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Five Star Global Cancels Conferences in Response to COVID-19

On Friday, March 6, Five Star Global, the parent company of the Five Star Institute and the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors, announced the cancellation of its Spring conference schedule, including the Single-Family Rental Summit, the Government Forum, and the National Mortgage Servicing Association Spring meeting.

The conferences were scheduled between March 23 and April 2 in Dallas and Washington, D.C.

“In response to the fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19 and as a proactive precaution, canceling the conferences was the most responsible decision for us as an organization,” said Ed Delgado, President and CEO of Five Star Global. “Five Star Global’s priority remains our people: attendees, members, staff, and colleagues.”

The cancellations come amidst a week where the stock market reeled from news of the COVID-19’s spread, with investors and industries ranging from travel and entertainment to hospitality feeling the brunt of uncertainty and the ongoing attempts to contain and mitigate the impact of the disease.

"We are erring on the side of caution," said Terry Smith, CEO of Rushmore Loan Management Services. "I have sent out instructions to my team to limit travel to only that which is absolutely necessary. We're also having employees self-quarantine if they've been in contact with anyone from any of the high-risk areas of the world. I've also mandated that there are no visitors allowed in any of the Rushmore offices. We're using video conference for everything. I agree with Ed's decision to cancel Five Star's near-term conferences. I think that is the right decision."

Caroline Reaves, CEO of Mortgage Contracting Services, told DS News, “While it is never easy to change well-made plans, especially around something as large as an industry conference, it is sometimes necessary. Flexibility is really in the DNA of our industry. We are frequently challenged with changing regulations, guidelines, and trends; and we have always found ways to successfully work through the challenges. I am confident we will work through this challenge as well. I do think it is important to keep the health and well-being of our employees, clients, and vendors as our top priority.”

“As with any major event, the industry needs to remain diligent in its response,” said Alan Jaffa, CEO, Safeguard Properties. “Taking necessary precautions to protect those who manage the nation’s housing stock should continue to be our focus.”

Tim Rood, Head of Industry Relations at SitusAMC and the Chairman of The Collingwood Group, told DS News, "I think Five Star's decision is perfectly reasonable, defensible, and unselfish. My hope is that politicians will apply a similar calculus to their decision making when it comes to doing right by their constituents and the financial markets. What is clearly needed now is bipartisan legislation to create fiscal stimulus, whether via payroll tax cuts or some form of government spending, but during a hotly contested election year I fear that we’ll need to go to the brink before either party capitulates."

On the mortgage industry front, an increasing number of banks and other organizations announced plans to limit nonessential business travel over the past few days. According to a Bloomberg report on Monday, March 2, “Citigroup Inc., Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo & Co. told employees not to travel internationally without approval from top company executives, expanding earlier restrictions that targeted countries where the outbreak was most severe. MetLife Inc. and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. imposed similar rules, people familiar with the matter said, and JPMorgan Chase & Co., the biggest U.S. bank, did so last week.”

On Wednesday, WFG National Title Insurance Company cancelled its March Summit that had been scheduled to take place in Orlando. The next day, the Mortgage Bankers Association cancelled its Technology Solutions Conference & Expo that was scheduled for March 29-April 1 in Los Angeles. Also on Thursday, the Federal Reserve, OCC, and FDIC announced plans to reschedule its National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference that had been scheduled to unfold March 9-12 in Denver.

The trend continued on Friday as the Consumer Bankers Association announced via Twitter that they would be rescheduling their CBA Live 2020 event, which had been scheduled for March 23-25. Late in the day, the National Association of Realtors announced cancellations for both its Joint AE Institute, scheduled for March 13-16 in San Diego, and its Realtor Broker Summit, scheduled for March 31-April 1 in Los Angeles.

Nor has the impact been limited to the financial services sector: on Friday the iconic SXSW Festival in Austin called off its 2020 event as well.

As of Thursday, March 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there have been 95,333 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally. Johns Hopkins University’s estimated total topped that number at 100,347 as of early Friday morning. As of that same time, the global death tally had reached just over 3,400, with more than 55,000 patients having recovered from the virus.

As of Friday morning, there have been more than 200 reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States since January 21, with 12 total deaths and instances reported in 13 separate states. Stateside, most cases have been reported in California and Washington.

The economic impact from the virus is also becoming widespread, with many attempting to forecast its long-term effects but many questions remaining. Oxford Economics reported that an international health crisis—such as a coronavirus pandemic—could potentially wipe out more than $1 trillion from the global GDP. 

Mortgage rates have also been impacted, with Markets Insider this week reporting that virus fears had caused rates to slip to an eight-year low.

On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve announced that it would cut interest rates by half a percentage point in an effort to boost the U.S. economy due to the continuing spread of the coronavirus. 

“The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong,” the Fed said in a statement. “However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity.”

The main borrowing rate set by the Fed now sits between 1% and 1.25%, which is nearing historic lows. 

“Other countries are doing the same thing, if not more so,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter Tuesday. “Our Federal Reserve has us paying higher rates than many others when we should be paying less. Tough on our exporters and puts the USA at a competitive disadvantage. Must be the other way around. Should ease and cut-rate big. Jerome Powell of the Federal Reserve has called it wrong from day one.” 

Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale said that the evolving understanding of the virus makes it difficult to forecast the eventual “human and economic impacts.” 

“There have been periods when it seemed that the virus might be relatively contained as with the SARS outbreak many years ago,” Hale said. “New information suggests that COVID-19 may be more easily spread and thus will have more wide-spread impacts. But we are still learning, and as we learn more, markets will adjust to price-in this new information.” 

During a press conference Thursday, WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops. Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans. This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government."

Also on Thursday, the Senate voted to approve an $8.3 billion emergency spending package designed to help combat the virus. President Trump signed his approval of that package on Friday morning.

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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