November 11, 2021
Supply, Demand, and Free Cash for Everyone
How COVID-19 coupled with unprecedented government spending threw production and prices into a tailspin
On a recent grocery run, I noticed a sign that said, “Due to fluctuating market conditions and rapid price increases, the price on the shelf may not match actual price at register. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Posters like this one are cropping up in stores all over the country as shoppers and sellers scramble to adjust to shortages, price hikes, and a turbulent, ever-changing economy. The sense of unrest and uncertainty permeates vacant store shelves, yawning car lots, and the offices of businesses the world over. Together with pros from a variety of industries, the Voice explored the evolving marketplace shifts and how they affect us all.
Shlomo Friedman, Imperial Real Estate
“It’s not just inflation that’s driving market prices up,” Shlomo of Imperial Real Estate is quick to clarify. “Every industry has different reasons for its charge changes. Real estate is very different from commodities in that it does not really have a market price. Each property is unique, and each buyer is unique. The principle of supply and demand is what dictates real estate prices all the time, and the current price hikes are driven by the tight ratio between supply and demand.
“There are many factors that contribute to the steep demand for real estate. Lakewood is a remarkably fast-growing place, both because of internal growth and due to people moving here for the yeshivah, the conveniences, or the suburban lifestyle. But this isn’t a neighborhood issue. Real estate in most of the country is suffering from steep prices and an alarming dearth of supply.”
Shlomo explains that although house prices are historically high, so are paychecks and stimulus checks. We’re spending more money and we’re making more money. The value of the dollar is changing; the worth of 50 dollars is different from a few years ago. From lettuce and cucumbers to cars and homes, market prices are rising. So is the cost of labor; workers need to make more money so they can afford to purchase these things. Everything is priced out; all the numbers have increased. That’s inflation. And although inflation is not the driving force behind the rising housing prices, it certainly is a factor.
Shlomo says, “The solution to the real estate problem is to develop a huge number of homes, thereby changing the supply-demand proportion and bringing costs back to normal.
He cautions would-be home buyers, “Ignore all the predictions and speculation out there; don’t buy or sell because you believe prices will go up or down. Never make a move based on fear of the future; you cannot win like that. Be proactive; don’t postpone buying until you are forced to. Take a serious look at your needs and capabilities. You may have to stretch to purchase; make sure that you are stretching responsibly. Do what is right for you and your family today; real peace and security come from living in the present. And don’t be afraid for the future, because Mashiach is coming!”
Yisroel Shochet, YS Construction
“A truck of concrete or custom windows used to take a couple of days to arrive,” says Yisroel Shochet, the exasperated owner of YS Construction. “Today, I can wait weeks for the same order. There are fewer truckers and fewer supplies, and the costs are reflecting that. Just a year ago, there was a high demand for jobs. Today, it is difficult to find a worker; nobody wants to work. Materials are expensive, labor is expensive, and everyone is suffering.
“Prices do seem to be settling, though,” he continues. “A friend of mine wanted to build an extension and pushed it off in the hope that prices would return to pre-pandemic norms. What would have cost him 80,000 dollars in lumber last year now costs about 28,000 dollars. So yes, things are slowly improving, but until we get our country running and get workers back in factories and warehouses, these problems will persist.
“For business owners out there: keep working; there is plenty of business, and we will pull through.”
Jeremie Benabou, Westmount Auto Lease
“I can’t predict the future, but based on what we are seeing, we are now at the peak of the car shortage,” says Jeremie of Westmount Auto Lease. “I believe that the high will last until January, after which things should slowly return to normal sometime in mid-2024. The industry fell behind tremendously—the backlog is unbelievable—and that’s why it will take so long for the market to recover.
“Prospectors beware: if you have a car right now, hold onto it. Don’t go crazy trying to sell your vehicle and make money; it’s a bad idea. If you’re leasing, keep leasing, and if you own a car, stick with it.
“If you need a vehicle, pay whatever the cost is; prices won’t be going down anytime soon. View the steeper lease or purchase rate as another cost of COVID: it’s frustrating, it’s expensive, but you cannot avoid spending on the things you need, even when they cost more than normal.
“The only thing that will get us out of this mess is increasing production and competition. We need to manufacture more; we need to get the chain of production moving again. Right now, it’s not worth it to hustle for labor; there is no job competition. People should be paid less to produce more.
“We also need to jumpstart product competition. Manufacturers and sellers today can charge whatever they want, and the buyers have no choice but to pay.
“Understand that although corporations are selling fewer products, they are charging steeper prices and therefore don’t take fiscal losses. When all is said and done, it is the end user who loses out in the absence of capitalism.”
Moshe Kramer, Priority Auto Mall
With an empty car lot and lengthy waiting list, Moshe Kramer clearly sees the far-reaching effects of the pandemic. He advises, “In today’s market, you’re better off buying a car than leasing. The best thing you can do is buy a relatively new vehicle and finance it. At the end, you have equity; you get to keep the car. A cheap car costs approximately 15,000 dollars for a 36-month lease, and at the end of the three years you are left with nothing. When you finance a car, on the other hand, you spend 20- to 30,000 dollars and own it after five or six years, at which point the car is generally worth 50 percent of the lease cost.”
