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The Yin and Yang of Inflation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Inflation Risk with a WIN Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intellectual Capital Deflation

balloonBearingPoints Chapter 11 filing represents a watershed type event.

The filing by the global consulting firm BearingPoint puts it on life support or at the very least in an intensive care unit. BearingPoint the bulge bracket consulting firm that was spun off from KPMG due to regulatory mandates concerning the separation of accounting and advisory businesses is in serious trouble. It has been struggling under a mountain of debt and the bankruptcy filing will give the firm protection from creditors while it seeks to reorganize its business.

BearingPoint’s filing is an interesting metaphor about the deflation of intellectual capital.  Ideas, creativity, knowledge, productivity and innovation are some of the words that that we closely associate with intellectual capital.  Once we may have even thought this form of capital to be immune from the vicissitudes of the banality of markets.  I surmise that the recent business cycle exposes that idea as based more in our narcissistic prejudices then the cold objective realities of efficient markets.  As we witnessed radical capitalism’s continued drive of extreme rationalization through monetization we discovered the price of anything but seriously lost sight of the value of everything.

During the 1990’s I remember always being impressed and astonished by the reports of the rising productivity of the American workforce.  Year in year out the rising productivity was the proud boast and confirmation of American managerial brilliance.  But today that claim looks spurious at best.  Rethinking this proclamation may reveal this was accomplished not by brilliant management innovation but by outsourcing operational functions to subsistence based economies; and some artful balance sheet wizardry that aligned business performance ratios to maximize shareholder returns; particularly senior managers whose stock options were critical design considerations as to how those ratios were engineered.  Indeed if productivity is a proxy for innovation, the productivity of  American capitalism was outpacing the most aggressive predictions of Moore’s Law.  True technology contributed to massive gains in productivity but in many ways was an economic rent seeking agent that enabled a flawed economy to sustain itself through over leveraged economic and misdirected intellectual capital.

Today we are confronted with the evaporation of massive social wealth that the IMF estimates to be almost $4.1 trillion in the financial service sector.  I suspect a good portion of this value was carried on the balance sheet as good will.  And anyone that has been living close the plant earth the past couple of years can attest to how the good will of corporations has been severely discounted.  Perhaps this wealth never really existed and as the saying goes “you can’t lose what you never had”.  We can take comfort in that and perhaps we can look on the bemused folly of central governments eagerly trying to stimulate economic growth to levels of our recent unsustainable past.  I must admit that my sympathies and conviction stand with the Keynesian but I am beginning to wonder if they are chasing the long tails of ghostly economic shadows cast by AIG’s worthless CDS franchise.  Once considered a revolutionary innovation cooked up by the finest minds of the capital markets financial engineers are now perplexing conundrums wrapped in a riddle and remain valuation Level Three FAS 157 mysteries.

To be sure intellectual capital deflation is a huge subject.  I must also admit that this blogger lacks the time, skill and brain power to elucidate and articulate the numerous nuances and depth this assertion deserves and requires.  I guess we could sum it up in a sound bite like the “dumbing down of America” but I believe that merely addresses the race to the bottom marketers skillfully cultivated to gobble up a greater portion of that ever fickle and fluid market share pie.  In a way the deflation we speak of turns this dumbing down on its head and now claims the purveyors of fine ideas and clever tactics devised by the corporate marketing geniuses who were able to enrich themselves by conceiving the brilliant plans to convince us to buy so they can sell as much useless junk to as many people as possible.

The monetization of intellectual capital by incorporated consultants are increasingly becoming inefficient.  New technologies that are enablers of strategic thinking has large consultancies disappearing into the computing cloud.  Large bull pens of gray matter are inefficient as innovation in small firms are more efficient purveyors of thinking large to solve small problems or thinking small to solve larger problems. The large corporate dinosaurs that protected bloated bureaucracies enmeshed in group think stasis increasing showed an inability to be agents of innovation.  They boldly proclaimed best practices to justify and position themselves in the executive office but now that the large corporations have been decapitalized their value creation mantras dissipated as markets capitalization fell.

In appears that the bulge bracket firms viability were dependent on knowledge transfer initiatives to underdeveloped economies to support outsourcing; and rent seeking business models dependent on regulatory mandates of Sarbanes Oxley, GBLA, COBIT, EURO conversions, Basel II, Y2K, PATRIOT ACT, HIPAA, FISMA etc etc. Their business models profited from significant business drivers of the past two decades the reallocation of capital to emerging markets and the guarantee of market protection due to governmental regulatory mandates.  In both instances value creation from the deployment of intellectual capital proved to be unsustainable.

Consider the financial services industry and hedge funds.  Hedge funds claim to offer uncorrelated investment products but most of the hedge funds performance fell in lock step with the market index averages.  Investors pay premiums to participate in absolute return strategies offered by hedge funds.  Fund managers make the claim of absolute returns based on their superior insights that their intellectual capital confers on their investment strategies.  Last year that claim was demolished to devastating effect.

Newspaper publishers are also experiencing a decline in the portfolio value of their intellectual capital.  But many believe that it is more of  a question of their antiquated business model and once they figure out how to Googlize their business model to sufficiently monetize its intellectual capital shareholders will once again be rewarded with an appreciation in its investment and the true value of their intellectual capital will be realized.

The markets are dramatically changing. Today the question is not so much about ideas and strategy its a question of execution. Just as in the recent past it was about raising capital and acquiring assets now its about making informed capital allocation decisions and liquidity. Its true you need the target to shoot at but you also need munitions, a good scope with adjusted cross hairs and a gun. The value proposition of consultants is quickly becoming marginalized.

Its a poor business model. It scales poorly, its racked with inefficiencies, its built on protected markets and knowledge segregation. Now that those barriers are falling and more and more MBAs are out of work the value of this form of intellectual capital continues to fall.

Consultants all to often are beholden to their process biases. They find it difficult to get out of the box and routinely ask their engagements to climb into the box with them. That said it is an absolute necessity that business redefines its business model to address current market realities. It needs to do so with dispassionate dispatch and it needs to create a unique value proposition that differentiates the brand and adds identifiable alpha in an expanded value delivery chain.

Its a big challenge that many professional services firms need to confront. Our firm went through that transition 6 years ago. We went from a strategic sound practices consulting firm to a product creation and marketing firm dedicated to the commercial application of sound practices. For Sum2 creating value was a very different value proposition then delivering value. The need to build equity in our business was our principal concern. Building and marketing tangible product value is how you create a sustainable business model.

Corporations are becoming disenthralled of their self perceived cleverness. Many believe that major investments in applied intelligence create a culture of insularity that hedges all risks and builds enterprise value. In the past it allowed executives to hide behind a wall of opaqueness. They bought the best and brightest minds from our esteemed business schools convinced that this treasure of intellectual capital would protect them. They believed the digital blips of risk models to be sparkling Rosetta Stones containing the secrets that unlock the mysteries of effective risk management, value creation and business sustainability. The codified results of these algorithmic exercises are revered as holy Dead Sea Scrolls that offers the protection of an supernatural mojo. This is the thinking of a bankrupt brain trust.

You Tube Video: Nena, 99 Luft Ballons

Risk: Group Think, sustainable business model, value creation

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

SMEs Still Starved for Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risk: credit, SME, capital allocation, credit rating

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

Credit Redi, Helps Spot Small Business Credit Risk

The recession and credit crunch have shifted financial risk from banks to small and midsized businesses (SME) that often must extend credit to customers to make a sale. When companies extend credit, in effect making unsecured loans, they’re acting like banks but without the credit management tools and experience of a banker.

Credit Redi is designed for small businesses to quickly spot customer credit risk.  Small businesses typically don’t have access to information that provides transparency about customer credit worthiness.  Credit Redi is a credit risk management tool for small and mid-sized businesses.   It only takes one or two bad receivables to damage an SME’s  financial health.  Market conditions quickly change and its critical to have some type of business insight into the businesses SME’s work with.

Credit Redi is also an excellent tool to determine the financial health of critical suppliers.  A key supplier going out of business could have disastrous consequences for SMEs.  Credit Redi  monitors the financial health of existing suppliers and help managers make wiser choices in supply chain and business partner decisions.

Get Credit Redi here: 

Risk: SME, credit risk, supply chain, partnerships, customers, receivables

January 10, 2011 Posted by | business, credit, Credit Redi, product, small business, SME, Sum2 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ADP Jobs Report: Reversal of Fortune

ADP has released its National Employment Report for September. During the month, private sector employment decreased by 39,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. After an upward revision of 10,000 new jobs created for August, the September numbers are a reversal from employment trends that seemed to be stabilizing by arresting two years of employment declines. For seven consecutive moths the economy was creating average employment gains of 34,000 private sector jobs. The September numbers reverses that trend and raises concern about the strength of the economic recovery.

A stabilized labor market is a key ingredient to a sustained economic recovery. Over the past three years the economy lost over 9 million jobs. For a robust recovery to occur the economy needs to create 200,000 jobs per month for the next four years to return the job market to its pre-recession levels.

The Federal stimulus program that directed funds to state and local governments to help stem layoffs has now expired. This will result in further belt tightening by local government agencies and will result in layoffs of employees to meet the fiscal restraint imposed by the poor economy.  This will exacerbate the unemployment problem and further impede the buying power and tax revenues.  This will continue to hurt the retail industry and local governments sales tax receipts.

The reduction in the government work force is symptomatic of the reconfiguration of the economy. During the past decade government employment increased dramatically. Its pairing down will put added pressure on the private sector to incubate new industries to drive the recovery. Manufacturing and the growth industries of the past decade will be hard pressed to create the level of job creation a robust recovery requires.

The ADP report indicates that since its peak in January of 2007, construction employment has lost 2,297,000 jobs. Construction trades along with credit marketing, retailing, community banking and services supporting these sectors have been dramatically weakened and downsized in the wake of the recession. The private sector led by small and mid-size enterprises (SME) will need to incubate growth industries to create jobs and lead the country out of the doldrums of the flailing economic recovery.

Macroeconomic Factors

The principal macroeconomic factors impairing recovery are the continued high unemployment rate, continued weakness in the housing market, persistent deflation concerns, tax policy and deepening fiscal crisis of state, local and federal governments.  The economic impact of the Gulf oil spill was immediate and dramatic to the local aqua-cultural industries, fishing and regional tourist industries. The long term effects of the spill on the ecological communities of the Gulf is yet to be determined.  The geopolitical uncertainty of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, persistent worries about Iran’s nuclear program and the sovereign debt crisis of the weaker EU member states are persistent concerns weighing on capital market participants.

Highlights of the ADP Report for September include:

Estimates non-farm private employment in the service-providing sector decreased by 39,000.

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 45,000

Employment in the manufacturing sector declined 17,000

Construction employment declined 28,000

Employment in the services sector rose 6,000.

Large businesses with 500 or more workers declined 11,000

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers declined 14,000

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, declined 14,000

Overview of Numbers

Job loss in the SME sector is troubling. SMEs are the backbone of the construction and retail industries and the continued weakness of these sectors weighs on their ability to become a driver of consistent job growth. The continued deterioration of the financial health of SMEs and their ability to marshal resources from depleted balance sheets and limited credit lines may be impairing the ability to mount an effective response to the dire economic conditions.

Despite the backdrop of the stock markets stellar performance during September, ADP’s employment figures indicates that the economy continues to dwell at the bottom of an extreme down economic cycle. The danger of a double dip recession still lurks as a possibility.  The balance sheets of large corporate entities are flush with cash.  Some analysts estimate that over $1 Trillion in cash swells corporate coffers.  Some economists speculate that deployment this cash is critical to the economic upturn and still a few quarters away from finding its way into the real economy.

Solutions from Sum2

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

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

You Tube Video: Van Halen, Ice Cream Man

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME

October 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

ADP Reports Third Consecutive Month of Job Gains

ADP has released its National Employment Report for May.   Non-farm private employment increased 55,000 during  the month on a seasonally adjusted basis.   ADP also reported an upward revision of 33,000 jobs for March, bringing the number of new jobs created during the month to 65,000.  The three consecutive net employment gains reported by ADP indicates that while the number of new job creation remains modest, positive momentum is developing.

A stabilized labor market is a key ingredient to a sustained economic recovery.  The economy lost over 9 million jobs during the recession and recovery will require the creation of 200,000 new jobs per month for the next 4 years to get back to pre-recession employment levels.  Last years massive Federal stimulus programs directed funds to state and local governments to help stem layoffs. The expiration of those programs will force fiscally challenged local governments to resort to austerity measures that will require the public sector to trim jobs.

Macroeconomic factors continue to be challenging the economic recovery.  The sovereign fiscal crisis in Europe, slowing growth in China, tepid credit markets and political uncertainty counterbalance the positive effects of a stabilizing housing market, low interest rates and benign  inflation.

The economic impact of the Gulf oil spill will not be confined to the region. The local aqua-cultural industries, fishing and tourism to the region has been immediately impacted by the spill.  A prolonged duration of the event will have a profound impact on the economies of the entire Caribbean. The economies and fiscal stability of American cities such as Pensacola, Mobile, Tampa,  New Orleans and Key West are directly threatened by the unfolding events.  Cities and regions along the Texas Coast and Mexico also remain remain at risk and share the unfortunate distinction of being in the probability cross hairs of suffering extreme toxic damage as a result of a hurricane.  Shipping lanes and the closure of ports due to oil contamination could impact America’s vital agricultural industry.  The moratorium on deep water drilling has placed pressure on the oils services sector and may impact the industries long term financial health.   The impact on the price of oil and refined petroleum products remains to be seen.

Highlights of the ADP  report include:

Estimates non-farm private employment in the service-providing sector increased by 55,000.

Employment in the goods-producing sector declined 23,000

Employment in the manufacturing sector rose 15,000

Employment in the services sector rose 78,000.

Large businesses with 500 or more workers  added 3,000 jobs

Medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers increased by 39,000

Employment among small-size businesses with fewer than 50 workers, increased by 13,000

Overview of Numbers

The net gain of 52,000 jobs in the small and mid-sized enterprise (SME) sector, compared to the creation of 3,000 jobs in large enterprises is a telling statistic about the changing topology of the US job market.   During the past decade, a large proportion of job growth occurred in the public and small mid-size enterprises (SME) sector.  Large businesses have led the way in implementing lean enterprises and have outsourced and off shored many jobs and business functions to accomplish this. Job creation by SME’s during the past month represented over 90% of new job creation.  America’s reinvention and economic renaissance must be led by the SME sector.  It is vital that capital formation initiatives and credit availability is positioned to foster the growth and development of the SME sector.

This months ADP report is an indication that the US economy continues at the bottom of an extreme down economic cycle.  The danger of a double dip recession unfortunately still lurks as a possibility.  The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the potential of market contagion from EU credit distress, China’s slowdown and the anemic rate of job creation in the wake of massive government expenditures and budget deficits presents continuing challenges to a sustained and robust recovery in the United States.

Solutions from Sum2

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

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

You Tube Video: Monty Python, Silly Job Interview

Risk: unemployment, recession, recovery, SME

June 3, 2010 Posted by | ADP, Profit|Optimizer, risk management, Sum2, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commercial Loans: Be Prepared

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

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

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

Communication with Lenders is Key

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

Reason to Communicate: Risk Assessment

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

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

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

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

Sum2’s Profit|Optimizer

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

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

Risk: small business, SME, credit, bank,

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