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assessing risk|realizing opportunities

Managing Macroeconomic Risk

Yesterday Ben Bernanke’s statements about changing sentiment of the Federal Reserves’ Quantitative Easing program touched off a mini stock market crash. Though you took a solid hit in the value of your investment portfolio and retirement account the changing stance of the Fed will also impact the financial health and business conditions of small and mid-size businesses (SME). The days of near zero interest rates and the massive liquidity infusions by the Fed through Treasury purchase programs are coming to a close. That will effect the availability and the cost of capital for SMEs.

Macroeconomic risks are quickly becoming one of the greatest class of risk factors for SMEs. Credit availability, customer buying power, inflation, supply chain disruption, cyclical and market sector risks are growing in significance and threaten the profitability and financial health of all SMEs and their customers. Unfortunately, some businesses will not be able to surmount the acute challenges posed by these emerging economic risk factors and will find it difficult to continue as a going concern.

A difficult economy presents challenges for all businesses. SME’s require risk assessment tools to help better manage business threats and seize opportunities that fluctuating market conditions produce. Many believe that mitigating macroeconomic risk factors are difficult if not impossible for SMEs to mitigate. After all what can a small business do to immune itself to inflation or spiking interest rates? though it may seem to be an impossible task to shield a business from macroeconomic risks; executives that effectively engage to manage these type of threats Can profit from the opportunities severe market conditions produce.

Sum2’s risk assessment products help SMEs deal with the problem of rising macroeconomic risk factors. Small business managers use our SPOT application to aggregate and score all enterprise risk factors. This helps managers to focus on the most pressing risk factors that ironically have the potential to generate optimal returns on capital employed.

Credit|Redi is a series of assessment applications that help SMEs improve the company’s financial health. As a company’s credit rating improves, access to bank loans and other sources of capital become readily available at more favorable terms to the SME. This is a particularly pressing problem as SME’s have born the brunt of financial distress ignited by the Great Recession. As interest rates rise SMEs borrowing costs will increase placing further stress on profitability and financial health.

It brings us great satisfaction to place world class risk management tools in the hands of small businesses to better manage business threats . The macroeconomic risk module is one of twenty risk assessment modules offered in SPOT.

The effects of rising macroeconomic risk factors will begin to appear in an SME’s operations and target markets potentially stressing the company’s financial health. SPOT potential problems and opportunities before they emerge. SPOT and assess the current business conditions to make adjustments and initiate actions to overcome difficulties and seize opportunities the new business cycle is sure to present.

Sum2 Risk Assessment Applications

Risk: credit, inflation, market, buying power, customer risk, supply chain

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June 21, 2013 Posted by | Bernanke, credit, Credit Redi, inflation, recession, risk management, 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

Using the Z Score to Manage Corporate Financial Health

We use Altman’s Z Score as our measurement tool to assess a company’s financial condition. It incorporates fundamental financial analysis, offers a consistent measurement methodology across all business segments, and an enhanced level of transparency by use of fully disclosed and open calculation model.

Z Score Advantages

The Z Score provides a quantitative measurement into a company’s financial health. The Z Score highlights factors contributing to a company’s financial health and uncovers emerging trends that indicate improvements or deterioration in financial condition.

The Z Score is a critical tool business managers use to assess financial health. It helps managers align business strategies with capital allocation decisions and provide transparency of financial condition to lenders and equity capital providers. Business managers use the Z Score to raise capital and secure credit. The Z Score is an effective tool to demonstrate credit worthiness to bankers and soundness of business model to investors.

The Z Score is based on actual financial information derived from the operating performance of the business enterprise. It avoids biases of subjective assessments, conflicts of interest, brand and large company bias. The Z Score employs no theoretical assumptions or market inputs external to the company’s financial statements. This provides users of the Z Score with a consistent view and understanding of a company’s true financial health.

Background

The Z Score was first developed by NYU Professor Edward Altman. The Z Score methodology was developed to provide a more effective financial assessment tool for credit risk analysts and lenders. It is employed by credit professionals to mitigate risk in debt portfolios and by lenders to extend loans. It is widely utilized because it uses multiple variables to measure the financial health and credit worthiness of a borrower. The Z Score is an open system. This allows users of the Z Score to understand the variables employed in the algorithm. All the mysteries and added cost of “proprietary black box” systems are avoided empowering users to enjoy the benefits of a proven credit decision tool based solely on solid financial analysis.

The Z Score is also an effective tool to analyze the financial health and credit worthiness of private companies. It has gained wide acceptance from auditors, management accountants, courts, and database systems used for loan evaluation. The formula’s approach has been used in a variety of contexts and countries. Forty years of public scrutiny speaks highly of its validity.

Z Score Formula

The Z Score method examines liquidity, profitability, reinvested earnings and leverage which are integrated into a single composite score. It can be used with past, current or projected data as it requires no external inputs such as GDP or Market Price.

The Z Score uses a series of data points from a company’s balance sheet. It uses the data points to create and score ratios. These ratios are weighted and aggregated to compile a Z Score.

Z Score = 3.25 + 6.56(X1) + 3.26(X2) + 6.72(X3) + 1.05(X4) where

X1 = Working Capital / Total Assets
X2 = Retained Earnings / Total Assets
X3 = Earnings Before Interest & Tax / Total Assets
X4 = Total Book Equity /Total Liabilities

If you divide 1 by X4 then add 1 the result is the company’s total leverage.

The higher the score the more financially sound the company.

Z Score Ratings cutoff scores used in classifications:

AAA     8.15             AA        7.30

A          6.65              BBB     5.85

BB        4.95             B            4.15

CCC     3.20             D           3.19

Credit Worthiness and Cost Of Capital

Lenders and credit analysts use Z Scores because they are effective indicators and predictors of loan defaults. it is an important risk mitigation tool and helps them to better price credit products based on borrowers credit worthiness.

Utilizing a 10 year corporate mortality table demonstrates how Z Score ratings correlate to defaults. Those with a rating of A or better have a 10 year failure rate that ranges from .03% to .082%. The failure rate for those with a BBB rating jumps to 9.63%. BB, B and CCC failure rates are 19.69%, 37.26% and 58.63% respectively. These tables will differ slightly as each producer uses different criteria but overall they are quite similar.

Borrowers with higher Z Scores ratings will have a better chance of obtaining financing and secure a lower cost of capital and preferred interest rates because lenders will have greater confidence in being paid back their principal and interest. Financial wellness is an indication of strong company management and that effective governance controls are in place.

Managing Business Decisions to Improve Financial Health

The Z Score is also a critical business tool managers utilize to make informed business decisions to improve the financial health of the business. The Z Score helps managers assess the factors contributing to poor financial health. Z Score factors that contribute to under-performance; working capital, earnings retention, profitability and leverage can be isolated. This enables managers to initiate actions to improve the score of these factors contributing to financial distress. Targeting actions to specific under-performing stress factors allows managers to make capital allocation decisions that mitigate principal risk factors and produce optimal returns.

Focus areas for managers to improve Z Score are transactions that effect earnings/(losses), capital expenditures, equity and debt transactions.

The most common transactions include:

  1. Earnings (Net Earnings) increases working capital and equity.
  2. Adjust EBIT by adding back interest expense.
  3. Adjust EBIT by adding back income tax expense.
  4. Depreciation and amortization expense is already included in the earnings number so it won’t have an additional effect on earnings or equity but it will increase working capital as noncash items previously deducted.
  5. Capital Expenditures (fixed asset purchases) decrease working capital as cash is used to pay for them (whether the source is existing cash or new cash acquired from debt).
  6. Short term debt transactions have no effect on working capital as there are offsetting changes in both current assets and liabilities but does change total liabilities and total assets.
  7. Acquiring new long term debt increases working capital, total liabilities and total assets.
  8. Typical equity transactions (other than earnings, which we have already accounted for) are dividends paid to stockholders resulting in decreases to working capital and equity.
  9. New contributed capital increases working capital and equity.

Scenario Analysis

Using the Z Score financial managers can actively manage their balance sheet by considering transactions and initiatives designed to impact financial wellness. Considerable attention needs to be placed on how losses, sale of fixed assets and long term debt payments effect financial condition.

In the above we included the basic transactions that would likely occur but you can do the same for any scenario by applying the same concept. It may take a little practice to think in these groupings but you’ll shortly find yourself with the ability to project any event. The effects can be measured and revised as necessary by adjusting the contemplated transactions. Remember that several variables exist and that a combination of choices might be necessary to keep your financial strength at the desired level.

Any projection should include the calculation and comparison of key metrics to historical results to ensure that assumptions have been correctly calculated. Significant deviations from prior results should have adequate explanations. Maintaining a strong working capital position can offset the negative effects from increased debt, increased assets and minor earning declines.

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.

Cautions

Financial models are not infallible and should be used in conjunction with common sense and with an awareness of market conditions. It is important to understand your model so that other considerations can be incorporated when necessary. Note that most models (Z score included) use a proxy (working capital) for liquidity which works well until there are severe disruptions in credit markets as recently encountered. Use caution with all models. Use extreme caution when using a proprietary black box system where you can’t understand all the components. Are these users aware or ignorant of possible issues?

Trust but verify seems like a prudent policy.

Conclusions

The Z Score is a valuable management tool to proactively assess the financial condition of the company’s balance sheet, uncover factors that are stressing the balance sheet and initiate actions to improve the financial wellness and credit worthiness of the firm. All business decisions and actions are ultimately revealed in the company’s balance sheet. The Z Score measures the effectiveness of business decisions. It empowers managers to anticipate changes occurring in credit worthiness and proactively manage changes in financial condition.

Armed with a tool to calculate future financial positions managers have the latitude to better manage outstanding receivables, improve liquidity and lower their cost of capital. Calls for capital, negotiations for funding or decisions in setting credit policy can now be made from a knowledgeable position with a set of supporting facts.

The Z Score gives business managers an important negotiating tool to defend their credit rating during capital raises when excess leverage or deficient levels of working capital and equity are present.

This post was authored by CreditAides.

This post was edited by Sum2llc

Risk: small business lending, credit risk, commercial lending, SME

July 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Schulte Roth & Zabel Navigating A Brave New World

This years Schulte Roth & Zabel’s  (SRZ) 19th Annual Private Investment Funds Seminar stuck a very different pose from last years event.  One year on from the global meltdown of financial markets, languishing institutional certainty and the  pervading crisis of industry confidence has been replaced with a cautious optimism.  The bold swagger of the industry however is gone, in its place a more certain sense of direction and expectation is emerging.  Though managers continue to labor under unachievable  high water marks due to the 2008 market devastation, 2009 marked a year of exceptional performance.   Investment portfolios rebounded in line with the upturn in the equity and bond markets.  Liquidity improved and net inflows into the industry has turned positive during the last quarter as large institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds returned to the sector with generous allocations.  These are taken as clear signs that the industry has stabilized and the path to recovery and the healing of economic and psychological wounds are underway.  Yes the industry will survive and ultimately thrive again but it will do so under vastly different conditions.  The new business landscape will require an industry with a guarded culture of  opaqueness to provide much greater transparency while operating under a regimen of greater regulatory scrutiny.

The 1,900 registered attendees heard a message about an industry at a cross road  still coming to terms with the market cataclysm brought on by unfettered, unregulated markets and excessive risk taking.  SRZ offered an honest assessment in examining the industries role in the market turmoil.  Speakers alerted attendees to an industry at a tipping point.  To survive the industry must adapt to a converging world that believes that uniform market rules and regulations are the surest safeguards against catastrophic systemic risk events.  A global political consensus is emerging  that expresses  support for industry regulation as an effective tool to mitigate the pervasiveness of fraud and market manipulation that undermines investor confidence and ultimately the functioning of a fair and efficient open free market.

Paul Roth, Founding Partner of SRZ,  noted in the events opening remarks that the market is beginning to recover as evidenced by industry AUM once again exceeding the $2 trillion mark;  but  he warned  that any exuberance needs to be tempered with the understanding that the new normal would not resemble the pre-crash world.  The days of  cowboy capitalism and radical laissez-faire investing are clearly over.   Indeed Mr. Roth wryly observed “the industry must develop a maturity about the need for change.  He concluded “that the industry must respond by playing a constructive role in forming that change.”

The conference subject matter, speakers and materials were all top shelf.  Break out presentations on risk management, regulatory compliance, distressed debt deal structuring, tax strategies and compensation issues all reinforced the overriding theme of an industry in flux.  The presenters passionately advocated the need to intentionally engage the issues  to confront accelerated changes in market conditions.  By doing so, fund complexes will be in a position to better manage the profound impact these changes will have on their business and operating culture.  Subject issues like insider trading, tax efficient structuring, hedge fund registration,  preparing for SEC examinations and the thrust of DOJ litigation initiatives and how to respond to subpoenas were some of the topics explored.

