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The Profitability of Patriotism: SME Lending

What a  difference a year makes.  A year ago the banks came crawling to Washington begging for a massive capital infusion to avoid an Armageddon of the global financial system.  They sent out an urgent SOS for a $750 billion life preserver of tax payers money to keep the banking system liquid.  Our country’s chief bursar Hank Paulson, designed a craft that would help the banks remain afloat.  Into the market maelstrom Mr. Paulson launched the USS TARP as the vehicle to save our  distressed ship of state.  The TARP would prove itself to be our arc of national economic salvation.  The success of the TARP has allowed the banks to generate profits in one of the most prolific turnarounds since Rocky Balboa’s heartbreaking split decision loss to Apollo Creed.  Some of the banks have repaid the TARP loans to the Fed.  Now as Christmas approaches and this incredible year closes bankers have visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads as they dream about how they will spend this years bonus payments based on record breaking profitability.   President Obama wants the banks to show some love and return the favor by sharing more of their recapitalized balance sheets by lending money to small and mid-size enterprises (SME).

Yesterday President Obama held a banking summit in Washington DC.  Mr. Obama wanted to use the occasion to shame the “fat cat bankers” to expand their lending activities to SMEs.  A few of the bigger cats were no shows.  They got fogged in at Kennedy Airport.  They called in to attend the summit by phone.    Clearly shame was not the correct motivational devise to encourage the bankers to begin lending to  SMEs.    Perhaps the President should have appealed to the bankers sense of patriotism; because now is the time that all good bankers must come to the aid of their country.  Failing that, perhaps Mr. Obama should make a business case that SME lending  is good for profits.   A vibrant SME sector is a powerful driver for wealth creation and economic recovery.    A beneficial and perhaps unintended consequence of this endeavor is  the economic security and political stability of the nation.  These  are the  worthy concerns of all true patriots and form a common ground where bankers and government can engage the issues that undermine our national security.

The President had a full agenda to cover with the bank executives.  Executive compensation, residential mortgage defaults, TARP repayment plans, bank capitalization and small business lending were some of the key topics.  Mr. Obama was intent on chastising the reprobate bankers about their penny pinching credit policies toward small businesses.  Mr. Obama conveyed to bankers that the country was still confronted with major economic problems.  Now that the banks capital  base has been stabilized with Treasury supplied funding they must get some skin into the game and belly up to the bar by making more loans to SMEs.

According to the FDIC, lending by U.S. banks fell by 2.8 percent in the third quarter.  This is the largest drop since 1984 and the fifth consecutive quarter in which banks have reduced lending.   The decline in lending is a serious  barrier to economic recovery.  Banks reduced the amount of money extended to their customers by $210.4 billion between July and September, cutting back in almost every category, from mortgage lending to funding for corporations.  The TARP was intended to spur new lending and the FDIC observed that the largest recipients of aid  were responsible for a disproportionate share of the decline in lending. FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair stated,   “We need to see banks making more loans to their business customers.”

The withdrawal of $210 billion in credit from the market is a major impediment for economic growth.  The trend to delever credit exposures is a consequence of the credit bubble and is a sign of prudent management of credit risk.  But the reduction of lending activity impedes economic activity and poses barriers to SME capital formation.  If the third quarter reduction in credit withdrawal were annualized the amount of capital removed from the credit markets is about 7% of GDP.  This coupled with the declining business revenues due to recession creates a huge headwind for SMEs.  It is believed that 14% of SMEs are in distress and without expanded access to credit, defaults and  bankruptcies will continue to rise.  Massive business failures by SMEs shrinks market opportunities for banks and threatens their financial health  and long term sustainability.

The number one reason why financial institutions turn down a SME for business loans is due to risk assessment. A bank will look at a number of factors to determine how likely a business will or will not be able to return the money it has borrowed.

SME business managers must conduct a thorough risk assessment if it wishes to attract loan capital from banks.  Uncovering the risks and opportunities associated with products and markets, business functions, macroeconomic risks and understanding the critical success factors and measurements that create competitive advantage are cornerstones of effective risk management.  Bankers need assurances that managers understand the market dynamics and risk factors present in their business and how they will be managed to repay credit providers. Bankers need confidence that managers have identified the key initiatives that maintain profitability.  Bankers will gladly extend credit to SMEs that can validate that credit capital is being deployed effectively by astute managers.  Bankers will approve loans when they are confident that SME managers are making prudent capital allocation decisions that are based on a diligent risk/reward assessment.

Sum2 offers products that combine qualitative risk assessment applications with Z-Score quantitative metrics to assess the risk profile and financial health of SMEs.   The Profit|Optimizer calibrates qualitative and quantitative risk scoring  tools; placing a powerful business management tool into the hands of SME  managers.   SME managers  can  demonstrate  to bankers that their requests for credit capital is based on a thorough risk assessment and opportunity discovery exercise and will be effective stewards of loan capital.

On a macro level SME managers must vastly improve their risk management and corporate governance cultures to attract the credit capital of banks.  Through programs like the Profit|Optimizer,  SME’s can position themselves to participate in credit markets with the full faith of friendly bankers.  SME lending is a critical pillar to a sustained economic recovery and stability of our banking system.  Now is the time for all bankers  to come to the aid of their country by opening up credit channels to SMEs to restore  economic growth and the wealth of our  nation.

You Tube Music Video: Bruce Springsteen, Seeger Sessions, Pay Me My Money Down

Risk: banking, credit, SME

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December 15, 2009 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, economics, FDIC, government, SME, TARP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

$700 Billion is a lot of Guacamole!

paulsonAn article in today’s  Forbes online entitled Trouble with TARP,  reports a growing concern by the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) about the effectiveness of the $700 billion program.  The COP reports that the effectiveness of the program is difficult to determine due to lack of transparency of how funds were spent.  The COP report also states that the absence of any reporting guidelines for TARP participants impedes effective oversight.

The 145 page report starts with a retelling of the extreme conditions confronting the banking sector as the credit crisis exploded last autumn.  It also outlines the choices confronting regulators, legislators and industry executives as the crisis deepened.  We were led to believe by Treasury and Federal Reserve officials that the global banking system was in imminent  danger of collapse.  Nothing less then immediate and drastic measures taken by sovereign government officials and industry executives would prevent the catastrophic consequences of global economic carnage.  The report makes it clear that these market conditions were so extreme that regulators were navigating through uncharted waters.  Any remediation measures taken had little historical precedence to guide actions.  Hence Paulson was given carte blanche to handle the crisis with unprecedented latitude and executive facility.

As this blog reported earlier this week, the TARP was originally designed to acquire troubled assets from banking institutions.  TARP funds were earmarked to purchase mortgage backed securities and other derivatives whose distressed valuations severely eroded capital ratios and stressed banks balance sheets.  Hank Paulson later shifted the strategy and decided to inject TARP funds into the banks equity base.  This has done wonders for the shareholders of the banks but troubled assets remain on the banks balance sheet.  As the recession continues,  unemployment, home foreclosures, SME bankruptcies and the looming problem with commercial mortgage backed securities  (CMBS) are placing a new round of added strain on the banking system.

The TALF program is designed to draw private money into partnership with the government to acquire troubled assets from banks.  So far the program has received a tepid response.  I suspect that the principal factors inhibiting the expansion of the TALF program are numerous.  Chief among them is the inability of FASB to decide upon valuation guidelines of Level III Assets.  Banks holding distressed securities may also be reluctant to part with these assets because they have tremendous upside potential as the economy improves.

The COP also questioned the effectiveness of TARP because stress tests were only conducted on 19 banks.  The report states that additional  stress tests may be required because the previous tests failed to account for the length and depth and length of the recession.   Community banks are also of concern.  They face a perfect storm in challenging macroeconomic conditions.  Of particular concern is commercial real estate loans.  Many economists are concerned that high rate of loan defaults in commercial loan portfolios pose great threats to the community banking sector.

Though interest rates remain low due to the actions of the Federal Reserve,  lending by banks still remains weak.  SME’s are capital starved and bankruptcy rates are quickly rising.  SME’s are critical to any economic recovery scenario.  A strong SME sector is also crucial for a vibrant and profitable banking system.  Perhaps a second round of TARP funding may be required to get more credit flowing to SME’s.  If banks start failing again it would be devastating.  The Treasury and the Federal Reserve don’t have many bullets left to fire  because of all the previous expenditures and a waning political will of the people to continue to fund a systemically damaged banking system.

Risk: banks, SME, economy, credit, market

You Tube Video Music: Billie Holiday with Lester Young, Pennies from Heaven

August 13, 2009 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, economics, FASB, Paulson, real estate, recession, regulatory, SME, TALF, TARP, Treasury, Uncategorized, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drivers Wanted!

fuel efficientThe cash for clunkers rebate program is a great success.  The first $2. billion allotted to the program was spent within two weeks.  The recently approved additional allocation of $1 billon for the program will no doubt be taken advantage of by consumers.   American’s are always keen to do a deal and can’t wait to drive away in a brand new ride unwritten in part by our most favorite relative, Uncle Sam.

The government’s goals of the cash for clunkers program are being achieved.  The program  will have a positive environmental impact as more fuel efficient vehicles replace the old gas guzzling clunkers.  The program has also allowed car manufacturers to liquidate 2009 inventories that were piled high due to tepid demand borne from the recession and credit crisis.  The program may also help cure consumers recession psychology and their new found aversion to purchasing new stuff.

It is hoped that this boost to car manufacturers may kick start the economy.  Ford Motor Company’s  recent positive earnings announcement and GMs and Chrysler’s arrest of declining quarterly sales are one of the “green shoots” of recovery pointed to by politicians and economists.  However a huge question remains concerning how to incubate long term sustainable drivers that will end the recession?  The $600 tax rebate checks sent out by Paulson last year provided a temporary boost to the economy.  Its effects did little more then forestalling the more deleterious effects of the growing recession.  See The Charge of the Light Brigade.  Hopefully cash for clunkers will help to kick start some recovery momentum to an economy aching for relief from systemic malaise.

The US economy has grown overly dependent on a few industry sectors that include services, real estate, banking and construction.  The SME service sectors have been devastated by the contraction of credit, unemployment and the curtailment of consumer demand brought on by the recession.  During the good times, these sectors were driving economic growth and expansion.  Unfortunately these sectors remain conspicuously absent as leading drivers in the new emerging  economy.

Macroeconomic factors unpinning recovery continue to be negative for these sectors.  Hi tech and manufacturing seen as critical to a lasting recovery have also been a bit lethargic.   These industries are capital intensive and with the capital markets still seeking a firm recovery footing these sectors will remain weak.   Health care and pharmaceuticals are key sectors in the US economy, but political uncertainty around reforming industry practices and much needed restructuring hampers the sectors ability to assume a leading position in recovery scenarios.

Last year Sum2 published The Hamilton Plan, a Ten Point Program to incubate small midsized enterprise (SME) manufacturers.  At its core, the plan seeks to encourage capital formation initiatives from public and private sources.  Manufacturing is key to any sustainable economic recovery.  Our ability and desire to link manufacturing to the entrepreneurial capabilities and business skills of SME’s to address targeted needs could well be the drivers that finally steer us out of the recession.

Risk: recession, SME, manufacturing

August 10, 2009 Posted by | commerce, credit crisis, economics, Hamilton Plan, manufacturing, private equity, psychology, recession, SME, sustainability, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conference Call with Hank

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members had an opportunity to participate in a conference call with Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. Mr. Paulson was keen to solicit the support of NFIB members for the passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, (EESA).

NFIB members are small business owners who are generally very conservative, free market advocates who vigorously support tax relief, oppose regulatory oversight and large governmental spending programs. NFIB member firms are the entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, service providers and small business risk takers who populate the small stores and office space on Main Street USA.

Small business owners are a politically vocal and influential constituency whose support proponents need to gain passage of EESA. Last night EESA passed the Senate. It will now return to the House of Representatives for a vote. Secretary Paulson asked NFIB members to contact congressmen, senators and media to urge support of EESA passage.

Key points raised were as follows:

FDIC deposit insurance limit was raised to $250,000

EESA Bill included riders with tax cuts and other rebate incentives

EESA has a recoupment provision “put” that allows Treasury to sell assets back to banks at a previously agreed upon price

Failure of EESA will curtail community bank lending activity to small businesses

Large businesses and municipalities dependent on credit markets for short term funding will scale back purchases with small businesses

Current Treasury tools are not sufficient to deal with problem

EESA funding (Federal Budget program cuts) will need to be addressed in next budget cycle

Regulatory frameworks of financial services industry need to be streamlined, strengthened and reformed

Mark to Market of toxic bank assets will help to temporarily address bank solvency and capitalization ratios

Music Video: Blondie, Hangin on the Telephone

Risk: bank solvency, credit, interest rates, recession

October 2, 2008 Posted by | credit crisis, EESA, Paulson, TARP, Treasury | , , , , , , | Leave a comment