CPP now worth $409B as pension plan adds $17B to its coffers despite COVID-19

CPP now worth $409B as pension plan adds $17B to its coffers despite COVID-19

The Canada Pension Plan earned a return of 3.1 per cent after expenses during the financial year ended March 31, the board that manages the fund’s money reported Tuesday.

Net assets for Canada’s national pension plan totalled $409.6 billion as of the end of March, up from $392 billion at the end of the previous financial year.

The $17.6-billion year-over-year increase included $12.1 billion in net income from its investments. The other $5.5 billion came from contributions of more than 20 million Canadian workers covered by the plan.

While the plan made money for the year as a whole, the fourth quarter was a challenging one because of COVID-19. The fund says fixed-income assets did well as investors fled for safety, but values of stock-based investments fell.

“Despite severe downward pressure in our final quarter, the fund’s 12.6 per cent return on a 2019 calendar-year basis combined with the relative resilience of our diversified portfolio helped cushion the impact,” CEO Mark Machin said.

“Amid the significant number of concerns many Canadians have today, the sustainability of the fund is one thing they shouldn’t worry about. The fund’s long-term returns continue to help ensure the security of Canadians’ retirement benefits.”

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EU regulator to probe Air Canada’s proposed takeover of Transat

EU regulator to probe Air Canada's proposed takeover of Transat

European regulators are launching an in-depth investigation into Air Canada’s deal to buy travel company Transat A.T. amid European Commission concerns the deal may reduce competition and result in higher prices.

A preliminary investigation said Air Canada and Transat have been competing head-to-head for passengers.

The commission is worried the proposed deal could significantly reduce competition on 33 origin and destination city pairs between Europe and Canada.

These include 29 where both companies offer direct services and four where one company flies direct and the other one indirect via one of its hubs.

The commission said in a news release on Monday that it was giving itself until Sept. 30 to decide whether to approve the deal.

“This is a challenging time, especially in markets severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, but a return to normal and healthy market conditions must be based on markets that remain competitive,” said Margrethe Vestager, the commission’s executive vice-president responsible for competition policy.

The commission said even if WestJet expanded its transatlantic operations to Europe, it is unlikely that it would be enough offset the potential loss of competing routes caused by the deal.

Air Canada’s deal to buy Transat for $720 million has been agreed to by shareholders, but still requires regulatory approval in Canada and the European Union.

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said the commission’s announcement is part of the normal, ongoing regulatory review process, and the airline will have to “await the outcome of this process” before it can comment.

The Canadian Competition Bureau warned in March — based on information collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — that eliminating the rivalry between the two Montreal-based carriers would discourage competition by prompting higher prices and fewer services, ultimately resulting in less travel by Canadians on a range of competing routes.

The takeover would give Air Canada control of more than 60 per cent of transatlantic air travel from Canada and 45 per cent of passenger capacity to sun destinations, according to the federal agency’s report.

Desjardins Securities analyst Benoit Poirier said at the time that he believes the purchase will still be approved “considering the companies’ willingness to address the bureau’s competition concerns,” such as potential dominance of airport slots.

Transat’s shares lost 57 cents, or 7.6 per cent, at $6.96 in midday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Malls are reopening — but will shoppers come back?

Malls are reopening — but will shoppers come back?

Malls across the country are beginning to open their doors after weeks of government-mandated shutdowns, but both operators and retail tenants are stepping into uncharted territory amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the near-term, operators are focused on reopening their properties safely, but there’s a larger concern that shoppers — who have embraced e-commerce and curbside pickup since the pandemic’s outset — will be unimpressed upon returning to malls as many stores remain closed and new safety measures change the experience.

Tim Sanderson, head of Canadian retail at Jones Lang LaSalle, said he’s worried about a repeat of U.S. retail giant Target’s ill-fated attempt to penetrate the Canadian market, where supply chain issues resulted in empty shelves and annoyed customers who left and never came back.

“This is the experience that I fear, that we fear, could happen in the malls,” he said. “Someone goes to a shopping centre, goes through all of the protocols involved, walks into the shopping centre, and the store she came for is not even open, but also, the experience is going to be underwhelming.”

New protocols

Sanderson emphasized that the safety measures malls have rolled out, such as one-direction travel, reduced or eliminated seating, physical distancing requirements and increased security to enforce policies, may be detrimental to the shopping experience but are crucial as a resurgence of the pandemic is the worst-case scenario.

“If we re-open business, and then the government has to lock it down again, I think that’s just bad for everybody in a whole lot of ways, not just shopping and retail, but peoples psyche and everything,” he said.

The old ways of shopping will have to change, as physical distancing in the age of COVID-19 will be the rule. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Mall owners have a strong incentive to get their properties open safely, as rents have plummeted following the provincial orders to close.

Owners were only paid about 20 to 25 per cent of their expected April rent, and around 15 per cent in May.

“There’s lots of talk among the retail and landlord community about what rents look like going forward, people have had a major, major impact to their sales.”

But he said there hasn’t been much progress as nobody’s in a position to say what sales will look like, or what rent levels will be affordable.

Mall owners, like many other landlords, have engaged tenants in rent deferrals to help struggling tenants.

Ivanhoe Cambridge has given deferrals to the “vast majority” of tenants “in solidarity with the difficult circumstances,” said spokeswoman Katherine Roux Groleau.

Some landlords are stepping in to help in other ways. Brookfield Asset Management, which has extensive mall holdings especially in the U.S., has said it’s ready to invest $5 billion US in large retailers to keep them afloat.

The situation could also lead to a return of pure percentage deals, where rent is tied to sales, especially for restaurant tenants, said CBRE Ltd. vice chair Paul Morassutti.

Reitmans is one of many retailers to have been hit hard by the pandemic. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The crisis, however, will likely also accelerate the trend already underway of mall properties moving away from strictly retail, especially as numerous retailers like Reitmans, Aldo, Pier 1 and others go into creditor protection.

“This pandemic has accelerated the timing for some of those stores,” said Ray Wong, vice president at Altus Group.

“It’s not just the pandemic, they were having challenges before, and this just pushed them along.”

He said that while some premier shopping centres like Yorkdale Mall in Toronto will continue to see high demand, others in secondary markets could see an accelerated switch to more mixed used condos and rentals and office, while some in smaller markets might not survive as retail spaces at all.

“Certain malls or certain shopping centres, it may not be viable to have retail there and it may be redeveloped to other types of uses.”

The coronavirus outbreak, and the resulting shift to working from home, could also make people more reluctant to take long commutes and will instead gravitate to suburban hubs, like a massive development Oxford has planned for central Mississauga to further the trend of diversifying mall properties.

“It will be really interesting to see the discussion on the office front, with more people working from home, not wanting to do the two-hour commute on the subway, that they prefer locations that are closer to where they live, especially in the suburbs,” said Wong.

“It’s a constant juggling act to figure out what will work.”

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COVID-19 may be the catalyst — not the cause — of a painful but useful economic transformation: Don Pittis

COVID-19 may be the catalyst — not the cause — of a painful but useful economic transformation: Don Pittis

As people are thrown out of work, as businesses fail and as the oil and housing sectors weaken, there is a branch of economics that insists it all may have a silver lining. 

Just last week the retailer Pier 1, familiar to many Canadians, gave up attempts to refinance and announced it was shutting its doors for good. Almost simultaneously, the venerable Canadian fashion chain Reitmans went into bankruptcy protection.

Those are just some on the list of famous names that are in financial trouble during this COVID-19 lockdown, including J.Crew, JCPenney and Cirque du Soleil.

As people stop flying, the head of Boeing has suggested a major U.S. airline may fail, and globally, many smaller carriers are at death’s door.

As the CMHC worries Canadian real estate prices will crash by as much as 18 per cent, the oil industry struggles to recover from negative pricing and unemployment rises toward Depression levels, it is hard to see the bright side.

But according to the theory of creative destruction derived by German economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 from ideas proposed by Karl Marx, economic and technological progress demands that businesses must die and industries and paradigms must be swept away to make room for new ones. 

Pier 1 had 50 stores in Canada at last count, all of which will now be closed. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Canadian economist Peter Howitt, recent winner of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award for his work proving Schumpeter’s principles in the real world, said that while the creative destruction process is happening all the time, economic crises speed the process along.

“When old firms or technology or skills or whatever are hanging on, they can last a long time until things get really bad,” said Howitt. “It’s typically during a recession that a lot of the destruction takes place.”

The implication is that while those in retail or the oil business or the real estate industry may insist that the COVID-19 lockdown has been the cause of their failure, the economic crisis may instead be a trigger, a catalyst for a process already underway.

We already knew traditional retail was being challenged by tech giants Shopify and Amazon or by big-box discounters like Costco, but it was the downturn that pushed struggling companies like Pier 1 over the edge.

Part of a reset

Many have suggested in the past that the overleveraged housing market was an accident waiting to happen. In a broader sense, some economic thinkers say the current backlash against China and against globalization or even against the social structure of rich and poor is part of a reset for which pressure was already building.

According to Stephen Williamson, an economist at Western University, it may be dangerous for governments to try to push too hard against the economic forces at work in dying industries such as the fossil fuel sector.

“It doesn’t look like, at least the exploration and extraction part of the industry, is really viable a long time into the future,” said Williamson. “It seems hard to justify a huge bailout for those guys.”

From the smallest businesses to the largest, the rigours of recession can act as a torture test.

For businesses like that of Sean Davey, who after losing his job with the Royal Bank as a stock analyst in 2016 turned his mathematical skills to founding Rithmetic Math Club, surviving recession can mean prosperity afterwards.

Slipping into the language of his former job, Davey said his idea was to create “a cash-flow positive, low-risk business” that could grow slowly.

By converting his after-school sessions to Zoom, Davey said the vast majority of his 100-odd clients remain on board and he expects business to grow despite the disruption.

“What is in little doubt is that the COVID-19 crisis, which has turned so many people’s lives upside down, will eventually produce a wealth of new business opportunities,” The Economist magazine said earlier this month in its Schumpeter column, named after the famous German.

Putting on a happy face

Responding to a complaint from some critics that creative destruction is merely a way of putting a smiley face on economic destruction, even as a proponent of the idea, Howitt does not minimize the notion that economic change is a painful process.

“Since the industrial revolution, people’s lives have been destroyed by new technologies,” he said, and while there are winners, workers and investors in the so-called “sunset industries” such as dying retail pay a price.

Both Williamson and Howitt say that even while it may pave the way to future innovation, a recession hurts innovators, too, as investment capital dries up and lenders withdraw from risk.

Turning science into business

At the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, that gloomy view cannot stand in the way of Mara Lederman, who is firmly focused on the creation side of the creative destruction dichotomy.

Founded by artificial intelligence pioneer Ajay Agrawal at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, CDL has been turning “deep science” generated by university scholars into businesses that help transform the economy.

Lederman said a motivation for the non-profit lab was that Canadian universities were doing incredible science that only other scientists would see.

“What we need to do is take the science that’s being discovered and turn it into businesses, products and services for the betterment of humankind,” she said.

Development of a wristband called Halo that tells employees when they are getting too close to one another was accelerated by a new division of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab that was launched to address health or economic recovery challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis. (Proxxi/Halo)

As an economics professor, Lederman is well-versed in Schumpeter’s ideas but she sees the current volatile times as an incentive to develop new ones. That’s why the group founded a new division called CDL Recovery to address health or economic recovery challenges created by the global COVID-19 crisis.

The group has already helped accelerate projects, including a wristband to determine if employees fail to maintain physical distancing, a system to monitor long-term care in a time of pandemic and a technology that uses artificial intelligence vision to keep track of care residents with a tendency to wander, to mention just a few, said Lederman.

“Are we in the kind of situation that is going to unleash creative destruction? I think the answer is yes.”

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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400 people to be laid off at Boeing in Winnipeg in coming weeks

400 people to be laid off at Boeing in Winnipeg in coming weeks

Boeing will lay off around 400 employees in Winnipeg over the next few weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokesperson for the aerospace company says.

Employees at the company were told about the cuts on Friday, spokesperson Jessica Kowal said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

“Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boeing previously announced we would adjust the size of our company to reflect new market realities through a combination of voluntary layoffs, natural turnover and involuntary layoffs,” the statement said.

Kowal said the brunt of the cuts at Boeing are being made “in areas most exposed to the commercial aviation market as well as our corporate functions.” She said Boeing’s Winnipeg site mainly produces components for the company’s commercial planes.

The cuts make up about one-quarter of the aerospace company’s workforce in Winnipeg. According to Boeing’s website, the company has around 1,600 employees in the city.

