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Posts Tagged ‘financial crisis’

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

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From Seth’s blog:

I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

Whenever a business cycle starts to falter, the media start wringing their hands. Then big businesses do, freelancers, entrepreneurs and soon everyone is keening.

People and organizations that have no real financial stress start to pull back, “because it’s prudent.” Now is not the time, they say. They cut budgets and put off investments. It’s almost as if everyone is just waiting for an excuse to do less.

In fact, they are.

Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren’t right or the water is too cold or we’ve got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

What a shame. What a waste.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year’s Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn’t already running my own business, today is the day I’d start one.

Yep. Investing in your business during uncertain times isn’t so much a question of courage as it is business savvy. When would you rather spend money to stand out and gain market share: When your competitors are gunning for you full bore, or when they’re cowering in their holes, waiting to see if the sky will fall? This type of crisis is giving smart companies the perfect opportunity to bound ahead and plant the seeds of their next growth spurt. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but definitely within the next 6-12 months.

You have two choices: a) Cower and hide, or b) grab the bull by the horns, take a leadership position and go win some new business. Financial crises aside, if you had a valuable product a month ago, you still have a valuable product today. Don’t let fear paralyze your business. Use your competitors’ hesitation over the next few weeks and months to your advantage. Strategy 101.

Have a great Monday! 😉

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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. 😉

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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.

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