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Sustainable Economics

We have put our good mother through a lot over the past few million years. Ever since we walked out of the great rift the biospheres dominant species has really left a mark. I know that mark is but a tiny spec on the archaeological record of the earth which spans a few billion years but our impact is unmistakable.
 
I guess it started with the invention of hand tools, fire, wheels, shelter construction, water cultivation and agriculture. You can’t forget hunting in packs, weaponry, domestication of animals, speech, art and writing. A consciousness of a portfolio of skills, specialization, division of labor and the ability to discern exchange value within the community birthed a notion of governance. Our social nature was crowned with our ability to transmit craft and knowledge to successive generations, assuring continuity and cohesion with a common history and a well articulated cosmology. Put it all together and I think you got your basic modern Homo sapien.
Oh yeah, we also developed a psychology, an ego, that incorporates the primacy of ourselves and our selfish needs. It rationalizes and guides our interactions with nature, transforming the intention of our labor into a transaction that alters the conditions of the environment. It also serves as indisputable empirical evidence of the master species, elevated above all others as time marks the progress and dominion of the human race.
 
Our dominion has been codified into our sacred literature. Our creation stories and cosmic mission statements expressly state to exercise our dominion over nature, to propagate the species and to be fruitful and multiply. The screaming unencumbered id, left to its own devises, unchecked in the grand supermarket. We human’s have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations and the species continues to be fruitful and multiplying. 
 
We sojourn on, notching the ladder of history with marks of our progression through the ages. Along the way we Cro-Magnons expropriated the Neanderthals and moved into their Mediterranean digs complete with fire pits, burial chambers and the best take on modern art until Picasso came along.
 
I guess that’s the point. Our survival comes at the expense of other creatures and things. I’m no Malthusian, but Tom Friedman’s flat world is getting crowded.    And as we celebrate the 44th Earth Day a midst the greatest die off of species since mankind coronated himself as master and commander of all things earth; it may be time to consider how our dominion is hampering the well being of the lesser flora and fauna kingdoms and what we can do to begin the practice of a more sustainable economics.
 
When I look at Las Vegas, I behold a garish mecca of capitalism on steroids.  I’m overwhelmed by the banality of the the things we so highly esteem. A community venerated and propped up on the foundation of vice, hedonism and the radical pursuit of money. Unbridled development of a crystal neon city constructed in the middle of a desert, recklessly consumes water and energy resources and misdirects human capital to maintain the facade of an unsustainable economy. 
 
Phoenix poses the same paradox. Darling child of the credit boom, Phoenix is a city consuming itself. The rising threat of climate change, blistering heat, dwindling water supplies and raging haboobs would give any urban planner reason to pause. A bustling city of many millions of striving citizens consuming energy, water and human capital built on the unsustainable foundation of excessive consumption and an unrealistic valuation of the capital required to maintain it. 
 
The explosion of fracking natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation is another example of sacrificing long term sustainability for the immediacy of shareholder returns. The Marcellus Deposit has proven reserves that only last a decade. As evidenced by the hyper development occurring in North Dakota,  economies tied to resource extraction are prone to experience classic boom bust cycles. During boom times all is well. But the good times don’t last all that long and communities are left in the wake of the bust cycle to deal with the aftermath. 
 
The Keystone XL Pipeline and the rapid expansion of the LNG extraction industries are being touted as the foundation of American energy independence. But this energy resource extracts a high cost on the land and its natural bounty. It poses significant risk to water aquifers, air quality, wildlife and the storage of waste-water byproducts will present long term remediation challenges to communities for many decades after the last well is capped.
 
Our new found fortune of LNG comes with a significant opportunity cost to develop alternative energy sources as it continues to tether our economic dependence on a dwindling supply of fossil fuels. Perpetuating this dependence also requires us to expend huge sums of money on the military. The political arrhythmia in the Ukraine and the keen interest of the United States has much to do with the changing political economy of fossil fuels and the protection and accession of markets.
 
Sustainability requires a new approach to the emerging realities of the global political economy. Recognition that competing interests bring important capital to the table, and that all must be recognized and fully valued in the new algorithms of sustainability is the keystone and pipeline of sustainability. The practice of unfettered development is unsustainable. Regulation, arbitration and revitalization cannot be sacrificed at the altar of laissez-faire politics that only serves to widen the wealth gap at tremendous social cost. The politicization of economic policy cannot continue to be beholden to rampant monetization. Sustainability is the creation of long term value for a diverse community of stakeholders. It needs to become our guiding mantra as the global population approaches 8 billion souls. 

Happy Earth Day.

Music Selection:

Risk: fracking, political, water, air, war, opportunity cost, renewal clean energy, climate change

April 23, 2014 Posted by | business continuity, commodities, compliance, economics, environment, military, political risk, politics, psychology, regulatory, risk management, social unrest | , , , , , , , | 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

The Yin and Yang of Inflation

Yin YangInflation like all risk is a double edge sword. Its negative nature will upset the apple cart and pose uncomfortable challenges for business 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 P&L 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 for your business. Inflation will drastically alter market conditions. It will reveal inefficiencies that nimble businesses 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 businesses threatening to gobble up product margins, revenue opportunities and bottom line profits. It diminishes customer buying power and may threaten the solvency of your largest 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 small business 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, T&E, 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.

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

Many small businesses 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 small business to have pricing power it must offer a non-commoditized product to dependent buyers. Its product or service cannot be easily replicated or widely available from other sources.

While pricing power escapes most small businesses 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 small businesses may suffer when buyers trade down to low cost providers. Key customers may compel small businesses to lower prices to be more in line with lower cost producers. This is a major threat to small businesses.

Small businesses 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

Small businesses 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 WEB 2.0 techniques. 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 small businesses 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 small businesses. 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.

Small businesses 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 small businesses 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.

June 20, 2008 Posted by | business, commodities, credit crisis, economics, inflation, product, recession, risk management, SME, supply chain, US dollar | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment