankers that inflation may be more persistent have helped spur a significant backing up of short-term rates in the Anglo-American economies. The ultimately deflationary implications of the surge in energy prices through demand destruction and the implications for less monetary and fiscal support still seem under-appreciated. Yet, the market has priced in aggressive tightening of monetary policy over the next 12 months.  

The focus of the foreign exchange market seems squarely on monetary policy.  From a high level, the central banks perceived to be ahead in the monetary cycle have seen stronger currencies. The likely laggards, like the Bank of Japan, the Swiss National Bank, and the ECB, have currencies that underperformed.  Norway and New Zealand have already raised rates and are expected to do so again in November.   

Of course, as you drill down, discrepancies appear.  In October, the Australian dollar was the top performer among the major currencies with a 4% gain.  It edged out the New Zealand dollar and the Norwegian krone, whose central banks are ahead of the Reserve Bank of Australia.  The RBA has pushed against market speculation that has 90 bp of tightening priced into 12-month swaps.  The Australian dollar outperformed sterling by about 2.5% in October even though the Bank of England has been so hawkish with its comments that the market had little choice but to price in a high probability of a hike as early as the November meeting. 

In fact, the market has the UK's base rate above 50 bp by the end of Q1 22.  This is important because in its forward guidance that BOE has identified that as the threshold for it to begin unwinding QE by stopping reinvesting maturing issues.  Interestingly enough, when the BOE meets on March 17 next year, it will have a sizeable GBP28 bln maturity in its portfolio.  

In an unusual quirk of the calendar, the Federal Reserve meets before the release of the October jobs report.  All indications point to the start of the tapering process.  It is currently buying $120 bln a month of Treasuries ($80 bln) and Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities.  The pace of the reduction of purchases is a function of the duration, and the Fed has clearly indicated the tapering will be complete around mid-year. That suggests reducing the purchases by about $15 bln a month. 

Chair Powell indicated that unlike the Bank of England, the Fed will stop its bond purchases before raising rates. A faster pace of tapering would be a hawkish signal as it would allow for an earlier rate hike.  The gap between when the tapering ends and the first rate hike does not appear predetermined. Powell has talked about the economic prerequisites, which emphasize a full and inclusive labor market in the current context. The Fed funds futures entirely discount a 25 hike in July, with the risk of a move in June.  Comments by several officials hint that the Fed may drop its characterization of inflation as transitory, which would also be understood as a hawkish development.  

Partly owing to the extended emergency in Japan, it is marching to the beat of a different drummer than the other high-income countries. Inflation is not a problem.  In September, the headline rate rose to 0.2% year-over-year, the highest since August 2020.  However, this is a function of fresh food and energy prices, without which the consumer inflation stuck below zero (-0.5%).  In December 2019, it stood at 0.9%.  In addition, while fiscal policy will be less accommodative in Europe and the US, a sizeable supplemental budget (~JPY30 trillion) is expected to be unveiled later this year.  

After expanding by 1.3% quarter-over-quarter in Q2, the Chinese economy slowed to a crawl of 0.2% in Q3, which was half the pace expected by economists. Some of the decline in economic activity resulted from the virus and natural disasters (floods). Still, some of it stemmed from an effort to cut emissions in steel and other sectors.  The problems in China's property development space, accounting for a large part of its high-yield bond market,  unsettled global markets briefly.  Talk of a Lehman-like event seems a gross exaggeration. Still, given the sector's importance to China's economy (30% broadly measured) and the use of real estate as an investment vehicle, it may precipitate a structural shift in the economy.  

The Communist Party and the state are reasserting control over the economy's private sector and the internet and social network.  It has also weighed in on family decisions, like the number of children one has, how long a minor should play video games, the length of men's hair, what kind of attributes entertainers should have, and appropriate songs to be played with karaoke.   It seems to be reminiscent of part of the Cultural Revolution and a broader economic reform agenda like Deng Xiaoping did in the late 1970s and Zhu Rongji in the 1990s. 

At the same time, Beijing is wrestling with reducing emissions and soaring energy prices, which also dampen growth. Even though consumer inflation is not a problem in China (0.7% year-over-year in September), Chinese officials still seem reluctant to launch new stimulative fiscal or monetary initiatives. Moreover, new outbreaks of the virus could exacerbate the supply chain disruptions and delays fuel inflation in many countries. 

The aggressiveness in which investors are pricing G10 tightening weighed on emerging market currencies in October.  The JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index fell by almost 0.8% last month after falling 2.9% in September, the largest decline since March 2020.  The continued politicization of Turkey's monetary policy and the aggressive easing saw the lira tumble nearly 7.5% last month, which brings the year-to-date depreciation to 22.5%.  

On the other hand, Brazil's central bank has aggressively hiked rates, and the 150 bp increase in late October brought this year's tightening to 575 bp and lifting the Selic to 7.75%.  Yet, it is still below the inflation rate (10.34% October), and the government has lost the confidence of domestic and international business.  The Brazilian real fell nearly 3.5% last month to bring the year-to-date loss to almost 7.8%.  

Our GDP-weighted currency basket, the Bannockburn World Currency Index, snapped a two-month decline and rose by 0.35%.  The rise in the index reflects the outperformance of the currencies against the dollar.  The currencies from the G10 countries, including the dollar, account for about two-thirds of the index, and emerging markets, including China, the other third.  The yen was the weakest of the majors, falling 2.3%.  It has a weighting of 7.5% in the BWCI.  

Among the emerging market currencies in our GDP-weighted currency index, the Brazilian real's 3.4% decline was the largest, but its 2.1% weighting minimizes the drag.  It was nearly offset by the Russian rouble's 2.5% advance.  It has a 2.2% weighting in our basket.  The Chinese yuan, which has a 21.8% share, rose by 0.6%.   

 

Dollar:   The market is pricing in very aggressive tightening by the Federal Reserve.  As recently as late September, only half of the Fed officials anticipated a hike in 2022.  The December 2022 Fed funds futures are pricing in a little more than two hikes next year. More than that, the market is discounting the first hike in June next year, implying a transition from completing the bond-buying to raising rates with no time gap.  The disappointing 2% Q3 GDP exaggerated the slowing of the world's largest economy.  We note that the supply-side challenges in vehicle production halved the growth rate.  Growth is likely to re-accelerate in Q4, but we continue to believe that the peak has passed.  While inflation is elevated, the pace of increase slowed in Q3.  Consider that the PCE deflator that the Fed targets rose at an annualized rate of 4.0% in Q3 after a 5.6% pace in Q2.  The core rate slowed to an annualized pace of 3.3% last quarter, half of the speed in the previous three months.  The infrastructure spending plans have been reduced, and some of the proposed tax hikes, including on corporations, appear to be dropped as part of the compromise among the Democratic Party.  

Euro:  For most of Q3, the euro has been in a $1.17-$1.19 trading range.  It broke down in late September, and was unable to recapture it in October.  Instead, it recorded a new low for the year near $1.1525.  A convincing break of the $1.1500 area could signal a move toward $1.1300. The single currency drew little support because growth differentials swung in its favor in Q3:  the Eurozone expanded by 2.2% quarter-over-quarter while the US grew 2% at an annualized pace.  The ECB is sticking to its analysis that the rise in inflation is due to transitory factors while recognizing that energy prices may prove more sticky.  That said, news that Gazprom may boost gas sales to Europe after it finishes replenishing Russian inventories after the first week in November, natural gas prices fall at the end of October.  After the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program ends next March, decisions about the asset purchases next year will be announced at the December ECB meeting along with updated forecasts.  

