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assessing risk|realizing opportunities

The Yin and Yang of Inflation

inflationpicInflation like all risk is a double edge sword. Its negative nature will upset the apple cart and pose uncomfortable challenges for SME managers that have grown accustomed to the status quo.

It will force managers to reconsider their well conceived business plans and perhaps more closely scrutinize this quarters PL or the company balance sheet. It will present serious challenges for businesses supply chain and client relationships. It may raise the eyebrows of your shareholders and credit providers perhaps provoking some pointed questions concerning your management skills and the validity of your business model.

That said inflation does have an upside. Like all risk factors it has the potential to create opportunities. Inflation will drastically alter market conditions. It will reveal inefficiencies that nimble SME can actively engage and manage to turn those market conditions to their advantage. The key operative words are management, intentionality and active engagement.

Inflation is a silent killer. It stalks all SME threatening to gobble up product margins, revenue opportunities and bottom line profits. It diminishes customer buying power and may threaten the solvency of large customers and suppliers. It drives up the cost of capital, making credit more expensive while it forces state and local governments to raise taxes and fees.

The inflation bogey man lurks in the profit and loss statements of all businesses with SME being particularly vulnerable to its effect. Inflation dramatically shows itself on the expense side of the ledger in the increases for basic materials, energy, delivery services, TE, administrative expenses and employee benefits. Inflation also affects the income side of the profit loss statement. It erodes the buying power of your customers and threatens collection of receivables by extending days outstanding, increased write offs or the sale of uncollected debt for pennies on the dollar.

SME profitability is particularly sensitive to the effects of inflation because of economies of scale, concentration of risk factors and lack of pricing power.

Many SME lack pricing power. Pricing power suggests that if price of a product rises to a certain level demand for that product will not diminish. For a SME to have pricing power it must offer value add product to dependent buyers. Its product or service cannot be easily replicated or widely available from other sources.

While pricing power escapes most SME numerous factors inhibit their ability to become low cost producers. They deliver product or service differentiation to their customers by other means then low price. Inflation erodes consumer purchasing power driving buyers to seek low cost producers. In this environment SME may suffer when buyers trade down to low cost providers. Key customers may compel SME to lower prices to be more in line with lower cost producers. This is a major threat to SME.

SME tend to have greater risk concentration in their business model. Heightened risk concentrations are most pronounced in small businesses due to a limited product line, geographical risk, market cyclicality and in client and supply chain relationships. Consider a small manufacturer of finished steel products for the home construction industry. Generally, manufactures profitability is highly correlated to the price it pays for basic commodities and has an extremely high concentration of supply chain and product risk. Small businesses may not be able to recover or adjust its product prices to cover increased commodity prices due to existing contractual agreements with customers or its lack of pricing power. The abatement of market demand due to a recession may provoke larger customers to demand price concessions by threatening to move their business to lower cost producers. The pressure on this small manufacturer is compounded by a spike of smaller account losses and moribund demand due to weak cyclical market conditions in its target market.

It’s almost a perfect storm of negative business conditions. Small businesses managers need to understand how inflation touches all aspects of their business and must manage its impact to maintain profitability and sustainable growth.

Managing Inflation Risk with a WIN Campaign

SME can meet the challenge of inflation head on by implementing a Whip Inflation Now (WIN) program that engages the numerous risks inflation poses. In deference to our former President Gerald Ford, business managers can initiate WIN Programs and actions to temper the impact of inflation and to seize opportunities that rapidly changing market conditions create. Small businesses must be extra vigilant and proactive in managing all classes of business risks.

Some small businesses will cave into the demands of their large accounts to cut prices to prevent them from going to a lower cost provider. This is very dangerous for small businesses and can result in “death by a thousand cuts.” Managers should not wait for their largest account to approach them seeking price concessions. Now is the perfect time to go on the offensive and alter the value proposition that only your firm can uniquely deliver to key accounts. Remember your largest accounts are experiencing the negative effects of inflation as well. Go to them and propose a WIN Campaign.

A company’s WIN Campaign can offer a joint marketing program using advanced web enabled technologies. Your WIN Campaign can implement an expanded training and support program tied to a business development program or supply chain rationalization. You may suggest a partnership to develop a new product or put in place a customer loyalty program. Your job is to create a unique value proposition that adds value to your product and convey it to your customer so they cannot commoditize your product. Together you and your clients can WIN the fight against inflation and turn it into a business development initiative. Your clients will appreciate the fact that you are thinking about their business success.

Another common knee jerk reaction to fight rising business costs is to reduce expenses by cutting expenditures on areas that do not support the mission critical functions of the business. Capital is allocated to maintain funding to support sales, production and product delivery. This is coupled with a lean administrative management structure and this model is seen as a recipe for economic survival. Being good stewards of corporate capital is essential during these times. Capital leakage is always a threat to business profitability and needs to be even more diligently managed during times of economic duress. But this strategy is a subsistence survival strategy. It is based on investing the barest minimum of capital to address fluctuating market conditions. This strategy may limit small businesses ability to literally capitalize on opportunities that changing market conditions present.

Cutting expenses for marketing is usually another budget casualty when businesses look to cut costs. This will reduce your current expense line for this quarter and will certainly help bottom line profitability; but skipping this year’s trade show will not help you to locate that new customer who is looking for a supplier because his current provider is struggling with product quality issues. Cutting this expense won’t provide you with the critical insights you need to stay competitive and ahead of new market entrants that are attending trade shows. Who by the way are also aggressively courting your largest account to get just a tiny slice of your business to demonstrate their “superior value proposition.”

Employee benefits and training is another area that is often the focus of budgetary cutbacks. Many SME need to closely consider the gains they will realize by cutting back on benefits offered to its employees. Cutting benefits could increase employee turnover. Training and hiring new employees are an expensive proposition for SME. The loss of key employees can potentially devastate a small business. Expertise, intellectual capital and critical business intelligence leaves the organization when a key employee walks out the door. This is doubly true if some key employees leave the firm and walk some major client relationships out the door with them.

SME can also try to employ risk transfer strategies. Insurance purchases may help in some areas but to fight inflation small businesses can use financial instruments (capital permitting) to hedge against rising prices. The purchase of TIPs, FX forward contracts, commodity or energy futures can help to offset the negative effects of key inflation business threats. As the price of oil rose this summer a modest equity position in oil or other energy company would have helped to offset the increase in energy expenses.

Thankfully adverse economic conditions will force SME to take an honest look at their product lines and business model. Economic adversity provides an opportunity for management to make hard decisions concerning product lines. This is an ideal time to focus and fund the development of products that offer the greatest potential for long term profitability and sustainable growth.

Inflation is a significant problem for small businesses but it is a problem that can be managed. Changing economic conditions alter the landscape for all businesses that accelerate and starkly reveal market inefficiencies. These inefficiencies create market anomalies and opportunities that astute small business owners and managers can capitalize on through an intentional practice of a risk management and opportunity discovery program.

Sum2’s objective is to assist clients to implement corporate sound practices that enhance profitability and sustainable growth. Sum2’s offers a wide stable of risk management apps for SME. The Macroeconomic Risk Assessment App helps managers review macroeconomic and event risks to better manage its potential effect on their business. Sum2 offers a Macroeconomic Risk App and can be downloaded from Google Play or by visiting www.sum2.com or by calling us at 973.287.7535.

risk: #sme, #inflation, #macroeconomic, #supplychain #office365, #mobileoffice, #metasme, #smeiot #eventrisk, #marketrisk, #WIN, #sum2

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July 21, 2014 Posted by | banking, commerce, economics, inflation, marketing, metasme, SME, Sum2, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Data for a Small World: SMEIoT

smeiotIoT

The world is a great big database and algorithmic wizards and mad data scientists are burning the midnight oil to mine the perplexing infinities of ubiquitous data points.  Their goal is to put data to use to facilitate better governance, initiate pinpoint marketing campaigns, pursue revelatory academic research and improve the quality of service public agencies deliver to protect and serve communities. The convergence of Big Data, Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) make this possible.

The earth is the mother of all relational databases.  It’s six billion inhabitants track many billions of real time digital footprints across the face of the globe each and every day.  Some footprints are readily apparent and easy to see.  Facebook likes, credit card transactions, name and address lists, urgent Tweets and public records sparkle like alluvial diamonds; all easily plucked by data aggregators and sold to product marketers at astonishing profit margins.  Other data points are less apparent, hidden or derived in the incessant hum of the ever listening, ever recording global cybersphere.   These are the digital touch points we knowingly and unknowingly create with our interactions with the world wide web and the machines that live there.

It is estimated that there is over 20 billion smart machines that are fully integrated into our lives.  These machines stay busy creating digital footprints; adding quantitative context to the quality of the human condition.  EZ Passes, RFID tags, cell phone records, location tracking, energy meters, odometers, auto dashboard idiot lights, self diagnostic fault tolerant machines, industrial process controls, seismographic, air and water quality apparatuses and the streaming CBOT digital blips flash the milliseconds of a day in the life of John Q. Public.  Most sentient beings pay little notice, failing to consider that someone somewhere is planting the imprints of our daily lives in mammoth disk farms.  The webmasters, data engineers and information scientists are collecting, collating, aggregating, scoring and analyzing these rich gardens of data to harvest an accurate psychographic portrait of modernity.

The IoT is the term coined to describe the new digital landscape we inhabit.  The ubiquitous nature of the internet, the continued rationalization of the digital economy into the fabric of society and the absolute dependency of daily life upon it, require deep consideration how it impacts civil liberties, governance, cultural vibrancy and economic well being.

The IoT is the next step in the development of the digital economy. By 2025 it is estimated that IoT will drive $6 Trillion in global economic activity.  This anoints data and information as the loam of the modern global economy; no less significant than the arrival of discrete manufacturing at the dawn of industrial capitalism.

The time may come when a case may be made that user generated data is a commodity and should be considered a public domain natural resource; but today it is the province of digirati  shamans entrusted to interpret the Rosetta Stones, gleaning deep understanding of the current reality while deriving high probability predictive futures.  IoT is one of the prevailing drivers of global social development.


SME

There is another critical economic and socio-political driver of the global economy.  Small Mid-Sized Enterprises (SME) are the cornerstone of job creation in developed economies.  They form the bedrock of subsistence and economic activity in lesser developed countries (LDC).  They are the dynamic element of capitalism.  SME led by courageous risk takers are the spearhead of capital formation initiatives.  Politicians, bureaucrats and business pundits extol their entrepreneurial zeal and hope to channel their youthful energy in service to local and national political aspirations.  The establishment of SME is a critical macroeconomic indicator of a country’s economic health and the wellspring of social wealth creation.

The World Bank/ IFC estimates that over 130 million registered SME inhabit the global economy. The definition of an SME varies by country. Generally an SME and MSME (Micro Small Mid Sized Enterprises)  are defined by two measures, number of employees or annual sales.  Micro enterprises are defined as employing less than 9 employees, small up to 100 employees and medium sized enterprises anywhere from 200 to 500 employees.  Defining SMEs by sales scale in a similar fashion.

Every year millions of startup businesses replace the millions that have closed.  The world’s largest economy United States boasts over 30 million SME and every year over one million  small businesses close.  The EU and OECD countries report similar statistics of the preponderance of SME and numbers of business closures.

The SME is a dynamic non homogeneous business segment.  It is highly diverse in character, culture and business model heavily colored by local influence and custom. SME is overly sensitive to macroeconomic risk factors and market cyclicality.  Risk is magnified in the SME franchise due to high concentration of risk factors.  Over reliance on a limited set of key clients or suppliers, product obsolescence, competitive pressures, force majeure events, key employee risk, change management and credit channel dependencies are glaring risk factors magnified by business scale and market geographics.

In the United States, during the banking crisis the Federal Reserve was criticized for pursuing policies that favored large banking and capital market participants while largely ignoring SME. To mitigate contagion risk, The Federal Reserve  quickly acted to pump liquidity into the banking sector to buttress the capital structure of SIFI (Systemically Important Financial Institutions). It was thought that a collateral benefit would be the stimulation of SME lending.  This never occurred as SBA backed loans nosedived. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner implemented the TARP and TALF programs to further strengthen the capital base of distressed banks as former Fed Chairman  Ben Bernanke pursued Quantitative Easing to transfer troubled mortgage backed securities onto Uncle Sams balance sheet to relieve financial institutions  of these troubled assets. Some may argue that President Obama’s The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)  helped the SME sector.  The $800 billion stimulus was one third tax cuts, one third cash infusion to local governments and one third capital expenditures aimed at shovel ready infrastructure improvement projects.  The scale of the ARRA was miniscule as compared to support rendered to banks and did little to halt the deteriorating macroeconomic conditions of the collapsing housing market, ballooning unemployment and rising energy prices severely stressing SME.

The EU offered no better.  As the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain) economies collapsed the European Central Bank forced draconian austerity measures on national government expenditures undermining key SME market sensitivities.  On both sides of the Atlantic, the perception of a bifurcated central banking policy that favored TBTF Wall Street over the needs of  an atomized SME segment flourished.  The wedge between the speculative economy of Wall Street and the real economy on Main Street remains a festering wound.

In contrast to the approach of western central bankers, Asian Tigers, particularly Singapore have created a highly  supportive environment for the incubation and development of SME. Banks offer comprehensive portfolios of financial products and SME advisory services. Government legislative programs highlight incubation initiatives linked to specific industry sectors. Developed economies have much to learn from these SME friendly market leaders.

The pressing issues concerning net neutrality, ecommerce tax policies, climate change and the recognition of Bitcoin as a valid commercial specie are critical developments that goes to the heart of a healthy global SME community.  These emerging market events are benevolent business drivers for SME and concern grows that legislative initiatives are being drafted to codify advantages for politically connected larger enterprises.

Many view this as a manifestation of a broken political system, rife with protections of large well financed politically connected institutions. Undermining these entrenched corporate interests is the ascending digital paradigm promising to dramatically alter business as usual politics. Witness the role of social media in the Arab Spring, Barack Obama’s 2008 election or the decapitalization of the print media industry as clear signals of the the passing away of the old order of things.  Social networking technologies and the democratization of information breaks down the ossified monopolies of knowledge access. These archaic ramparts are being gleefully overthrown by open collaborative initiatives levelling the playing field for all market participants.

SMEIoT

This is where SMEIoT neatly converges.  To effectively serve an efficient market, transparency and a contextual understanding of its innate dynamics are critical preconditions to market participation.  The incubation of SME and the underwriting of capital formation initiatives from a myriad of providers will occur as information standards provide a level of transparency that optimally aligns risk and investment capital. SMEIoT will provide the insights to the sector for SME to grow and prosper while industry service providers engage SME within the context of a cooperative economic non-exploitative relationship.

This series will examine SME and how IoT will serve to transform and incubate the sector.  We’ll examine the typology of the SME ecosystem, its risk characteristics and features.  We’ll propose a metadata framework to model SME descriptors, attributes, risk factors and a scoring methodology.  We’ll propose an SME portal, review the mission of Big Data and its indispensable role to create cooperative economic frameworks within the SME ecosystem. Lastly we’ll review groundbreaking work social scientists, legal scholars and digital frontier activists are proposing to address best governance practices and ethical considerations of Big Data collection, the protection of privacy rights,  informed consent, proprietary content and standards of accountability.

SMEIoT coalesces at the intersection of social science, commerce and technology.  History has aligned SMEIot building blocks to create the conditions for this exciting convergence.  Wide participation of government agencies, academicians, business leaders, scientists and ethicists will be required to make pursuit of  this science serve the greatest good.

 

This is the first in a series of articles on Big Data and SMEIoT . It originally appeared in Daftblogger eJournal. Next piece in series is scheduled to appear on Daftblogger eJournal within the next two weeks.

#smeiot #metasme #sum2llc #sme #office365 #mobileoffice #TARP #capitalformation #IoT #internetofthings #OECD #TBTF #Bitcoin #psychographics #smeportals #bigdata #informedconsent

July 9, 2014 Posted by | banking, Bernanke, capitalism, commerce, credit, credit crisis, culture, economics, information technology, internet of things, legal, legislative, metasme, OECD, politics, private equity, psychology, regulatory, risk management, small business, SME, smeiot, TALF, TARP, Treasury, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Measuring SME Credit Risk

The underlying financial health of Small Mid-Size Enterprises (SME) has always been difficult to determine, hard to identify and its never been more important.

To manage risk in the credit and capital markets it is critical for lenders and credit suppliers to understand the relative financial health of counter-parties, customers and suppliers. Effective credit extension decisions cannot be made without superior analysis generated by forward-looking, unbiased tools.

The credit crisis and recession has devastated small and mid-sized businesses. Getting a bank loan or securing capital from investors is a big challenge for small businesses. Banks have become extremely cautious in lending to small businesses. To be successful in securing credit you’ll have to demonstrate that you are a good credit risk, that your company’s prospects for growth are strong and that your business model is sound.

Why Credit Score is important?The quality of your credit rating and financial health form the basis for decisions other businesses make about you. Managing your business to improve your Credit Score will improve your company’s financial health. A strong Credit Score indicates good financial health and is used by lenders, capital providers, customers and suppliers to determine:

  •     How much business credit a supplier will extend to you
  •     What interest rates you will pay
  •     How much money lending institutions will loan you
  •     How your customers view you
  •     What your insurance premiums will be
  •     The level of potential investor interest

Sum2 utilizes Altman’s Z Score method to determine fundamental financial health ratings.  The Z Score credit rating is valid measure of financial health for any public or privately held corporation. The Z Score rating methodology is a proven credit risk indicator that is widely used by banks, investment managers, Fortune 1000 companies and small to medium sized enterprises to determine and manage risk. Sum2’s clients use the Z Score rating products to determine financial health, remain in compliance with loan covenants, and assess credit worthiness of clients and mission critical suppliers.

Altman’s Z score method examines fundamental financial data derived from a company’s balance sheet and income statements.  A credit rating is generated by the use of ratio analysis that yields valid comparative results regardless of the currency utilized. Working capital, earnings, reinvested earnings and leverage are integrated into a composite credit rating score. The components and standards are similar to those used by traditional lenders. It is an easily understood approach that provides comprehensive financial details not available with the standard agency reports.

Click here to access Sum2’s Z Score Input Template.

Click here to access zip file of sample reports. Palm Corp Z Score Report.

We recommend supplementing the analysis with trade reports from firms like the Credit Management Association (CMA) or Experian and others for their pertinent data and services.Businesses that extend credit can determine cutoff scores needed to qualify for credit as their risk tolerance and economic conditions change. Lower scores and classifications indicate higher probabilities of default.

Credit ratings must include a careful analysis of the income statement, balance sheet, changes in financial position and key metrics along with consideration of trends, economic conditions and other available data.

Credit|Redi is a set of business assessment tools that helps businesses determine credit worthiness.  It is a critical business tool SME’s need to incorporate to better manage and assess credit risk.

More information on how to manage credit risk can be found here: Credit|Redi

June 11, 2013 Posted by | banking, credit, Credit Redi, recession, small business, SME | , , , , | Leave a comment

ADP Employment Report: Solid Job Growth Gathers Steam

Private-sector employment increased by 217,000 from January to February on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the latest ADP National Employment Report released today. The estimated change of employment from December 2010 to January 2011 was revised up to 189,000 from the previously reported increase of 187,000. This month’s ADP National Employment Report suggests continued solid growth of nonfarm private employment early in 2011. The recent pattern of rising employment gains since the middle of last year was reinforced by today’s report, as the average gain from December through February (217,000) is well above the average gain over the prior six months (63,000).

The fears of a jobless recovery may be receding but the US economy has a long way to go before pre-recession employment levels are achieved. As we stated previously the economy needs to create over 200,000 jobs per month for 48 consecutive months to achieve pre-recession employment levels. The six month average of 63,000 is still well below the required rate of job creation for a robust recovery to occur.  The Unemployment Rate still exceeds 9%.

The February report is encouraging because it points to an accelerating pace of job creation. The post Christmas season employment surge represents a 30,000 job gain over January’s strong report that triples the six month moving average. The service sector accounted for over 200,000 of the job gains. The manufacturing and goods producing sector combined to create 35,000 jobs. Construction continues to mirror the moribund housing market shedding an additional 9,000 jobs during the month. The construction industry has lost over 2.1 million jobs since its peak in 2008.

The robust recovery in the service sector is welcomed but sustainable economic growth can only be achieved by a robust turn around in the goods producing and manufacturing sectors. Service sector jobs offer lower wages, tend to be highly correlated to retail consumer spending and positions are often transient in nature. Small and Mid-Sized Enterprises (SME) is where the highest concentration of service jobs are created and the employment figures bear that out with SMEs accounting for over 204,000 jobs created during the month of February.

Large businesses added 13,000 jobs during the month of February. The balance sheets of large corporations are strong. The great recession provided large corporates an opportunity to rationalize their business franchise with layoffs, consolidations and prudent cost management. Benign inflation, global presence, outsourcing, low cost of capital and strong equity markets created ideal conditions for profitability and an improved capital structure. The balance sheets of large corporations are flush with $1 trillion in cash and it appears that the large corporates are deploying this capital resource into non-job creating initiatives.

The restructuring of the economy continues. The Federal stimulus program directed massive funds to support fiscally troubled state and local government budgets. The Federal Stimulus Program was a critical factor that help to stabilize local government workforce levels. The expiration of the Federal stimulus program is forcing state and local governments into draconian measures to balance budgets. Government employment levels are being dramatically pared back to maintain fiscal stability. Public service workers unions are under severe pressure to defend employment, compensation and benefits of workers in an increasingly conservative political climate that insists on fiscal conservatism and is highly adverse to any tax increase.

The elimination of government jobs, the expiration of unemployment funds coupled with rising interest rates, energy and commodity prices will drain significant buying power from the economy and create additional headwinds for the recovery.

Macroeconomic Factors

The principal macroeconomic factors confronting the economy are the continued high unemployment rate, weakness in the housing market, tax policy and deepening fiscal crisis of state, local and federal governments. The Tea Party tax rebellion has returned congress to Republican control and will encourage the federal government to pursue fiscally conservative policies that will dramatically cut federal spending and taxes for the small businesses and the middle class. In the short term, spending cuts in federal programs will result in layoffs, and cuts in entitlement programs will remove purchasing power from the demand side of the market. It is believed that the tax cuts to businesses will provide the necessary incentive for SME’s to invest capital surpluses back into the company to stimulate job creation.

The growing uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa is a significant political risk factor. The expansion of political instability in the Gulf Region particularly Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; a protracted civil war in Libya or a reignited regional conflict involving Israel would have a dramatic impact on oil markets; sparking a rise in commodity prices and interest rates placing additional stress on economic recovery.

Political uncertainty tends to heighten risk aversion in credit markets. The financial rescue of banks with generous capital infusions and accommodating monetary policies from sovereign governments has buttressed the profitability and capital position of banks. Regulatory uncertainty of Basel III, Dodd-Frank, and the continued rationalization of the commercial banking system and continued concern about the quality of credit portfolios continue to curtail availability of credit for SME lending. Governments are encouraging banks to lend more aggressively but banks continue to exercise extreme caution in making loans to financially stressed and capital starved SMEs.

Highlights of the ADP Report for February include:

Private sector employment increased by 217,000

Employment in the service-providing sector rose 202,000

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 15,000

Employment in the manufacturing sector declined 20,000

Construction employment declined 9,000

Large businesses with 500 or more workers declined 2,000

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers increased 24,000

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, increased 21,000

Overview of Numbers

The 202,000 jobs created by the SME sectors represents over 90% of new job creation. Large businesses comprise approximately 20% of the private sector employment and continues to underperform SMEs in post recession job creation. The strong growth of service sector though welcomed continues to mask the under performance of the manufacturing sector. The 11 million manufacturing jobs comprise approximately 10% of the private sector US workforce. The 20 thousand jobs created during February accounted for 10% of new jobs. Considering the severely distressed condition and capacity utilization of the sector and the favorable conditions for export markets and cost of capital the job growth of the sector appears extremely weak. The US economy is still in search of a driver. The automotive manufacturers have returned to profitability due to global sales in Latin America and China with a large portion of the manufacturing done in local oversea markets.

The stock market continues to perform well. The Fed is optimistic that the QE2 initiative will allay bankers credit risk concerns and ease lending restrictions to SMEs. A projected GDP growth rate of 3% appears to be an achievable goal. The danger of a double dip recession is receding but severe geopolitical risk factors continue to keep the possibility alive.

Interest rates have been at historic lows for two years and will begin to notch upward as central bankers continue to manage growth with a mix of inflation and higher costs of capital. The stability of the euro and the EU’s sovereign debt crisis will remain a concern and put upward pressure on interest rates and the dollar.

As the price of commodities and food spikes higher the potential of civil unrest and political instability in emerging markets of Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America grows. Some even suggest this instability may touch China.

The balance sheets of large corporate entities remain flush with cash. The availability of distressed assets and volatile markets will encourage corporate treasurers to put that capital to work to capitalize on emerging opportunities. The day of the lazy corporate balance sheet is over.

Solutions from Sum2

Credit Redi offers SMEs tools to manage financial health and improve corporate credit rating to attract and minimize the cost of capital. Credit Redi helps SMEs improve credit standing and demonstrate to bankers that you are a good credit risk.

For information on the construction and use of the ADP Report, please visit the methodology section of the ADP National Employment Report website.

You Tube Video: John Handy, Hard Work

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME, political

March 3, 2011 Posted by | ADP, banking, Basel II, commercial, commodities, credit, Credit Redi, economics, government, labor relations, manufacturing, political risk, politics, recession, regulatory, risk management, small business, SME, social unrest, Sum2, Treasury, unemployment, unions, US dollar | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SMEs Still Starved for Credit

Greenwich Associates highly regarded Market Pulse Study on SME credit availability reports that two-thirds of small businesses and 55% of middle market companies indicate that banks are failing to meet the needs of creditworthy companies.  Half of the 221 small businesses participating in the latest Greenwich Market Pulse Study say it is harder to secure credit today than it was at this time last year including roughly 33% of businesses that say it is much harder to obtain loans today.

The Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF) a $30 billion program established by the Treasury Department to encourage Community Banks to step up lending to SMEs is still trying to get some traction in the marketplace.  The SBLF injects capital into community banks that demonstrate an active SME lending  program will take another quarter to determine its effectiveness.

Community Banks are still transitioning its small business lending focus from an over dependency on real estate development.  SMEs seeking loans for capital improvements, fund operations or business expansion must provide lenders some added assurances about the financial health of the business.

SMEs can take steps to improve their credit standing and get approvals from lenders for loans and expansion for credit.  SMEs must demonstrate they have an excellent understanding of the condition of their firm’s financial health, what they must do to improve profitability and how they will use the credit extended by lenders to produce an acceptable return.

Credit Redi helps SME’s demonstrate the condition of the firms financial health, the risks and opportunities that SMEs must address to improve the firms financial health and identify the initiatives that need to be  funded to achieve desired profitability and growth.  These are the keys bankers look for on applications for loans.  Being able to demonstrate credit worthiness with an industry standard rating methodology determines weather a lender will grant you a loan, what rates you will pay and how much lending institutions will lend.

Since 2002, Sum2 has been helping SME’s manage risk and seize opportunities to grow and prosper under the most competitive market conditions.  Credit Redit is the latest addition to Sum2’s series of SME risk management products.

To determine the condition of your company’s financial health click here: 

Risk: credit, SME, capital allocation, credit rating

January 13, 2011 Posted by | banking, credit, Credit Redi, government, risk management, Small Business Lending Fund, Sum2, Treasury | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ADP Report: Job Creation Proceeds At Turtle Pace

Slow and steady may win the race but the pace of job creation by the US economy  continues to move along at turtle speed.  For the 20 million unemployed and underemployed people the pace of job creation remains painfully slow as revealed by ADP ‘s National Employment Report for October. During the month, private sector employment increased by 43,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. ADP also revised its employment report for September stating that the economy lost only 2,000 jobs rather then the 39,000 it had previously reported.  Following ADP’s upward revision the private sector has produced 41,000 new jobs during the past 61 days.  For the worlds leading economy with a GDP of almost $15 trillion the lackluster growth in job creation is a troubling indicator of an anemic jobless economic recovery.

The October report arrests the September decline in job growth that reversed  seven consecutive months of positive job creation.  During that time the economy averaged employment gains of 34,000 new private sector jobs per month. This rate of job creation does little to reduce the negative overhang  a 10% unemployment rate is having on economic  growth.   A stabilized and expanding labor market is a key ingredient for a sustained economic recovery. Over the past three years the economy lost over 9 million jobs. For a robust recovery to occur the economy needs to create 200,000 jobs per month for the next four years to return the job market to its pre-recession levels.

As we reported last month the expiration of the Federal stimulus program will force state and local governments to layoff  workers.  Sluggish job creation continues to pressure depleted unemployment funds and the expiration of benefits for many of the unemployed is draining buying power from the economy.

Soft consumer demand  threatens retailers and leisure industry segments and has a spillover effect  on the housing market.  Joblessness is a principal factor in mortgage defaults and contributes to the growing inventory of foreclosed properties held by banks.  The ADP report indicates that during October the US economy shed an additional 23,000 construction jobs. It is estimated that it will take 24 months for the housing market to absorb the existing inventory of foreclosed properties. A  healthy turnaround in the construction  industry will  move in step with the improvement in the housing market conditions.

A sustained recovery will require sector leadership by Small and Mid-Size Enterprises (SME)  as principal drivers of job creation.   SME’s  sector strength has traditionally been in the construction, specialty retail, leisure and service sectors.  Among these segments  only the services sector continues to be a consistent driver for job creation.

Macroeconomic Factors

The principal macroeconomic factors impairing recovery are the continued high unemployment rate, weakness in the housing market, tax policy and deepening fiscal crisis of state, local and federal governments.   The results of this weeks mid-term election and the return of congress to Republican control will encourage the federal government to pursue fiscally conservative policies that will dramatically cut spending and taxes for the small businesses and the middle class.  In the short term spending cuts in federal programs will result in layoffs and cuts in entitlement programs will remove purchasing power from the demand side of the market.  It is believed that the tax cuts to businesses will provide the necessary incentive for SME’s to invest capital surpluses back into the company to stimulate job creation.

Highlights of the ADP Report for October include:

Private sector employment increased by 43,000

Employment in the service-providing sector rose 77,000

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 34,000

Employment in the manufacturing sector declined 12,000

Construction employment declined 23,000

Large businesses with 500 or more workers declined 2,000

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers increased 24,000

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, increased 21,000

Overview of Numbers

The 45,000 jobs created by the SME sectors reverses a decline from September and offsets the 2,000 job cuts by large companies.  The strong growth of service sector  jobs is a positive development.  However the continued softness of goods producing segments and manufacturing continues to indicate the continued decline of  US industrial capacity.  The strong rebound in services  may be the result of the expanding practice of companies utilizing outside contractors to fill human capital requirements.  These types of jobs may mask an underemployed and  transient labor pool forced to accept work at  lower wage scales.

The stock market continues to perform well.  Yesterdays QE2 initiative by the Fed to pump $600 billion into the banking system may allay bankers credit risk concerns and ease lending restrictions to capital starved SME’s.  Despite a projected GDP growth rate of 2%, ADP’s employment figures indicates that the economy continues to dwell at the bottom of an extreme down economic cycle. The danger of a double dip recession still lurks as a remote possibility.  Interest rates remain at historic lows and inflation continues to be benign but its danger grows as a weak dollar continues to flounder forcing oil prices to climb while government debt levels continue to spiral upward.  The balance sheets of large corporate entities remain flush with cash.  Analysts estimate that over $1 Trillion in cash swells corporate treasuries remaining underemployed on lazy corporate balance sheets.  The low interest rate environment  has allowed companies to pursue  deleveraging strategies  considerably strengthening the capital structure of corporate America.  To the dismay of politicians and the unemployed,  economists speculate that deployment of this cash is still a few quarters away from finding its way into the real economy.

Solutions from Sum2

Sum2 offers SME’s the Profit|Optimizer to help them manage risk, devise recovery strategies and make better informed capital allocation decisions.

For information on the construction and use of the ADP Report, please visit the methodology section of the ADP National Employment Report website.

You Tube Video: Theme from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME

November 5, 2010 Posted by | ADP, banking, business, economics, manufacturing, Profit|Optimizer, SME, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ADP Reports Weak Job Growth

ADP has released its National Employment Report for April.   Non-farm private employment increased 32,000 during  the month on a seasonally adjusted basis.   ADP also reported an upward revision of 19,000 jobs for March.  The two consecutive net employment gains reported by ADP indicates that job loss may have bottomed and the slim increase in employment confirms a positive trend is underway.     The massive governmental intervention to recapitalize the banking sector and initiate stimulus programs have stabilized the economy.  The abatement of extreme risk aversion in the credit markets, favorable interest rates, improving consumer sentiment, low inflation and the dramatic rebound in securities markets are all positive growth drivers for the economy.

Highlights of the ADP  report include:

Estimates non-farm private employment in the service-providing sector increased by 50,000.

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 18,000.

Employment in the manufacturing sector rose for the third consecutive month by 29,000 jobs.

Employment in the construction sector dropped by 49,000.

Large businesses with 500 or more workers  added 14,000 jobs

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers increased by 17,000.

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, increased by 1,000 in April.

Employment in the financial services sector dropped 14,000, resulting in over three years of consecutive monthly
declines.

Overview of Numbers

The net gain of 32,000 jobs for the massive US economy is an admittedly weak gain for an economy that has shed 11 million jobs but it is an indication that the economy is stabilizing.

The correlation of the loss of jobs in construction and financial services is an indication of a US economy that continues to transition its dependency on residential and commercial real estate development.  The difficult conditions in the commercial and residential real estate market will continue as excess inventories brought on by high foreclosure rates continue to be worked off.   As the ADP report highlights construction employment has declined for thirty-nine consecutive months, bringing the total decline in construction jobs since the peak in January 2007 to 2,159,000.  Its clear that the US economy has lost two critical recovery drivers.

Soft conditions in the construction sector weighs heavily on small business job creation.  Most contractors are small businesses and with the anemic rate of new housing construction small business job creation will continue to be soft.

Specialty retail is another large component of the small business market.  Improving consumer sentiment will help this sector.  However small retailers have suffered massive business closures during the recession.  A robust recovery in this sector will not commence until commercial lending for start ups and business expansion becomes more readily available from the banks.

The report also indicates that the goods producing sector of small businesses shed 24,000 jobs during the month  to continue the trend in the deterioration of small manufactures.  This decline was offset by a 25,000 gain in service based jobs.  The  growth of the service sector of the US economy continues at the expense of the manufacturing sector.  The growth of small business service sector indicates that businesses continue to managed fixed costs of their business by outsourcing various services.

This ADP report is a positive indication that we may be at a bottom of the economic cycle.  Bottoms don’t mean that things are improving they indicate that conditions are not worsening.  The economic recovery is still confronted with headwinds.  The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the economic and growing political instability of EU countries and the cooling off of the Chinese economy may present some challenges to a sustained and robust recovery in the United States.

Solutions from Sum2

Sum2 advocates the establishment of an SME Bank to sustain long term economic growth.  Sum2 offers SME’s the Profit|Optimizer to help them manage risk, devise recovery strategies and make better informed capital allocation decisions.

For information on the construction and use of the ADP Report, please visit the methodology section of the ADP National Employment Report website.

You Tube Video: Isley Brothers, Work To Do

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME

May 5, 2010 Posted by | ADP, banking, credit, manufacturing, real estate, recession, small business, SME, Uncategorized, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commercial Loans: Be Prepared

The tough conditions in the credit markets require small businesses to communicate and demonstrate their credit worthiness to satisfy exacting credit risk requirements of lenders. Credit channels are open and loans are being made but strict federal regulations and heightened risk aversion by lenders places additional burdens on borrowers to demonstrate they are a good credit risk.

“You have to be prepared,” said Robert Seiwert, a senior vice president with the American Bankers Association. “If you have a viable business model and the banker feels that this business model is going to work in this new economy, you have a very good chance of getting financing. But you have to be ready to show that it will work.”

“Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy.  Their ability to prosper and grow is key to job creation to help our nation recover from the economic slowdown. But with the number of bad loans mushrooming in recent years because of the economic downturn, federal regulators have put in more stringent guidelines for qualifying for financing.”, stated Ken Lewis CEO of Bank of America.

Communication with Lenders is Key

Maintaining an open line of communication with your credit providers is key.  During times of prosperity the lines of communication are open; but during times when businesses face adversity the phone stops ringing and lenders start to get nervous.  When business conditions get difficult businesses need to communicate with greater frequency and openness with their lenders.  Bankers don’t like surprises.

Reason to Communicate: Risk Assessment

The entrepreneurial nature of small business owners make them natural risk takers.  They have an unshakable belief in the fail safe nature of their ideas and have strong ego identification with their business.  This often makes them blind to the risks lingering within the business enterprise.  Their innate optimism may also cloud an ability to objectively analyze business risks and prevent them from seizing opportunities as a result of poor assessment capabilities.

Conducting a disciplined risk assessment and opportunity discovery exercise will uncover the risks and opportunities present in the enterprise and in the markets that the business serves.  This risk assessment is a great opportunity to communicate to lenders and credit providers that business management are capable risk managers and are a worthy credit risk.  Lenders will be impressed by the transparency of your risk governance practice and will be more disposed to provide financing for projects and opportunities that will propel future growth

Banks are looking for businesses that are prepared with their financial and business plans. Business owners must present a clear purpose for the loan tied to clearly defined business objectives.   The risk assessment exercise is a vital tool that assists in the construction of a business plan that builds  lender’s confidence in your business.  The assessment will reveal the largest risk factors confronting your business and outline clearly defined opportunities that promises optimal returns on loan capital.

Its music to a bankers ears that clients are managing risk well and have identified the most promising opportunities  for business investments.  It is usually a recipe for success and that will allow you and your banker to develop a trusted business relationship based on honesty and transparency.

Sum2’s Profit|Optimizer

Sum2 publishes the Profit|Optimizer.  The Profit|Optimizer is a risk assessment and opportunity discovery tool for small and mid-sized businesses.  It assists managers to identify and manage risk factors confronting their business. The goal of the Profit|Optimizer is to help business mangers demonstrate creditworthiness to lenders and make make informed capital allocation decisions.

Sum2 boasts a worldwide clientele of small and mid-sized business managers, bankers, CPA’s and risk management consultants that utilize the Profit|Optimizer to help their clients raise capital with effective risk governance.  Subscribe to The Profit|Optimizer here: Profit|Optimizer

Risk: small business, SME, credit, bank,

May 3, 2010 Posted by | banking, credit, Profit|Optimizer, risk management, small business, SME, Sum2 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Deep is the Ocean?

The crisis in the credit markets is creating some new American superheroes. Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Geithner are today’s dynamic duo engaged in a titanic struggle with the evil forces of inflation, stagflation, a weak dollar and dysfunctional credit markets. Their mission is to keep the specter of a recession from reappearing again.

Their weapon of choice is a high octane capital swap, low interest generator and paper guarantee machine. The machine produces accelerated capital flows by pumping liquidity into credit channels faster than water surging through the Hoover Dam at the height of a Rocky Mountain snow melt.

Just as the great Colorado River brings life and growth to the parched deserts of the American southwest so to is liquidity the essential condition to sustain the economic viability of a corporate enterprise.

Liquidity concerns grow particularly close to the bone of small businesses. Liquidity is their bread of life and small businesses must master the fine art of liquidity management. Unlike large corporations and governments, the ability of small businesses to print money, tap commercial paper markets, leverage or sell assets or engage in other forms of exotic balance sheet alchemy is limited. So at the end of the day, when the payroll is due, a key supplier is waiting by the receptionist for a check and your best sales person is doing her best to close that huge new deal your anxiety grows a bit as you ponder your cash position and begin to project the next three months.

You call your local banker. You are a long standing and valued customer but “risk aversion” continues to creep into the discussion and they tell you that their funding sources have grown “risk averse” due to losses in the sub-prime mortgage market and finding new funding sources have been difficult. So for now at least the expansion of a credit facility with them is not an option.

You keep getting calls from those merchant finance companies that are offering short term loans but the prospect of paying usurious rates of 18%-30% on future credit card receivables will put a major dent in your profit margins. That makes this credit channel’s cost of operating capital prohibitively expensive.

That’s where risk management comes in. Many small business owners are masters at risk management. They are skilled entrepreneurs that put personal capital at risk. They got major skin into the game and that motivates them to continually evaluate how to protect their assets and maximize returns. Many small business owners are extremely gifted at leveraging assets to address opportunities. Assets such as monetary capital, people, intellectual capital, suppliers, facilities and products are routinely utilized to enhance and extend liquidity. But as credit markets tighten all small businesses need to become more aware of preserving liquidity. This can be accomplished by incorporating a few simple risk management practices.

A good place to start is to make sure your systems and business processes are optimized to support efficiencies. Many of the traditional cash management techniques are well known. Small business accounting software and the availability of internet banking tools are a great help to small businesses. These tools help to extend and manage payment cycles, match assets to liabilities and a good banker will help you develop specific strategies and practices to address these issues and improve your cash position.

Another area to consider is to arbitrage credit providers. Obviously this tactic works great during times of enhanced liquidity but credit channels are still vibrant and the market is crowed with numerous providers and products. Though it is true that as more participants enter markets they tend to become more efficient resulting in small spreads the volatility of the credit markets can work to your advantage. If you can replace a line of merchant finance credit with a bank offered facility you will increase your margins by the spread of the savings.

Sources of capital leakage from the company are a major threat to liquidity. Small business managers must be aware of how to assess this risk factor and how to minimize potential damage it can cause. By “leakage” of enterprise capital we mean to suggest that capital invested by the business did not create an acceptable rate of return. A concerted approach to assessing and managing risk factors preserves liquidity, builds equity and a strong balance sheet.

The principal villains that contribute to capital leakage are poor cash management and inappropriate, non-prioritized or misdirected capital allocation initiatives. These initiatives are acquisitions or projects requiring the investment of time, money, personal energy and corporate resource that do not produce an optimal rate of return.

Small businesses need to incorporate opportunity cost in determining ROI on business initiatives. This is because a small business must limit the number of projects it can engage. It must be certain that current projects will build greater value for the business then the project it declined to pursue. An understanding of value at risk (VaR) is also a useful metric to determine what initiative or project will mitigate the greatest risk and produce the greatest return on capital expenditures.

Risk assessment is a powerful opportunity discovery exercise that requires intentionality and discipline. Many small business owners do these assessments in their head and make decisions based on gut feeling or intuition. An opportunity discovery methodology that walks you through an objective assessment of risk factors is a wonderful complement to the fine tuned business instinct of the small business owner.

Lastly, small businesses need to focus on their most profitable products, best clients and key suppliers within their most promising markets. This may seem obvious but many businesses are reluctant to alter their business models to accommodate this blatant reality. Inertia, culture and ego are the principle culprits and ironically clients, products, suppliers and markets pose some of the greatest risks to small businesses.

It is true that a rising tide lifts all boats. We have just experienced one of the greatest economic expansions in the history of the global economy. It’s been a great run. But the party is over. The era of an unending flow of easy credit and cheap capital is over for now. Until happy days return again we must adapt and protect our solvency through effective liquidity management practices. During times of economic uncertainty and distress it’s a great opportunity to build financial health through effective risk management because when the tide goes out the rudderless businesses captained by poor stewards will crash upon the rocks and get beached on unforeseen shoals or sink into the depths of the unforgiving briny deep.

You Tube Music Video:  Billie Holiday,  How Deep is the Ocean?

Risk: credit, small business,  SME, recession, liquidity

April 29, 2010 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, risk management, small business, SME | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Credit Tight from SBA Lenders

Last year lending to small businesses evaporated with glaring exception of Wells Fargo which increased its lending through Small Business Administration (SBA) programs.  With bank lending to small businesses nearly frozen many small businesses are scrambling for the credit lines and loans they need to keep their companies alive.

The landscape of lenders willing to provide credit to small business is evolving.  Wells Fargo has emerged as the principal provider of credit to the small business market becoming the number-one lender through the SBA loan programs during 2009.

CIT Group, JPMorgan Chase, Banco Popular and Bank of America have cut their SBA lending by more than 70% this year.  While Wells Fargo buttressed by its acquisition of Wachovia, increased its loan volume 4%, from $583 million in 2008 to $605 million during 2009.

Wells Fargo acquisition of Wachovia closed three months into the 2009 fiscal year allowing Wells Fargo to book only nine months of Wachovia SBA lending which totaled $742 million a decrease of  24% from aggregate SBA loans extended during 2008.   During 2009 the number two lender to small businesses was U.S. Bank which made $250  million in loans through the SBA’s lending program.

The large banking institutions that received TARP funds  used that infusion to prop up the capital ratios to improve weak balance sheets.  Little of these funds were used to fund credit programs for small businesses.  Wells Fargo’s capital ratios were healthier then its larger competitors.  This allowed Wells Fargo to take advantage of their rivals distraction from the small business market.  Indeed the bankruptcy filing by CIT, the management tremors at Bank of America, Citibank’s scramble for capital and JP Morgan Chase digestion of Bear Stearns allowed Wells Fargo to fill the large vacuum in the  neglected SBA lending market.

Wells Fargo also had the advantage of not being dependent on securitizing its SBA loans and selling them in the  secondary market.  As evidenced by CIT’s bankruptcy filing,  funding for securitized loans disappeared as the risk aversion of institutional investors grew and liquidity evaporated from the market.  These market events led Wells Fargo to develop a focused discipline on the small business lending market.  The bank was committed to closing larger 7(a) SBA loans which are held and managed in the banks loan portfolio.  Wells Fargo’s small business strategy discouraged originating SBA Express Loans that offer lower credit limits and tend to have much higher default rates.  Wells Fargo’s SBA program and business model should be studied and replicated by community banks to energize small business lending.

Small business lending and capital formation in the sector is a critical component for sustainable economic growth.  Banks need to engage the small business market with a deeper understanding of the risks associated with the market.  Small business managers must demonstrate to bankers and shareholders that they are worthy stewards of credit and equity capital by implementing sound risk management and corporate governance practices.  This assures bankers that  small business managers are a good credit risk capable of building a mutually profitable business relationship for the many years to come.

Risk: SME, SBA, credit, small business, banking, community banks

March 11, 2010 Posted by | banking, bankruptsy, credit, credit crisis, recession, risk management, SME, TARP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment