Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

The Yin and Yang of Inflation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Inflation Risk with a WIN Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 21, 2014 Posted by | banking, customer risk, economics, inflation, SME | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Charge of The Light Brigade

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!

All the world wondered.

Honor the charge they made,

Honor the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred.

Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred Tennyson, 1870

Today the Department of Treasury is sending out its economic stimulus checks to the US taxpayers. Each taxpayer will receive a tax rebate of $600 with additional amounts of $300 paid for each household dependent.

As a taxpayer I welcome the small relief from the burden of excessive taxation. As a business owner, I welcome the infusion of money into the economy with the hope that some of the dollars will find themselves into our corporate coffers. Though many deride the amount as just a small token, (after all what can one do with $600?) when viewed in the aggregate we are taking about a major cash infusion into the slowing US economy.

Sounds great but these types of financial gymnastics of our “managed economy” can in the long run produce some ill effects that will prolong and deepen economic malaise that we are all looking to avoid at any cost. In classic economics, pumping money into an economy is highly inflationary. Lots of money chasing goods drives prices up. This is happening on a global scale. In the case of the US dollar, more dollars in circulation will put additional pressure on the value of the dollar and may drive it lower.

This could be the Treasury Departments objective. The package will help to reset market driven interest rates, stimulate consumer demand at home and make US exports more attractive because of a cheap dollar. This might work but some think the cure is worse then the illness. The fear that the economic stimulus will spark an acceleration of inflation and add to the massive budget deficit of the Federal Government is real. Many critics are suggesting that the stimulus package is borne more from political expediency that does not address the systemic and structural issues that lie at the root of the countries current economic problems like shrinking manufacturing, crumbling infrastructure, wasteful spending, unfunded budgetary commitments and misplaced investment priorities.

So as Americans eagerly wait for the merry mailman to arm them in the current war against recession, General Paulson will be watching to see how his armies perform on the battlefields of the Malls of America.

Apple iPods to the left of me…
Sony Hi Def TV’s to the right

Life Good GPS in front of me

Black berries in the rear..
Rode on the $600…

Risk: inflation, behavioral, consumerism, deficit spending, interest rates

April 28, 2008 Posted by | commerce, inflation, Paulson, poetry, recession | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Your Marx

The Original Marxist

I can’t help but think that we are again in the midst of a new kind of enclosure movement.

Karl Marx in his classic tome on capitalist economics, Das Kapital, wrote extensively on the enclosure movement in England and the role it played on the formation of the urban proletarian class.

The enclosure movement forced rural peasantry from agricultural based production. This was done because the owners of land could receive a better return on the land by raising sheep. Sheep was in high demand because wool was a crucial commodity necessary for the burgeoning textile industry in Manchester.

The enclosure movement of the 16th century is analogous to the conversion of human food producing arable land to an agriculture that supports the production of biofuels and animal husbandry.

The rise in the price of basic commodities is also being exacerbated by the Federal Reserves policy to cut interest rates to pump liquidity into ailing credit markets.

This is creating a type of economic perfect storm for the under and lesser developed partners in the global economy. The rice riots will continue until a concerted effort is made to fight inflation and curb efforts to use bio fuels to supplement our fossil fuel based economies.

This is also another political justification for an accelerated program for the construction of nuclear power plants in the US. Site selection for the construction of a new atomic energy plant may soon be under consideration for a town near you.

You Tube Music Video: Judy Garland, How Ya Keep Em Down on the Farm

Risk: Inflation, Commodity, Environmental, Political, Social

April 14, 2008 Posted by | inflation, social unrest | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Price of Rice in Haiti

Rice Riots in Haiti

Another entry in our ongoing series about the rise in rice prices.

Today we were confronted with images of food riots in Port Au Prince arguably the most impoverished city in the western hemisphere. UN Peacekeeping forces were straining to maintain the rule of law and prevent a total collapse of civil order.

Its startling to consider that people in the underdeveloped world pay up to 80% of their incomes for a subsistence ration of food. Here in the United States we spend approximately 10% of our income on food. An interesting metric in how to measure the spread of the difference between the developed and underdeveloped world.

I can’t help but think of the butterfly effect.

It goes something like if a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing in May it will produce a Hurricane off the Outerbanks in August.

Haiti may be this years butterfly. It may yet remind us of how connected our world is to the seemingly disconnected events and risk factors in the global community.

Risk: inflation, commodities, political, moral

You Tube Video: Port-Au-Prince

April 12, 2008 Posted by | inflation, social unrest | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

General Tso and the Price of Rice in America

General Tso

I love Chinese food. And apparently so do many of my fellow Americans. You can’t walk down a main street in this country or roll into a strip mall without spotting a little Chinese takeout joint.

My favorite is Tommy Cheng’s. I probably stop there about once a week to pick up a takeout order to bring home to my family. I’ll spend about 50 bucks for my order and my family and I look forward to being together enjoying our weekly repast.

Being creatures of habit I usually get the same dishes. And I am growing concerned about rising rice prices and how it will boost the cost of my quart of roast pork fried rice? If the price of rice doubles I’ll have to pay almost $12.00 for my fried rice! OUCH!

Come to think of it, I’m wondering if Tommy Cheng will continue to throw in a quart of white rice with my order of General Tso’s Chicken.

We’ll have to consult the tea leaves on this one.

Risk: Inflation, retail, commodities, entertainment, fast food, small business

You Tube Video: Louis Jordan, Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens

April 9, 2008 Posted by | commodities, inflation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Price of Rice in China

Fears grow over rice supplies the FT Weekend reports on a front page story.

The price of rice has risen 50% in the past two weeks. Speculators and hoarding are fattening the pockets of profiteers and are heightening concerns about political instability and social unrest. Consider the implications of a rice starved Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar or dare we say China? What will be the political impact of an acute rice shortage in North Korea? How will this regime react if it feels it’s not getting sufficient attention and relief from the global community? Will it stoke up its atomic reactors and aim a nuclear missile at the worlds head to hold it hostage until it extorts its fair share from the worlds dwindling rice bowl?

This is a chilling threat to global stability and peace. We submit that the power elites of the new world order need to focus its talents and treasure to address this potential powder keg. As Americans, we would like to suggest to our President Mr. Bush that these types of problems and issues are more worthy of your attention then spending a considerable amount of political capital to maneuver ICBMs into former Warsaw Pact counties.

You Tube Music: The Dragons Backbone

Risk: Political, Economic, Inflation, Commodities

April 8, 2008 Posted by | China, inflation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment