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Rapping About a World at Risk

Economic Recovery 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

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March 3, 2011 Posted by | commerce, credit, Credit Redi, economics, government, lending, manufacturing, recession, risk management, SME, taxation, Tea Party, unemployment, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Americas

Bill Maher recently did a bit on the Eco-friendly packaging of Sun Chips. In its desire to get down with the Go Green marketing trend, Frito-Lay developed a biodegradable bag. It was hoped the new package would alleviate some of the toxic burden traditional polyethylene packaging places on landfills. It was a great idea and a small sign of forward progress in developing environmentally friendly waste management solutions for our conspicuously consumer centric throw away society. Seemed like a good idea until Frito-Lay started to get negative feedback from its customers on its packaging.  The crescendo of noise the crackling bags made was too much for the sensitive ears of Sun Chips consumers. In deference to their clients wishes Frito-Lay scrapped the Eco-friendly packaging and returned to the old polyethylene bags.

Its amazing how a small inconvenience compels us to to cede the pursuit of the better path.  The paths that affirms our better nature and sustains life is abandoned because it is burdensome or makes too much noise.  It pesters our ears, it hectors our comforts.  We prefer to down our cholesterol in the silence of compliant bags rather then suffer the annoyance of a deafening crinkle to protect the environment and save the planet. We take the easier path that confirms the adage “have it your way”.  In America the personal “my way” is the only way.  After all this is America and that is what freedom is all about.  My way or the highway.  Can I get an Amen?

During the holiday season the big stink was about the Transportation Security Authority (TSA).  The news was flush with reports of travelers outraged by how TSA personal were overly intrusive and overstepped the bounds of decency and deportment as they screened exasperated airline passengers trying to board planes. Travelers became angry and ornery complaining about the violation of their person and screamed violent threats at TSA personnel if they “touched their junk”.

I find it a bit curious that the response to this egregious violation of personal liberty fails to call for the repeal of laws that codify the erosion of  our freedoms.  In its stead we learn states are busy passing privilege and immunity laws that confer special rights to certain classes of citizens. The Arizona Immigration law that was enacted earlier in the year burdens Latinos with proving they belong  to be living amongst us.  Its a pathway to a softer kinder Apartheid that codifies a bifurcation of citizenship and the value and validity of a persons humanness.  In its wake the value of liberty and our humanity both plummet.

The notion of Two Americas is not new.  Its just that the glaring injustice  threatening our society is becoming too stark to ignore.  This pernicious sedition is the gravest threat undermining our democracy.  It is a greater threat then any attack Al Qaeda could ever mount on America. In 1962 Michael Harrington wrote “The Other America”.  It was instrumental in publicizing the pervasive poverty that existed in America.  In response to the growing  threat poverty and the cultural and economic fissure it created between the of “haves and have nots,”  the Johnson Administration initiated a war on poverty.  The Great Society legislation was enacted to insure that all citizens are enfranchised with the vote and that a social safety net would catch any citizen from being swallowed by the great divide.  Today such notions are condemned as socialistic and unAmerican.

While the richest 1% of American’s continue to amass great fortunes for themselves gobbling up a disproportionate amount of income the much greater proportion of our countrymen sees its standard of living erode as the Two Americas  drift further apart.  The well off cash their fat dividend checks from a roaring stock market that has less to do with the economic development of America then the self enrichment of capitalist speculators.  The greatest irony is that as they sit atop their piles of cash they remain convinced that their riches confirm the greatness of America and that their wealth is why America remains great.

When President Obama took office the country was in a terrible state.  Two wars were raging, unemployment was spiraling upward, foreclosures were throwing millions of Americans out of their homes and an epidemic of small business bankruptcies was a plague ravishing Main Street USA.   During times like these you would think patriotic minded citizens would come together to aid the country in its dire hour of need; but the GOP led a virulent opposition whose single goal was Obama’s failure.  Their obstructionism added distance to the divide and America suffers for it.  The ugliness of the debates concerning Health Care Reform spurred the creation of a political dialog that delegitimatized governing institutions.  It  made the ability to reach consensus impossible and prompted threats that Second Amendment solutions would be considered to remedy ill considered legislation.

In the aftermath of the Tucson Massacre, we dusted off the old debate about gun control and wheeled it on to center stage again.  Many believe that the mentally ill murderer should have not been allowed to purchase a semi-automatic Glock and the 30 round clip that served to enlarge the scope of Jared Loughner’s terrible carnage.

All are thankful for Gabrielle Gifford’s miraculous recovery from her head wound.  All hope for a speedy and full recovery of the thirteen wounded and offer condolences to the six citizens whose lives were senselessly ended.  But all don’t believe the availability of guns should be restricted.  In fact many believe that had more citizens been armed the death toll of innocents would not have been as great because it would have included Jared Loughner before he could finish his grim work.  I’m not so sure.  I believe it more likely that a widely armed citizenry encourages wanton barbarity then the well considered promotion of dispassionate civic discourse.

Differences of opinion are critical to a healthy society.  The ability to have dialog and assimilate differences in a shared consensus in service to country is what makes democracies the best form of government.

If we are a people who prize freedom we cannot be complicit accomplishes in ceding our liberties.   We must be vigilant missionaries seeking to enlarge the pallet of liberty for all  people.  Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” Affirming a respect for our shared humanity, equal rights of citizenship and sense of duty to one another in service to our country and democratic way of life is how we breech the walls that divide us and bridge the fissures that separate.  These are the characteristics of  a great nation and protecting them serves to maintain the greatness of its people.  It is how out of many becomes one.  It may require that you put up with the annoying noise of a loud obnoxious windbag but the savory delight of the bread of freedom is well worth it.

You Tube Music Video:  Max Roach, Abby Lincoln, Freedom Now Suite, We Insist

Risk: democracy, civil liberties, culture, consensus

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, community, democracy, homelessness, MLK, Obama, poverty, recession, social justice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sense of Gratitude

For this years Thanksgiving, I have decided to focus on developing a sense of gratitude. The world is full of real bad stuff happening to too many people and its easy to let the darkness of our times cast long shadows of resentment, anger and ill will over our outlook on life. So today as I travel to a relatives home to gather for our national day of thankfulness I choose to leave resentments at home and cultivate a sense of gratitude.

I’m grateful for my eyes. My sight allows me to perceive the million graces The Almighty abundantly confers upon the inhabitants of the good earth each and every day. My eyes help me to discover the pressing needs of others and respond to it. My eyes help me to discern light from darkness, distinguish the forest from the trees and eschew pedestrian views to behold a beautiful vista. My eyes are a pathway to my soul moving me to contemplate the good, forsake the bad and move against evil in service to truth.

I’m grateful for my ears. The grace of hearing permits me to listen. My ears alert me to the cries of my brothers and sisters and enables me to understand our shared human condition. My ears tune my spirit to the chords of exquisite music and the natural symphonies of Mother Earth’s angelic chorus of singing birds, heaving oceans, the majestic pause of silent mountains and the fleeting rush of the swelling wind are all divine voices singing the joyful hymns of life.

I’m thankful for my sense of smell. Graciously my nose breathes in the inviting aroma of a lovingly prepared home cooked meal, the wholesome scent of baking bread wafting from the door of the corner bakery, a briny snort from the boundless sea, the rich compost of the deep woods after a soft summer rain, the bouquet of an infants hair and the perfume of a lovers embrace.

I give thanks for my ability to touch. Hands engaged in productive work and gainful employment is a blessing absent from too many Thanksgiving Day tables this year. We yearn to connect and the sense of touch invites our ability to feel. Feeling is the father of empathy and the mother of compassion. Caring for our animal friends we live in communion with all sentient beings.  As we touch one another and allow others to touch us; the hardest of hearts is softened, the most grievous wounds are healed to liberate the sensual yearnings dwelling in the deepest recesses of ourselves. Feeling allows us to become fully present, fully aware and fully alive in the celebration of what it means to be fully human.

I’m thankful for my sense of taste. As Sinatra croons “from the brim to the dregs” the wine of our lives may not all taste good but it all flows clear and true. Sample, savor and learn. Taste and see the glories of the Lord’s banquet so abundantly placed before us. The bitter herbs, the sweet cakes, the leisure repast, the fortifying meal and unrequited hunger is the daily bread of being human.  Pause to consider those that are lining up for the tenth Thanksgiving Day meal in Afghanistan and Iraq and pray that the awful rations of war fed to our young soldiers be supplanted with the good manna of peace.

Perhaps we loose our sense of gratitude because expectations of ourselves and others always seems to come up short of the mark. Imperfection is our most endearing quality. It informs our ability to forgive transgressions, form bonds of friendship and unconditionally love each other. I remain grateful for the sense of my imperfection as I overlook your imperfections and remain ever hopeful that you  will extend your hand to help me over come mine.

Happy Thanksgiving.

You Tube Video: Jean Ritchie, Shady Grove

risk: resentment, gratitude, peace, metal health,

November 25, 2010 Posted by | armed services, community, culture, faith, family, life, psychology, recession, seasons, Spirituality, war | , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Deserve Better (2): The Damnation of the Democrats

A few days after President Obama took office I remember him emerging from a meeting at the Pentagon.  The summit was arranged to brief the Commander In Chief on the progress of the wars and to assure the nation that the new president was in-sync with his generals and admirals charged with running the war.  Emerging from the highly publicized meeting America’s new war time president stated “as long as the generals take care of what they have to do, we’ll take care of what we have to do.”  I found the statement to be unsettling.  It implied that  the new administration would not alter the course set by the previous administration insuring that the inertia of Bush’s policies and strategies would continue unabated.  On another level Obama’s statement also seemed to suggest an abdication.  I get nervous to think that the Commander in Chief  has ceded civilian control of the greatest military force the world has ever known.  The decision to pursue war or enjoy peace is too delicate a matter to be left to the decisions of an entrenched military-industrial bureaucracy.  The abdication of assertive control, weather its born from the desire to get along, build consensus or a deep seated need for acceptance has been a disturbing custom of Obama’s presidency and the prevailing characteristic of the Democratic Party.

Obama’s easy surrender to established protocols, processes, precedents has been a hallmark of his presidency.  It exemplifies the failure of the Democratic Party’s oppositional legacy to Republican rule during the two previous Bush Administrations.  At every turn, the Democrats gave in to the Republican conservative legislative agenda with little or no dissent.  The Patriot Act, the blind march to  two unnecessary wars, the dismantling of government oversight and regulatory controls on business, the slavish submission to Republican led expenditures or tax cuts in service to corporate welfare and the tepid lip service to the struggle for social justice made the democrats complicit accomplices in America’s dramatic conservative swing.

The democrats failure as an oppositional force to counter the reactionary juggernaut of neo-conservatism has emboldened the reactionary impulses of the ruthless power elites.  Threatened by economic distress and disintegration of our political institutions, Americas ruling  plutocracy has spawned a malevolent Tea Party movement to crush any progressive populism that may arise to counteract their social position, economic power and political sovereignty. The democrats adamant refusal to stand firmly against the destructive impulses of xenophobia and virulent nationalism has allowed an ugly chorus of fear to become our new national anthem.  The resentful voices of suspicion, intolerance and  exclusion grows ever louder each day as emboldened Falangists and neo-fascists take center stage on a surreal  commercial production of American political theater.

In defense of President Obama his presidential campaign and his administration have expressed a deep desire to pursue a political consensus.  This sentiment is admirable and the ability to form a consensus is an absolute and critical virtue to the health of a democratic society.  The freedom to express differing opinions, voice dissent, air grievances, petition, ability to listen, interest to hear, converse, change opinions and assimilate these competing impulses to form a consensus to express the common will are what makes democracies imperfect yet the fairest expression of governance.  Mr. Obama has sought to pursue and build consensus with an opposition Republican Party that has been nothing short of obstructionist since the democrats assumed control of the Executive office.  Rush “Country Firster” Limbaugh said it best “I hope he fails” set the tone and sealed the intractability of Republicans and any possibility of bipartisan cooperation to deal with the critical issues confronting the nation.

Last summers spectacle of town meetings designed to initiate a national conversation on Health Care Reform devolved into a partisan shouting match and an opportunity for the formation of the Tea Party galvanized by propaganda about a socialist takeover of the economy, death panels, and the idea that President Obama was a fascist dictator.  At this point President Obama still took the opportunity to sit down with the leadership of the GOP in a televised discussion to initiate a dialog.  The Consensus Builder in Chief was rebuffed again.  The democrats responded by killing single-payer and backing down on universal health coverage.  The watered down health care reform bill accomplished an extension of coverage for more, but not all Americans and eliminated preexisting conditions as a disqualification for coverage while also extending the power of insurance companies by making it mandatory that all tax payers purchase health insurance.

This reform is not a significant ground breaking legislative event.  President Obama and the democrats should have recognized early on the inability to work a compromise with the obstructionists in the Republican Party.  As is the case with Cap and Trade legislation, rescinding  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ending the Iraq and Afghanistan war, financial services reform, TARP and the economic stimulus bill;  the GOP, “Party of No” has done everything in its power to derail the efforts of the democratic party to address the deep problems confronting America.  The Democratic Party should have leveraged its control of the legislative and executive branch of the Federal Government to push through a program for a new America.  The pressing circumstances of history required decisive leadership and bold ideas to address the complex problems confronting America.  FDR’s “New Deal” or Johnson’s “Great Society” were ideas accompanied by innovative legislation to solve systemic problems.  The democrats tepid response acquiesced to the conservative demands of the GOP.   The Blue Dog Democrats yelped and barked louder then any rabid GOP hound subverting a robust game changing legislative response to the problems confronting America.

The democrats would again demonstrate their timidity in how they responded to the Gulf Oil Spill.  If the free falling economy was the equivalent of economic Armageddon the Horizon Deep Water catastrophic oil spill was its environmental equivalent.  In each case President Obama fashioned piece meal responses designed not to offend “free market evangelists” for fear of being accused of over reaching.  Both instances provided opportunities to mobilize the nation and its significant resources in these titanic tests of national resolve.  In both instances the cojones challenged donkeys failed to seize the reins of state to wield its power.  I am still shocked by images of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein pulling the strings on Timothy Geithner like a marionette to exact concessions during the banking crisis.  Or consider the high profile of BP CEO,  Tony “I want my life back” Hayward mounting a $50 million PR campaign to quell any concerns that the benevolence of corporate capitalism will eventually “set things right.”    The Republicans turned this into President Obama’s Katrina with Bobby “don’t spend no stim in Louisiana” Jindal taking the EPA to court for declaring a moratorium on deep water drilling.  And the fattest of fat cats Republican Mississippi Governor Haley “rebuild the casinos first” Barbour shaming Obama to spend a portion of his non- Martha Vineyard family vacation swimming in the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a PR disaster for President Obama because he failed to act with the resolve or manner of a strong decisive leader.

But now as the midterms approach the democrats must answer to a crumbling alliance of constituencies that they have taken for granted and failed to help.  They are unable to see  constituents as anything other then a demographic voting block devoid of a face, personality or soul.  The democrats see stereotypes not people.  Labor unions are blue collar voters that now approximate 7% of registered voters.  This year the democratic controlled legislature failed to act on Card Check legislation that would protect the right of labor unions to vote and organize non-union companies.  Another important constituency of the Democratic Party is the LGBT community.  The military said it would comply with the decision of a California District Court  that overturned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Incredibly, President Obama’s Attorney General appealed the decision and asked the court to reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Teacher unions are also big supporters of the Democratic Party, but many democrats support school vouchers and Charter Schools and seem unconcerned that financial and institutional support of public schools continues to erode.  Working class families and woman  are under severe distress as unemployment rates approach 10%, home foreclosures rise , spiraling cost of living increases spike, the cost of sending kids to college slip out of reach and a marked erosion in quality of life and expectations for a secure future and comfortable retirement evaporate.    The democrats did little to solve these pressing problems save the offer of cheap lip service that they understand their pain.  Charlie Rangel secure in the refuge of his four rent controlled apartments will not feel the cold experienced by a homeless mother and her children this winter;  nor will Hillary Clinton lose any sleep worrying about  deploying Chelsea to fight an incomprehensible war in Afghanistan.

This mid term election democratic candidates are running away from their unpopular president.  They will run on a platform of tax cuts and appear as local election district manifestations of gun toting patriotic Christophanies.  The poverty of a party with no conviction of principle is made plain.  Having no principles, Democrats have not offered a true alternative to reactionary Republicanism.  Nearsightedness has robbed them of a vision for a new republic.  They offer no demarcation with the broken policies that preceded their rule.  The hallmark of their governance has been the complete compromise with an recalcitrant opposition; content to administer a broken and corrupt apparatus rather then chart a new path.  The democrats remain shining examples of self serving politicians retuning to office  on mythical inertia to secure rent controlled apartments while public housing remains an endangered and dear want for many.  They believe themselves to be righteously led by the presiding shame of a president made possible by an epic civil rights struggle who cannot muster the fortitude or conviction to extend the equal right of marriage for one of his liberal constituencies.

We deserve better.

You tube Music Video: Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Compared to What

Risk: democracy, two party political system, liberalism

 

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Bush, conservatism, culture, democracy, democrats, environment, labor, LGBT, Obama, politics, recession, republicans, social justice, TARP, taxation, Tea Party, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Regulation and Social Democracy

Last year during the height of the banking crisis I remember Larry Kudlow stating that the US market has a choice. It could pursue the EU model of high regulated markets producing low consistent returns or the American model of less regulation and volatile cycles of high risk and potentially higher returns. If the sole focus of government was the peace of mind and well being of investors Mr. Kudlow’s observation would be valid. Government however must consider a larger community of stakeholders in its scope of concern. Regulatory oversight, the harmony of capital and labor and the incubation of an economic culture that is favorable to and supportive of SMEs are the critical questions confronting all governments particularly those in developed economies.

The EU’s social democratic economic models embody the best and worst aspects of these issues. The social democratic state attempt to combine entrepreneurial impulses of capitalism with the management and administration of social welfare for all its citizens. Democratically “elected administrators” use the apparatus of the state to facilitate and manage the competing interests of capital and labor, free markets and regulation while seeking to balance an entrepreneurship friendly culture with long term sustainability.

Yesterday a toxic tsunami of aluminum sludge coated 16 square miles of pristine Hungarian countryside. It is a telling example of a severe risk event that confronts modern life. A lassiaz-faire approach to the event is not viable and offers no solace to those harmed by this assault. Communities cannot be asked to suffer a market response that promises to correct the problem of the next instance of this event. The construction of better berms and the implementation redundant protection devises to safeguard against this risk for the future is little compensation to those who were killed, injured and lost property or livelihoods as a result of MAL Zrt poor risk management practices.

Better to suffer a regulatory initiative that is based on an understanding of an economic ecosystem as complex and inhabited by competing interests of diverse stakeholders. The ecosystem including the shareholders of MAL Zrt, residents of the surrounding communities, plant workers (also community residents), small businesses (SME) and down stream farmers making a living on arable land and access to clean water all have a stake, albeit competing, in the safe operation of the plant. The possibility that the toxic sludge may find its way into the Danube poses a threat to the water supply of other eastern European nations. This elevates this catastrophic event to other EU jurisdictions. The inter-dependencies and interconnectedness of the pan-regional and larger global economy requires vigorous regulatory safeguards, mitigation initiatives and enforcement response.