To highlight the emerging regulatory environment confronting the industry, a  presenter pointed to the Southerization of the SEC.  This is an allusion to the hiring of former criminal prosecutors from the Department of Justice, Southern District of New York to go after wayward fund managers.  The SEC is ramping up its organizational capability to effectively prosecute any violations of the new regulatory codes.   The growing specter of criminal prosecutions and the growing web of indictments concerning the high profile case of Mr. Raj Rajaratnam of the Galleon Group was presented as evidence of an emerging aggressive enforcement posture being pursued by regulators.  Managers beware!

Presenters made some excellent points about how institutional investors are demanding greater levels of TLC from their hedge fund managers.  This TLC stands for transparency, liquidity and control.  Creating an operational infrastructure and business culture that can accommodate these demands by institutional investors will strengthen the fund complex and help it to attract capital during the difficult market cycle.

The evening concluded with an interesting and honest conversation between Paul Roth and Thomas Steyer,  the Senior Managing Partner of Farallon Capital Management.  The conversation included increased regulatory oversight, compensation issues, industry direction and matching investor liquidity with fund strategy, capacity, structure and scale.   Mr. Steyer manages a multi-strategy fund complex with $20 billion AUM,  his insights are borne from a rich industry experience.  He made the startling admission that Farallon has been a registered hedge fund for many years and he believes that the regulatory oversight and preparation for examiners reviews helped his fund management company to develop operational discipline informed by sound practices.

Mr. Steyer also spoke about scale and that additional regulatory oversight will add expense to the cost of doing business.  Mr. Steyer believes that it will become increasingly difficult for smaller hedge funds to operate and compete under these market conditions.

Another interesting topic Mr. Steyer addressed were issues surrounding investor redemption and fund liquidity.  During last years SRZ conference investor liquidity was the hot topic.  Fund preservation during a period of market illiquidity and a fair and orderly liquidation of an investment partnership were major themes that ran through  last years  presentations.  Mr. Steyer struck a more conciliatory tone of investor accommodation.  He confessed his dislike for the use of “gates” as a way to control the exit of capital from a fund.  In its place he offered a new fund structure he referred to as a “strip” to allocate portfolio positions to redeeming partners in proportion to the overall funds liquid and illiquid positions.  He stated he believed that strategy to be more investor friendly.

Schulte Roth & Zabel has once again demonstrated its market leadership and foresight to an industry clearly in flux, confronting multiple challenges.  These challenges will force fund managers to transform their operating culture in response to the sweeping demands of global market pressures, political impetus for regulatory reform and the heightened expectations of increasingly sophisticated investors.   The industry could not have a more capable hand at the helm to help it navigate through the jagged rocks and shifting shoals endemic to the alternative investment management marketplace.

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Risk: industry, market, regulatory, political

January 15, 2010 Posted by | hedge funds, institutional, investments, operations, politics, private equity, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, SEC, sovereign wealth funds | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

G-20 Stamps Out Tax Havens

OECDThe fallout from the recent tax evasion settlement with UBS is reverberating throughout the G-20 community.  As we reported back in October,  the French Governments action directing banks to close branches and subsidiaries in non-OEDC compliant jurisdictions will pressure all G-20 participants to adopt a more uniform tax code and enforcement practice.  The drive to strengthen the respect of tax treaties and the closure of havens to custody assets beyond the reach of national tax authorities signals a new era in multinational cooperation and the eclipse of radical free market tax practices.

The principal drivers for this unprecedented level of cooperation and standardization is the dire need for national tax authorities to recognize and tax revenue streams to help address the burgeoning budget deficits the global economic crisis has has wrought.

Clearly the crackdown on tax evasion is gaining momentum since the global financial crisis has devastated national treasuries.  Enormous expenditures on stimulus programs and dramatically falling tax receipts has created a perfect storm and has created an enormous threat to the fiscal soundness of national treasuries.

Forbes reports that Singapore has become the latest in a flurry of jurisdictions complying with Office of Economic Cooperation and Development standards on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes.  Fifteen jurisdictions have come into compliance since April 2009.  In addition to Singapore and the sea change occurring in the Suisse banking industry; other  governments that have lost revenue to tax havens are individually taking tough action:

–The U.K. government has informed the Isle of Man that it will reduce revenue transfers of value-added tax receipts to the island by 50 million pounds next year, 9% of the island’s revenue.

–French banks are starting to close down their operations in tax havens.

–In Germany, the hiding of funds in Liechtenstein bank accounts has prompted a backlash against tax havens.

–In the United States, White House advisor Paul Volcker in December is due to report on ways of eliminating revenue losses to tax havens.

This heightened regulation and standardization amongst  G-20 tax authorities is quickly closing any regulatory tax arbitrage opportunities for global investors.  The closure of preferential tax domiciles will heighten the power and reach of national tax agencies enforcement capabilities and the scope of their examination reach.  The IRS is stepping up its enforcement and institutional assets to assure that private equity and hedge fund industries comply with all the anti-money laundering laws and stringent tax codes.

Sum2’s IARP helps investment managers assess and manage the growing threat of audit and tax enforcement risk.  Sum2’s CARP helps large and mid-size corporations assess compliance and manage  IFI audit risk.

Risk: audit, enforcement, regulatory, tax, reputational, litigation

November 16, 2009 Posted by | AML, CARP, corruption, IARP, IRS, legal, OECD, private equity, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, Tax | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deloitte’s Nine Principles of Risk Intelligence

risk_triangleIs your business risk intelligent?  A review of  the following principles offers company executives a concise outline of objectives central to a risk intelligent enterprise.   Deloitte recently published White Paper, Effective Integration, Enhanced Decision Making, The Risk Intelligent Tax Executive outlined the following nine fundamental principles.

Nine fundamental principles of a Risk Intelligence Program

1. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, a common definition of risk, which addresses both value preservation and value creation, is used consistently throughout the organization.

2. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, a common risk framework supported by appropriate standards is used throughout the organization to manage risks.

3. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, key roles, responsibilities, and authority relating to risk management are clearly defined and delineated within the organization.

4. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, a common risk management infrastructure is used to support the business units and functions in the performance of their risk responsibilities.

5. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, governing bodies (e.g., boards, audit committees, etc.) have appropriate transparency and visibility into the organization’s risk management practices to discharge their responsibilities.

6. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, executive management is charged with primary responsibility for designing, implementing, and maintaining an effective risk program.

7. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, business units (departments, agencies, etc.) are responsible for the performance of their business and the management of risks they take within the risk framework established by executive management.

8. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, certain functions (e.g., Finance, Legal, Tax, IT, HR, etc.) have a pervasive impact on the business and provide support to the business units as it relates to the organization’s risk program.

9. In a Risk Intelligent Enterprise, certain functions (e.g., internal audit, risk management, compliance, etc.) provide objective assurance as well as monitor and report on the effectiveness of an organization’s risk program to governing bodies and executive management.

Sum2’s business mission is to help small and mid-sized enterprises (SME) become risk intelligent enterprises.  Sum2’s product suites enables managers to implement sound risk management practices guided by these principles of risk intelligence.  We firmly believe that consistent practice of sound risk management  holds the key to profitability and long term sustainable growth.

Sum2’s Profit|Optimizer product series provides mangers a consistent framework and scoring methodology to assess, aggregate and price risk, identify actions, assign responsibility and align business functions to mitigate risks and achieve business goals.

Sum2’s IARP, helps managers to assess and manage the rising threat of tax risk exposures that present significant compliance risk to the enterprise.

We welcome an opportunity to help you erect a risk intelligence enterprise.

Risk: risk management, business intelligence, compliance, sustainability, profitability

November 11, 2009 Posted by | branding, business continuity, compliance, IARP, operations, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, SME, sound practices, Sum2 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sum2 Announces Business Alliance with CreditAides

sum2 risk managementSum2, LLC is pleased to announce that they will begin to offer the corporate rating products of CreditAides. CreditAides is an independent corporate rating and research firm that provides financial health assessment reports and credit risk analysis ratings on companies using the Z-Score methodology. The CreditAides reporting system is a predictive tool that helps managers gain insights into the financial health of a company.  The insights help managers identify a company’s ability to remain competitive and financially sound while measuring the impact of business initiatives to achieve profitability and growth.

James McCallum, the President of Sum2 stated, “The CreditAides quantitative assessment tool is a wonderful compliment to the qualitative risk assessment applications offered in the Profit|Optimizer.  Now our clients have a recognized standard to measure the financial impact and returns on capital allocation decisions they implemented as a result of a Profit|Optimizer review.  The challenging business cycle requires that managers allocate capital to a few select initiatives.  It is critical that managers fund initiatives that mitigate the greatest risk and provide the potential of optimal returns.  The combination of CreditAides reports with the Profit|Optimizer will provide our clients with the ability to discern the optimal initiatives to fund and measure the effectiveness of their capital allocation decisions.”

The Profit|Optimizer guides business managers through an thorough enterprise risk assessment.   Uncovering the risks and opportunities associated with products and markets, business functions,  numerous macro risks and critical success factors are key components of  effective enterprise risk management (ERM).  ERM requires the assessment and aggregation of hundreds of risk factors.  The Profit|Optimizer helps managers identify the key initiatives that will  help to maintain profitability and sustainable growth.  The use of CreditAides provides an important measurement tool to affirm and validate that managers have made correct bets on capital allocation decisions.

Z-Score Financial Analysis Tool

The Z-Score formula for predicting bankruptcy was developed by Edward I. Altman a Professor of Finance at New York University.  The Z-Score is used to assess the financial health of companies and the probability of  bankruptcy.   The Z-score uses multiple corporate income and balance sheet values to score  the financial health of a company. The use of  Z-scores is a strategic tool managers use to measure and validate the effectiveness of their business strategy.

Risk Assessment and Opportunity Discovery

The recession has created macroeconomic conditions that are causing widespread business failures.  Small and mid-size business enterprises (SME) require effective risk management tools to effectively manage business threats to survive extreme business downturns.  Assessing, measuring, aggregating, prioritizing, pricing and initiating actions are the tactical means risk managers use to support the business objectives of the enterprise.  Sound risk management practices are central to a healthy corporate governance culture and are central to maintaining profitability and long term sustainable growth for the business enterprise.

The Profit|Optimizer

Profit|Optimizer helps managers assess risk factors and uncover opportunities that are always present in the business environment. The product is based on Basel II working group recommendations that outline optimal risk profiles of SMEs.  The Profit|Optimizer incorporates four focus areas.

1.) product and market dynamics (products, clients, competition, supply chain, market segments)

2.) business functions (management, sales and marketing, operations, facilities, IT, HR, accounting)

3.) critical success factors (generic and specific)

4.) macro risk factors (macroeconomic, STEEPLE, SWOT, segment benchmarks, business plan optimization)

SME’s lack of agility and reluctance to change has made it difficult for these businesses to survive severe market conditions. There are tremendous market forces at work in the current business environment that are creating dangers and opportunities for SMEs if they can effectively assess and adapt.  Business managers must be astute and exacting how they allocate the precious capital resources required to achieve business objectives.  The Profit|Optimizer helps managers make better capital allocation decisions.  CreditAides provides fiscal metrics to validate or adjust business strategy and initiatives.   Sum2’s risk assessment products coupled with the measurement tools provided by CreditAides creates a leading edge solution for SME risk management.  The ease of use and superior value proposition  of the combined solution is unsurpassed in the market.

About CreditAides

CreditAides (www.creditaides.com) online business analysis and credit assessment portal provides business managers with important insights into the financial health of their company. Automated financial analysis improves efficiency of the business enterprise.  CreditAides reports are used to assess the financial health of clients, supply chain and used to demonstrate financial health and credit worthiness to credit and equity providers.

True underlying financial health of companies has never been harder to identify and never been of greater importance. Across both equity and credit markets, understanding relative financial strengths of companies is paramount for effective business decisions.  Good decisions cannot be made without good quality information generated by incisive tools.

About Sum2, LLC

Sum2 (www.sum2.com) was founded in 2002 to promote the commercial application of corporate sound practices. Sum2 manufactures, aggregates, packages and distributes innovative sound practice digital content products to select channels and market segments. Sum2’s sound practice products address risk management, corporate governance, shareholder communications and regulatory compliance. Sum2’s objective is to assist businesses and industries to implement sound practices to create value for company stakeholders and demonstrate corporate governance excellence to assure profitability and long term sustainable growth.

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Risk: bankruptcy, default, market, credit

November 5, 2009 Posted by | banking, Basel II, business, credit, CreditAides, recession, risk management, SME, sound practices, Sum2, sustainability | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment