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GRANITE FALLS ENERGY, LLC

(GFGY)
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GRANITE FALLS ENERGY LLC : Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (form 10-Q)

03/17/2021 | 01:57pm EDT

We prepared the following discussion and analysis to help readers better understand our financial condition, changes in our financial condition, and results of operations for the three months ended January 31, 2021 and 2020.

This section should be read in conjunction with the condensed consolidated unaudited financial statements and related notes in PART I - Item 1 of this report and the information contained in the Company's annual report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2020.

Disclosure Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") encourages companies to disclose forward-looking information so investors can better understand future prospects and make informed investment decisions. As such, we have historical information, as well as forward-looking statements regarding our business, financial condition, results of operations, performance and prospects in this report. All statements that are not historical or current facts are forward-looking statements. In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by terms such as "anticipates," "believes," "could," "estimates," "expects," "intends," "may," "plans," "potential," "predicts," "projects," "should," "will," "would," and similar expressions.

Forward-looking statements are subject to a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, many of which may be beyond our control, and may cause actual results, performance or achievements to differ materially from those projected in, expressed or implied by forward-looking statements. While it is impossible to identify all such factors, factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those estimated by us are described more particularly in the "Risk Factors" section of our annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended October 31, 2020. These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the following:

Fluctuations in the price of ethanol as a result of a number of factors,

? including: the price and availability of competing fuels; the overall supply

and demand for ethanol and corn; the price of gasoline, crude oil and corn; and

government policies;

? Fluctuations in the price of crude oil and gasoline and the impact of lower oil

and gasoline prices on ethanol prices and demand;

Fluctuations in the availability and price of corn, resulting from factors such

as domestic stocks, demand from corn-consuming industries, such as the ethanol

? industry, prices for alternative crops, increasing input costs, changes in

government policies, shifts in global markets or damaging growing conditions,

such as plant disease or adverse weather, including drought;

Fluctuations in the availability and price of natural gas, which may be

? affected by factors such as weather, drilling economics, overall economic

conditions, and government regulations;

? Negative operating margins which may result from lower ethanol and/or high corn

prices;

? Changes in general economic conditions or the occurrence of certain events

causing an economic impact in the agriculture, oil or automobile industries;

? Overcapacity and oversupply in the ethanol industry;

Ethanol trading at a premium to gasoline at times, which may act as a

? disincentive for discretionary blending of ethanol beyond RFS requirements and

consequently negatively impacting ethanol prices and demand;

Changes in federal and/or state laws and environmental regulations including

? elimination, waiver or reduction of corn-based ethanol volume obligations under

the RFS and legislative acts taken by state governments such as California

related to low-carbon fuels, may have an adverse effect on our business;

? Any impairment of the transportation, storage and blending infrastructure that

prevents ethanol from reaching markets;


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? Any effect on prices and demand for our products resulting from actions in

international markets, particularly imposition of tariffs;

? Changes in our business strategy, capital improvements or development plans;

? Effect of our risk mitigation strategies and hedging activities on our

financial performance and cash flows;

? Competition from alternative fuels and alternative fuel additives;

? Changes or advances in plant production capacity or technical difficulties in

operating the plant;

? Our reliance on key management personnel; and

A slowdown in global and regional economic activity, demand for our products

? and the potential for labor shortages and shipping disruptions resulting from

   COVID-19.



We believe our expectations regarding future events are based on reasonable assumptions; however, these assumptions may not be accurate or account for all risks and uncertainties. Consequently, forward-looking statements are not guaranteed. Actual results may vary materially from those expressed or implied in our forward-looking statements. In addition, we are not obligated and do not intend to update our forward-looking statements as a result of new information unless it is required by applicable securities laws. We caution investors not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements, which represent management's views as of the date of this report. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.



Available Information


Our website address is www.granitefallsenergy.com. Our annual report on Form 10-K, periodic reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, are available, free of charge, on our website under the link "SEC Compliance," as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such materials with, or furnish such materials to, the Securities and Exchange Commission. The contents of our website are not incorporated by reference in this report on Form 10-Q.