The true cost of this event is potentially staggering. It supersedes the narrow interest and economic value of shareholders rights and capital invested in MAL Zrt. Bad economic behavior exemplified by BP’s Horizon Deepwater failure to install redundant protective devises to keep production costs to a minimum, ended up costing BP shareholders and Gulf Coast stakeholders dearly.

State intervention in markets and the reemergence of managed economies is a reality of the global economy. The “managed economy” of the Peoples Republic of China places western style “free market” economies at a disadvantage. The managers of the PRC efficiently deploy and manage capital, effect trade and market protections and scrupulously manage currency valuation. It has created enormous social wealth for China and has contributed to its rapid rise as a preeminent world power. China’s rise requires better coordination of private capital and government to marshal a competitive market response to the challenges posed by managed economies to free and open markets of western democracies. The massive pools of capital deployed by sovereign wealth funds of oil producing regencies and the growing insurgency and power of underground economic activity also pose significant challenges to the viability of unregulated markets.

America’s free market model that eschewed regulation since the 1980’s evolved into a mercantile economy with a weakened economic base. The outsourcing of manufacturing infrastructure loosened free market impulses that left in its place a debtor nation whose warped economy depended on housing/commercial real estate construction (collateral creation/securitization), credit marketing, retailing and a service sector that was designed to support the new economic paradigm. It is a model that has proven itself to be wasteful, costly and unsustainable.

Deregulation has led to the dislocation of the capital markets from the real economy. It has contributed to the massive disparities in social wealth and a crumbling infrastructure. Milton Friedman’s mistaken belief that free market impulses would preserve infrastructure investment has been proven incorrect. Ironically this has added to the government’s burden to provide social assistance to segments of the population disenfranchised from economic participation. Some believe that the basis for the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are economic stimulus programs designed to keep the economy going due to the vacuum created by the loss of manufacturing.

China’s example nor the resurrection of the soviet socialist model is not a desirable alternative for western democratic capitalist societies. Centralized control and state economic planning is rife with inefficiencies. State run economies threatens liberty, stifles innovation and encumbers economic dynamism. The virtues of capitalism (innovation, dynamism, liberty) needs to be encouraged and blended into the new economic reality of a highly dependent and interconnected world that requires cooperation, coexistence, sustainability, fair asset valuation, and the equitable sharing of resource and responsibility. SME’s are at the forefront of innovation, value creation and dynamism and will play a leading role in the creation of new social-political values as sources of sustainable growth and wealth in the emerging economic paradigm.

You Tube Music Video: Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 Orchestra

Risk: regulatory, capitalism, sustainability

October 6, 2010 Posted by | democracy, economics, government, labor, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, risk management, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sum2’s Hamilton Plan Gets Some Scholarly Attention

The following research paper on The Hamilton Plan was written by Deepak Verma, a business student at Baruch College.  To our knowledge it is the first scholarly research that incorporates the Hamilton Plans theme of a focus on SME manufacturing.

ISSUES MANAGEMENT PROJECT
Prof. Michael Kirk Stauffer

DEEPAK VERMA
The Societal and Governmental Environment of Business
Baruch College, the City University of New York
December 16, 2009

Table of Content

Topic Page No
1. Executive Summary 2
2. The Issue: Shrinking Manufacturing Base 3-4
3. The Origin of the Issue and Solution 4-5
4. Small & Medium Enterprises; Catalyst of Sustainable Growth 6
5. Initiative for Development of SMEs 7-8
6. Future of SME and SMEs in USA 9
7. Appendix : References 10

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Living beyond means is not sustainable. One of the primary reasons of prolonged Economic and Credit Crisis in United States is its low manufacturing base and American way of consuming more than what is produced. This research paper will examine issue of shrinking manufacturing base of USA, unfair and unethical business practices adopted by countries such as China to boost export thereby causing trade deficit to USA, reasons for low manufacturing base and role of small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturers in developing a sustainable manufacturing base of the US economy.

Prior to coming at Baruch College for pursuing MBA in finance and investments, I worked for over 10 years with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), an apex financial institution of India engaged in the development and financing of SMEs and micro financial institutions. Having worked with this financial institution, I realized the importance of SMEs in bringing sustainable economic development and employment creation, particularly in a mixed economy like India.

The paper will discuss on public-private initiative in USA for development of SMEs, their efforts and capital investment for empowerment and financing of SMEs. Various initiatives taken by private and public sector will be analyzed. Efforts have been made to forecast future of SMEs vis a vis manufacturing sector, role of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and flow of commercial bank credit and private equity investment in SMEs in the United States.

THE ISSUE: SHRINKING MANUFACTURING BASE
Why should shrinking manufacturing base be an issue in a market driven service oriented economy like US? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated on Feb. 28, 2007, “I would say that our economy needs machines and new factories and new buildings and so forth in order for us to have a strong and growing economy.” Strong Manufacturing base is the only solution to rising trade deficit and industrial job loss. Manufacturing promotes innovation which leads to investments in equipment and people, research and development, improved products and processes and increase in productivity and higher standards of living. Increase in manufacturing leads to increase in demand for raw materials and other commercial services.

United States has transitioned from an agricultural economy to Industrial economy to a service economy. Over a period of this transition US has lost its manufacturing base substantially and has been importing goods from around the world which has resulted into huge trade deficit and industrial job losses. IMF has categorized the US current account deficit as unsustainable. Warren Buffet also once commented “The U.S trade deficit is a bigger threat to the domestic economy than either the federal budget deficit or consumer debt and could lead to political turmoil… Right now, the rest of the world owns $3 trillion more of us than we own of them.”

Since the United States joined the WTO, US trade deficit has risen from $150.6 billion in 1994 to $817.3 billion in 2006. US reliance on imports ranges from electronic items to apparels and other consumables. For example, electronic items sold in United States are developed by companies such as Philips, Toshiba, Sony, Hitachi, Samsung and Sharp. We have lost significant market share in Auto Industry also. Toyota has surpassed General Motors to become leading auto manufacturer in terms of global sales. Ironically, items such as clothing and apparel where USA had its dominance are also being imported from foreign countries. Over 90 percent of clothing and shoes sold in the United States are made in foreign countries. US economy has thrived on consumerism which has led to increase in demand for goods over the years but production of domestically manufactured goods has been declining, thereby giving rise to imports from foreign countries and loss of industrial jobs.

Critics of the argument say it is the increase in production efficiencies, resulted from technological innovation and advancement that has resulted in loss of jobs. Additionally, it is the increase in consumption which is the root cause of import deficit rather than shrinking manufacturing base. Undoubtedly long term data indicates an increase in US manufacturing, but the way we are loosing our manufacturing share from last 2 decades and if we continue shrinking, we will soon have no choice but to consume whatever is dumped in our market and will be on the mercy of foreign imported goods. Increase in manufacturing has not kept pace with global growth in manufacturing in USA. Since 2000 global manufacturing growth has been 47%, whereas USA has recorded a growth rate of only 19%.

ORIGIN OF THE ISSUE & SOLUTION
What is causing shrinking manufacturing base in the United States? Is it purely competitive and cheaper products manufactured in Asia and Europe or some other factors are also responsible? Undoubtedly competitive global business environment has severely affected domestic production in the United States, this crisis in large arises due to unfair and unethical business practices adopted by its trading partners mainly China. Some of those practices are significant government subsidies, currency manipulation, large-scale dumping in the U.S. market, and other market-distorting practices. Additionally, unfavorable govt. policies, tax structure, increase in cost involved in healthcare, litigation, and regulation has significantly affected the bottom line. Increase in cost and strict regulation forced manufacturing units to move their facilities to other countries where companies do not face those kinds of impediments. Companies operating in the U.S. started outsourcing low-value tasks like simple assembly or circuit-board stuffing, but lower cost of outsourcing and shrinking margin lured them to continue outsourcing sophisticated engineering and manufacturing capabilities that are crucial for innovation in a wide range of products. As a result, the U.S. has lost or is in the process of losing the knowledge, skilled people, and supplier infrastructure needed to manufacture many of the cutting-edge products it invented.

Is there any way to bring back our manufacturing base? The view that the U.S. should focus on R&D and services is completely flawed. Manufacturing is part of the innovation process and United States has to expand its manufacturing base to remain a world leader.

Following may be suggested to address the issue:

(1) Increase the tariffs on foreign goods so that they are more expensive than domestic goods.
(2) Demand the same level of quality in all foreign goods as American goods.
(3) Diplomatic measures should be taken to create pressure on foreign countries particularly China to stop manipulating their currencies.

Efforts should be made to open up foreign consumption markets adequately to U.S. producers so as to increase export and minimize trade deficit and should endeavor to combat predatory foreign trade practices aimed at undermining U.S. producers in their home market. Next big step is to promote small and medium enterprises to set-up manufacturing units.

SMALL & MEDIUM ENTERPRISES (SMEs); CATALYST OF SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
The issue of shrinking manufacturing base in the United States has been discussed by economist, policymakers, industrialists, and think tanks since economic integration and various measures to improve domestic manufacturing base have been suggested. But considering our free market dominance no sincere efforts were made to expand manufacturing base. Alarming rise in trade deficit and current economic and credit crisis which resulted in to massive industrial job loss has called for immediate intervention of private-public participation to protect and develop domestic manufacturing base for long term sustainable economic growth of United States. It is this time only that the role of SME manufacturers was felt inevitable to address this alarming issue.

President Obama during an interview said “We’ve got to make sure that we’re cultivating small businesses and entrepreneurs who are going to be driving employment growth,” the President said, “so that 20 years from now we can look back and we can say, ‘This was the pivot point, this is where we started to turn the corner.”

US need to change course at this point of time and need to develop a network of small and medium enterprises focusing on cleaner and green technology. The U.S. can explore strategies used in emerging markets for development of SMEs. According to Hau L. Lee, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, “America needs large industrial zones devoted to specific industries–similar to zones in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and much of China. Such areas offer tax breaks, cheap or free land, workforce training, plenty of water and power, and agencies that serve as one-stop shops for all of the necessary permits and regulatory approvals.” A national level specialized financial institution may be created to provide low cost credit to newly setup SMEs in the manufacturing sector. US strength lies in high end technology, innovation, R&D, robust infrastructure, and know-how.

INITIATIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF SMEs

US govt. runs a number of programs for providing technological know-how, contracting opportunities, counseling and assistance, financing, and R&D facilities to small and medium enterprises. Some of the prominent programs run by US department of commerce are Manufacturing Extension Program, Advanced Technology Program, Technology Transfer, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. State govt. and number of govt. agencies are deployed for implementation of these schemes across the United States. SBA provides technical and financial assistance to SMEs through its partner lending institutions.

On November 17, 2009 The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. launched 10,000 Small Businesses — a $500 million initiative for development of 10,000 small businesses across the United States. The plan envisaged to provide greater access to business education, mentors and networks, and financial capital to small businesses. Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs quoted “Small businesses play a vital role in creating jobs and growth in America’s economy.” Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway also mentioned “Our recovery is dependent on hard working small business owners across America who will create the jobs that America needs. I’m proud to be a part of this innovative program which provides greater access to know-how and capital – two ingredients critical to success.”

Sum2 LLC, a firm which assists SMEs in implementing sound business practices by offering a series of programs and products, announced The Hamilton Plan on Labor Day. The Hamilton Plan is a ten point program to foster the development of manufacturing in the United States by tapping the entrepreneurial energy of small and mid-size enterprises (SME). The Hamilton Plan requires concerted focus of investment capital to fund development and establishment of an SME Development Bank (SDB) which will focus, manage and administer capital formation initiatives to incubate and develop SME manufactures.

I contacted James McCallum, CEO of Sum2llc to discuss the issue of shrinking manufacturing base and how SMEs can help in restoring manufacturing base in the United States. In response to my comment here is what he stated “It is pretty amazing that the United States has not done more to specifically encourage and address the unique needs of this critical economic driver. Many Asian countries are miles ahead of the US in SME banking and capital formation. These banks have extensive portfolios of finance products and technical assistance they provide to SME’s. The reasons that the US lacks focus in this area are many. US commitment to free market forces has badly warped our economic infrastructure. SMEs in the US have primarily relied on community banks for financing. Most of which went for real estate and construction projects. SME manufactures have just about disappeared from the economic landscape of the US. The credit crash and the economic malaise are awakening our understanding of the critical nature of SMEs and our need to manufacture products. Goldman’s 10,000 Businesses Initiative coalesces nicely with the Hamilton Plan we developed in 2008.”

USA MANUFACTURING & SMEs IN YEAR 2030

With the concerted government efforts for promotion and development of SMEs and private sector initiatives such as “10,000 Small Businesses plan” by Goldman, SMEs will be largely benefited having access to innovative financial products and services from a network of financial institutions. Ten point program suggested in Hamilton plan, if implemented, will bring cluster based development of SME manufacturers. Cleaner and green technology will drive long term sustainable growth, increase national income and result in employment creation. Healthy SMEs will be focusing on export of goods thereby reducing the trade deficit and offer a new market for commercial banking sector. High-tech growth oriented SMEs will also have access to private equity investments and will offer a new avenue of diversification to private equity industry.

But the task of SME development is a challenging task and requires strong will on the part of different stakeholders. SMEs are considered to be the riskiest segment of borrowers from a financial institution’s perspective and thus struggle for timely and adequate credit. Access to technical and market information, financial assistance and trained and educated workers is the biggest challenge for SMEs. Future SMEs require sound business practices such as corporate governance, risk management, stakeholder communications and regulatory compliance.

I believe that SMEs are sine qua non for manufacturing sector & I can foresee a bigger space for SMEs in next 20 years from now. I am so intrigued with the idea of SMEs development and their contribution in the economic growth that in the long run I wish to work as a freelancer offering consultancy and advisory services on financial and strategic matters to SMEs. I would work with a network of financial institutions, venture capitalists, engineers, environmentalists, social workers, suppliers, and policy makers so as to offer SMEs a comprehensive set of services.

APPENDIX: REFERENCES

U.S. Needs to Return to Its Manufacturing Base
http://seekingalpha.com/article/119136-u-s-needs-to-return-to-its-manufacturing-base

Securing America’s Future: The Case for a Strong Manufacturing Base, A Study by Joel Popkin and Company, Washington, D.C. June 2003, Prepared for the NAM Council of Manufacturing Associations

http://www.pmihome.org/Popkin_Study_3-03.pdf

President predicts it will take decades to revive declining U.S. manufacturing base?

http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/president-predicts-it-will-take-decades-to-revive-declining-us-manufacturing-base/question-637119/

Manufacturing & Investment Around The World: An International Survey Of Factors Affecting Growth & Performance, ISR Publications, revised 2nd edition, 2002. ISBN 978-0-906321-25-6.

Economy Watch: Economy, Investment & Finance Report

http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/usa/export-import.html

USA Manufacturing output continues to increase (over the long run), Curious cat, Investing and economics blog

http://investing.curiouscatblog.net/2008/12/02/usa-manufacturing-output-continues-to-increase-over-the-long-term/

Alliance for American Manufacturers http://www.americanmanufacturing.org/issues/manufacturing/the-us-manufacturing-crisis-and-its-disproportionate-effects-on-minorities/

Can the future be built in America? http://proquest.umi.com.remote.baruch.cuny.edu/pqdweb?index=28&did=1860761601&SrchMode=1&sid=2&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1259505905&clientId=8851

TO SAVE AMERICAN MANUFACTURING: USBIC’S PLAN FOR AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL RENEWAL BY Kevin L. Kearns, Alan Tonelson, and William Hawkins

http://americaneconomicalert.org/USBIC_Save_American_Manufacturing_Jobs_Plan.pdf

Goldman Sachs Launches 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative

http://www2.goldmansachs.com/our-firm/press/press-releases/current/10-k-business.html

Goldman Sachs as Social Entrepreneur http://sum2llc.wordpress.com/

Hamilton Plan by Sum2llc http://sum2llc.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/sme-development-bank/

You Tube Video: Isley Brothers, Work to Do

Risk: SME, manufacturing, economic revitalization, social wealth

February 3, 2010 Posted by | business, commerce, economics, Hamilton Plan, manufacturing, recession, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Convergence and Innovation Inhibitors: 011110

As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises  only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.

Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.

Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.

With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.

1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an  Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks  a Buddhist Monk stated that  he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”.  Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers.  More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life.  It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers.   We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants.  We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.

2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent  but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and  join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter.  The recent occurrences of  radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia  is tragically ironic.  The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is  a violent rejection of  language convergence of two great faith traditions.  It would seem that unity is a  threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished.  In the secular world government agencies  were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power.  The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships.  Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country.  The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice.  It would  transform our judiciary  into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into  stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges  of our time and a  justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.

3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power.  In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care.  Socialized medicine is bad.  Do you want to turn into France?  Canadian health care is too expensive.  UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand.   These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet  and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.

4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.

5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue.  Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.

6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.

7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a  bifurcated system of citizenship.  It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage.  The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.

Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.

8.  Public Education:  The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world.  Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished.   The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic.  It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.

Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic.  The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support.  It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions  interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning.  Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools.  Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum;  however theology that masquerades  as   science  is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools.    These  trends are pose great challenges to the  public  schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy.  Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.

You Tube Music Video:  Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas

Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance

January 11, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, business, Carter, China, Christianity, culture, democracy, economics, faith, history, institutional, manufacturing, Muslim, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, sustainability, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Profitability of Patriotism: SME Lending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risk: banking, credit, SME

December 16, 2009 Posted by | banking, credit, government, Paulson, Profit|Optimizer, recession, risk management, Sum2, sustainability, TARP, Treasury | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bring the Warriors Home

Heart of my heart, is it meet or wise
To warn a King of his enemies?
We know what Heaven or Hell may bring,
But no man knoweth the mind of the King.
Of the gray-coat coming who can say?
When the night is gathering all is gray.
Two things greater than all things are,
The first is Love, and the second War.
And since we know not how War may prove,
Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!”

The Ballad of the King’s Jest

Rudyard Kipling

The irony of President Obama’s selection as the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2009 was not lost on the recipient. In one of the receptions held to honor him, Mr. Obama spoke about Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite and its use as a weapon of war as the source of wealth that funds the prestigious peace prize.   Earlier in the day during his acceptance speech, Mr. Obama spoke eloquently on the motives for his decision to continue the prosecution and escalation of the Afghan war.  As a war time President, Mr. Obama sees war as a tool to bend the will of history toward justice and good.  He believes the greatest global good will be served by the pursuit of the Afghan conflict.  I respectfully disagree.

The greater irony in Mr. Obama’s acceptance speech for a peace prize is that it was essentially a discourse of war apologetics.    Mr. Obama delivered a speech void of any contrition and never once equivocated as he outlined his commitment and reasoning why a nation should engage in war.  To be fair to Mr. Obama, his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan is not a surprise. Throughout his Presidential election campaign, Mr. Obama was explicitly clear that he intended to pursue Osama bin Laden and his band of murderous terrorists to the Gates of Hell.  Even if those gates led to a protected compound in downtown Karachi,  Mr.  Obama’s resolve to check mate al-Qaeda remains steadfast.

The problem with the continued prosecution of the Afghan War is that our enemies are not a nation state nor do they occupy a single geography.  Al-Qaeda and their confederates are stationed throughout the globe.  They exist in underground sleeper cells waiting to be summoned by unconscionable puppet masters.  They are guided by an ideology of hate neatly disguised and wrapped in a hajab of religious orthodoxy. They use asymmetric strategies and tactics to wage war on citizens and soldiers alike.  A conventional army garrisoned in a provincial  hamlet is ill suited to fight an enemy that knows no bounds in territories and tactics and is prepared to conduct a military operation that spans multiple generations.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda’s access and control of Afghanistan’s lucrative opium trade forms the socio-economic base that allows them to leverage considerable political power to pursue their terrorist agenda.  The opium trade is weaved into a complex tribal culture whose power and prominence supersedes a weak and corrupt central government that derives its right to govern by the tepid consent of friendly tribal leaders and the military might of foreign armies.    Afghanistan like other narco dependent states will remain politically unstable and continue as a terroristic threat to the United States until the opium trade is supplanted as the countries principal source of economic and political power.

Afghanistan is not the world’s sole narco-terrorist state.  A number exist in the Western Hemisphere and one need look no further then across the Rio Grande to witness the growing power of a narco-dollar financed state subversion.  Mexico’s difficulties serve as a reminder that the risks to the stability of our republic lie much closer to home and is in fact in full residence within our borders.  Engaging a war in Afghanistan is a clear and present distraction from addressing the pressing issues that undermine our national security.

True al-Qaeda’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon conjures up many unimaginable and terrifying scenarios.  Unfriendly regimes that are hostile to the United States like North Korea and Iran control nuclear capabilities.  But we have  no armies attacking them.  Perhaps the solution is to remove nuclear weapons and uranium devises beyond the reach of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other avowed enemies of our republic.  If this is the major threat, its mitigation can be achieved without the prolonged deployment of 130,000 troops.   It can be accomplished by having an international force guard and quarantine Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  Certainly the Bush Doctrine allows for this type of intervention.  Some will object to this course of action on the grounds that we must respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.  But Mr. Obama’s escalation of the Afghan War will require unilateral incursions into Pakistan.  This action to eliminate the ultimate horror of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists is the surest way to mitigate this pressing threat.

The multifaceted omnipresent dangers to the United States transcend nuclear terrorism. Economic degradation is compounding social problems and creating deep political fissures within the country.  Our countries fractured culture is being exploited by powerful self serving interests.  A cabal of corporate elites equate national security with their economic well being.  They employ armies of lobbyists  and ply multi-channel media platforms to stoke fear and division to advance their narrow interests.  Usually at the expense of supporting initiatives that address the complex threats that weigh on the security of the country.  These special interests attack programs that stabilize social safety nets.  They finance expensive media campaigns condemning aid for local government fiscal stability, universal health care, meaningful environmental policy, expanded funding for public education, infrastructure improvements, support for trade unions, job creation programs and social assistance programs.  The well being of our people is the basis of our national prosperity.  The sources of social instability remain strong and continue to grow.  The recession,  a jobless rate of 10%, 4 million foreclosed homes, 30 million citizens unable to have access to affordable health care, failing school systems, bulging prison systems and environmental degradation represent a greater threat to national security then 100 al-Qaeda fighters holed up in an ice cave in the Tora Bora tribal regions.

No doubt  the United States was attacked by terrorists enjoying protection of a friendly regime in Afghanistan.  On 9/11 I witnessed first hand the horror of fellow countrymen jumping to their deaths from the upper floors of the World Trade Center.  Moments later as I stood in front of Trinity Church I escaped the pyroclastic cloud of the falling South Tower through a revolving door on Wall Street.   I understand the irrational hatred terrorists harbor in their hearts and the devastating consequences of their insane acts.  They are a cancer that must be eradicated.

Mr. Obama, has stated that the Afghan insurgency enjoys no popular support.   Afghanistan has a long memory and a longer history of a people subjected to the designs of imperial powers and foreign invaders since the time of Genghis Khan. The resistance to foreign occupation by the Afghani’s is legendary.  From the massacre of Elphinstone’s Army trying to escape blood thirsty tribes through the Khyber Pass, to the Soviets disgraceful retreat from the hail of Stinger Missiles supplied by the United States; it now  may be our time for a  ride in this horrible wheel barrel.

Afghanistan is a region of the globe where the great powers and trends of history clash.  It is a vortex of a turbulent maelstrom that brings the powers of China, Russia, India and Islam into a volatile mix.  The forces of national interests and modernity is held at bay by tribesmen toting WWII rifles, expedient tribal allegiances and ancient codes of honor.  Why doesn’t China and India have a more prominent role in ending this conflict?   It is in their geopolitical interest.  Better let the United States  send its nations finest young people to chase phantoms and fight in the endless canyons of the Hindu Kush; while Chindia builds their economies at home and forge new alliances abroad.  Perhaps they hope that this war could be the Pax Americana’s Waterloo?

Mr. Obama quoted from Dr. Martin Luther Kings Nobel acceptance speech, stating, “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”  This above all else may prove to be the most prophetic and ironic truth to Mr. Obama’s war.

The United States cannot afford this war. It is a distraction. It weakens us.  National security is more then a well provisioned and gallant army. A nations strength and its ultimate security is based on an enlightened, well fed, healthy and industrious people.

Mr. Obama acknowledged his indebtedness to those that went before him.  He stated that, Mahatma Gandhi, George Marshall, Albert Schweitzer,  Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are worthy figures that we should emulate.  Their greatness showed us that a better path must be chosen if we are to progress as a people.  Their choices and examples of leadership were not based on expediency and some came at  terrible cost.  The pathway of war is worn and old.  The world is much too weary from the familiar journey.  Its time to choose a better path.  End the war now Mr. Obama.  Bring the troops home.

You Tube Music Video: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Battle Hymn of the Republic

Risk: war, peace

December 14, 2009 Posted by | 9/11, China, economics, Obama, recession, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Goldman Sachs as Social Entrepreneur

Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his largest investor, The Wizard of Omaha, Warren Buffett , descended from the mystical heights of Valhalla with some startling news.  They were bearing a new mythical golden ring.  As they held the ring aloft they made a bold proclamation.  They would embark on one of the grandest social entrepreneurial programs of all time by offering some of the rings precious power, about $500 million worth, to capital starved small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs).  The 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative will distribute $100 million per year over the next five years to SMEs through Community Development Financial Institutions.

These lords of commerce have heard the cries from endangered SMEs.  In their infinite wisdom Blankfein and Buffet understand that the real economy needs to resuscitate and incubate the critical SME segment as an absolute prerequisite to a vibrant economic recovery.    The buzz about this news in the marketplace ranged from cynical suspicion at one extreme to puzzled bemusement and  ecstatic aplomb at the other.

What motivated Goldman to announce this initiative is an interesting question.  Was it guilt, greed or a sense of corporate social responsibility?  Some suggest it is a master PR move to counter a growing public perception that Goldman Sachs,  the poster child of government favoritism and bailout largess,  has leveraged its unfair advantage to achieve historic levels of profitability.  Thus enabling management to pay obscene bonuses to company employees.  But capital has no psyche,  and half a billion dollars is a tall bill to underwrite absolution for some phantom form of guilt.  True to its nature, capital always  seeks a place where it will find its greatest return.  Goldman and Buffett are casting some major bread on the receding waters of a distressed economy.  As its foretold in the Good Book , doing God’s work will produce a tenfold return.  If the Bible’s math is correct, thats a lot of manna that will rain down from heaven for the shareholders of Goldman Sachs and Berkshire Hathaway.  Looks like our modern day version of Moses and Aaron have done it again.  Leading their investors across the dangerous waters of the global economy to live in the promised land of happy shareholders.

As one of the world’s preeminent investment banks and purveyor of capitalist virtues,  company shareholders must be questioning how Goldman’s managers will realize a return on this investment?  Has management examined the potential corporate and societal moral hazards surrounding the program?  Surely shareholders have asked when they expect to be compensated for this significant outlay of capital.   The desire to realize gain is a more plausible motivator and makes more sense for an enterprise like Goldman and the storied investment Wizard from Omaha.

Its wise to ascribe the best intentions and virtuous motivations to actions that we may not fully understand.  This program should be viewed as a seminal event in the history of corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship.  Its important to understand that institutions that practice corporate social responsibility do not engage it solely as a philanthropic  endeavor.  Indeed, the benefits of good corporate citizenship pays multidimensional dividends.  All ultimately accrue to the benefit of company shareholders and the larger community of corporate stakeholders.

Goldman’s  move to walk the point of a capital formation initiative for SMEs seeks to mitigate macroeconomic risk factors that are prolonging the recession and pressuring Goldman’s business.   Goldman needs a vibrant US economy if it is to sustain its profitability,  long term growth and global competitiveness.  Goldman needs a strong regional and local banking sector to support its securitization, investment banking and corporate finance business units.   Healthy SMEs are a critical component to a healthy commercial banking sector.  Goldman recent chartering as an FDIC bank holding company may also be a factor to consider.  This SME lending initiative will provide interesting insights into the dynamics of a market space and potential lines of business that are relatively new to Goldman Sachs.  This initiative might presage a community banking acquisition program by Goldman.  At the very least the community banking sector is plagued with over capacity is in dire need of rationalization.  Goldman’s crack team of corporate finance and M&A professionals expertise would be put to good use here.

Goldman’s action to finance SMEs will also serve to incubate a new class of High Net Worth (HNW) investors.  Flush with cash from successful entrepreneurial endeavors, the nouveau riche will be eager to deploy excess capital into equities and bonds, hedge funds and private equity partnerships.  Healthy equity markets and a growing Alternative Investment Management  market is key to a healthy Goldman business franchise.

Community banks, principal lenders to SMEs are  still reeling from the credit crisis are concerned about troubled assets on their balance sheets.  Bankers can’t afford more write downs on non-performing loans and remain highly risk adverse to credit default exposures.  Local banks have responded by drastically reducing credit risk to SMEs by curtailing new lending activity.  The strain of a two-year recession and limited credit access has taking its toll on SMEs.  The recession has hurt sales growth across all market segments causing SMEs to layoff employees or shut down driving unemployment rates ever higher.  Access to this sector would boost Goldman’s securitization and restructuring advisory businesses positioning it to deepen its participation in the PPIP and TALF programs.

The financial condition of commercial and regional banks are expected to remain stressed for the foreseeable future.  Community banks have large credit exposures to SME and local commercial real estate.  Consumer credit woes and high unemployment rates will generate continued losses from credit cards and auto loans.  Losses from commercial real estate loans due to high vacancy rates are expected to create significant losses for the sector.

Reduced revenue, protracted softness in the business cycle and closed credit channels are creating perfect storm conditions for SME’s. Bank’s reluctance to lend and the high cost of capital from other alternative credit channels coupled with weak cash flows from declining sales are creating liquidity problems for many SMEs.   Its a growing contagion of financial distress.  This contagion could infect Goldman and would have a profound impact on the company’s financial health.

The 10,000 Businesses  initiative will strengthen the free flow of investment capital to finance national economic development and empower SMEs.  It strengthens free market capitalism and has the potential to pool, unleash and focus investment capital into a strategic market segment that has no access to public equity and curtailed lines of traditional bank credit. The 10,000 Businesses initiative  will encourage wider participation by banking and private equity funds.  In the aggregate, this will help to achieve strategic objectives, build wealth and realize broader goals to assure sustainable growth and global competitiveness.  All to the benefit of Goldman Sachs’ shareholders and it global investment banking franchise.

Sum2 believes that corporate social responsibility is a key tenet of a sound practice program. Goldman Sach’s has always been a market leader.  We salute Goldman Sachs’ initiative and welcome its success.

In  September of 2008,  Sum2 announced The Hamilton Plan calling for the founding of an SME Development Bank (SDB).  The SDB would serve as an aggregator of capital from numerous stakeholders to focus capital investment for SME manufactures.   More on the Hamilton Plan can be read here: SME Development Bank.

Risk:  SME, bank, recession, unemployment, credit, private equity

You Tube Music: 10,000 Manaics, Natalie Merchant: Dust Bowl

November 20, 2009 Posted by | banking, corporate social responsibility, Hamilton Plan, hedge funds, investments, off shore, PPIP, private equity, Profit|Optimizer, recession, reputation, reputational risk, SME, sound practices, Sum2, TALF, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment