Wealth Management

Voted #6 on Top 100 Family Business influencer on Wealth, Legacy, Finance and Investments: Jacoline Loewen LinkedIn Profile

July 30, 2009

Trading Places

Speaking to the recent International Economic Forum of the Americas held in Montreal, World Bank President Robert Zoellick commented on how lots of countries around the world would like to trade places with Canada, even though we did not escape the effects of the global economic downturn (our higher resource–driven “beta”.) He added: “Canada has had a fiscal policy managed in its budget pretty soundly over the years”.
The continuing test of this fiscal soundness lies ahead. In the meanwhile, Goldman Sachs singles out Canada as among the first of the advanced economies to emerge from recession. Respected David Rosenberg, now returned home to be the chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates, sees us not having the structural fiscal deficit problems of the U.S. and being well positioned as the economic power shifts towards Asia and China. Reflecting its confidence, the Fidelity mutual fund group has set up an on-site research Team Canada. Expressions of confidence like these keep on growing.
Inflation and its possibly devastating consequences may seem a distant problem at a time of still-serious recession and economic slack. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney do not seem unduly worried shorter-term. At latest count the annual Canadian inflation rate had dropped to a 14-year low of just 0.4%, and four of the provinces, among them even Alberta, had sunk into deflationary territory. Nevertheless, while it may not be an immediate problem, no serious investor should ignore the elephantine inflation risk. Even if months or years early, it seems none to soon to begin taking precautionary action, adjusting investment strategies and re-examining asset mixes in this probability.
On the fixed income side, the renowned Bill Gross of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund, strongly recommends a shortening of term to maturity. For my part, I now prefer not going much beyond bonds (and bond ladders) of a five-year maturity – and always A-rated. For taxable Canadian investors in need of income there are now attractive resettable (5 year) preferred shares issued mostly by the banks, but also by others. And most definitely not to forget the inflation defence offered by companies that pay and continuously increase their annual dividend payouts.
Our guest blogger is Michael Graham. You can reach him at:
Michael Graham Investment Services Inc.
Tel: 416 360-7530 Fax: 416 360-5566
E: Michael@grahamis.ca
Website at www.grahamis.ca

You can't grow your economy if you can't grow the revenues

Here is a great summary from Lynn Lewis at Scotia McLeod. You can reach Lynn at: [lynn_lewis "at" scotiamcleod.com]
North American markets have continued to trade in a very tight range this week as we have heard good news and bad news stories. Following some proclamations last week that the recessions for Canada and the U.S. are supposedly over, markets rocketed higher on the expectation that economic growth is going to be strong and sustainable for the rest of 2009.
The TSX Index is getting closer to its recent high from June 10, while U.S. indices have broken through their recent highs since the market downturn last fall. The calls for the end of the recession are based on the technical definition of a recession in that some economists are predicting marginal if not breakeven growth for Canada and the U.S. in Q3; but those economists are also adding the caveat that while growth may return, the recovery will be difficult as unemployment is expected to rise further, home prices may continue to struggle in the U.S. and you'll still have a financial system that is on government assisted life support for some time.
Lynn says, "I add these caveats as they are a warning to us as investors not to get too carried away with how high we take the markets since this is not just an economic downturn we've witnessed, but a financially structural problem that is going to take years to fix."
This does not mean that markets can't appreciate over the next year or so, but it does mean that we should not see the magnitude of appreciation we've witnessed in previous recoveries when the economy expanded but the financial system was in much better condition.
We also saw the U.S. Case-Shiller Home Price Index report for May where a year over year decline of 17.06% was registered. This was better than the 17.9% decline that economists were forecasting, but let me be clear while this number is improving, it is still awful. All in all we are still cautiously optimistic.
General Commentary from Gareth Watson, CFA
An almost US$4.00 per barrel decline in the price of crude oil on Wednesday sent the TSX lower by 115 points or about 1%. The weakness was not contained just to energy but to other commodity prices as rumours continue to come out of China indicating that the Chinese government may be changing loan policy in an attempt to slow the pace of economic growth in an attempt to avoid any type of asset pricing bubbles in the near term.
Since China has basically been the place where everyone is pointing to for growth, any indication of lending restrictions or signs of reduced lending is definitely going to make investors think twice about piling into economically sensitive areas of the market such as oil, gas and base metals. The Energy subsector was easily the weakest on Wednesday followed by Materials and then Financials (even though some Canadian banks finished higher).
In fact only three sectors managed to post gains including Industrials, Consumer Discretionary and Consumer Staples. Wednesday was the second day of triple digit losses for the TSX as investors are realizing that valuations may be too optimistic at this stage of the economic cycle. Today is an exceptionally busy day for corporate earnings in both Canada and the U.S. We've had some companies already report in the U.S. this morning and we continue to see the recent trend of beating on the earnings line but missing on the revenue line which means we can't be too excited about these results as it would appear as though the earnings are being driven more by cost cutting than by revenue growth.
There definitely have been some companies that have beaten expectations on both lines, but there are others do exist where cost cutting appears to have been the theme for the quarter. You can't grow your economy if you can't grow the revenues.

Selling your business

If gaining access to funding is the biggest initial stumbling block for small businesses, managing growth is certainly the most significant second-stage challenge.
Countless businesses, in spite of showing early promise have failed for one of many growth-related reasons, from lack of cash flow and skills to poor management expertise or insufficient infrastructure. But perhaps the biggest culprit is an unwillingness or inability on the part of the business owner to relinquish the iron-fist control that they grew used to exercising (and which was essential) when the business was growing.
Unable to spread themselves across all areas of the business but unwilling to delegate tasks to others, such entrepreneurs doom their businesses to failure. Either that, or they end up selling to someone who can run a growing operation.