Industry and Market Data


Much of the information in this report regarding the ethanol industry, including government regulation relevant to the industry is from information published by the Renewable Fuels Association ("RFA"), a national trade association for the United States ("U.S.") ethanol industry, and information about the market for our products and competition is derived from publicly available information from governmental agencies or publications and other published independent sources.

Although we believe our third-party sources are reliable, we have not independently verified the information.



Overview


Granite Falls Energy, LLC ("Granite Falls Energy" or "GFE") is a Minnesota limited liability company that owns and operates a dry mill corn-based, natural gas fired ethanol plant in Granite Falls, Minnesota. Additionally, through Project Viking, L.L.C., a wholly owned subsidiary ("Project Viking"), GFE owns an approximately 50.7% controlling interest of Heron Lake BioEnergy, LLC ("Heron Lake BioEnergy" or "HLBE"). HLBE is a Minnesota limited liability company that owns and operates a dry mill corn-based, natural gas fired ethanol plant near Heron Lake, Minnesota. Additionally, through its wholly owned subsidiary, HLBE Pipeline Company, LLC ("HLBE Pipeline Company"), HLBE is the sole owner of Agrinatural Gas, LLC ("Agrinatural"), which operates a natural gas pipeline.

Our business consists primarily of the production and sale of ethanol and its co-products (wet, modified wet and dried distillers' grains, corn oil and corn syrup) locally, and throughout the continental U.S. Our production operations are carried out at GFE's ethanol plant located in Granite Falls, Minnesota and at HLBE's ethanol plant near Heron Lake, Minnesota.

GFE's ethanol plant has an approximate annual production capacity of 60 million gallons of denatured ethanol, but has obtained EPA pathway approval and permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Authority ("MPCA") to increase its production capacity to approximately 70 million gallons of undenatured ethanol on a twelve-month rolling sum basis. HLBE's plant has an approximate annual production capacity of 60 million gallons of denatured ethanol, but has obtained EPA pathway approval and permits from the MPCA to increase its production capacity to approximately 72 million gallons of undenatured ethanol on a twelve month rolling sum basis. We intend to continue working toward increasing production at plants to take advantage of the additional production allowed pursuant to their respective permits so long as we believe it is profitable to do so.


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We market and sell the products produced at our plants primarily using third party marketers. The markets in which our products are sold may be local, regional, national, and international and depend primarily upon the efforts of third party marketers. We have contracted with Eco-Energy, Inc. to market all of the ethanol produced at our ethanol plants. GFE also independently markets a small portion of the ethanol production at its plant as E-85 to local retailers.

We do not have any long-term, fixed price exclusive supply contracts for the purchase of corn for either the GFE or HLBE plants. Both GFE and HLBE purchase the corn necessary for operating directly from grain elevators, farmers, and local dealers within approximately 80 miles of their respective plants. Neither GFE's nor HLBE's members are obligated to deliver corn to our plants.

Steve Christensen serves as our CEO and general manager and intends to retire at or before the end of 2021. In February 2021, we executed a separation agreement with Mr. Christensen, which provides that Christensen will continue to serve in his roles until we hire his replacement and complete a transition period.

HLBE was out of compliance with certain debt covenants on January 31, 2021, for which a waiver was obtained from the lender. HLBE has forecasted that it is probable that there will be future instances of noncompliance with debt covenants within the next twelve months. These conditions result in the classification of approximately $11.8 million of debt as current as of at January 31, 2021. HLBE has insufficient cash on hand and additional borrowing capacity, and current forecasts indicate insufficient cash flows from operations, to repay the debt if it were to come due as a result of covenant noncompliance. These factors raise substantial doubt about HLBE's ability to continue as a going concern. To remain in business, HLBE will need to obtain additional equity or debt financings. There is a risk that CoBank, as the administrative agent for our lender Compeer, may seek to enforce its security interests and take control of HLBE's assets. If that were to happen, HLBE may be faced with the prospect of either ceasing operations or seeking to reorganize through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Plan of Operations for the Next Twelve Months

The Company, and the ethanol industry as a whole, experienced significant adverse conditions throughout most of 2020 and so far in 2021 as a result of industry-wide record low ethanol prices due to reduced demand and high industry inventory levels, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors resulted and continue to result in prolonged negative operating margins, lower cash flow from operations and substantial net losses. We expect to have sufficient cash generated by continuing operations, availability on our credit facility, and additional debt with the Company's current lenders to fund our operations.

However, should unfavorable operating conditions continue or worsen in the ethanol industry that prevent us from profitably operating our plant, we may need to seek additional funding or further idle ethanol production altogether.

Over the next twelve months, we will continue our focus on operational improvements at our plants. These operational improvements include exploring methods to improve ethanol yield per bushel and increasing production output at our plants to take full advantage of our permitted production capacities, reducing our operating costs, and optimizing our margin opportunities through prudent risk-management policies. Additionally, we expect to continue to conduct routine maintenance and repair activities at our ethanol plants to maintain current plant infrastructure, as well as small capital projects to improve operating efficiency. We anticipate using cash from our revolving term loans to finance these plant upgrade projects.

Trends and Uncertainties Impacting Our Operations

The principal factors affecting our results of operations and financial conditions are the market prices for corn, ethanol, distillers' grains and natural gas, as well as governmental programs designed to create incentives for the use of corn-based ethanol. Other factors that may affect our future results of operation include those risks discussed below and in "PART II - Item 1A. Risk Factors" of this report, and "PART I - Item 1A. Risk Factors" of our annual report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2020.

Our operations are highly dependent on commodity prices, especially prices for corn, ethanol, distillers' grains and natural gas. As a result, our operating results can fluctuate substantially due to volatility in these commodity markets. The price and availability of corn is subject to significant fluctuations depending upon a number of factors that affect commodity prices in general, including crop conditions, yields, domestic and global stocks, weather, federal policy and


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foreign trade. Natural gas prices are influenced by severe weather in the summer and winter and hurricanes in the spring, summer and fall. Other factors include North American exploration and production, and the amount of natural gas in underground storage during injection and withdrawal seasons.

Ethanol prices are sensitive to world crude oil supply and demand, domestic gasoline supply and demand, the price of crude oil, gasoline and corn, the price of substitute fuels and octane enhancers, refining capacity and utilization, government regulation and incentives and consumer demand for alternative fuels. Distillers' grains prices are impacted by livestock numbers on feed, prices for feed alternatives and supply, which is associated with ethanol plant production.

Because the market price of ethanol is not always directly related to corn, at times ethanol prices may lag price movements in corn prices and corn-ethanol price spread may be tightly compressed or negative. If the corn-ethanol spread is compressed or negative for sustained period, it is possible that our operating margins will decline or become negative and our plants may not generate adequate cash flow for operations. In such cases, we may reduce or cease production at our plants to minimize our variable costs and optimize cash flow.

Management believes that the ethanol outlook in the fiscal year 2021 will remain relatively consistent with this quarter and our margins will remain tight due to higher corn prices and depressed gasoline demand. While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations and the increase in business re-openings have improved the overall economic outlook , the negative market effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue to impact our profitability. Additionally, continued large corn supplies and ethanol production capacity increases could have a negative impact on the market price of ethanol which could adversely impact our profitability. This negative impact could worsen if domestic ethanol inventories remain high or grow, or if U.S. exports of ethanol decline. Further, while ethanol production briefly and significantly declined during the second fiscal quarter of 2020, ethanol production has mostly rebounded and remained steady in the three months ended January 31, 2021. In addition, management believes that the continued issuance of waivers of small refiner renewable volume obligations ("RVOs") by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), as well as uncertainty regarding the Renewable Fuels Standard ("RFS") reset, could contribute to the projected negative or low margins.