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‘I don’t know how I’m gonna go back to the office’: COVID-19 forces women to rethink careers

'I don't know how I'm gonna go back to the office': COVID-19 forces women to rethink careers

Before COVID-19, Rachel Dei-Amoah would typically be asleep by 10 PM. Now, she’s often awake past midnight, reading or online window shopping. 

The hushed late-night hours are rare moments of peace for the mother of two, as she attempts to juggle childcare and a demanding professional career during a pandemic.

“Now I’ve got to parent, while I’m at my work day. I’ve got to be a teacher, during my work day. Now, there’s not a lot of time for mom anymore.”

Dei-Amoah, 47, counts herself fortunate. Her full-time job as a manager of executive pensions at TD Bank in Toronto has continued uninterrupted, shifting entirely to work-from-home.

But demands on her time have grown exponentially. With schools closed, she’s managing online learning for her kids, aged 6 and 10, mediating sibling quarrels, and serving up three meals a day for the family.

Her mental capacity is maxed out, she says, “because it’s like, I’ve got to think about all these things and still think about my work.”

Six-year-old Leo completes a homeschool activity as his mother Moira, an employee of a regional council, works from home in the village of Marsden, near Huddersfield, northern England on May 15. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

As the slow process of reopening non-essential businesses begins across Canada, Dei-Amoah is one of many female professionals and entrepreneurs struggling with work-life balance.

She’s unsure what to do with her kids this summer, with camps no longer an option, and anxious about returning to the workplace, because she’s immunocompromised.

“I don’t know how I’m gonna go back to the office. Even for the whole rest of the year. Like, I don’t know how it’s gonna be possible.”

The COVID-19 ‘she-cession’

Women bore the brunt of early COVID-19 job losses in Canada, with female-dominated sectors like child care, education, retail, and restaurant workers among the hardest hit. 

Statistics Canada recently reported 1.5 million women lost jobs over March and April, a 17-per-cent drop in employment from February levels. 

It’s a crisis some economists have dubbed a “she-cession.” But, as the pandemic wears on, women’s participation in the coronavirus economy may be heading for even rockier times. 

With children at home, and families forced to take on more domestic labour, experts predict growing numbers of working women may reduce hours or opt out of the labour market entirely.

“As we think about a working-from-home environment, especially if schools and daycares are closed, guess what? That is going to affect women and their careers the most,” said Pedro Barata, head of the Future Skills Centre, an employment research institute at Ryerson University.

Gender gap in child care and housework

Barata points to studies of dual-income heterosexual families that have found when both men and women work outside the home, the bulk of child care and household labour still falls to women. The pandemic has exacerbated these inequities, he says.

“This could actually be a step backwards rate in terms of the equality between men and women in the workplace and career paths.”

Workplaces will be dramatically different, if and when everyone returns to work, says one expert, but there could be some advantages. 5:49

The pandemic also forced Dei-Amoah’s husband to work from home, but the children see him as the “fun one.”

At first, Dei-Amoah attempted to tutor her six-year-old daughter with her reading difficulties and tackle her 10-year-old son’s math challenges. But, coupled with her banking job, it wasn’t sustainable.

“I was like, ‘You know what? Screw it. I’m concentrating on their weaknesses, not their strengths,'” said Dei-Amoah.

“We turn in some assignments. But I am not stressing over it because it’s just making my workday worse.”

‘The stress is what’s killing me’

In Lisa Iafrate’s case, the pandemic shattered her business ambitions, literally causing her to lose her hair.

“The stress is what’s killing me… because there’s so much out of my control,” said Iafrate.

Iafrate is a go-getting entrepreneur based in King City, Ont., who quit her job several years ago to launch a company called TaLii Towels that sells compact, antibacterial towels.

Lisa Iafrate, right, with King City Ont., Mayor Steve Pellegrini. (Submitted by Lisa Iafrate)

Iafrate found success in the trade show market, criss-crossing North America to sell her product. But when the pandemic hit, all the trade shows Iafrate booked this year were cancelled, and her online business dried up.

“Sales just completely stopped. Then I went into panic mode,” said Iafrate.

After weeks of depression, she hatched a plan to turn her towels into facemasks, generating enough revenue to employ her 21-year-old daughter and five local seamstresses.

Lisa Iafrate’s daughter Talia works on turning their antibacterial towels into facemasks. (Submitted by Lisa Iafrate)

However, as a 60-year-old single-mother hustling to rebuild her business, she’s exhausted by domestic chores around her house, which now doubles as her home office.

“I’m working three times harder because I have to look after the household as well as my business. And the business is already taking up 50 to 60 hours a week,” said Iafrate.

Investment in childcare needed

Barata says efforts to jumpstart the coronavirus economy have focused on investment in male-dominated industries such as manufacturing and construction, but politicians need to recognize this economic crisis is different than past downturns.

“Infrastructure investments are going to be key in terms of getting the economy back to work. But so is childcare. So are opportunities for women in terms of training and retraining,” said Barata.

Dei-Amoah says she’s fortunate her bosses have become more understanding of how and when employees work. Her inbox often gets busy in the evening, between 7-10 PM, because many of her colleagues are pulled into childcare in the afternoon. 

“It’s increased people’s understanding of what flexibility is in the workplace,” said Dei-Amoah. 

“As long as you get the work done, that is OK.”

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Wondering when Canadians can start travelling again? Here’s what you need to know

Wondering when Canadians can start travelling again? Here's what you need to know

For many Canadians, their most exciting adventure over the past couple of months has been a weekly trip to the grocery store.

But now that provinces are easing COVID-19 restrictions, some people may be contemplating travel abroad.

Here’s what you need to know about travelling outside Canada while COVID-19 still lingers in our lives.

Can I travel now?

Yes, but with a lot of conditions to consider.

On March 13, the federal government issued an advisory against all non-essential international travel, to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The advisory remains in effect until further notice.

The ancient Acropolis hill in Athens is a popular destination for tourists. Greece plans to reopen its border in July. (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

Despite the advisory, Canadians can still travel abroad. However, they may struggle to find flights and their travel insurance likely won’t cover their medical bills if they fall ill with COVID-19.

International travellers will also have to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

The Canada-U.S. border remains closed to tourists on both sides of the border until June 21. And that date could be extended if the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. — now totalling more than 1.6 million — remains a concern. 

Where can I go?

Due to closed borders and a fear of flying during the pandemic, airlines have slashed their routes.

WestJet has grounded all transborder and international routes until June 25. Air Transat and Sunwing have stopped flying altogether until June 30 and June 25, respectively. 

Air Canada is currently flying at about five per cent of its capacity. On Friday, the airline announced an updated summer schedule that offers flights to 97 destinations including Rome, Athens and locations in the Caribbean. 

Allison Wallace, spokesperson for Flight Centre, said it will take time to restore consumer confidence when it comes to Canadians travelling beyond their borders. (CBC)

Once travel restrictions are lifted, airlines will start adding more routes, said Allison Wallace, spokesperson for the travel agency Flight Centre. 

But she warns it could take up to two years for carriers to resume normal operations.

“The airlines aren’t going to come back and go to 100 per cent,” she said. “There’s sort of a general agreement that international travel will start to come back around 20 per cent by the fall — like September — and then it’ll grow from there.”

As for possible travel destinations, IcelandMexico and some Caribbean countries such as Aruba and St. Lucia plan to start welcoming back tourists in June. Greece plans to reopen in July. 

But travellers may face stiff entry requirements. For example, St. Lucia and Iceland will require that visitors get a COVID-19 test before flying and provide proof upon arrival that they’re virus-free. If travellers to Iceland can’t get a test beforehand, the country plans to test them when they arrive. 

Two boys walk past the empty plaza of Hallgrimskirkja church, normally a popular tourist destination in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland, in late April. Iceland plans to reopen to tourists in June. (AP Photo/Egill Bjarnason)

Airline analyst and McGill University Prof. Karl Moore is set to fly to Iceland in August to teach for a couple of days at Reykjavík University. 

But if he can’t get tested in Canada beforehand, Moore is unsure he’ll take the trip. That’s because, if he tests positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, he’ll have to foot the bill for a 14-day quarantine in a Reykjavik hotel. Travellers suffering from COVID-19 can’t fly back to Canada until they recover. 

“It’s going to cost me thousands of dollars to be quarantined,” said Moore. “I love Reykjavik, but I may end up teaching [instead] on Zoom.”

What about travel insurance?

Insurance broker Martin Firestone believes that when Canada lifts its advisory against international travel, travel insurance providers may continue to exclude coverage for COVID-19-related illnesses — until there’s a vaccine. 

“A person who ends up on a ventilator in the U.S., it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, so [insurance providers] are in no position to take that risk,” said Firestone, president of Travel Secure in Toronto.

He said if travel insurance continues to exclude COVID-19 illnesses, many Canadians will refuse to travel, including his snowbird clients.

“I’m worried that the entire snowbird season, upcoming, could be put on ice … until such a time that there is a cure or a vaccine.”

CBC News reached out to several major insurance travel providers to find out if they would resume covering COVID-19-related issues when Canada lifts its travel advisory. They said they couldn’t make a definitive statement at this time.

What will air travel look like?

In Canada, the federal government has mandated that all air passengers wear face masks on planes, and in airports when social distancing isn’t possible.

Airlines are promising a long list of safety measures to protect passengers from catching COVID-19. Air Canada has implemented temperature checks, frequent cabin cleanings, and says strangers won’t have to sit side by side in economy class — which means the dreaded middle seat will remain empty. 

WATCH | Airports and airlines develop new ways to help passengers feel safer:

Technology could play a big role as airports and airlines develop new ways to help passengers feel safer. 3:43

Several airlines have pledged not to sell the middle seat on planes, as a protective measure. However, this plan may not last.

This month, the International Air Transport Association declared that, while it supports protective measures on planes, it opposes blocking the middle seat.

The association argues that the risk of virus transmission on board is low and axing middle seat sales will kill airline profits — unless ticket prices go up.

It’s important to note that, even if travel restrictions are lifted and airlines add more flights, any vacation plans could quickly fizzle if we’re hit with a severe second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.

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Hertz files for U.S. bankruptcy protection as car rentals evaporate in pandemic

Hertz files for U.S. bankruptcy protection as car rentals evaporate in pandemic

The more-than-a-century-old car rental firm Hertz Global Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday after its business all but vanished during the coronavirus pandemic and talks with creditors failed to result in needed relief.

Hertz said in a U.S. court filing on Friday that it voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. Its international operating regions including Europe, Australia and New Zealand were not included in the U.S. proceedings.

The firm, whose largest shareholder is billionaire investor Carl Icahn, is reeling from government orders restricting travel and requiring citizens to remain home. A large portion of Hertz’s revenue comes from car rentals at airports, which have all but evaporated as potential customers eschew plane travel.

With nearly $19 billion US of debt and roughly 38,000 employees worldwide as of the end of 2019, Hertz is among the largest companies to be undone by the pandemic. The public health crisis has also caused a cascade of bankruptcies or Chapter 11 preparations among companies dependent on consumer demand, including retailers, restaurants and oil and gas firms.

U.S. airlines have so far avoided similar fates after receiving billions of dollars in government aid, an avenue Hertz has explored without success.

A Hertz car rental location is seen closed during the coronavirus pandemic in Paramus, N.J., on May 6. (Ted Shaffrey/The Associated Press)

The Estero, Fla.-based company, which operates Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty car-rentals, had been in talks with creditors after skipping significant car-lease payments due in April. Forbearance and waiver agreements on the missed payments were set to expire on May 22. Hertz has about $1 billion US of cash.

The size of Hertz’s lease obligations have increased as the value of vehicles declined because of the pandemic. In an attempt to appease creditors holding asset-backed securities that finance its fleet of more than 500,000 vehicles, Hertz has proposed selling more than 30,000 cars a month through the end of the year in an effort to raise around $5 billion US, a person familiar with the matter said.

On May 16, the board appointed executive Paul Stone to replace Kathryn Marinello as CEO. Hertz earlier laid off about 10,000 employees and said there was substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.

Hertz’s woes are compounded by the complexity of its balance sheet, which includes more than $14 billion US of securitized debt. The proceeds from those securities finance purchases of vehicles that are then leased to Hertz in exchange for monthly payments that have risen as the value of cars fall.

A Hertz rental car worker checks out cars at San Jose International Airport in San Jose, Calif., in May 2011. (Paul Sakuma/The Associated Press)

Hertz also has traditional credit lines, loans and bonds with conditions that can trigger defaults based on missing those lease payments or failing to meet other conditions, such as delivering a timely operating budget and reimbursing funds it has borrowed.