Shimon Lazer Handler, Super Stop
“There are extreme price changes; bread went up 15–20 percent; plastic goods from China increased by 80 percent. Everything across the board is going up, and the products are limited, too. Shipping containers went from 2,800–4,500 dollars to 18,500 dollars. The bulkier the products are, the more they cost to ship, hence the higher prices of containers, 9”x13”s, and paper towel rolls.
“I don’t see things getting better so fast,” Shimon continues. “Not until COVID restrictions are lifted and people can fly and do business normally. Factories and corporations are demanding that their workers get vaccinated, and people are quitting every day. Shechitah houses, for example, are operating at 50 percent capacity, and poultry orders are unreliable at best.”
As a store owner, Shimon observes massive food stamp increases and the financial freedom they afford their users. “It worries me,” he says. “The government is pumping money into the system; the bills are paper; they have no value. People don’t care about prices now; the stimulus checks and government programs have them covered. What people don’t recognize is, the government doesn’t give money; it doesn’t own a dollar. The government give from others; the question is who will pay.
“Eventually, the government will investigate everyone who took from the COVID funds. So be wise, think of the future, and make sure that you qualify for everything that you take and you’re using the funds in compliance with government guidelines.
“We may have to go back to the way our grandparents lived: using real dishes, not disposables; eating homemade food instead of takeout; shopping wisely; and saving what we can. Times are difficult, and all we can do is daven.”
Shmuel Kanarek, Kanarek and Co
Shmuel, an accountant at Kanarek and Co, outlines the government’s plans for the future and how it will put inflation on steroids.
“The Democrats want to pass the Reconciliation Bill. They want 350 trillion dollars to spend on free day care, expanded health care, free community college, and developing natural energy to replace fossil fuel.
“To empower businesses, President Trump lowered corporation taxes to 21 percent. With the new bill, the Democrats want to raise them to 28 percent, tax the wealthy 39 percent—before surcharges—and implement a first-ever levy on unrealized capital gains, taking a 39 percent cut of these as well.
“Another historical change is that the IRS will receive 80 billion dollars for increased tax enforcement and auditing. They will be monitoring all bank accounts, even those of low-income individuals. Any significant amount of money that passes through these accounts will be reported and taxed.
“Conventional wisdom posits that the Reconciliation Bill will be passed, but modified and somewhat scaled back, as it is opposed by two Democratic senators and cannot get a majority vote.”
Who will be hurt by the increased taxes? “The short answer—despite the government’s promises that the middle class will be unaffected—is, everyone. When corporations’ taxes are raised, the costs are passed on to the consumer. These changes will affect businesses and filter down to the middle-income earners, who will ultimately bear the biggest brunt of the bill.”
Ozer Goldberg, Shoppers Paradise
Ozer Goldberg’s Shoppers Paradise has been a part of Lakewood for as long as most people can remember. Today, he is seeing record changes in the market.
“Shipping costs have increased to four or five times the normal price, and suppliers in all industries are charging more to reflect the shifts. However, there is a limit to how drastically sellers can mark up their prices, and proprietors are losing revenue as a result. In the end, both the consumers and the sellers suffer. Items are coming late, things are unavailable, and shipping containers are stuck at ports. There aren’t enough workers, and China is shutting factories and delaying shipments. Despite all these difficulties, we are working hard to keep prices as low as we can.”
Mr. Goldberg’s advice is to daven. “Times are hard right now; all we can do is rely on Hashem,” he says.
Mitul Patel, Singin Gas
“I don’t see gas prices going down any time soon,” says Mitul Patel, owner of Singin Gas. “I believe that there is a shortage of gas and that is why the prices are going up, up, up.”
Indeed, anyone who has filled a tank lately has noticed the significantly higher cost.
The manager at Creative Kids shares, “We’re seeing prices go up for all materials. The cost of labor is skyrocketing; people don’t want to work when they are being paid by the leadership to stay at home. Another concern is the cost and unpredictability of importing. We cannot rely on our products coming on time, and when they finally arrive, they are often the wrong styles or quantities.”
When asked how Creative Kids is compensating for increased costs, she explains, “We cater to morahs and babysitters. They aren’t charging more for their services, and we want to keep our prices as low as possible. We’re all taking a hit.
“The solution to these issues lies in manufacturing domestically. If we make things here in America, we will no longer need to rely on China for goods,” she continues. “Additionally, the government needs to stop incentivizing workers to stay home; our economy cannot run on free money.
“The message in all of this is that life is unpredictable, and we need to make do with the things that we have. These shortages and higher prices are teaching us to accept change and adapt. Don’t sweat the small stuff; appreciate what you have and work around what you don’t.”
|November 2020||November 2021|
|Full tank of gas||$45||$60|
|Sleeve of plastic cups||$1||$2|
|2×4 of wood||$3||$5|
|Toyota Camry lease||$390/month||$450/month|
With the cost of living quickly changing, now is a great time to reevaluate and reconstruct your financial plan. Below are some basic budgeting tips.
- The first step in budgeting is getting a clear understanding of your after-tax income, expenses, and savings. You may need to track your expenses for a month or two to learn where your paycheck is really going. First and foremost, ensure that your input is more than your output and that you have some extra funds just in case.
If your income doesn’t exceed your expenses with a safe buffer sum in between, something needs to change. Explore more money-making avenues or cut out unnecessary lifestyle costs, or both.
- Choose a budget style. There are myriads of options, so select the model that works best for you. Popular methods include:
- The envelope system: This cash-only method, perhaps the most extreme model, urges its users to quit their credit cards. The envelope system allows you to see where your money is going and recognize its real value—an experience that simply swiping a card cannot afford. Mark each monthly envelope with its purpose and amount, including expense categories such as tuition, mortgage or rent, groceries, utilities, car payments, and miscellaneous. Use cash only for all expenditures. If you don’t have it, you can’t spend it.
- The pay-yourself-first system: Take savings and/or debt-repaying funds off your paycheck immediately. After paying normal monthly expenses, you can spend any remaining funds on whatever you’d like.
- 50/30/20 system: Break down your income into three main categories: 50 percent major expenses, 30 percent discretionary expenses, and 20 percent savings and/or debt payment.
- Stick with your budget and track your progress. It is best to consistently reevaluate whether your budget is working for you and whether there is more you can do to improve your finances.
Times are tough for people in all financial brackets. Even high- and middle-income families can be eligible for these beneficial programs:
- NJ FamilyCare: NJ FamilyCare is no longer charging premiums. Children on CHIP who previously had to pay a monthly cost for coverage are no longer being charged monthly. Additionally, the three-month-gap-in-employer-insurance rule has been lifted; anyone holding back from applying for NJ FamilyCare because of the mandatory three-month gap in employer coverage can now go ahead and apply. You may need to provide an insurance termination letter, since children on CHIP are still not able to have a private health insurance plan.
- Health insurance assistance from Get Covered NJ: If your household income is above the limits for NJ FamilyCare, you may be eligible for significant savings if you purchase your private health insurance plan from the State exchange. Private insurance plans purchased through the exchange have exactly the same networks and benefits as plans you pay full price for from a broker. Open enrollment for 2022 coverage is from November 1 through January 31. Visit www.getcoveredn.nj.gov for an estimate of how much you may save. LRRC health insurance navigators are happy to help; you can request an appointment by going to oe2022.lrrcenter.org.
- Assistance for children with medical costs who have private health insurance: If you have a child aged 16 or younger who has private health insurance and needs medical care, you may be eligible for assistance from the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation. This foundation provides grants of up to 5,000 dollars to help pay medical costs (not for children on NJ FamilyCare). For eligibility requirements and exclusions and to apply, visit their website: www.uhccf.org/apply-for-a-grant/.
- Utility assistance: Recently, the income limits for HEAP and USF, which provide energy assistance, have gone up significantly. For example, a family of five earning less than 10,347 dollars per month is now eligible for USF, and families earning less than 7,470 per month are now eligible for HEAP. For more information and to apply, visit heap.lrrcenter.org. If you received a notice from the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) stating that you are eligible for utility relief from the American Rescue Plan, you may be eligible for additional COVID-related utility assistance.
- Comfort Partners: If you are living in a home as a primary residence for at least one year, have utility bills in your name, and have an income of less than 250 percent FPL ($77,600 annually for a family of five), you may be eligible for this free home energy-efficiency program which helps reduce utility bills through implementing cost-effective measures which save energy and money while improving a home’s safety and comfort. Energy-efficiency measures may include installing lighting products, hot water conservation measures, replacing inefficient refrigerators and thermostats, insulation upgrades, air sealing, duct sealing and repair, and heating/cooling equipment maintenance. Services are made available based on funding. To apply, contact NJ Clean Energy at 888-773-8326 or www.njcleanenergy.com.
- Excluded New Jerseyans Fund: If you were ineligible for COVID-19 stimulus checks and pandemic unemployment assistance and you suffered an economic hardship due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for assistance from this state fund. Eligible individuals include undocumented individuals, residents in reentry programs, and any other individuals who are excluded. Go to https://nj.gov/humanservices/excludednjfund/ to apply.
- Mortgage assistance from Lakewood Township Affordable Housing Trust Fund: If you are a Lakewood Township resident experiencing a temporary crisis that makes it difficult for you to make your mortgage payments (such as loss of a job, illness, or necessary repair of a vehicle), you may be eligible for assistance of up to three months in paying your mortgage. To download an application, go to https://bit.ly/ah2020ma.
First-time home buying assistance: Many first-time home buying programs are available to assist you with purchasing a primary residence. These programs can provide lower mortgage rates, lower payment requirements with no mortgage insurance, and grants to cover closing costs. If you are considering purchasing a home within the next year or two, you should join the LRRC Zoom housing class before beginning to search for a home. Unfortunately, clients sometimes contact the LRRC when they are too close to closing, and it is too late to access these programs. Call the LRRC at 732-942-9292