For the construction business, the pandemic’s damage has been uneven. Construction employment declined by 975,000 jobs in April, according to a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and data from construction technology firm Procore. Those contractors who focus on the hospitality retail business have especially suffered.
However, some areas have continued to work but within new parameters: wearing masks, keeping worksites cleaner and social distancing. These changes have meant an über “new normal” for the construction business, says Nick Giacoumakis, president and founder of New England Investment & Retirement Group and Business Succession Advisors, whose construction-related clients make up about 20% of his practice.
“You know face masks aren’t easy to come by,” he says. “A client told me he had to spend $95,000 on face masks in the past 30 days. That’s a lot of face masks, [but] you’re putting 400-500 people in the field and they have to wear face masks.” He adds that social distancing is “going to make [site planning] more complex” as work stations often overlap or are closer than six feet apart.
Giacoumakis is no stranger to the construction world. His father was a subcontractor and he spent time in his youth working on job sites. Today his advisory firm has two offices in the north Boston area and one in Naples, Florida, and has $650 million in assets under management with about 700 households.
In the construction arena, his business handles mostly general contractor owners and subcontractors but also some of their employees. Many of his larger contractor clients were able to get Paycheck Protection Program loans to carry them for the short term, and there hasn’t been much disruption — yet.
But he has smaller clients who haven’t been able to get loans and have “struggled a little bit more.” Therefore, he focuses more on the cash flow problems of a client’s business rather than any retirement woes. As of yet, he says, clients haven’t been tapping into those savings.
But cash flow to keep the businesses going is a problem, and his clients have standard options such as traditional bank financing, outside investors, or insurance policies with business interruption insurance riders.
But his firm mainly works with them, and has even before the pandemic, on collateralized loan programs through his firm’s custodians, TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab and Fidelity.
“Contractors can typically borrow 50% of the assets in their account at low interest rates and with little to no paperwork,” he explains. “Normally those loans are tax-deductible, so it’s a great opportunity to generate liquidity. Most major custodians offer this lending service now.”
His clients also work with contractors, subcontractors and others vendors to work out payment arrangements that are more flexible to help the cash crunch, Giacoumakis says.
As some U.S. states reopen, Giacoumakis sees some people going back to work, but “even though these job sites are opening up and things are getting back to hopefully some degree of normal, normal will never be the same,” he says. “The reason why is there are going to be changes in the way that contractors and sub contractors have to operate their business” such as managing the crew flows on a site so proper spacing is maintained.
The challenges today aren’t like those during the 2008 financial crisis, which was “a different situation,” he says. “What we saw [then] was a credit driven recession. The business and construction industry just fell off a cliff.”
However, today, “the economy was running at 120 m.p.h. and we get an engineered recession that is based on a health pandemic,” he says. This means jobs may continue, but with workforce reductions and even some shutdowns, a major risk is completion deadlines, which may not be altered even with the pandemic. “And there are penalties for that,” he says.
Although some areas continue to be busy, such as semiconductor and telecom infrastructure, other clients are having to make changes, especially those who were focused on the hospitality retail niche.
With his 25 years of experience in this sector, which has seen many ups and downs, Giacoumakis is realistic.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions [with those clients], being outside advisors, but many have come to this reality on their own, that they need to rapidly reinvent themselves and go after more public-sector work, which might be hospitals or health care centers,” he says.
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