Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

Perhaps calling it a “bailout” was a little counterproductive. Whether or not you support a bill to inject liquidity back into the market in an effort to get the credit machine rolling again (and whether or not you believe that such a bill is even necessary) it became pretty clear today that calling the effort a “bailout” certainly contributed to HR 3997 not getting the votes.

Watching MSNBC, CNN, Fox and Bloomberg today, I heard a common thread: Constituents of representatives who voted to defeat the bill simply didn’t want to see their hard-earned money go towards “bailing out” ginormous banks on Wall Street. In other words, President Bush, Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Paulson and the press probably killed the initiative from Day One by calling it a “bailout.” Perhaps if the plan had been referred to as something else, like an “Asset Purchase,” an “economic intervention” or even a “national credit adrenaline injection,” we probably wouldn’t be looking at the Dow’s worst day on record. Regardless of election-season politics, could today’s failure in Washington simply be due to a poor choice of words when it came to giving it an identity?

From Ina Fried over at Cnet:

I’m going to try to briefly accomplish in a few paragraphs what it seems to me our government has completely failed to do in this financial crisis.

No, I don’t have $700 billion of my own to shell out. But to me, Congress’ failure came not today on the House floor, but over the past week as both elected officials and members of the administration failed to translate the crisis into terms that have meaning for everyday Americans.

I’ve heard the phrases “Main Street” and “Wall Street” a lot, but what I haven’t heard is plain explanations of what credit really means and how essential it is to our system of doing business.

Here goes.

If the credit markets should freeze up–which many say is happening and will continue without massive intervention–everyone that borrows money will face a cash crunch. That means companies that take advantage of short-term loans to get by won’t be able to buy raw materials or make payroll. Even businesses that don’t need short-term capital may defer purchases to preserve capital.

If even banks are having a hard time getting money, what does that say for the small and midsize business? The Wall Street Journal had a story on Monday on how companies like McDonald’s may face a squeeze as their franchisees are unable to get loans to purchase or upgrade stores. I suspect that is just one visible example of a growing issue for businesses across the country.

We are stuck trying to move forward with new loans–essentially to keep the economy moving–while dealing with clearly bad ones of the past. While much of the attention has focused on concern over home loans, there are also construction loans and business loans that are at risk of default, risks that grow as those businesses find themselves essentially shut off from getting any new capital, extending the vicious circle.

You don’t have to take it from me.

Here’s C.H. Low, CEO of social-networking software start-up Orbius and a serial entrepreneur.

“When financial markets don’t function well, the ramification is broad,” he said in an e-mail interview on Monday. He said he is disappointed that the bailout is so misunderstood. Even the term bailout, he said, is a misnomer.

“This is an asset purchase, not a 100 percent bailout expense to taxpayer,” he said. “There is risk but also possibility of making a profit. Government’s main function is to do things that private sector cannot handle. This Market Stabilization Bill…is as necessary as having an Armed Forces to defend the country.”

Low noted that the main beneficiary is not Wall Street.

“As an early stage start-up, we rely on venture investments to carry us through a few more stages before we can be self-sustaining,” Low said. “With turmoil, smaller venture funds which fund many early stage companies themselves get anxious and their own investors may be affected and may affect their capital call. We ourselves planned for a rainy day but even we don’t have that much for a prolonged monsoon.”

He said that the seizing up of credit creates uncertainty in every sector. “Doing nothing is the worst of all choices,” he said.

Read the rest of Ina’s piece here.

Whether HR 3997 was a good plan or not – let’s face it, transparency about the latest contents of the bill hasn’t been great, – perhaps if it had been dubbed something other than a “Wall Street Bailout,” our representatives in Washington wouldn’t have been under so much pressure to vote nay on Monday. Lesson: Regardless of how great you think your product is, you probably won’t be able to launch it if you start by calling it the wrong thing.

The words we use matter.

PS: Since it is election season, click here to find out if your elected representative voted on HR 3997 the way you wanted them to. 😉

Photo by Christopher Wray McCann

Read Full Post »

For better of for worse, countries and cultures – like companies, products and people – have identities too, and whether many of you in the US realize it or not, the US brand just experienced a very radical shift this month with a) the financial house of cards starting to come down on Wall Street, and b) the way that Washington responded to the crisis with its spectacular $700 BILLION “bailout” proposal.

Hat tip to ISB alumn Laurent Longin for forwarding this hilarious yet astute piece from Time’s Bill Saporito: “How We Became The United States of France.

This is the state of our great republic: We’ve nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We’re about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they’re a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future where too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national healthcare? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by a half dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn. and FedExed to Washington D.C. to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We’re now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride. Italy? Sure, it’s had four governments since last Thursday, but none of them would have allowed this to go on; the Italians know how to rig an economy.

You just know the Frogs have only increased their disdain for us, if that is indeed possible. And why shouldn’t they? The average American is working two and half jobs, gets two weeks off, and has all the employment security of a one-armed trapeze artist. The [Bush] Administration has preached the “ownership society” to America: own your house, own your retirement account; you don’t need the government in your way. So Americans mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy overpriced houses they can no longer afford and signed up for 401k programs that put money where, exactly? In the stock market!

Now our laissez-faire (hey, a French word) regulation-averse Administration has made France’s only Socialist president, Francois Mitterand, look like Adam Smith by comparison. All Mitterand did was nationalize France’s big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn’t have to deal with bankers who didn’t want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie. France doesn’t have the mortgage crisis that we do, either. In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world. Sure, France has its banlieues, where it likes to warehouse people who aren’t French enough (meaning, immigrants or Algerians) in huge apartment blocks. But the bulk of French homeowners are curiously free of subprime mortgages foisted on them by fellow citizens, and they aren’t over their heads in personal debt.

We’ve always dismissed the French as exquisitely fed wards of their welfare state. They work, what, 27 hours in a good week, have 19 holidays a month, go on strike for two days and enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch — except for the 25% of the population that works for the government, who have an even sweeter deal. They retire before their kids finish high school, and they don’t have to save for a $45,000-a-year college tuition because college is free. For this, they pay a tax rate of about 103%, and their labor laws are so restrictive that they haven’t had a net gain in jobs since Napoleon. There is no way that the French government can pay for this lifestyle forever, except that it somehow does.

Mitterand tried to create both job-growth and wage-growth by nationalizing huge swaths of the economy, including some big industries, including automaker Renault, for instance. You haven’t driven a Renault lately because Renault couldn’t sell them here. Imagine that. An auto company that couldn’t compete with a Dodge Colt. But the Renault takeover ultimately proved successful and Renault became a private company again in 1996, although the government retains about 15% of the shares.

Now the U.S. is faced with the same prospect in the auto industry. GM and Ford need money to develop greener cars that can compete with Toyota and Honda. And they’re looking to Uncle Sam for investment — an investment that could have been avoided had Washington imposed more stringent mileage standards years earlier. But we don’t want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do.

Mitterand’s nationalization program and other economic reforms failed, as the development of the European Market made a centrally planned economy obsolete. The Rothschilds got their bank back, a little worse for wear. These days, France sashays around the issue of protectionism in a supposedly unfettered EU by proclaiming some industries to be national champions worthy of extra consideration — you know, special needs kids. And we’re not talking about pastry chefs, but the likes of GDF Suez, a major utility. I never thought of the stocks and junk securities sold by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as unique, but clearly Washington does. Morgan’s John Mack calls SEC boss Chris Cox to whine about short sellers and bingo, the government obliges. The elite serve the elite. How French is that?

Even in the strongest sectors in the U.S., there’s no getting away from the French influence. Nothing is more sacred to France than its farmers. They get whatever they demand, and they demand a lot. And if there are any issues about price supports, or feed costs being too high, or actual competition from other countries, French farmers simply shut down the country by marching their livestock up the Champs Elysee and piling up wheat on the highways. U.S. farmers would never resort to such behavior. They don’t have to: they’re the most coddled special interest group in U.S. history, lavished with $180 billion in subsidies by both parties, even when their products are fetching record prices. One consequence: U.S. consumers pay twice what the French pay for sugar, because of price guarantees. We’re more French than France.

So yes, while we’re still willing to work ourselves to death for the privilege of paying off our usurious credit cards, we can no longer look contemptuously at the land of 246 cheeses. Kraft Foods has replaced American International Group in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the insurance company having been added to Paulson’s nationalized portfolio. Macaroni and cheese has supplanted credit default swaps at the fulcrum of capitalism. And one more thing: the food snob French love McDonalds, which does a fantastic business there. They know a good freedom fry when they taste one.

Whether you agree with Bill’s point of view or not, it’s certainly something to think about. 😉

Read Full Post »

Hat tip to Gavin Heaton for pointing us to this crystal clear and refreshingly insightful explanation of the what, why, how of the current financial crisis on Freakonomics. This is absolutely the best summary I have read yet on the subject, and we have Douglas Diamond and Anil Kashyap to thank for it.

Read the full thing here. It’s excellent.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Update: Hat tip to SteveAtdFruit for this great update.

Read Full Post »

Watching it burn

Some of us who have managed projects know a little bit about budgets. Simply put, a budget is a bucket of money set up to pay for all of the line items in a project – or a series of projects.

Typically, the budget is set based on little things like what the client (internal or external) is looking to accomplish, what the client is able to spend, and ROI: (Return On Investment) Do the project’s benefits outweigh its cost, etc.

If you’re thinking “wow, that sounds like it takes a lot of planning and strategery,” you’re right. It does. The one thing you want to ensure as a project manager is that the goals, tactics and budget are aligned before a project starts: If the project is going to cost more than the budget allows, something is going to have to be cut from the project. Simple, basic stuff. If you don’t do this, you might run out of money before the project ends, which isn’t good. Your options then are a) ask the client for more money, b) close the project before having delivered it 100%, or c) eat the added cost. None of these options are good.

It’s with this simple methodology that I look at our federal budget deficit. Is it more complex than a marketing campaign? Of course it is. Infinitely so. But the principle is the same: Figure out how much funding you need to operate your series of projects (social security, national defense, infrastructure, research, wars, etc.), make the necessary adjustments, and go forward with what you can afford.

… Except… that isn’t how everyone understands the fundamentals of running a business/country. The latest Budget Deficit figures look pretty impressive. From CNN.com:

The White House on Monday predicted a record deficit of $490 billion for the 2009 budget year, a senior government official told CNN.

The deficit would amount to roughly 3.5 percent of the nation’s $14 trillion economy.

The official pointed to a faltering economy and the bipartisan $170 billion stimulus package that passed earlier this year for the record deficit.

The fiscal year begins October 1, 2008.

The federal deficit is the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in from taxes and other revenue sources. The government must borrow money to make up the difference.

President Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion when he took office in 2001 but has since posted a budget deficit every year.

Wow.

Maybe I am reading this wrong, but if the FY’09 $490 BILLION deficit is indeed for the 2009 budget year, we’re talking about overspending $1,342,465,700 per day for 365 days in a row.

Wait… Let me get this straight. The US government is overspending (all up) at a rate of 1.3 BILLION dollars per day?

Tell me I’m not understanding this correctly. Please. Someone tell that figure needs to somehow be stretched out over the last 8 years or something… Pretty please? Tell me there is no way that the United States of America’s operating budget is so poorly managed that it bleeding $1.3B per day. Tell me I am wrong about this.  Tell me there is a plan to fix this. One that doesn’t involve a) just printing more money, or b) borrowing from foreign banks.

Maybe this kind of topic changes the conversation when it comes to what types of questions really need to be on people’s minds (and lips) when political candidates (from Presidential elections down to your municipal seats) run for office. Maybe the conversation should shift from soft broad-sweeping opinions about religion and security to cold hard facts and specific plans to fix what is broken. And by the way, this isn’t an indictment of either political party. Republicans and democrats together need to fix this – which is to say this isn’t just about this candidate or that one, but about us, American taxpayers and voters, who perhaps should refocus our attention when it comes to our definition of political leadership, and what our silver-haired years will be like, and the future our children will inherit.

Maybe there’s a branding lesson in there somewhere, both for world powers and the political candidates who aspire to help run them.

Read Full Post »


For Chris:

Interesting and sobering article published back in May on yournewreality.com. (Yeah, I’m behind in my reading a bit.) We’ll get to it in a minute.

Note: Because I am a worthless echo chamber (isn’t that what we bloggers are?) I won’t bother to fact-check, but feel free to do so at your leisure.

About this article, I will just say this: Alarmist vernacular aside, if you ignore the doomsday predictions and just focus on the numbers, our nation’s current financial situation isn’t good. Worse yet, our nation’s financial future is not looking good at all. There might be a reason why so many CEOs are negotiating ridiculously high compensation packages and bouncing from job to job as often as they possibly can.Maybe they saw the writing on the wall long before the rest of us did.

Okay look, I know we all want to live in big houses, drive cool cars and dress like movie stars without having to work all that hard for it – and worry about the costs later- but there comes a point when you kind of have to wake up and accept that a) credit has its limits and b) financial responsibility isn’t something you can put off. This applies to banks a whole lot more than it applies to consumers, but it does start with individual responsibility when it comes to our attitude towards borrowing. Without debtors’ prisons around anymore to remind us that credit isn’t infinite, we need to start giving some thought to how and why we buy the things we buy.

What does this have to do with branding? Two words: “Brand USA.”

This has to do with future foreign investment in the US economy, in the fate of the US’ workforce, and in the viability of its buying power twenty years from now – as opposed to say, Asia and Europe.

Put yourself in the shoes of an investor with a finite amount of money to invest, and do your homework. Then ask yourself this: Right now, are the US economy and the US Dollar really your best bets for a strong return on investment? Is the dollar doing well? Is the US creating more jobs than it is losing? Are the new jobs being created as good for taxpayers as the ones they are “replacing?”

The rub is that economic pressures tend to work as circular cause-and-effect cycles. Lack of confidence in US markets by foreign-owned banks can trigger the kind of economic downturn that our current overconsumptive lifestyles might not jive well with. Downturns shatter investor confidence. Low investor & consumer confidence means more slowdown.

It isn’t brain surgery.

In the past, a good way to kick the economy into high gear was to get involved in a good war. War always stimulated economies… But in the global marketplace we live in today, we’re more likely to stimulate China’s economy by going to war than our own. What was true of the 1940’s isn’t applicable to the world we live in today.

For all the “reality” TV we consume daily, we’re painfully out of touch with reality.

Brand USA could really use a big boost over the next 6-12 months… and neither the Huckabee-Clinton-Obama-McCain race to the White House nor the current state of things in Iraq nor the endless stream of bonehead “news” stories about Britney, Paris, Lindsay or whatever politician got busted doing something embarrassing in airport bathrooms is really helping.

Now news about the exciting research that American Universities and labs are moving forward with in fields like advanced robotics, superconductors, fuel efficiency, AI, smart materials, etc., about exciting emerging technologies and how they can be incorporated into our everyday lives, and how successful grassroots social programs could be used as templates for large scale federal programs in coming years might serve our interests as a nation a bit better.

As a nation and cluster of business communities, we really need to raise the level of the conversation just a tad.

Read this, and I’ll let you figure out the rest.

Americans, on average, spend more money than they earn. How do they manage to do this? Easy credit, low interest debt.

Thanks to their magnificent consumption, soaking up the goods produced by tens of thousands of Chinese factories, Asia keeps offering Americans easily accessible credit and buys up the monumental debt wracked up daily by the American government in the form of Treasury bonds. Without Asia both offering credit, and buying up debt, the average American lifestyle as they now know it would cease exist.

But even though the US government, and federal reserve, freely admits to shocking levels of debt and losses, the true scale of America’s extremely fragile economic situation is lost behind illusionary accounting practices, the kind that no corporation is allowed to get away with.

The true scale of America’s extremely fragile economic situations has now been exposed :

The federal government recorded a $1.3 trillion loss last year — far more than the official $248 billion deficit — when corporate-style accounting standards are used, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The loss reflects a continued deterioration in the finances of Social Security and government retirement programs for civil servants and military personnel. The loss — equal to $11,434 per household — is more than Americans paid in income taxes in 2006.

“We’re on an unsustainable path and doing a great disservice to future generations,” says Chris Chocola, a former Republican member of Congress from Indiana and corporate chief executive who is pushing for more accurate federal accounting.

Modern accounting requires that corporations, state governments and local governments count expenses immediately when a transaction occurs, even if the payment will be made later.

The federal government does not follow the rule, so promises for Social Security and Medicare don’t show up when the government reports its financial condition.

Bottom line: Taxpayers are now on the hook for a record $59.1 trillion in liabilities, a 2.3% increase from 2006. That amount is equal to $516,348 for every U.S. household. By comparison, U.S. households owe an average of $112,043 for mortgages, car loans, credit cards and all other debt combined.

Unfunded promises made for Medicare, Social Security and federal retirement programs account for 85% of taxpayer liabilities. State and local government retirement plans account for much of the rest.

This hidden debt is the amount taxpayers would have to pay immediately to cover government’s financial obligations. Like a mortgage, it will cost more to repay the debt over time. Every U.S. household would have to pay about $31,000 a year to do so in 75 years.

It would seem almost impossible for the American economy to be facing disaster when the stock market is roaring past 13400 points, but most of this growth comes from the availability of extremely cheap debt. Get a big fat low interest loan and pour the money into stocks and bonds, and watch the stock market climb.

Mike Whitney is not alone in claiming the strength of the American stock mark is but an illusion, a simple con aimed at propping up the American dollar and holding back the financial devastation that will eventually break out across the nation.

The illusion, he claims, is shattered when you take a look at what’s happening to American real estate, and it’s not a pretty picture. When the real estate market completely disintegrates, so will most of the rest of the American economy :

The real estate market is crashing faster than anyone had anticipated. Housing prices have fallen in 17 of 20 of the nation’s largest cities and the trend lines indicate that the worst is yet to come.

March sales of new homes plummeted by a record 23.5% (year over year) removing all hope for a quick rebound. Problems in the subprime and Alt-A loans are mushrooming in previously “hot markets” resulting in an unprecedented number of foreclosures.

The defaults have slowed demand for new homes and increased the glut of houses already on the market. This is putting additional downward pressure on prices and profits. More and more builders are struggling just to keep their heads above water.

This isn’t your typical 1980s-type “correction”; it’s a full-blown real estate cyclone smashing everything in its path.

Tremors from the real estate earthquake won’t be limited to housing–they will rumble through all areas of the economy including the stock market, financial sector and currency trading. There is simply no way to minimize the effects of a bursting $4.5 trillion equity bubble.

The next shoe to drop will be the stock market which is still flying-high from increases in the money supply. The Federal Reserve has printed up enough fiat-cash to keep overpriced equities jumping for joy for a few months longer. But it won’t last.

Wall Street’s credit bubble is even bigger than the housing bubble—a monstrous, lumbering dirigible that’s headed for a crash-landing. The Dow is like a drunk atop a 13,000 ft cliff; inebriated on the Fed’s cheap “low-interest” liquor. One wrong step and he’ll plunge headlong into the ether.

The stock market cheerleaders are ooooing and ahhing the Dow’s climb to 13,000, but it’s all a sham. Wall Street is just enjoying the last wisps of Greenspan’s low interest helium swirling into the largest credit bubble in history. But there are big changes on the way.

In fact, the storm clouds have already formed over the housing market. The subprime albatross has lashed itself to everything in the economy —dragging down consumer confidence, GDP and (eventually) the stock market, too. The real damage is just beginning to materialize.

The entire thing house of cards is propped up by confidence. The confidence that says property prices will recover. The confidence that claims the stock market will stay strong. The confidence wishes, dreams, hopes, that jobs will grow, that exports will rise, that the inevitable crash and burn will never come.

Perhaps spending more state and federal money on education, infrastructure, healthcare networks, and research might yield better ROI than supporting the Halliburtons and Blackwaters of the world. We just can’t keep borrowing trillions of dollars from foreign banks to fund little more than day to day war-driven government services, an ill-managed federal budget and our purchasing power… and expect the bubble to keep growing and growing and growing without ever bursting.

Unlike the other olivier blanchard, I am not an economist, but as a guy who has worked for fifteen long years to finally get out from under a pretty decent amount of debt, this seems pretty obvious: Debt doesn’t just go away when you ignore it. Sooner or later, you have to pay the piper. Yes you, not the next guy.

No one is going to bail us out of this mess. No one is going to come along to magically rebuild confidence in our economy or our government. Democracy only works if people take their civic, financial and professional responsibilities seriously. As a nation, we could be doing a whole lot better.

Also check out this very cool visual tool.

Additional reading:

US Economy Overtaken By EU And Japan

Whitney : Doomsday For The Greenback

Chinese Taking Out Unsecured Loans To Invest In Stock Market

China’s Stock Market Plunges 6.5%, Losses Continue Into Second Day

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

Image source: China Economics Blog.

Read Full Post »

Advertisements