(October indicative closing prices, previous in parentheses)

 

Spot: $1.1560 ($1.1580)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.1579 ($1.1660) 

One-month forward  $1.1568 ($1.1585)    One-month implied vol  5.1%  (5.1%)    

 

 

Japanese Yen:  The dollar rose 2.3% against the yen in October to bring the year-to-date gain to nearly 9.5%.  The Bank of Japan will lag behind most high-income countries in the tightening cycle, and the higher US yields are a crucial driver of the greenback's gains against the yen.  Japan's headline inflation and core measure, which only excludes fresh food, may be rising, but they are barely above zero and, in any event, are due to the surge in energy prices. In response to the weakening yen, Japanese investors appear to have boosted their investment in foreign bonds, while foreign investors increased their holdings of Japanese stocks.  The LDP and Komeito maintained a majority in the lower chamber of the Diet. A sizeable stimulus supplemental budget is expected to help strengthen the economic recovery now that the formal emergencies have been lifted.  In Q3, the dollar traded mainly between JPY109 and JPY111.  It traded higher in the second half of September rising to nearly JPY112.00.  The dollar-yen exchange rate often seems to be rangebound, and when it looks like it is trending, it is frequently moving to a new range.  We have suggested the upper end of the new range may initially be the JPY114.50-JPY115.00.  The four-year high set last month was about JPY114.70.  A move above JPY115.60 could target the JPY118.50 area.  

 

Spot: JPY113.95 (JPY111.30)      

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast JPY112.98 (JPY111.00)     

One-month forward JPY113.90 (JPY111.25)    One-month implied vol  6.4% (5.6%)

 

British Pound:  Sterling rallied around 4 1/3 cents from the late September low near $1.34.  The momentum stalled in front of the 200-day moving average (~$1.3850).  After several attempts, the market appeared to give up.  We anticipate a move into the $1.3575-$1.3625 initially, and possibly a return toward the September low. The implied yield of the December 2021 short-sterling interest rate futures rose from 22 bp at the end of September to 47 bp at the end of October as the market.  It was encouraged by Bank of England officials to prepare for a hike at the meeting on November 4, ostensibly while it is still providing support via Gilt purchases.  If there is a surprise here, it could be that, given the unexpected softening of September CPI and the fifth consecutive monthly decline in retail sales, rising Covid cases, that the BOE chooses to take the more orthodox route.  This would entail ending its bond purchases, as two MPC members argued (dissented) at the previous meeting and holding off lifting rates a little longer.     

 

Spot: $1.3682 ($1.3475)   

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.3691 ($1.3630) 

One-month forward $1.3680 ($1.3480)   One-month implied vol 6.8% (7.1%)

  

 

Canadian Dollar:  The three drivers for the exchange rate moved in the Canadian dollar's favor in October and helped it snap a four-month slide against the US dollar.  First, the general appetite for risk was strong, as illustrated by the strength of global stocks and the record highs in the US.  Second, the premium Canada pays on two-year money more than doubled last month to almost 60 bp from 25 bp at the end of September.  Third, commodity prices in general and oil, in particular, extended their recent gains.  The CRB Index rose 3.8% last month, the 11th monthly increase in the past 12, to reach seven-year highs.  The Bank of Canada unexpectedly stopped its new bond purchases and appeared to signal it would likely raise rates earlier than it had previously indicated.  The swaps market is pricing 125 bp of rate hikes over the next 12 months, with the first move next March or April.  Still, the US dollar's downside momentum stalled near CAD1.2300.  There is scope for a corrective phase that could carry the greenback into the CAD1.2475-CAD1.2500 area.  

 

Spot: CAD1.2388 (CAD 1.2680) 

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast CAD1.2395 (CAD1.2580)

One-month forward CAD1.2389 (CAD1.2685)    One-month implied vol 6.2% (6.9%) 

 

 

Australian Dollar:  The Aussie's 4% gain last month snapped a four-month, roughly 6.5% downdraft.  Despite RBA Governor Lowe's guidance that the central bank does not anticipate that the condition to hike rates will exist before 2024 is being challenged by the market.  Underlying inflation rose above 2% in Q3. The central bank's failure to continue defending the 10 bp target of the April 2024 bond spurred speculation that it would be formally abandoned at the November 2 policy meeting.  The RBA's inaction unsettled the debt market.  The two-year yield soared almost 70 bp last month, and the 10-year yield rose nearly 60 bp.  Although the RBA could have handled the situation better, New Zealand rates jumped even more.  Its two-year yield jumped 80 bp while the 10-year yield surged by 58 bp.  Last month, the Australian dollar's rally took it from around $0.7200 to slightly more than $0.7550, where it seemed to stall, just in front of the 200-day moving average.  We suspect the October rally has run its course and see the Aussie vulnerable to a corrective phase that could push it back toward $0.7370-$0.7400.  The New Zealand dollar has also stalled ($0.7220), and we see potential toward $0.7050.  


 

Spot:  $0.7518 ($0.7230)       

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast $0.7409 ($0.7290)     

One-month forward  $0.7525 ($0.7235)     One-month implied vol 9.1  (9.0%)   

 

 

Mexican Peso:  The peso eked out a minor gain against the dollar last month.  However, the nearly 0.4% gain understated the swings in the exchange rate last month.  The dollar's recovery seen in the second half of September from almost MXN19.85 to nearly MXN20.40 at the end of the month was extended to a seven-month high around MXN20.90 on October 12.  It then proceeded to fall to almost MXN20.12 before the greenback was bought again.  A move above the MXN20.60 area now would likely signal a test on last month's high and possibly higher. Recall that the dollar peaked this year's peak set in March was near MXN21.6350. The economy unexpectedly contracted in Q3  by 0.2% (quarter-over-quarter).  Nevertheless, with the year-over-year CPI at 6% in September, Banxico will see little choice but to hike rates at the November 11 meeting. The market expects a 25 bp increase.  A 50 bp hike is more likely than standing pat.    

 

Spot: MXN20.56 (MXN20.64)  

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast  MXN20.42 (MXN20.41)  

One-month forward  MXN20.65 (MXN20.74)     One-month implied vol 9.6% (11.0%)

  

 

Chinese Yuan: Our starting point is the yuan's exchange rate is closely managed.  The fact that the yuan rose to four-month highs against the dollar and a five-year high against the currency basket (CFETS) that the PBOC tracks imply a tacit acceptance.  While it is tempting for observers to link the appreciation to securing an advantage as it secures energy supplies and other commodities, we note that the yuan's gains are too small (0.6% last month and less than 2% year-to-date) to be impactful.  We suspect that the dollar's recent weakness against the yuan will be unwound shortly.  The US government continues to press its concerns about the risk for investors in Chinese companies listed in the US and American companies operating in China. At the same time, the FTSE Russell flagship benchmark began including mainland bonds for the first time.  China's 10-year government bond is the only one among the large bond markets where the yield has declined so far this year (~16 bp).  On the other hand, Chinese stocks have underperformed.  That said, some investors see this underperformance as a new buying opportunity.  The NASDAQ Golden Dragon Index that tracks Chinese companies listed in the US fell by 30% in Q3 and gained 5% in October, its best month since February.  Lastly, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party meets November 8-11 this year, a prelude to the important National Party Congress in 2022 that is expected to formally signal the third term for President Xi.  

 

Spot: CNY6.4055 (CNY6.4450)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CNY6.4430 (CNY6.4470) 

One-month forward CNY6.4230 (CNY6.4725)    One-month implied vol  3.5% (3.4%)

  



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Report: Pfizer, NIH Discussing Study of Longer Paxlovid Dosing Regimen

With increasing concerns about COVID-19 reinfection, Pfizer and the National Institutes of Health are discussing potential studies regarding a longer treatment…

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Report: Pfizer, NIH Discussing Study of Longer Paxlovid Dosing Regimen

With increasing concerns about COVID-19 reinfection, Pfizer and the National Institutes of Health are discussing potential studies regarding a longer treatment period with the antiviral medication, Paxlovid.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and scientific adviser to the White House, said the plan for the new studies could come over the next few days, Reuters reported this afternoon. During a White House briefing on COVID-19, Fauci pointed out that the rising cases of COVID-19 driven by an Omicron sub-variant are increasing the use of Pfizer’s Paxlovid. So far, more than 660,000 courses of Paxlovid have been administered across the U.S., Reuters said.

However, there is a growing concern that some patients are not shaking the virus as quickly as expected following a treatment regimen of the antiviral. Some continue to experience symptoms, or see a recurrence of their COVID-19 symptoms, following treatment with Paxlovid, Reuters said. Currently, there is no clear indication on the number of patients who are experiencing such a recurrence, or whether or not it is due to the variant type of COVID-19. But, the numbers appear to be enough to warrant such a conversation between America’s top infectious disease expert and Pfizer.

Paxlovid was granted Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December. It was granted EUA for the treatment of high-risk adults and pediatric patients 12 years and older who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are at serious risk of hospitalization. A combination of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir tablets, during clinical trials, Paxlovid significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% compared to placebo in non-hospitalized, high-risk adults with COVID-19 within three days of symptom-onset. However, even then, there were cases of a recurrence of symptoms in some clinical trial patients.

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla has suggested that those patients who experience a recurrence of symptoms should undergo a second round of treatment with Paxlovid. As BioSpace previously reported, Bourla said if symptoms reoccur, “then you give a second course, like you do with antibiotics, and that’s it.”

However, the FDA has balked at that suggestion. Dr. John Farley, director of the FDA’s Office of Infectious Diseases, argued that there is no evidence of benefit for a longer course of treatment, such as 10 days instead of the current five days of administration, or a second five-day round of treatment.

Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

While Pfizer may undertake these additional studies, as BioSpace reported earlier Wednesday, the pharma giant has so far reportedly resisted requests to use Paxlovid in combination studies. The nonprofit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative said that Pfizer rejected a January request to offer doses of Paxlovid to be used in a study alongside an inhaled steroid in Africa.

Also Wednesday, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly said studies have confirmed that bebtelovimab, the company’s monoclonal antibody against COVID-19, is effective against all variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including BA.2, which is currently the dominant strain in the U.S., Seeking Alpha reported.

 

BioSpace source:

https://www.biospace.com/article/pfizer-nih-in-talks-to-begin-study-of-longer-paxlovid-dosing-regimen

 

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Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The…

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Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Missouri lawmakers passed legislation that prevents state licensing boards from disciplining doctors who prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signs a bill in Jefferson City, Mo., on May 24, 2019. (Summer Balentine/AP Photo)

Sponsored by Rep. Brenda Kay Shields (R-Mo.), HB 2149 also bars pharmacists from questioning doctors or disputing patients regarding the usage of such drugs and their efficacy.

With a convincing 130–4 vote in the House, HB 2149 passed both chambers on May 12 and currently heads to the office of Gov. Mike Parson to be potentially signed into law.

The board shall not deny, revoke, or suspend, or otherwise take any disciplinary action against, a certificate of registration or authority, permit, or license required by this chapter for any person due to the lawful dispensing, distributing, or selling of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use in accordance with prescriber directions,” reads the draft of the bill (pdf).

It adds, “A pharmacist shall not contact the prescribing physician or the patient to dispute the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use unless the physician or patient inquires of the pharmacist about the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets.”

Critics of the bill have noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not given approval for usage of the drugs. Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine have been divisive drugs and politically polarized throughout the pandemic.

“But, nevertheless, the Missouri legislature has chosen to ‘own the libs’ by issuing a gag order against every pharmacist in this state from offering their medical opinion on taking either one of those medications—even if it could kill their patient,” wrote former Democratic nominee Lindsey Simmons in a May 12 Twitter post.

Although 22 countries across the world have approved the use of ivermectin in treating COVID-19, the FDA maintains that the current data show the drug to be ineffective. Large doses can be dangerous, it says.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases analyzed a national federated database of adults that compared ivermectin with the FDA-approved COVID-19 medication, remdesivir.

After using propensity score matching and adjusting for potential confounders, ivermectin was associated with reduced mortality vs remdesivir,” researchers wrote. “To our knowledge, this is the largest association study of patients with COVID-19, mortality, and ivermectin.”

According to The Associated Press, Missouri state Rep. Patty Lewis, a Democrat, agreed to the bill to satisfy a group of conservatives in the Senate. She added that the bill will not change anything significantly as medical boards do not engage in punishing doctors who prescribe drugs legally.

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 23:25

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“They Shut Us Down”: Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

"They Shut Us Down": Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

Authored by Steven Kovac via The Epoch Times (emphasis…

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"They Shut Us Down": Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

Authored by Steven Kovac via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A coalition of five bowling alleys and family entertainment centers is suing Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, for losses incurred due to her mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in Clawson, Mich., on March 18, 2019. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon is also a defendant in the case.