July 29, 2009

Bay Street Broads Club

I admire the CEO of 85 Broads, Janet Hanson and was delighted when one of my brilliant team members, Winnie Chou, sent me this article on Janet.
Her comments on putting family and relationships at the same level as their career would have been chum to the sharks backin the Ninties. I am so glad to see someone being honest about how family and love are important. As Janet puts it, "She did not want to be someone's rich aunt." It shows that the choices for women can be managed because Janet is her daughter's rich mum! Shows that it can be OK to seek happiness.
Janet's a Columbia MBA, the first woman in Goldman Sachs' history promoted to sales management, founder of a $3B asset management fund, a published author, philanthropist, mother and more.
You can also read Janet's Q&A in full on The Doostang Blog.
Here's a quick summary:

Tell us about 85 Broads and why you started it. I set out to solve a problem.
When I left Goldman Sachs in 1993, I was leaving the world I had known and loved for 14 years to stay at home with my two young children. I wanted to know what the markets were doing, I wanted to be “in the game” but instead I was at home wishing I wasn’t. I founded 85 Broads (which is a humorous play on Goldman’s street address in Manhattan) to re-establish a connection between women who were “alumnae” of the firm with women who were still in the building. You have had a very successful career in finance.

Can you elaborate on your decision to go into that field, and give us perspective on that choice?
I won the career lottery after I graduated from Columbia Business School at the age of 24 – I became an associate in the Fixed Income Division at Goldman Sachs. It was just an amazing time to be at the firm. Being in Fixed Income Sales played to my competitive strengths – I thrived because I was challenged every single day to push myself. It was incredibly hard work but it was also incredibly rewarding. The 2-year investment banking stint as we know it isn't a pervasive option for top grads today. What advice do you have for members who are facing this tumultuous job market early in their careers? My best advice: be willing to really push yourself – whether you’re doing a 2-year stint with Teach For America or 2 years as a banking analyst, this is how young people can truly differentiate themselves. If you can figure out how to live and breathe the company’s “mission,” you will earn the respect of the people who hired you and invested in you. And lastly, when you’re young, if you do nothing else, figure out how to leverage your college alumni network. That is the single best resource you have and it’s free. Like you, many of our members have elected to further their education with an MBA.

Women have made strides in business thanks to trailblazers like you. What advice would you give to the high-achieving women on Doostang who hold career success as a core value?
We have a favorite expression: “read the ending first.” Being driven in your career is great as long as you have your eye on what else will be critical to your happiness 5 or 10 years down the road. I left Goldman Sachs when I was 35 because I had no social life whatsoever. I was on track to be made a partner within a year or two. I left the firm just as my career was going into high gear so that I could concentrate on how to be in a successful relationship as well as have a successful career. Five months after I left, I came back to Goldman in a part-time job in Personnel. My friends thought I was absolutely insane. But less than a year later, I married Jeff Hanson, who I worked with in Personnel. Even though he wasn’t a “big hitter” by Goldman standards, he was brilliant and fun and we built an amazing life together. I left Goldman Sachs because I didn’t want to just be someone’s rich aunt,! I wanted to have a family AND a successful career. My approach was a bit unconventional but it worked – Meredith and Chris Hanson are the loves of my life. They are the reason I’m still happily “in the game.” Bottom line, I had the guts to know that to be happy I needed a successful career AND a great family. That is not work/life balance. That is work/life optimization.

What are some common mistakes you've observed in interacting with top grads just starting out, as well as the hiring managers who recruit them?
It is critical to figure out how to relate to young people – the smartest thing a hiring manager can do is solicit candid feedback from the young people they hire. These kids are absolutely whip smart. They are the best educated, best traveled generation ever. And they learn fast so it’s imperative for managers to keep them intellectually engaged and motivated. That is their single biggest challenge.

In a recent interview for the Huffington Post, you talk about "reading the ending first" in job search. What does this mean for our members who are actively looking for new opportunities?
It means acquire real skills which will make you eminently more qualified. If I was a young person today I would want to have killer computer skills so that I could analyze data and information better and faster. That doesn’t mean you have to be a programmer. It means knowing how to use technology to your greatest advantage. Anyone over 40 years old is probably not that familiar with how to use SEO or the newest social media tools which could give their companies or organizations a real competitive advantage. Young people, if they’re smart, will use this “edge” to make themselves invaluable in any career path. Older people are at a severe disadvantage which young people can exploit (in a nice way). That is a co-mentoring opportunity if there ever was one.

What does career management mean to you?
I will always be grateful to Nancy Reagan. When she was First Lady, she was asked by the press how she would tell young people to steer clear of drugs. Her answer: “just say no.” She was derided in the press for that rather simplistic response but guess what – saying “no” is actually one of the most important skills you need to master in order to have any semblance of happiness – particularly as you get older and are likely juggling career and family responsibilities. Jeff and I launched Milestone Capital so we could spend more time with our kids and have complete control of our own destiny. We worked like absolute dogs but we never looked back. In 2004, I left Milestone and went to work for Lehman Brothers to hedge our downside risk if our business started to falter. But as everyone knows, stuff happens. That and there are no guarantees in life. If I had to do it all over again, I would have banked! a lot more of my income from Goldman which would have given me many more options down the road.

To read more:

But You Knew This Already...