Hertz earlier signaled it could avoid bankruptcy if it received relief from creditors or financial aid the company and its competitors have sought from the U.S. government. The U.S. Treasury has started assisting companies as part of an unprecedented $2.3 trillion US relief package passed by Congress and signed into law.

A trade group representing Hertz, the American Car Rental Association, has asked Congress to do more for the industry by expanding coronavirus relief efforts and advancing new legislation targeting tourism-related businesses.

A customer checks in at a Hertz car rental counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in November 2013. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)

Even before the pandemic, Hertz and its peers were under financial pressure as travellers shifted to ride-hailing services such as Uber.

To combat Uber, Hertz had adopted a turnaround plan, aiming to modernize its smartphone apps and improve management of its fleet of rental cars.

Hertz traces its roots to 1918, when Walter Jacobs, then a pioneer of renting cars, founded a company allowing customers to temporarily drive one of a dozen Ford Motor Co Model Ts, according to the company’s website.

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Biden blasts Keystone XL, calling it ‘tarsands we don’t need’

Biden blasts Keystone XL, calling it 'tarsands we don't need'

Joe Biden has criticized Canadian “tarsands” oil, doubling down on his promise to scrap the Keystone XL pipeline if he’s elected U.S. president in November.

The presumptive Democratic nominee made clear in an interview with CNBC that a statement from his campaign earlier this week reflects his position: He wants the pipeline stopped.

“I’ve been against Keystone from the beginning. It is tarsands that we don’t need — that in fact is very, very high pollutant,” Biden said Friday.

When pressed by an interviewer about the damage this pledge might do to the oil industry, Biden replied that he doesn’t want to shut down all projects immediately.

He brushed off, however, the importance of the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline to the U.S. industry.

“We’re gonna transition gradually to get to a clean economy,” Biden said.

“But the idea of shutting down Keystone, as if that is the thing that keeps the oil industry moving, is just not rational. It does not economically, nor, in my view, environmentally, make any sense.”

Criticism from Alberta

His remarks reaffirmed a statement released by his campaign earlier this week.

Biden’s promise to cancel the pipeline has caused some consternation across the border. In Alberta, taxpayers are investing $1.5 billion in the pipeline project.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney this week said Biden would have a hard time explaining to Americans why he’d kill a part-finished project.

Construction recently began on the long-delayed project, which would carry oilsands crude into a system connected to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

The pipeline’s backers hope it might alleviate bottlenecks that have often plagued Alberta’s land-locked oil, and eventually carry roughly one-fifth of all the oil Canada exports to the U.S.

In Canada, the Trudeau Liberals’ opponents have urged them to use their well-documented connections to Biden’s inner circle to change the candidate’s mind.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the Liberal government should be lobbying their “friends in the Democratic party” on Keystone XL.

WATCH | Trudeau vows support for Keystone XL project:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s always supported the Keystone XL project and will work with the next U.S. administration to ensure it understands the project’s importance to Canada. Trudeau is responding to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden saying that he will cancel the project if he’s elected. 0:58

Early work begun

Construction is barely underway.

The Associated Press reports that a nearly two-kilometre section has been completed across the Alberta-Montana border. However, legal and logistical challenges risk further slowing the projected three-year construction. 

The AP said site work has begun for labour camps near Baker, Mont., and Philip, S.D., but there is no date to occupy them.

The state of Montana expects plans from TC Energy, the Calgary-based company building the pipeline, on precautions to avoid spread of COVID-19 among workers, but has not received them yet.

In addition, a May 15 ruling from a Montana federal judge cancelled a key permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required to build the line across hundreds of streams, wetlands and other water bodies.

The pipeline debate was a major issue in U.S. politics several years ago. After years of delay, then-president Barack Obama cancelled a critical permit in 2015, a move President Donald Trump reversed in 2017. 

Yet Biden’s announcement this week produced few headlines in the U.S. Even on Friday, other remarks by Biden drew far more attention.

They included him telling CNBC that businesses should pay higher taxes — he specifically mentioned Amazon.

But the comment that got the most attention, by far, was Biden telling an African American radio interviewer that people who consider voting for Trump “ain’t black.”

The Trump campaign called the remark disgusting and tweeted about it nearly two dozen times Friday morning. Biden’s campaign said the remark was made in jest.

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