The plaintiffs allege that the shutdowns imposed by Whitmer and Gordon were a “taking” of their businesses without just compensation in violation of both the state and the U.S. Constitution.

The case has been winding its way through the federal courts since January 2021.

Fred Kautz runs the lane oiler at Kautz Shore Lanes in Lexington, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

The coalition lost the first round of the legal battle when the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled against it.

Oral arguments were recently held before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit.

Plaintiff’s chief counsel David Kallman told The Epoch Times after the appeals court hearing, “The oral arguments from both sides were vigorous. The judges asked a lot of questions. It was the kind of proceeding that makes you proud to be a lawyer.

“Even the defense acknowledges that we are presenting ‘novel’ arguments.

“Michigan is the only state in the nation where a governor’s public health emergency powers were overturned as unconstitutional.

“If we lose in the court of appeals, we will take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Scott Bennett, executive director of the Independent Bowling and Entertainment Centers Association, told The Epoch Times,

“The governor’s actions were devastating to our industry.

“Things went from ‘two weeks to slow the spread’ to indefinite shutdowns.”

Bennett said that the forced closures were not based on solid scientific proof that bowling alleys and family entertainment centers would spread the virus any more than the Walmart stores or the GM plants that were allowed to remain open.

“They were allowed to operate with hundreds and even thousands of people in them but we had to shut down. We feel our industry was unfairly singled-out.

“We cannot stand for a repeat of such arbitrary treatment and don’t want the people of Michigan to forget what was done to them.”

With the recent uptick in COVID cases and the approaching mid-term elections, Bennett said his members that survived the 2020 shutdowns feel like it can happen all over again.

“It’s like operating day-to-day with a hammer held over your head. The uncertainty is altering business plans. The value of our businesses is dropping through the floor,” Bennett said.

Brian and Mindy Hill work the counter at their bowling alley in Imlay City, Mich. on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/Epoch Times)

Fred Kautz, the proprietor of Kautz’s Shore Lanes in Lexington, Michigan, started working in the family business when he was 13.

The business has 12 bowling lanes, a bar, an arcade, a restaurant, and living quarters upstairs.

“We’ve owned this place for 42 years. For me and my family, it’s more than a place to work. It’s a way of life. And it has become an institution in our community—a real gathering place,” said Kautz.

He said he is still smarting from what happened after Whitmer’s executive actions were ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in the fall of 2020.

“We got a little reprieve. We thought we were in the clear until she came back with another round of forced closures, this time under the authority of the Michigan Department of Public Health.

The first 30 days knocked us right on our butts. But we were willing to cooperate, to do our part. We were all scared and we did not want to see harm come to anybody.

We lost a lot of money at the time. We are coming back slowly, but our overall revenue is still down 20 percent from pre-pandemic days. That’s hard to make up.

“In the spring of 2020, I tried to do what was recommended and go along. Never again!

“If my Dad was still alive, he’d have never closed at all,” said Kautz.

Brian and Mindy Hill, owners of I.C. Strikes, a 16-lane bowling alley, bar, and snack bar in Imlay City said their business was hit hard by the shutdowns.

Brian was the town barber for 25 years, before purchasing the bowling alley where he learned to bowl as a child.

“We took over in December 2018. We’d saved up money to buy this place and make some upgrades. When COVID hit, we were forced to close down. It took all the money we saved for improvements just to survive,” said Brian.

The Hills said they never thought they’d see the day when their own government could do something like that to them.

Mary Bacon, assistant manager of Jump City, a family recreation center, cleans an arcade machine in Imlay City, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

They shut us down. They took away our livelihood with no end date in sight. Then they wanted to loan us money. Think about that. They first put us in a situation where we had zero income to pay our previous debt. And then they wanted to loan us more money.

“Lots of small business people lost their businesses but kept their debt. It ruined them,” said Brian.

The Hills did apply for and receive a Small Business Administration loan at 3.25 percent interest for 30 years, and they participated in the Paycheck Protection Program which helped their business survive.

Up the road from the Hill’s bowling alley is Jump City, a large indoor recreation center offering an array of bouncy houses and arcade games for children.

Assistant manager Mary Bacon told The Epoch Times, “We lost a lot of business. We were forced to close for 15 months and had to make our payments with no income.”

Bacon remembers the morning of March 16, 2020, when many area businesses were gearing up for big St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“By afternoon everybody had to close. All that food went to waste.

“The shutdown was supposed to be for a couple of weeks. Nobody foresaw it would drag on for a year and three months.

“Oh, they said we could open again, but they so severely restricted the number of customers that we lost all of our big birthday parties. With so few kids allowed in, we couldn’t operate. We were losing too much money.”

Bacon said people are coming back to the center but are still scared, even though the games and bouncy houses are continuously cleaned and sanitized.

Navaeh Smalstig, 8, climbs out of a bouncy house at Jump City in Imlay City, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

Before the pandemic, Danny Brown owned a roller rink in Grand Blanc and Owasso, two south-central Michigan towns.

“The lockdowns forced us to sell the Owasso rink for less than half of what we paid for it. We will be trying to make up our loss for years to come.”

Brown, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told The Epoch Times, “To keep going I had to decide to triple our debt. Since the shutdown, I am three-quarters of a million dollars deeper in debt.

“Small businesses put everything on the line. All of our personal and family money. I am personally responsible for our debt. If I die my children will have to pay it.”

Brown said Michigan’s government acted without a real understanding and regarded the state’s small businesses as “nonessential throwaways.”

“One of the reasons we filed suit is to push the government to think differently,” he said.

According to Brown, family entertainment centers like skating rinks, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, miniature golf, and go-cart tracks have been nearly wiped out.

“A few years ago, there were 3,500 roller skating rinks in the United States. Now there are 700. There were five rinks in Genesee County, now there are two.” he said.

Brown attributes the decrease to years of ongoing government mandates and interference that led up to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“They took, they stole our businesses!” he said.

Donn Slimmen, another plaintiff in the case, owns Spartan West Bowling in the west Michigan resort town of Ludington.

“The lockdown just about killed us. It was 14 to 15 months of agony. Our bank payments and utility bills didn’t stop. We went from being two to three months behind to more months behind.

“We entered into survival mode. We ate a lot of pork and beans and hotdogs. We’re still trying to work ourselves out of the hole. By the end of this summer, we might be solvent again.

“We were lucky to survive. We are still hanging on by threads,” said Slimmen.

Along with 16 bowling lanes, Slimmen operates a full-service restaurant.

It’s never come back. Pre-pandemic, we’d serve 200 customers at an ordinary Friday fish fry. Now our best night is 100.

“Our restaurant went from a thriving seated-guest business to a take-out operation grossing only two to three percent of the seated sales.

“We were spending $400 to take in proceeds of $100.

“The politicians and bureaucrats don’t understand. They never cleaned a toilet seat or climbed into a bowling machine to fix it,” said Slimmen.

Slimmen blames Gov.Gretchen Whitmer for the plight of his community and the state.

“You didn’t see Republican governors closing businesses. Their states did so much better.

“Drive through downtown Ludington or Muskegon and look at all the boarded-up storefronts. So many places are out of business. Michigan is in terrible shape,” Slimmen said.

The Tomassoni family has been in the bowling business for 84 years in the western Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain, Michigan.

We had to close bowling and our banquet facility a total of 161 days in two different periods of time in 2020. After the second shutdown, we could operate at 25 percent occupancy and only during restricted hours. No wedding receptions, no special events. It was a disaster.

“It ripped my heart out. I am so bitter towards my government,” said owner Pete Tomassoni.

Tomassoni’s business suffered further because of its proximity to Wisconsin which is only minutes away.

“Wisconsin closed for just 30 days. For the most part, they were wide open. That really hurt us.

“Our governor was picking and choosing which of our state’s businesses could operate. To force a business to close with no notice and without proven science is straight out wrong.

“I think that she came down so hard on small business because we, by and large, lean to the right.

“The state dangled the threat of yanking business licenses to keep people in line.

“Some of our businesses tried to defy the state and stayed open

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 21:25

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