Street Talk

Street Talk: More than just money

Giving spirit.

December 6, 2019
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Guiding Light has partnered with Chemical Bank to offer the men in its Back to Work program a finance class to help them tackle their debt.

In addition to making a donation to the Back to Work program, members of the Grand Rapids team of Chemical Bank, a division of TCF, took an extra step by volunteering their time to teach a class focused on banking basics to reduce and eventually eliminate the debt commonly accumulated by the men at Guiding Light. Topics discussed in the classes include budgeting, credit scores and savings plans.

“We are not just supplying Guiding Light with a donation, but we are also teaching financial literacy,” said Sue Mikel, CRA market manager and one of the instructors from Chemical Bank. “Guiding Light has been wonderful to work with, and the classes have been really engaging. We are excited to help these men change their lives.”

Men who enroll in the Back to Work program face significant barriers to finding and keeping full-time work, including lack of housing and transportation. Debt proves to be a significant obstacle with men shouldering an average of nearly $13,000 in debt when they enter the program.

“Chemical Bank’s financial impact has been a tremendous help and the willingness to go beyond that speaks volumes to who they are as a company,” said Jeff Courtley, director for Guiding Light’s Back to Work program. “Having team members teach this class shows how much they care about our community, and we are grateful for their time. I look forward to continuing to build off the early success of this class.”

Mikel, whose duties include community outreach, was given the idea to donate to Guiding Light by branch manager Christine Felde, a volunteer at Guiding Light who has since joined Mikel as a course instructor.

After the donation was made, Mikel and Guiding Light Executive Director Stuart Ray agreed to enhance the donation with classes.

Trade, not aid

Noting the mounting frustration of Michigan farmers to see progress on resolving numerous trade disputes while dealing with significant weather-related challenges in 2019, Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski said it’s time for Washington, D.C., to understand farmers want trade, not aid.

In his annual address to members attending the organization’s 100th annual meeting in Grand Rapids last week, Bednarski, a Tuscola County cash-crop farmer, said Congressional approval of the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is long overdue.

Despite repeated assurances the USMCA agreement eventually will pass, Bednarski said time and patience both are running short over the refusal by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to schedule the trade package for a floor vote.

“When we can’t approve a trade deal with our two closest neighbors, it sends a message to the global marketplace,” Bednarski said. “It says we’re more concerned with politics than being serious contenders in agricultural trade.”

Bednarski said political stonewalling on the USMCA vote, along with ongoing trade disputes with China and the European Union, is affecting farm profitability.

“We all understand there are many longstanding trade issues that need to be addressed,” Bednarski said regarding China. “Unfortunately, U.S. agriculture has been targeted in the ongoing trade and tariff dispute.”

On a positive trade note, Bednarski said the recently announced trade deal with Japan, the third-largest ag export market, is great news. “As a result, Michigan farmers will have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field while gaining access to 127 million Japanese consumers,” he said.

Turning to weather-related challenges and record levels of prevented planting of many major Michigan crops, Bednarski credited multiple state and federal agencies, including the USDA and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration for their quick responses.

“We worked with commodity executives, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, Michigan State University and agribusiness to develop revised emergency prevent plant guidelines that included emergency forage provisions from RMA for crop insurance policyholders,” he said.

Bednarski also noted the assistance of state legislators and Whitmer to quickly move and approve legislation providing $15 million in funding for the pre-existing Agriculture Loan Origination Program, designed to allow financial institutions to make low-interest loans to farmers, processors and farm-related retailers.

My true love gave to me

The PNC Christmas Price Index predicts true loves will find all is calm when putting the gifts under the tree this holiday shopping season.

Purchasing the gifts included in the classic holiday song, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” will cost just 0.2% more than it did in 2018, according to the 36th annual holiday economic analysis by The PNC Financial Services Group.

PNC calculated the 2019 price tag for The PNC Christmas Price Index at $38,993.59, a negligible $67.56 or 0.2% more than last year’s cost, but less than the government’s Consumer Price Index, which increased 1.8% through October in year-over-year measurement before seasonal adjustment.

“Despite the stock market hitting record highs recently, it is a welcome gift for the holidays that the PNC Christmas Price Index stayed relatively flat this year,” said Amanda Agati, chief investment strategist for PNC Asset Management Group. “However, the scrooges of the season are the gold rings, which saw the biggest year-over-year price increase in the index, and prices for some of our fowl friends, which are truly foul.”

The cost of each item was revealed late last month. This year’s insights include:

• The price for turtle doves was down a dramatic 20%, the first drop in price since 2004.

• After falling in 2018 due to less demand and fluctuations in gold prices, gold rings rebounded with a 10% increase in 2019.

• For the second year in a row, geese saw a substantial rise in price, gaining 7.7% in 2019, largely due to an increase of interest in backyard farming.

To mirror the government’s core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices, PNC removes the swans — typically the most volatile item in the index — from its total index.

The core PNC Christmas Price Index was up 0.3% from a year ago, while the government’s core Consumer Price Index rose 2.3% year-over-year through October. Normally, both core indexes trail fluctuations seen in the overall index prices.

For tech-savvy true loves, the PNC Christmas Price Index also calculates the cost of “The 12 Days of Christmas” gifts purchased on the internet. As internet prices tend to be higher, due to travel and shipping costs, true loves will have to splurge $42,258.91 ($3,265.32 more than in-store purchases) for the convenience of online shopping this year.

A PNC predecessor bank in Philadelphia began estimating the cost of the 12 Christmas gifts in 1984 as a holiday client letter. This year’s price is about 95% higher than the inaugural report 35 years ago.

As part of its annual tradition, PNC also tabulates the “true cost of Christmas,” which is the total cost of items bestowed by a true love who repeats all the song’s verses. Purchasing all 364 gifts will require $170,298.03, down $64.23 from last year.

The PNC index’s sources include retailers, hatcheries, the Philadelphia-based PHILADANCO and the Pennsylvania Ballet Company.

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