Here's a great Global Recession Chart from Moody's Economy.
Check out Nigeria - it's all that oil helping things? Is our Canadian government being too quick to say things are turning around?

Inflation beaters - Canada rocks

A reality is that politicians are seldom courageous enough to run on a platform of raising taxes to reduce deficits and pay down debt ─ and almost certainly not now.
Much easier to pay lip service to debt and deficit reduction at a price of inflated money supplies and tolerable inflation; in other words, to monetize the debt. However, the risk in this approach is of inflation getting out of hand, and in the extreme becoming hyper-inflation.
In historical terms the catastrophic collapse of Weimar Germany wasn’t all that long ago. Earlier this year, Zimbabwe, another hyper-inflated country, got to printing bank notes in denominations of up to one hundred trillion dollars, worth about US $30 at the time.

(As a side note, when I left Zimbabwe thirty years ago, I got two US dollars for every Zim dollar - Jacoline Loewen).

Imagine how China would feel if it’s estimated $2 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds (purchased to help the U.S. fund its massive trade deficits) were redeemed in a currency debased anything like this. If there is one thing we should have come to realize it is that the Chinese are no pushovers.
Of course, something this extreme couldn’t conceivably happen. Nor should it, given the U.S. economy’s famed entrepreneurial drive and its enviable record of adjusting to new economic circumstances and growing afresh. Warren Buffett is one who believes America’s best days could yet lie ahead now that it is confronting its challenges “with knowledge”. I especially liked his latter reference, also having long learned never to sell an irrepressible America too short.
A much more palatable, middle-of-the-road option for debt and deficit-strapped governments would be to boost the productive capability of their economies. If inflation is defined as too much money chasing too few goods and services, and economies everywhere are awash with stimulus and deficit money, why not raise the output of goods and services to balance the two better. This way there would also be a cap on prices – and on inflation. The way to achieve this better balance? Encourage cost-saving, productivity-enhancing investment in new plant, equipment, systems, infrastructure – in everything!
In his admirable work, John Aitkens, investment strategist at TD Newcrest, sees a half-speed economic recovery accompanied by a full-speed boost in productivity. He reminds that when this happens the bottom-line impact on corporate profits can be tremendous.
Clearly, the greater the debt and deficit burdens, the greater the inflation threat. The IMF debt-to-GDP danger benchmark is 60%. In Britain and Japan this ratio is already at or close to 100%, in the US approaching 80%. In Canada by comparison it should remain in the low 30% range even allowing for the increased deficit-funding debt issues to come.
Unlike most other G8 and OECD members, Canada did save for a rainy day by using that string of past budget surpluses to pay our national debt a long way down. Not too many years ago we too had exceeded that dangerous 60% high water marker, but no longer.
Thank you, Paul Martin!
Canada’s continuing relative fiscal strength cannot be over-emphasized. Where a U.S. budget deficit of $ 2 trillion would be 13% of GDP, Canada’s at $50 billion will be closer to 3%. The same with the respective national debt burdens - theirs 80%, ours 35%. For this reason alone a resurgent Canadian dollar represents a problem of strength (not of weakness), despite the shorter-term pressures it is putting on our manufacturers and exporters.

Ivey gets entrepreneurs beyond the classroom

Running a company takes a wide lense view of a business. Some business owners get a company passed down to them from their parents through succession planning while others start one themselves. "One in three dreams becomes a reality," says Karen Mazurkewich in the Financial Post.
Ricky Zhang, an MBA student at University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business, has not yet graduated but he has already launched a financial-services company, Trans-Asia Investment Partners, with a plan to broker deals between Chinese investors and real-estate funds in Canada. Mr. Zhang, a former associate for AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp., formulated a plan before starting classes in London, Ont., but he said school contacts were necessary to get it off the ground.
"The most difficult thing for me was in Canada, no one trusted me. I have no relatives here, so the school alumni is the only assets I could rely on initially," he said.
Mr. Zhang spent months in the classroom honing the plan. He and his team have identified two sources of revenue: Chinese investors who will pay his company a consulting fee and developers and fund managers in Canada who will pay referral fees and have lined up contacts with immigration agencies and foreign-study consultants.
Ricky had Ron Close to help him at Ivey:
"A couple of team leaders get religion about their idea and are excited enough to go out and try to raise financing," said Ron Close, a professor of entrepreneurship at Ivey, who helps students find mentors and money. The advantage of incubating a project inside school is that you have the time to work through the angles whereas "most entrepreneurs are winging it," he said. The downside is that some team members view it as an exercise and not a calling.

July 28, 2009

How not to waste your time

I wince every time I think of Peter Lynch’s put-down that if you spent five minutes with an economist you’d be wasting three. But in the summer of 2009, the truth is that no one, no matter how expert (and not even the World Bank), can forecast the future with any real conviction. The stock markets may be forward-looking barometers, but the economic data which they interpret with varying degrees of accuracy at the best of times are of happenings measured weeks or months previously. At this time there is just too much thin ice around for anyone to be foolish enough to stick their neck out too far.
Adding to the unease is a questionable economic recovery to date due solely to government stimulus spending and pump-priming on a pedal-to-the-metal scale as never before.
In other words, a recovery that is heavily induced rather than organic. When and by how much economies will grow of their own volition once they are taken off government life support remains very much open to question.
In turn, this begs the question as to how governments are going to exit their rescue strategies and face up to the twin challenges of the exploding budget deficits and soaring national debts they will have left them with. At some point central banks, too, must start tightening the system by raising interest rates, but then what?
Going into deficit is one thing, even when well-intentioned and necessary. Getting out of the extra deep holes that have been dug this time around will be another. It will be all the more difficult if self-supporting economic recovery is as anaemic as it looks like being in most of the OECD countries.
The BRIC block (Brazil, Russian, India, China) is another matter, as also should be Developing Asia in general. China’s infrastructure stimulus seems to be working well as growth forecasts for the world’s new economic powerhouse are hiked above 7%. The pattern is similar in India, but alas not in our artificially-supported world.
On his recent trip to China, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was grilled by sceptical audiences on his government’s exit plan. He didn’t elaborate other than to answer there would be a plan , but the time wasn’t yet right. The subject of exit strategies was also raised at the latest G8 finance ministers meeting. After heated discussion, the International Monetary Fund was asked to research strategies to slim budget deficits and reduce government presence in the financial sector in a way that wouldn’t re-ignite a contagious made-in-America crisis that had spread worldwide.
Here in Canada, Prime Minister Harper says tax increases or reductions in program spending won’t be necessary to return to fiscal balance by 2013-14. In which case there would need to be strong and protracted GDP growth. However, many are openly questioning the rosiness of predictions that have been badly discredited since the assurances of last November’s Economic Statement morphed into a projected budget deficit of $34 billion, now further raised to a record $50 billion. Toronto Dominion Bank economists, in particular, maintain that the government’s forecasts are so far off that its cumulative five-year budget deficit projection could in fact turn out to be double the $85 billion forecast.
Given the staggering levels of a U.S. deficit that could climb to the $2 trillion level, or 13% of GDP, it is probably best to assume the U.S. will remain in the red as far as the eye can see. Assuming he remains in office until 2017, Barack Obama could retire as a president who has only known deficits – and massive deficits at that! Similarly in Canada, a safe assumption would be that the red ink continues to flow at both the national and provincial levels until at least the Harper government’s 2013-14 cross-over target date, but probably well beyond that.
What a change in the fiscal “weather” over the past year, and in Canada in a matter of months!
What a far cry, too, from Ronald Reagan’s inaugural declaration that “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem”, and his purported belief that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’ve come to help”. This time a government that has come to help is also wielding a big stick, as banks, financial institutions and the automotive industry can feelingly attest to. Just ask AIG, Citigroup and General Motors, who are now also heavily government owned and controlled.
Obamanomics vs. Reaganomics?
Big government is a new fact of life investors will also have no choice but to adapt to. Jeffrey Immelt, the Chief Executive of hard-pressed General Electric, couldn’t have put it more expressively: “The government has moved in next door and it ain’t leaving”.
Our guest blogger is Michael Graham
You can reach Michael at:
Michael Graham Investment Services Inc.
Tel: 416 360-7530 Fax: 416 360-5566
E: Michael@grahamis.ca

July 27, 2009

A different approach to succession planning in a family business

This week on the BusinessCast, listen to Thomas Deans, a family business owner who sold his multi-million dollar company to a strategic buyer.
Tom is a good friend who I turn to for marketing advice and anything to do with family owned business issues. He has experienced all the fun and craziness of family business that is not always obvious to trusted advisers.
This is why his amusing but also practical book is a must for every lawyer, accountant and or finance expert. It's called 'Every Family's Business'.
If you're in a family firm and thinking of succession matters, this episode is for you. Robert Gold is the interviewer and he is an accountant asking the questions that most advisers do not ask at their peril.

July 26, 2009

The Future is Tiny

The future is tiny, says Colin Campbell in MacLean's magazine. Colin tells us that it's not just cars that are getting smaller, it's the companies too.
If you think everyone in the auto sector is feeling grim these days, then you haven’t talked to John Vernile. The vice-president of sales at Hyundai Auto Canada says the recent turmoil has been nothing but good news.
Sales for the South Korean automaker are up “in every segment,” he says—amounting to an overall surge in sales of 20 per cent during the first half of this year. “When this downturn hit, it just dialled things up for us,” he says.
Thanks in part to the demand for Hyundai’s smaller cars, the company has suddenly emerged as one of the dominant players, not just in North America but globally. It’s now the fifth-largest carmaker in the world. In quality surveys, it ranks ahead of Toyota and Honda. Market share is up, sales are up, and opportunity abounds. Despite the tough economic times, “we quietly celebrate here,” says Vernile.
In the meantime, I read that GM has put out a Cadillac perfume - tell me that it's not true! Got to keep up to date with the consumers, I suppose. I can just hear marketing: Well, if you can't afford a car, you might as well smell like one...

Jacoline Loewen, author of Money Magnet, Attracting investors to your business.

July 24, 2009

Private Equity Deal Activity Remains Slow

Although US private equity (PE) mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity is still quiet, PE firms, armed with cash, continue to look for opportunities to invest, according to Ernst & Young LLP's 2009 U.S. PE report (available at: ey.com/us/privateequity). PE participation in minority stake deals is returning after taking a back seat in 2005 through 2007 a period during when mega-deals were in full swing. In addition, government reform in healthcare and financial services may present investment opportunities.
"PE firms are sitting on a large amount of available cash. However, leverage is still almost nonexistent which is hampering deal flow and cash deployment," said Gregg Slager, America's Private Equity Leader at Ernst & Young LLP.
Announced US PE deal volume fell 42% in 2008 compared to 2007. This downward trend has continued into 2009 with 314 transactions announced through May of this year, the lowest five-month volume since 2002 (see data charts at: http://www.ey.com/US/en/Services/Specialty-Services/Private-Equity/Announced-US-PE-Activity).
"The bid-ask spread -- the price buyers are willing to pay and the price sellers are willing to sell -- hasn't narrowed. Until it does, activity will be slow," Slager added.
According to Ernst & Young LLP's 2009 US PE report, although PE firms have historically experienced the best returns from investments made during a down market, PE will be slow in returning to the M&A arena until the credit and capital markets recover.
Read the full article herehttp://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/07-23-2009/0005065044&EDATE=
NEW YORK, July 23 /PRNewswire/ --

The economy matters for private equity

I have been following Arnold on Twitter. You know, Arnold, ex-Terminator and now governor of California. He has been sharing his budget pain and what he is trying to negotiate.
California accounts for 10% of the U.S. economy. It's state budget is about $125 billion and the deficit is about $25 billion. By law, California must balance its budget each year and the fiscal year ends June 30. Back in February, the Democrat-controlled legislature could not agree with Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on spending cuts, but it did agree to put a series of tax increases and borrowing schemes before the voters in a referendum. On May 19, all were defeated. California treasurer Bill Lockyer appealed to Washington for access to bank bailout funds, but he was turned down. He has since warned that the state only has enough cash to meet payrolls until mid-summer. We are all watching.
California matters because of its sheer size on the U.S. economy, and because 49 other governors are watching to see how Washington reacts to its budget crises. State governments are contemplating layoffs, program cuts, tax hikes, facility closures and other such measures all of which will cut in U.S. employment and consumer spending in the third quarter. Over the summer we will learn how these issues play out.

July 23, 2009

Tips for strategy

As investors evaluate business plans there are certain tests to pass.
No matter the size of company, the first test (besides the people) is around the strategy. One thing I have learnt is that the right strategy is unknowable in advance.
I would far rather see that the company has a strategy to learn, rather than a strategy to implement.
All industries are ripe for disruption and that counts whether it’s banking, computers, brokerage, private equity or even the venture capital industry itself. The odds do favour the incumbent but when a “sustaining” technology is introduced, this has the potential to disrupt the current scene. As private equity fund managers know; disrupter companies can be a great investment.
So what makes a good disrupter? Some are obvious but others, not so much. Here's a quick rule of thumb: If the company’s technology gives skills to a less wealthy and skilled large group of people; it is a good indication that it passes the investor test.
The technology has a higher potential to take hold and gain market share. Now you are talking.
If I were to give some advice to “disrupters” or those wanting to be disrupters, it would be that if a business model seems unattractive to the current dominant players, and clearly is not a sustaining technology to anyone else, then you are cleared for a green light.
Time to go for it!
If you want to ponder more on disruptive strategies, I recommend any of Clayton Christenen's articles.

July 21, 2009

Are you naive about the recession's end?

So it's official - The Conference Board reported that the recession is over, but don't be too quick to think everything will be hunky dory, cautions The Gartman Letter:

Firstly, however, we shall note that The Conference Board reported its Leaders, Coincidents and Lagging Indicators yesterday, with the former rising 0.7%, almost spot on as had been expected. We note that this was the third month in a row of increases, and historically three consecutive months in a row of advances is the sign that the recession is about to end.

By definition, the “Leaders” lead, and so those reliant solely upon the Board’s Leading Indicators are not prepared to join us in our statement that the recession has ended.

We’re “OK” with that.
More importantly to us, the Board’s Coincident Indicators in June fell modestly, losing 0.2%, while the Laggers fell even more, losing 0.7%. Thus the Ratio of the Coincident to Lagging Indicators rose yet again, not by a material sum, but it rose nonetheless. This is our favourite economic data point, and it has now risen for two months in a row. Historically, it turns “spot on” the turning point of the recession, although it has fired off one or two false signals in the past. However, when the Ratio turns higher coupled with a “spike” downward in weekly jobless claims, the Ratio does a truly spectacular job of telling us that the economy is at its worst levels and that a turn higher is hard upon us.
It has turned higher; that is all we need or wish to know. What we must also remember, however, is that the economic news shall remain horrid for several months yet for we must always remember that the end of the recession means that we are at the nadir of the economy. Things are at their worst at the lows.

Consumer psychology is months, if not a full year, away from turning for the better. Retail sales will look terrible for months; housing sales, although rising from their lows, will still be hundreds of thousands of units in annualised terms below the decent levels of two and three years ago; auto sales will seem horrid in comparison to those of ’05 and ’06 and ’07; unemployment is heading inexorably toward 10% or higher and will continue to rise long into ’10, but the worst is probably upon us now and better numbers lie ahead.

Thus, those who think that just because we have called the recession’s end to be upon us means that we shall see remarkably strong economic data points immediately are naïve and out-of touch historically.

Thanks to Scott Tomenson, Family Wealth Management. You can see more of Scott at http://www.jstomenson.ca/ and also

July 20, 2009

Stories of Private Equity

When the announcer yelled out, “The winner of the Media category, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year—Somerset Entertainment!” Andy Burgess grinned and bounded up to the stage to collect the award.
It all looked so easy to be standing there in a tuxedo waving the trophy, but this moment of appreciation came from painful years of slogging late into the night.
Andy Burgess is one of the owners of Somerset Entertainment, which produces and distributes specialty music to gift stores and other non-traditional retailers using interactive displays where you can push a button and listen to the CDs. They have 28,000 displays in over 18,500 locations that now include mass merchants and specialty stores.
With business and Juno awards filling their shelves, Somerset Entertainment did various acquisitions and moved from $5M in revenues to $11M, until eventually they were achieving $21M in revenues. They bought a distributor and, in 1998, levered up with four flavours of debt: term debt, debt at 17% interest rate, revolving credit, and a vendor take back loan. Then the cracks began to show.
The Buffalo distribution fulfillment center had been shipping comfortably to over 100 different retail points when Andy asked, “Can you do higher volume?” Naturally, they answered, “Yes!” when in fact that was far from the truth. Somerset had been a company with $8M revenues and $2M in EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization—see glossary) but had grown into the supply chain approach with a distributor turning out to be slow and with the uncanny ability to mess up orders. They would say they had shipped goods—the display case with CDs—and Somerset would then invoice the retailer who, it turnrf out, had not received anything except a bill. It was October—prime pre-holiday selling time with the Christmas season around the corner.

Not good!
American retailers are the toughest sons of guns and were furious at being bamboozled. They told Andy they did not get the goods, but then told him not to bother coming around any more—they were through. Yikes! In one fell swoop, Somerset had gone from being swift deliverers of orders to slow, unreliable duds.
“We hit $36M in sales with $8.5M EBITDA but our debt was at $15M and for the first time, we stressed about breaking covenants. We got a valuation of $15M and, with reluctance, we decided to go with a private equity investment of $21M.”
In hindsight, Andy says getting private equity was good for the owners’ motivation. It took the edge off the worry about money and retirement. “With private equity buying part ownership, we were allowed to take a large chunk out for ourselves straight away but still retain control. I had been working very hard and it was good to get $6M out for the founder and owners.”
The money meant Somerset could pay off their debt straight away and still have $4M to make acquisitions.

Andy says, “With that extra cash, we set up an office in Chicago that has turned out to be the vital springboard into the American market, taking Somerset to the next level. We’ve had a bad year in there, but we did not have to worry about the business blowing up. The peace of mind meant we could focus on battening down the hatches to the storm and finding a new way forward.”
The private equity partners proved to be great sounding boards when Somerset was making acquisitions. The investors were more aggressive in wanting growth but respected Somerset’s decision to step away from some identified targets.
“Also, when we nearly lost a key person,” Andy adds, “The investors did bring him around and get him to stay.”
Andy adds, “When you are an entrepreneur working your butt off, it is great to get that cash pay out as well as have cash to grow the business. With private equity you get the best of both worlds—the cash liquidity without the rigorous scrutiny of the public market.”
“Not every company can go public,” says Andy. “Private equity will transition you.” See if you can go public. Take Andy’s test and put the necessary tick marks next to your chart.
− You are making enough money to pay for public listing and accounting.
− You are profitable.
− You have a strong growth curve for your revenues.
− You have a decent management team.
− You are a good size.
Andy says, “At the time of the private equity deal, we were too small to go public. With private equity investors, we got to retain control and we got liquidity. Private equity took us back from the brink with risky debt and looming covenants. They were the stepping stone to getting big enough until in 2005, Somerset did our initial public offering (IPO). Selling those secondary shares was sweet, too.”
As Andy Burgess stood on the stage and let the applause of the audience sweep over him, it struck him how far Somerset Entertainment had come and what a ride it had been so far.

This is an excerpt from Money Magnet: Attracting Investors to your Business. Read more:

July 17, 2009

Women need to break through in banking

A new study finds no progress breaching top ranks despite industry's employment growth, says Dana Flavelle, Business Reporter for The Globe & Mail.
I must add here that I just finished a meeting with a South African finance expert who commented that although Canada is so open in business culture to people from anywhere, Bay Street is a tight knit group of Canadians. So, although this banking study focusses on women's difficulties in getting to the top, there are very similar issues for males not from the inner circle of Canadians. The South African went on to comment on how Wall Street is far more open to outsiders.
My question is does that make Canada's finance industry more secure and less likely to suffer Ponzi schemes and Enron debacles? Today, financial business is being done more and more with people you know. Perhaps the Bay Street inner circle does seem to work at keeping stability? I think we need to keep a great deal more in mind when reviewing these damning reports which make great press but are far more complicated with long term consequences we may not understand.
Here's Dana's article:
Stunned silence, groans of recognition and occasional laughter greeted the disappointing data and frank talk yesterday about women and the glass ceiling on Bay Street.
While Canada's banks have made progress promoting women in their other lines of business, in the rough-and-tumble world of stock and bond trading and private wealth management, they have made "virtually no gains," a study shows.
Part of the problem is the industry's lingering image as dominated by a "cigar-chomping group of men" where everyone works 15-hour days, Lynn Kennedy, managing director of foreign exchange for BMO Capital Markets, told a blue-chip luncheon at the King Edward Hotel, where the report was released yesterday.
The idea women need to network after office hours to get ahead is probably overrated, Kennedy added. "In those networks, I think we think a lot more goes on than actually does," she said to a burst of laughter. "I like to think I'm recognized for what I do during the day."
Still, stunned silence greeted the revelation that the latest study by Catalyst Canada found women have made no progress even as employment in capital markets at the management level grew 12 per cent to 16,300 during an eight-year period ending in April 2008.
Despite the stated support of senior bank executives, women remained stuck at 17 per cent of all senior managers, those with jobs that lead to a shot at the corner office, the study found. They made up 21 per cent of all middle managers. Even when support staff are taken into account, women make up just 40 per cent of employees.
"To say we are reporting progress would be overstating the data and before you blame the recession, the data was collected before it began," said Catalyst Canada vice-president Deborah Gillis.
"The truth is women have made virtually no gains," she added, sparking audible groans from an audience of 250 men and women who work in the capital markets industry. "There is still no one holding the title of chairman, president or chief executive officer."
Indeed, women may have lost ground since the credit crunch that began in the United States sparked a global financial meltdown and sweeping layoffs in the investment industry, the study's main client said in an earlier interview.
"We don't even know the impact of the enormous financial crisis. It's a huge concern for me," said Martha Fell, chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets.
There is debate in some circles that more women at the top would have prevented the kind of testosterone-fuelled risk-taking that caused the financial crisis, Fell added. "I'm not saying I agree with that, but it makes you stop and think."
Catalyst Canada has long argued that presenting the data would lead to change and Fell said she is personally convinced that's the case.
However, she acknowledged in an interview the fact that four highly publicized studies of women in capital markets in eight years have produced little change raises disturbing questions.
"How the heck is this possible? Everything we're doing suggests we should have moved the dial by now," said Fell, whose non-profit advocacy group works with women to help them get ahead.
At least one bank, TD Financial Group, defended its record, saying women had made good progress in its other lines of business.

July 16, 2009

Finance Club For Women

For women meeting with private equity investors, you will be judged within the first five minutes. Will you convey confidence that you deserve to manage a whole lot of capital entrusted to you or will your body language say that you are not strong enough?
You may give off the wrong message without even opening your mouth.
Here's Forbes Woman's best advice for transforming your self-presentation into one that commands respect. Read more:
Raquel Laneri tells us, "Jeannine Fallon, executive director of corporate communications at Edmunds.com, learned this at a training course called "Women Unlimited," which she attended when she worked at Volvo 10 years ago."
"I distinctly remember one insight," she says of the session. "At a boardroom table, women tend to pile all their materials neatly and sit tucked into the table, while men tend to sprawl out, push away from the table, cross his ankle over a knee and lock arms behind his head. It was impressed upon us that the concept of taking up space correlates to the concept of dominance." The result? "I've never sat tucked into a table since."

Carey O'Donnell Public Relations Group, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., "many of us have no idea that our non-verbal cues are making an impact. There are thousands of micro-expressions, and people are reading these, even if they are only subconsciously translating these cues."
Some of the visual ticks common to women:
--Tilting your head--a sign of listening that can be misinterpreted as one of submission or even flirting.
--Folding your hands on your lap--hiding your hands under a conference table or desk, for example, signals untrustworthiness; a cue from ancient times, when men would reveal their palms to show they were unarmed.
--Crossing your legs--a sign of resistance.
--Excessive smiling--an indication that you lack gravitas and seriousness.
--Folding your arms in front of you--translates to insecurity or defensiveness.
--Playing with or tugging at your hair, jewelry or clothes--can signal distress or, again, be misinterpreted as flirting.
Well, now we know. I love to play with my jewelry so I had better cut that out! Check out the grumpy comments from men who came to the Forbes site to read the article. One fellow pouts,"If I had known this was body language for women, I would not have checked out this site." Poor man...

July 15, 2009

5 Items to have ready for an investor

You are going to have to do a lot more than pray for money when seeking investors. You are going to have to get "investor ready" as once they look at you, like what they see, then they will want a whole truck full of information...NOW.
I get asked all the time, "Where do I find investors?"
That part is easy, actually.
The question everyone should ask is, "what will get the investor to put cash into my business?"
This is the part which separates the men from the boys (and the women from the girls.)
Before you begin looking for people, get yourself ready. As sure as the sun rises in the East, there are items that us investors will require from you. First up, let's look at the 5 items about finances that we will need to tell us more about your business or idea:
1. The income statement is paramount.
If nothing else, if, at the very least, we can look at the income statement from one year of history we can judge how big the company is and how large of a financing it can generate. We would simply look at the earnings, calculate the EBITDA and get a rough idea of the general size of the company
Multiplying this by 6 times would give a very rough idea of the valuation of the company (enterprise value) and how much financing it can withstand. Some people are saying multiple it by 3 times but I think that is a little cruel.
2. The balance sheet is also very important.
From this we can determine the capital structure of the company.
3. Then there's the structure.
Looking at the capital structure allows us to determine what the structure of the financing might look like. It also allows us to determine a more accurate valuation (equity value) and determine the amount of dilution to management.
4. Cash is king, as the saying goes.
Cash flow statements can be derived from having both of these statements, but it is helpful in determining things like how much money management must invest each year to maintain the operations of the company.
5. We are history buffs for a reason.
History: we like to get three years. This is because at least three years allows an analyst to see any financial trends in the company. Having more than three years is even better, but three years is the minimum for noticing trends.

If you are wanting to learn more and get a simple explaination on this in far more details, check out Money Magnet: Attract Investors to Your Business.
It's written by J. Loewen and is simple and, surprisingly, readable because it is written for business owners.

July 14, 2009

What's a Great Job Now?

One of the hottest jobs for B-School graduates is Private Equity and this article in the WSJ is a good reflection of the trend. (If we count the resumes flooding our office, I would agree.)
I suspect many of these recently minted MBAs think that the private equity asset class is where the big salaries lurk and may be disappointed. Private equity is about far more than the money, the best PE people are fighters for the businesses they bring into their portfolios. They have to know the full range of business - in particular, cash flow. You can not get that from an MBA. Anyway, here's the WSJ article in brief:
"The percentage of graduates from the world's top business schools taking private-equity jobs has more than doubled in the past six years, according to the business schools' numbers.
"Financial News analyzed figures from five of the most popular M.B.A. schools:
- Harvard Business School,
- Stanford Graduate School of Business and
- the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S.;
- the U.K.'s London Business School; and
- Insead, based in France and Singapore.
The percentage of Harvard M.B.A. graduates moving into private equity and venture capital has more than doubled, from 8% in 2003 to 21% among last year's graduates. In that time, the proportion moving into investment banking rose far less, from 7% in 2003 to 9% last year.
Data from Stanford showed a similar trend, with 9% of graduates choosing private equity in 2003 rising to 19% last year, compared with 4% and 5% for investment banking. Harvard supplied the highest number of M.B.A. graduates moving to private equity last year, with 191. Stanford was second with 72, ahead of Wharton's 45, Insead's 25 and London's 22.
Private equity's rise in popularity reflects the perception that graduates could make more money working in the asset class than in investment banking, but also follows substantial growth in the size of the private-equity market. However, an M.B.A. isn't a prerequisite for joining many private-equity firms. A sample of 10 large European and U.S. firms showed that 52% of the executives at partner level or above had obtained M.B.A.s.
Firms' Web sites showed French group PAI Partners had the lowest proportion, with 21%, or four of its 19 partner-level executives.The private-equity units of U.S. firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Blackstone Group also had high proportions of MBAs among their senior staff, 61% and 63%, respectively.
Patrick Dunne, group communications director at 3i Group PLC, where 48% of partner-level staff had M.B.A.s, said: "For some people, [an M.B.A.] can be fantastically helpful -- for those without a finance background, for example, it can be a useful way of picking up necessary skills and knowledge."

July 7, 2009

How's your AQ?

I was reading the lists of the businesses that made it the Profit 100 fastest growing companies list, and I was reminded of one of Rick Spence's recent Twitter postings. He commented, "Being an entrepreneur is like being punched in the face, frequently, but to have the ability to keep on going."
Something like that.
Like Rocky, my favourite movie character, said, "It's not how hard you can hit, but how much you can take and still keep moving forward.
So, when I emailed the many entrepreneurs I knew from the Profit 100 list, I mentioned that their adversity quotient must be very high. Most of them understood what I was saying, but a few wrote back asking if this was their "pig-headedness" quotient too!
Here's a quick summary of AQ:
Adversity Quotient, called AQ, is like Intelligence Quotient or IQ.
AQ is the science of human resilience.
People who successfully apply AQ perform optimally in the face of adversity — the challenges, big and small, that confront us each day. In fact, they not only learn from these challenges, but they also respond to them better and faster. For businesses and other organizations, a high-AQ workforce translates to increased capacity, productivity, and innovation, as well as lower attrition and higher morale.

July 1, 2009

5 Ways GE is charging up their tired batteries

Jeff Immelt spoke before the Detroit Economic Club yesterday and I got summary notes from Judith Ellis via Tom Peters web site. Here is some of what he said:
"Many bought into the idea that America could go from a technology-based, export-oriented powerhouse to a services-led, consumption-based economy — and somehow still expect to prosper. That idea was flat wrong."
"Recently my colleague Peter Loescher, the CEO of Siemens, extolled the importance of Germany as an exporting country. In my career, I have never heard an American CEO say that the United States should be leading in exports. Well, I am saying it today: This country ought to be, and we can be, not just the world’s leading market but a leading exporter as well. GE plans to lead this effort. We have restructured during the downturn, adjusting to the market realities. At the same time, we are increasing our investments. We plan to launch more new products during this downturn than at any time in our history. We will sell these products in every corner of the world. We are creating a better company coming out of this reset. Similarly, America needs a dramatic industrial renewal. We have to move forward on five fronts."
First: Increase investment in research and development.
"GE has never forgotten the importance of R&D. Each year, we put six percent of our industrial revenue back into technology — so much that more than half of the products we sell today didn’t even exist a decade ago. As a consequence, we are a huge exporter… GE’s R&D budget has not been cut. And that’s a course of action I’d recommend to every company that wants to get through the economic crisis even stronger than before."
Second: America should get busy addressing the two biggest global challenges — clean energy and affordable health care.
"There is no question whether there will be break throughs in these areas — just by who and when. The leader in these fields will dominate the global economy in the decades that come."
Third: We must make a serious commitment to manufacturing and exports.
"This is a national imperative. "We all know that the American consumer cannot lead our recovery. This economy must be driven by business investment and exports… America has to get back in that game … and it starts with a strong core of innovation."
Fourth: We should welcome the government as a catalyst for leadership and change.
"There’s a long history in this country of government spending that prepares the way for new industries that thrive for generations. Think of the NIH or NASA, and all the new innovations that came out of these programs — from computing to communications to health care. America has that kind of chance with unprecedented levels of new government investment. ... The key is making sure those hundreds of billions of dollars fall on the fertile ground of innovation, and not bureaucracy."
Fifth: It is possible for a global business leader to also be a good citizen.
"We must partner in our communities. Big business should work with smaller companies in our supply chain to help them compete globally. And we should partner with local governments to fix our education system. In the end, business leaders are accountable for the competitiveness of their own country. We must say so publicly. This will not hurt our ability to globalize. Rather, I think it will make other countries admire our business leaders more. We must end the impression that American CEOs are short-term speculators."

Fighting words from Immelt and interesting themes.
Here in Canada, our Government is certainly listening and asking what they can do to help business. Government can play a big role in driving markets and being the first customer of size. At least Jeff Immelt is an American leader taking all the criticism about the US and, as a result, doing something differently today. Lead on, Jeff.