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Archive for the 'Recession' Category

Apple’s Grand Plan For Its Billions

Chad Brand at The Peridot Capitalist points out one reason why Apple may have refused to return any of its $18 billion in the form of stock buybacks or dividend payouts: to come out ahead after an economic downturn.Steve Jobs

Fortune senior editor Betsy Morris interviewed Apple CEO Steve Jobs in February, and this is what he said in regards to managing the company during an economic downturn:

We’ve had one of these before, when the dot-com bubble burst. What I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren’t going to lay off people, that we’d taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place — the last thing we were going to do is lay them off. And we were going to keep funding. In fact we were going to up our R&D budget so that we would be ahead of our competitors when the downturn was over. And that’s exactly what we did. And it worked. And that’s exactly what we’ll do this time.

Sounds like an excellent strategy to me. When most companies are probably skimping on R&D and trying to cut costs during a downturn, Jobs’ plan seems to guarantee Apple will be further ahead with new products and services that people will want.

Is it Here? Is the Recession Here?

Real Gross Domestic PRoduct 4Q 2007

I’ve got two views that seem to be opposed to each other, both from blogs I frequent. The first comes from Todd Sullivan of ValuePlays. Sullivan does not seem to believe a recession is imminent or that we are even experiencing a recession at the moment. He argues that growth is just slowing and that we as a nation are simply spoiled:

It has been almost two decades since the last true recession in the US. I know we experienced slowdowns in the mid 1990′s and early 2001-2002 but if we are being honest, those were just simply bumps in the road. In Q4 1990, GDP fell 3% and Q1 1991 followed with a 2% drop from there. We have not had consecutive negative quarterly growth since then. In short, we are spoiled. Prior to the 1990-1991 recession, people had only go back 9 years in their memories to remember the last one. We are currently approaching year 19 which means there are a whole class of investors who have never actually experienced a recession in their investing lives…

The second view comes from Tim Iacono of The Mess That Greenspan Made. Tim looks at the same data as Sullivan, but seems to be much more cynical about the markets and the inevitable direction of GDP:

Earlier today, the Commerce Department reported that economic growth in the last quarter of 2007 was unchanged at 0.6 percent and growth slowed to 2.2 percent over the entire year, the slowest pace in five years.

The outlook is for zero real growth in the first quarter, which ends on Monday, and a contraction of one percent is now expected during the second quarter.

Those shrinking blue bars in the chart below will make all the difference in upcoming reports. The long-anticipated decline in personal spending may be at hand, though the demise of the American consumer has been oft-predicted, yet never realized before.

I am inclined to agree with the more negative outlook, but I would not mind if a recession does not manifest itself.

More Bad News: CFO Survey Says Economic Recovery Not Expected Until Late 2009

According to the most recent Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook survey, which asked more than 1,000 CFOs from a broad range of global public and private companies about their expectations for the economy, the economy doesn’t sound too healthy.

Optimism among chief financial officers in the United States has plummeted, with three-fourths of the CFOs saying the economy is either currently in recession or will be at some point during 2008. Nearly 90 percent of CFOs say the economy will not rebound until 2009. They expect inflation will increase to 3 percent this year.

We also had three major clothing retailers with weak reports: Talbots reported a loss on Wednesday, while American Eagle Outfitters and Men’s Wearhouse reported lower earnings. It seems to me that people are wising up a little and choosing to save more of their money by putting off new clothing purchases.

And yet another story on a crisis in the financial sector. This time its overseas: “Irish banks may need life-support as property prices crash.” There’s talk of nationalization of some banks as the property slump over there is leading to a wave of defaults.

Things still don’t look good here in the U.S. or in the rest of the world.

A Letter Regarding the Current Financial Crisis

Karl Denninger of Market Ticker has written an extremely cogent letter that describes the financial crisis facing this nation. He describes how we got to where we are, the immediate problems this nation faces, and the steps the government should take to correct or ameliorate the situation. Here are just a couple changes that Karl says the government must implement:

  • All securities and instruments traded and held for investment by regulated financial entities must have a CUSIP assigned and be traded on a public exchange or their value must be established by independent appraisal (in the case of a house or other real property.)
  • Margin requirements must be enforced against all market participants.
  • All off-balance sheet vehicles must be banned and existing ones immediately brought back onto the balance sheet of the firm involved and disclosed in full
  • We must either get rid of the NRSRO label for ratings agencies, allowing free and open competition, or we must hold those certified agencies to their ratings.

(There is more to this list than these four items; plus, Karl goes into much more detail, so please read the letter in full.)

This might be hard medicine to swallow, but I fear that Karl may be correct when he says that the consequences of not taking his outlined steps will be much worse than causing some institutions to fail immediately.

Predictions from a Bankruptcy Lawyer

A top bankruptcy lawyer predicts that the retailing, real estate, and auto parts industries will be the hardest hit by the credit crunch and the downturn of the economy.

As companies begin to pile up bankruptcy protection — Sharper Image, Lillian Vernon and Plastech, just to name a few recent filings — Investment Dealers’ Digest went to Harvey Miller of Weil Gotshal & Manges, one of the nation’s most prominent bankruptcy lawyers — to get his take on what’s in store.

Mr. Miller, who spent some time at investment banking boutique Greenhill & Company before returning to Weil Gotshal last year, told the Digest that a long-delayed round of restructurings may finally be at hand.

Easily available refinancing helped paper over a multitude of sins in the last few years, but the credit has dried up. That is likely to leave many companies with few options, Mr. Miller said.

He said retailing, real estate and auto parts are some of the industries that may be hit hardest. He also predicted some pain at well-known private equity firms — although he didn’t name names. “Portfolio companies of very respectable and reputable firms are going to have some level of problems,” Mr. Miller told The Digest.

Real estate and retailing have already been hit pretty damn hard. I see this as another sign people are preparing for the worst and that the worst has yet to come.

Durable Goods Orders Decreased

Yesterday I read a long post from Market Ticker detailing some of the recent, distressing economic and business news. Here are some things that stuck out for me.

First, durable goods orders decreased 5.3% on the month and inventories are rising. Market Ticker says this is always a sign a recession is on the way (or at least evidence that people are cutting back on spending), which makes sense to me. People used to be buying lots of crap, manufacturers ramped up production bit by bit to meet demand. Now that the demand is no longer there because people are limiting their spending, inventories will naturally rise and products will not get shipped.

Second, he berates the short-sighted politicians for setting America up for an energy crisis. The fools have prohibited any nuclear energy development for the past 30 years. We’ve turned our food into energy and we have refused to drill for oil off our coasts, oil which we know is there.

Also, and a most interesting and scary prediction that there will be a war between China and Russia in the future:

Let’s talk geopolitical risk – what’s really driving metals prices. Its not talked about, but it should be. China has north of 1.2 billion people. Russia, which shares a border with China, has 140 million, or about 1/10th of China.

Russia has a net surplus of both oil and natural gas, and in addition has a surplus of land per-capita. China has a dearth of all three. So long as China can pay for what they need, this is not a serious problem.

But as we flush, to believe that China can turn to internal consumption and pick up the slack, with a per-capita income of under $2,000, where ours is more than 10 times as high, is pure fantasy.

I wouldn’t take that bet at any odds.

What I expect to happen is that China will eventually run out of ability to subsidize, and will turn to what nations have always historically turned to when faced with severe internal pressures and a resource-rich nation sharing a border with them.

Quite distressing news overall, but good news if you happen to be a bear.