Additionally, while ethanol continues trading at a significant discount to gasoline, which has improved export demand somewhat, the continued issuances of waivers of small refiner RVOs by the EPA has contributed to management's expectation regarding margins. Prices for renewable identification numbers ("RINs") for corn-based ethanol increased slightly in the three months ending January 31, 2021. However, previously issued small refiner waivers and the reductions in Chinese imports continue to have a negative impact on prices RINs, thereby diminishing a blending incentive from the ethanol marketplace.

Changes in the price for crude oil and unleaded gasoline could have a negative impact on the demand for gasoline and impact the market price of ethanol, which could adversely impact our profitability. According to the EIA February 2021 Short Term Energy Outlook, EIA estimates that U.S. gasoline consumption will average 8.5 million barrels per day from February to June, compared with an estimated 7.8 million barrels per day in January. U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.33 per gallon in January 2021, compared with an average of $2.20 per gallon in December 2020 and $2.55 per gallon in January 2020. EIA forecasts gasoline prices to average $2.44 per gallon in 2021 and $2.46 per gallon in 2022. In addition, EIA forecasts relatively stable prices for crude oil, projecting Brent crude oil prices to average $56 per barrel in the first quarter of 2021 and $52 per barrel for the remainder of the year. EIA expects lower oil prices later in 2021 as a result of rising oil supply. Significant decreases in the price for crude oil have a negative impact on the demand for ethanol.

Continued ethanol production capacity increases could also have a negative impact on the market price of ethanol, which could be further exacerbated if domestic ethanol inventories remain high or grow, or if U.S. exports of ethanol decline. Throughout 2020, some U.S. ethanol plants temporarily suspended production due to negative margins, largely resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and stagnant export projections caused by trade barriers and decreased global demand in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corn oil prices increased during the three months ending January 31, 2021. One factor in higher corn oil prices is 2019 legislation extending the $1.00 per-gallon biodiesel blender tax credit through December 31, 2022. However, corn oil prices may decrease if biodiesel producers reduce production and/or demand for corn oil is reduced without extension of the biodiesel blenders tax credit.



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Given the inherent volatility in ethanol, distillers' grains, non-food grade corn oil, grain and natural gas prices, we cannot predict the likelihood that the spread between ethanol, distillers' grains, non-food grade corn oil, and grain prices in future periods will be consistent compared to historical periods.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Company



Operations


The Company, and the ethanol industry as a whole, experienced significant adverse conditions throughout 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduced travel and thereby reduced demand for fuel, including the ethanol we produce. Reduced demand and high industry inventory levels resulted in record low ethanol prices in the second and third fiscal quarters of 2020. As a result, we experienced negative operating margins, significantly lower cash flow from operations and substantial net losses. In response to these adverse market conditions, HLBE idled its ethanol production from on or about March 30, 2020 through approximately May 31, 2020 and GFE temporarily idled its operations from on or about April 3, 2020 through approximately May 18, 2020. Fuel prices generally, and ethanol prices specifically, stabilized in the three months ending January 31, 2021, and management believes there is potential for fuel demand to increase as more individuals obtain COVID-19 vaccinations and resume traveling. However, it is possible that ongoing pandemic or other factors will cause fuel demand and ethanol prices to remain flat or decrease, thus negatively affecting our business. The Company continues to monitor COVID-19 developments to determine if adjustments to production are warranted.



Employees


The Company has enacted appropriate safety measures to protect the health and safety of our employees, customers, partners and suppliers, and we may take further actions as government authorities require or recommend or as we determine to be in the best interests of our employees, customers, partners and suppliers.




Supply and Demand



Although we continue to regularly monitor the financial health of companies in our supply chain, financial hardship on our suppliers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could cause a disruption in our ability to obtain raw materials or components required to produce our products, adversely affecting our operations, even when operating at reduced production levels. Additionally, restrictions or disruptions of transportation, such as reduced availability of truck, rail or air transport, port closures and increased border controls or closures, may result in higher costs and delays, both with respect to obtaining raw materials and shipping finished products to customers, which could harm our profitability, make our products less competitive, or cause our customers to seek alternative suppliers. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased economic and demand uncertainty. The pandemic has caused a global economic slowdown, and it is possible that it could cause a global recession. In the event of a recession, demand for our products would decline further and our business would be further adversely affected.



PPP Loans


On April 17, 2020, GFE received a loan in the amount of $703,900 through the Paycheck Protection Program. GFE's PPP loan was forgiven in February 2021. Additionally, on April 18, 2020 HLBE received a loan in the amount of $595,693 through the Paycheck Protection Program. Management expects the HLBE PPP loan will be forgiven in March 2021.

GFE received a second Paycheck Protection Program loan in February 2021 the amount of $703,900. Management expects the entire loan will be used for payroll, utilities and interest; therefore, management anticipates that the loan will be substantially forgiven. To the extent it is not forgiven, the Company would be required to repay that portion at an interest rate of 1% with principal repayment installments beginning in June 2022 with a final installment in February 2026.



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HLBE received a second Paycheck Protection Program loan in February 2021 in the amount of $595,693. Management expects the entire loan will be used for payroll, utilities and interest; therefore, management anticipates that the loan will be substantially forgiven. To the extent it is not forgiven, HLBE would be required to repay that portion at an interest rate of 1% with principal repayment installments beginning in February 2022 with a final installment in February 2026.




Outlook

The adverse conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Company to experience negative operating margins, significantly lower cash flow from operations and substantial net losses. Although there is uncertainty related to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our future results, we believe our current cash reserves, cash generated from our operations, our Paycheck Protection Program loans and the available cash under our revolving loans leave us well-positioned to manage our business through this crisis. However, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are broad-reaching, and the financial impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic include, but are not limited to, reduced production levels, lower net sales and potential incremental costs associated with mitigating the effects of the pandemic, including storage and logistics costs and other expenses. As a result, although GFE was in compliance with our financial covenants set forth in GFE's Term Revolving Loan, the impact the COVID-19 pandemic could have an adverse impact on our operating results which could result in our inability to comply with certain of these financial covenants and require our lenders to waive compliance with, or agree to amend, any such covenant to avoid a default.

Additionally, due to the negative financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, HLBE experienced instances of noncompliance with certain loan covenants related to its working capital and net worth ratio, and HLBE is projected to experience additional instances of noncompliance with these loan covenants in the next twelve months. These conditions result in the classification of approximately $11.8 million of debt as current as of at January 31, 2021. HLBE has insufficient cash on hand and additional borrowing capacity, and current forecasts indicate insufficient cash flows from operations, to repay the debt if it were to come due as a result of covenant noncompliance. These factors raise substantial doubt about HLBE's ability to continue as a going concern. To remain in business, HLBE will need to obtain additional equity or debt financings. There is a risk that CoBank, as the administrative agent for our lender Compeer, may seek to enforce its security interests and take control of HLBE's assets. If that were to happen, HLBE may be faced with the prospect of either ceasing operations or seeking to reorganize through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

While the business re-openings and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines have improved the overall economic outlook, the pandemic is ongoing, and its dynamic nature makes it difficult to forecast the long-term effects on our industry as a whole and our Company specifically. New variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 may prolong the pandemic, create additional waves of infections, or impose other unforeseen challenges. It is possible that even after the pandemic has subsided, there will be permanent changes to social and economic patterns, such as increased use of video-teleconferencing technology and remote working, that will limit travel and thereby suppress demand for fuel, including the ethanol we produce.

Despite the economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we intend to continue to focus on strategic initiatives designed to improve on our operational efficiencies, which is critical in order to drive positive results in a low-margin environment.

We continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation and guidance from international and domestic authorities, including federal, state and local public health authorities and may take additional actions based on their recommendations. In these circumstances, there may be developments outside our control requiring us to adjust our operating plan. As such, given the dynamic nature of this situation, we cannot reasonably estimate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows in the future.

Government Supports and Regulation



The Renewable Fuels Standard


The ethanol industry is dependent on several economic incentives to produce ethanol, the most significant of which is the federal Renewable Fuels Standard ("RFS"). The RFS has been, and we expect will continue to be, a significant factor impacting ethanol usage. Opponents of the RFS have sought to restrict or eliminate the standard through various


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litigation and legislative actions. Any adverse ruling on, or legislation affecting, the RFS could have an adverse impact on ethanol prices and our financial performance in the future.

The Biden administration has indicated support for RFS blending rules and energy policies that could be beneficial to the ethanol industry and our business. Specifically, the EPA under the Biden administration has announced it supports the interpretation of the RFS's small-refinery provisions made by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in a 2020 decision. In the case, Renewable Fuels Association et al. v. EPA, various agriculture and biofuel groups challenged the EPA's grant of waivers to three specific refineries. The waived gallons were not redistributed to obligated parties, and thus reduced the aggregate RVOs under the RFS. In January 2020, the court struck down the exemptions as improperly issued by the EPA. The court interpreted the RFS statute to require that any exemption granted to a small refinery after 2010 must take the form of an "extension." The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. In February 2021, the EPA announced it supported the 10th Circuit's interpretation of the RFS, reversing the position the EPA took under the previous administration. Nonetheless, it is uncertain whether the 10th Circuit's interpretation will be upheld or whether the Biden administration will continue to support energy policies that benefit the ethanol industry and our business.

Additional legal actions related to the RFS are underway. These include lawsuits challenging fuel volume waivers based on "inadequate domestic supply," challenging the EPA's lower threshold for granting small refinery exemptions, seeking broader, forward-looking remedy to account for the collective lost volumes caused by recent small refinery exemptions, alleging that the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy have improperly denied access to public records request by RFA, and challenging the Final 2019 Rule over the EPA's failure to address small refinery exemptions in the rulemaking. If these legal actions, which general seek to require the EPA to enforce the renewable fuel blending requirements of the RFS, are unsuccessful, there may negative impacts on the ethanol industry and our financial performance.



COVID-19 Legislation


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act") in March 2020 in an attempt to offset some of the economic damage arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act created and funded multiple programs that have impacted or could impact our industry. The USDA was given additional resources for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which it is using to provide direct payments to farmers, including corn farmers from whom we purchase most of our feedstock for ethanol production. Similar to the trade aid payments made by the USDA over the past two years, this cash injection for farmers could cause them to delay marketing decisions and increase the price we have to pay to purchase the corn.

The CARES Act also provided for the Small Business Administration to assist companies that constitute small business and keep them from laying off workers. The Paycheck Protection Program (the "PPP") was created and quickly paid out all of the funds appropriated, including some to farmers and to ethanol plants. Although we received our PPP Loan under the CARES Act, as discussed above, the receipt of PPP funds by farmers could, like the CCC funds, incentivize them to delay marketing corn which could increase the price of corn.

On December 27, 2020, the federal government enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, a second COVID-19 relief package. Among other things, the legislation authorized additional PPP loans. In February 2021, GFE received a second Paycheck Protection Program loan in the amount of $703,900 and HLBE received a second Paycheck Protection Program loan in the amount of $595,693. Management expects the entirety of both loans will be used for payroll, utilities and interest; therefore, management anticipates that the loan will be substantially forgiven.



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Results of Operations for the Three Months Ended January 31, 2021 and 2020

The following table shows summary information from the results of our operations and the approximate percentage of revenues, costs of goods sold, operating expenses and other items to total revenues in our unaudited condensed consolidated statements of operations for the three months ended January 31, 2021 and 2020 (amounts in thousands).

© Edgar Online, source Glimpses

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