Author: Mark St.Cyr

Mark is a globally recognized expert in entrepreneurship, motivation, business, sales and financial markets. He writes from a first hand perspective. His insights can be both cutting edge, or just a cutting through the clutter. Either way they come from first hand knowledge, and experience that is classic Mark. Visit www.MarkStCyr.com "Pragmatic Insights For Today's Business World™"

A forecast “On the Record and For the Record.”

Many will look at the above headline and say..What do you mean by that?

So I’ll explain, and state why I think this may be one of the more important columns I’ll write for at least the immediate to near future. So here goes!….

I’m at my desk just after dinner on Saturday, August 22, 2009 writing this column. I ‘m stating the date on purpose so that whether I’m correct or I’m wrong in my forecasts or assumptions, I can be judged on empirical evidence. Most people who want to be taken seriously or have people make decisions based on their recommendations always seem to leave themselves a way out, or a way to spin the results if they’re wrong. I don’t. I say what I mean based on my experiences, and what I know from previous decisions or circumstances I’ve had to deal with in the real world. Not the hypothetical world of the so called “Experts” ..who leave things so vague they can appear right, no matter where the chips may land.

The Stock Market has just put in a new year record high across all the major blue chip indexes.  Nasdaq, S&P, Dow Jones, and Russell 2000. To date not only has the market been skyrocketing up since the lows from March of this year, but now Everywhere You Turn, someone is trying to tell us that The Recession is Over…The New Bull Market is Here….Dow 15,000 Here We Come!…and that just covers the Friday night talking heads. ( And most of these are the fill ins because most are on vacation this week!)

On Thursday it was announced that jobless claims once again rose more than expected. The weekly number was just over 585,000 New Claims. The continuing claims were also higher than expected…just over 6.2 Million. But once again…The experts all touted…” A sure sign you’re in a new Bull Market is when it can shake off bad news.”…..I say…Oh Really?…I heard others stating…” Well the stock market is a forward looking indicator”….again I say ” Oh Really?’….When the market was falling at a rate not seen since the Great Depression, what was it predicting then Hmmmmmm? I guess I’m suppose to not believe the account statements, and 401k statements my friends were howling about because…The market didn’t understand then…It’s sorry now, and wants to make amends….I say Rubbish!..I know you want to ask so I’ll state it so you don’t have to……No. I didn’t lose ANY money, and I actually made money, by taking it out of someones hands ( A Fund Manager), and placing it where it belonged…In Mine! I was scared and nervous at the time that I did it…I was not a so called Trader..or so called  Stock type guy, but I had recently retired, and moved to another part of the country.( I was 45 at the time!) when I thought the so called Stock Market which was at its all time high in the Dow Jones over 14,000 that things were looking and feeling very shaky. I had an uneasy feeling about what I was watching in the economy..( Though Every single talking head was talking about Dow 20,000 that year!)  I decided if I couldn’t tell why I should be in, or why I should be out at that moment…I needed to get schooled, and get schooled Fast, and the only way to force that decision was to put ALL, yes, ALL my monetary stock decisions of any size or shape directly under MY CONTROL! If I couldn’t defend any of my decisions right, wrong, or indifferent, then I needed to not be involved, or at risk. No Matter How Much Money I could miss out on making! Thank God my decision worked out, but it’s not intended to impress…It’s to try and show I actually live by what I say, which is what more of the so called “Experts” need to be doing. I’m alarmed by the cavalier attitude in which they are all  shouting the “All Clear!” signal.

In 2004 I was invited to speak at a major conference for some of this nations largest food companies for their National Marketing Campaign. I found many of the so called “Industry Experts” and others patting themselves and anyone else who would listen on their backs stating  “How Great” everything was….How profit’s were at an all time high, and going to continue for years. I heard them state this source…give this example…and on, and on. When I was called to speak I decided to shoot from the hip, No written, or prepared text, just straight from the gut on what I felt and truly believed. I stated the exact opposite of everything they were believing to be true. I stated that if the things that all were ignoring were not dealt with immediately, there would be a shake out that would bring many near bankruptcy. I stated and tried to remind the attendees that it was only a short 18 months prior when most were wondering if their business would even be around for the conference that was taking place at this time. ( The  average company size attending were $500 Million to $10 Billion and above annually.) When I was finished you could hear a pin drop, I was given a complimentary applause, and could feel the heat of the stares as I  left the conference. ( A couple of attendees later came and thanked me for speaking so direct and agreed with me, but for other reasons felt they could not say it.)

Within weeks of my speech and forecasts the market not only tumbled, but it crashed. The value of most of the products that we sold fell 50% in 2 weeks, then another 50%, then another, ending in approximately a 80% DROP in value for the industry. It wasn’t millions…It was Tens of Billions of dollars, and to this day has never recovered. 4 of the larger companies in attendance no longer exist in the same capacity that they were in. They are less than 1/2 the size the were in 2004…2 more of the companies in attendance that day made National Headlines when they called for Bankruptcy protection in a press release that ” Shocked the Experts”….I bet it did.

By now if you’ve read this far your probably saying to yourself…OK..So what now?

I feel the same way now as I did then…..I’ve written time and time again on things that I see as not looking right. ( See archives..Party 1999…On TV Right…The world has changed…and others posted on this Blog.) But now…It’s becoming more pronounced to me than ever. Since retired I still speak, and write with  CEO’s and business leaders on what I think is relevant to their future. But if you want to be taken seriously, and be paid the big bucks…You had better be willing and able to make a call, and live by, and be judged on that call. That’s what you expect from a professional, anything else is left for rookies, and wanna bees….Period!

So am I saying the world is going to end tomorrow?..No!….However, what I am saying that a day of reckoning is not far off the horizon, and I mean weeks to months, ( so not to be confused of playing of Nostradamus.) that can fundamentally change the business landscape for decades, and if you read my post with the headline…“The problems not the pendulum” you’ll understand why I’m so concerned, and why this may be a critical point.

If I’m wrong…Well I can handle that….But if I’m right…I want too at least be on the record as trying to warn of the perils that may be near. Life is tough already both in business and in family. This is one time I hope I’m wrong.

Mark

P.S. The federal government announced late Friday afternoon that they underestimated the Federal Deficit over the next 10 years…They projected $ 7 Trillion In DEBT!…….Oooops ….It’s going to be $ 9 Trillion!

Or to make it a little easier to digest.That’s $ 1.00  x 2,000,000,000,000

Want to visualize it better OK…..The experts, and analysts only missed by  a stack of……. $ 1000.00 bills..Ready?…..135.8 Miles High!

Close enough for government work I guess.

Also reported Friday, the value of US equities  ( Source Bloomberg) lost     $ 7 Trillion dollars of value since 2007.

But whats a few Trillion Dollars amongst friends, Right?

A level playing field is great…..As long as the players aren’t crooked.

We have heard time and time again from business leaders, government officials, economists, pundits, and on and on tell everyone who’ll  listen that government intervention into the private system was ” the only way to avert disaster.” Some chase down every microphone or television camera to scream the virtues of their decisions. They mouth platitudes and pat themselves on the back, all the while the consequences of their meddling are coming to bear for anyone who truly wants to see.

I have written in past columns along with others that the so-called “Yellow Brick Road” to recovery is not gold at all. It’s more like some phony imitation prop on a third-rate Off Broadway production. True theater goers (business leaders) can’t help noticing that every time the actors step on the “Yellow Brick Road”…it creeks from being made of plywood and gold paint. While everyone may seemingly be enjoying the show, some theater patrons are overlooking the serious flaws and enjoying the moment….But experienced patrons will not pay “On Broadway” prices for anything that’s not up to the caliber demanded at that level…period!

Investment capital, real money, real businesses, all have real rules and expectations. When Uncle Sam became involved in the private sector with all of its alphabet soup programs e.g.; TARP, TALF, SMAF, RALF, ( yes some pun intended.)  I stated that if you’re in business of any size…How do you know what the rules will be going forward? Who will be your competition? Will they have the same accounting standards as you? Will your product still be legal…1 year, 5 years, 10 years from now? If you own or start the business…Is your salary going to be capped if you employ more than 1 worker? How can one answer these questions based on history?….All these questions are prominent in a new era of business rules, and a new government philosophy of what it believes your business responsibilities should be regardless of what you think. Another big question that seemingly no one is thinking about…Will businesses, and or talent that have the ability to move out of the US and avoid these trappings move?…Or will they just sell, close, retire or something else. And are any of them your customers, employees, bankers, or suppliers? All very visceral questions, all very serious, all very real in today’s “New World of Business.”

Ok your saying to yourself….Give me an example ….You can always find answers if you look…That’s what business leaders do right?…That’s why we get paid the big bucks, because we can forecast, and deal with changes, that’s where opportunities are. Right?

Well, you would be correct 24 months ago, but today, it’s a very different landscape.  I’ll give one example and you be the judge. Let’s say hypothetically you need the answer to this question because you have to invest real money in a project that demands you knowing the answer. Your personal, and or business fortune would depend on your decision. Then after contemplating you must be truthful in stating …“You know the answer…not assume…you know! But if you’re like me…You’ll find that very hard to do.

So here’s the question…JP Morgan Chase is lending the State of California…1.5 Billion Dollars today so it can end the states IOU program early. That means that the State can continue paying who ever, or what ever person or business that it owes in real dollars once again. OK, good for that, but what if your competitor was one having to accept the IOU’s….Your competition just caught a life line Per Se. Good for them, not so good for you, especially if you just invested considerable capital for the additional business you thought you could gain from a beleaguered competitor. But why would JP Morgan do that?…Wasn’t the bank having the problem accepting the IOU’s…. Bank of America? BofA had stated it was no longer going to accept them as cash for payments on their loans. That would have put a world of hurt on BofA in more ways than one, both financially, and publicly. Why would a competitor bank step in and seemingly stop the bleeding of a rival? Also it does this at a time that saves the State of California from issuing more IOU’s…early!…before it had needed to. And last but not least..Why would JP Morgan want the prospects of loaning money to a borrower who has shown that it can’t repay the loans (it already has) in the traditional sense therefore opening its shareholders to possible catastrophic losses?

Hmmmmm….State Government needs money, one of the banks it deals with is already in a financial hurt, news about other things are dominating the headlines,  and it’s summer so most of the scrutiny is gone. What’s one to do?….Maybe..just maybe….They get the Healthy bank to loan the State the money, They own the banks through TARP…so they can give a wink and a nod to the healthy bank that the loan is good. Saves the State, Saves the face of one bank, makes the other bank look like a hero. They’ll be very little press coverage if any.(Bloomberg was the only one I seen report it.) and Congress along with others needn’t be involved because it can be done by fiat, and no ones the wiser. Sounds like they have a plan! OK, now your turn, where to invest next, or should I say, what’s your next business plan?

Like I said before, things just don’t seem as straight lined as they once were, but hey, we’re only talking your money, and your future as a CEO. Welcome to Business 101.2a I guess.

Mark

Party like it’s 1999 only a decade later? I think not!

This post also appears in Forbes.com………CEOnetwork (R)

Here we are in August of 2009, if you went by what is being said in TV and elsewhere, you would think there was never a 2008. Airwaves crackle with the pops , and pings of the stock market hitting record highs!…..Yes….I said record highs..( but I mean you can only account for this year )..Last week the stock market had its best performing month in over 2 decades…( The source were commentators on both CNBC and Bloomberg, and a few others.) Statistically all were true, but do you really believe the worst is behind us? I personally think not, and here’s why……..

The rise in the stock market is dramatic because of the sheer size of the near collapse it undertook just a brief 12 to 18 months ago. Both the S&P, and Dow were racing to new highs…BUT..not anywhere near this rate, and that was when if you didn’t have a job, didn’t have any savings, and a few other so called trifle things, guess what? You could buy a New Home, a New Car, and probably one or two credit cards with 10K spending limits. ( 10K at first, but after you made your first minimum payment, you might get raised to 20K but I digress.) Some  commentators on the financial talk shows have now declared ” We have entered a New Bull Market!”. I heard one state… “Dow 15000 here we come!” and on, and on. So now you’re asking, but didn’t I see on the cover of a national magazine that they declared the recession over?….Yes you did!…and that’s why I feel the worst is yet to come.

If you really pay attention to all this so called great news, all you have to understand are the terms, Not as Bad…Is the New …..Beating the Street. Here’s an example to illustrate my point.   If you were broke, but I said the computer you were reading this column on right now was worth 5 times more than what you paid for it originally, are you Richer Now? What if I said it’s worth 10 times, a 100 times, a thousand times, what then? Most would say, of course!….Sorry, not so fast. It’s worth that value as an accounting option, or change in a loop hole. You can’t go out and sell it for that, of course No One would pay that, but as a Tax Loop hole go right ahead. Of course that is, if you have made any profits to declare it against, if you don’t have any profits, well it’s all just a fools errand. But right now, this is exactly how most banks, and other entities are so called…Beating Wall Street Analyst’s Expectations!…you know, the same people who never saw the great debacle that was unfolding in their so called area of expertise.

The velocity of the most recent rise of the stock market is from managers, and large portfolio funds who must put money to work in the market at certain levels. For many, their bylaws state they Can Not remain in Cash positions for extended periods of time. They MUST be in the market. This means for many, holding their nose and buying on speculation, or as others would say…Pure Hope!…..But expectations will have to be met, or there will be a very, very dear price to be paid.

Unemployment is currently at 9.5% and most are calling for it to go higher in the very near future. Some are calling for much higher. The so called saving legislation that every politician wants to proclaim has saved us, is showing month after month, that less than 12 to 15 percent of it has even been put to work. ( That includes mortgage refi’s, and other programs also.) The Fed is holding together the financial system the best it can at the present time with the equivalent of Duct Tape. It has to keep interest rates at ZERO regardless of what it can cause in the future, because right now….No Ones Lending!…Think I’m wrong?….Try getting a loan for operating expenses from a bank?…I don’t think so….Also…If you already have a revolving line of credit..you’re doing everything in your power with the exception of cutting your bankers grass yourself to keep it open, or not being reduced. ( Some people might even cut the grass if it meant they could get the loan!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a doom and gloomer. Far from it, I’m an optimist. However, optimists that can take advantage of staying in business by not falling into the traps that the competition seems to be falling all over itself to embrace, just might be the cure for the financial blues that I feel are sure to come. If it’s inevitably going to rain on someones parade…..I want an umbrella in case it rains purple.

Mark

What happens when 1+1= What ever you decide?

Numbers are a funny thing. We’re taught growing up that math is either right or wrong. Don’t try to imply some gray area in your answer or you’re going to fail the test. That is…unless you’re in politics.

Politics is a serious matter but some view it as a game. The game of President, Senator, Congressman, Mayor,et al. (You fill in what ever fits your fancy) to many is only to get their guy or gal elected to win the game. Numbers and statistics are looked on with the same reverence as fresh clay on a potters wheel to be molded and crafted into whatever vessel  desired. But, and this is a very big BUT, not all will hold water.

In the world of business 1+1=2…..period! You are either making a profit or you’re not…..period! Only in the world of politics can you lose money, but make it up on volume. So what does it all mean?

In politics….Mr. Politician can bloviate on how he has created this, saved that, told those dastardly businessmen to do this, and the crowds cheer him on. But as time goes on you find yourself unemployed. You’re told not to worry, but the Bank or Landlord doesn’t accept that as payment. You hear the stock market is up over 50% this year….you think.. Great I’m back to even!….Not so fast….You’re still down 25% ( Funny thing that math stuff.) You hear the price of housing rose this month making a short term bottom…Once again not so fast….It fell 17.3% as opposed to an estimated 17.8…That’s a whopping .5% less. If your counting on selling your home as a retirement asset that equates on a $250K home to around …Drum Roll Please!….$406.00. I feel richer already. Wait you say…They said a 3% rise!…Oh yes, that’s correct….but it was 3% in the rate of change…NOT, your total asset price. Once again, funny how that math stuff works.

Years back there was a great analogy made in all the marketing circles that always brought things in perspective. To some it maybe tired, but  some need to be reminded. It goes something like this…….

Company X calls an all hands on deck meeting to figure out why sales are in the hopper, and cash is bleeding from the coffers at an unsustainable rate. The CEO screams and demands answers. The best marketing has been put on TV, Radio, Print, and others. Huge amounts of money in free give a ways and product samples. Buyers and vendor liaisons have been wined and dined at some of the finest restaurants and venues to court sales. The finest research teams, and consultants to formulate and implement the sales strategy. But low and behold……No Takers…No Buyers…..Why?

As all the so called experts scratch their heads for an answer, a poor beleaguered average employee not invited to the original meeting of the minds says in a very low voice that resonates like the sound of thunder……..

The product tastes so bad…Even my dogs wont eat it….and they’ll eat anything!

Remember business and money is a 1+1=2 game. You have to break through the static to read the numbers. It’s up to you, and you alone to find information to back up the claims spewed everywhere throughout the media. Opinions are free…but more often than not…useless.

Relevant, reliable, actionable information is usually costly….but when used effectively……..It’s Priceless!

Mark

The “Free” debate heats up…..But who will “Pay” in the end?

This post also appears in Forbes.com……CEOnetwork (R)

The latest publication of the new book Free by Chris Anderson is causing quite a stir in the so called “Guru Community”.

CEO’s and business leaders alike have been been falling over themselves in trying to figure out who they believe has the right commentary on the subject. You would think that someone was trying to figure out how they could gain access to their bank accounts or something….Oh wait a minute…Maybe that’s what is actually happening!

I’ve read from Seth Godin, Malcom Gladwell, Mark Cuban, and others their take on the subject. It is quite interesting that even these experts on the subject are at odds with one and others views. Usually they’re ahead of the curve, and more often than not  they’ve been proven right for their prognostications, and usually from a similar point of view. ( Not on everything, but the general transformations of media.) I find this raging debate, and everything that it seems to have lit off …fascinating!

Free, and everything it implies is a death knell, or at least a massive coronary to everything profit, is it not?  But what if just maybe it’s not.
One of the main reasons why you, me, and others are listening and chiming into this debate with such an intense want of understanding is because we want just that….understanding. Everyone who owns a business or intends to own one, or is responsible to the bottom line to pay salaries, taxes, start up costs, and more looks at free as something that can’t be competed against. To some free makes an already nervousness feeling in their gut feel more like an ulcer in these economic times. One of the first things that you say to yourself is “I’ve just reduced the widget by 20%, what if someone now offers it for free?…Then what?…How can I compete with that?”  I believe those are exactly the wrong things to think and here’s why.

What we are now experiencing in this economic climate is what I call ” Paradigm Upheaval” Everything that we thought was so, is no longer , but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Take radio, and television for instance. Radio screamed they would not be able to compete with television. Radio was free, but they didn’t have moving pictures! Business leaders said they would be dead in a year. Sorry to say, but radio is probably stronger now than it ever was. Why? It now needed to find what it was truly better at than TV, and make itself even better. Take the flip side of that argument on another level. Who was that crazy masked man who had to propose that…… “Not only are we going to compete with free TV,  we’re going to charge for it! Not only are we going to charge a minimum just to watch TV, but were going to compete so well we’ll charge extra! Can you imagine the poor guy pitching that idea at the boardroom. The poor schmuck probably ended his presentation with having to tell a panel who wanted everything to be wireless, and over the airwaves …….Clearing a lump in his throat as he said…..”and we’ll call it Cable TV!…..Oh how foolish he must have seemed….Yes… tongue and cheek, but I think you get my point.

Free will become part of the equation to increase profits. Yes…I didn’t make a mistake…It will be a very intricate part of making profits, just where it fits in the marketing dynamic is right now unclear. But that’s a good thing because that also means no one…and I mean No One, is yet late for the party in figuring it out and then monopolizing, or monetizing it into their own business. Matter of fact the party is probably just starting, and when it gets going, the ones who are actively involved in looking to see how “Free” can work for their bottom line will find they didn’t need to be invited. They’ll have already found a seat and be enjoying the music, while others are waiting and wondering why they didn’t receive an invitation.

Mark

They’re on TV so they must be smart…Part 2

I wrote a column on the above subject a while ago, but I felt compelled to add a Part 2 because of the lunacy I’m not only watching on television, but what is also in the newspapers.

Just when one thinks it can’t get worse, the so called “Intelligentsia” elite seem to weigh in on subjects that any true business person or entrepreneur find their views…well should I say it?……”NUTS!”

I read in a prominent newspaper by a prominent economist/columnist the following..( I have intentionally withheld both names to reduce further embarrassment to both, some will instantly recognize the quotes.) ” The Climate Change Bill is Awful” ” is a “pathetic” and “appalling” bill that totally fails to respond to the urgency of climate change-and it should be passed by the Senate and signed into law straight away” and ” will usher in a new mind-set among consumers, investors and entrepreneurs that in time will make a big difference.”

Holy Moly!….could you just imagine yourself walking into the boardroom of any company you want to imagine….Whip out your laser pointer….turn on your projector …fire up the computer and yell out…..”I have NO IDEA what this might do to the company..It might just Bankrupt us and even some of our competitors, but I’m pretty sure that if we try this…It’ll make us all feel really good…..even though we might no longer exist as a company any longer…but we’ll be “Special” because we took the first jump OVER THE CLIFF!…What do you say?…Are you with me?”

After you served your first mandatory leave of absence…you call another meeting to echo the statements of the well known economist/columnist to bolster your argument…You quote things he wrote in his own follow up…( I’m going to para phrase so it’ll fit the context..but it’s true in spirit to the original text.)…”Let our competitors operate as cheap as they want, let them not hold themselves to our standards…They’ll produce the same widgets as us..You wont be able to tell the difference between them…Yes ours will cost more than Twice as much…Maybe Triple..maybe more…Who knows?…but when they realize that just because No One will buy our widget because it’s so expensive….and we had to lay off most of our staff, and close down some of our factories…They’ll come running to us to find out how we were able to make such bold moves…and they’ll then see the errors of their ways, and ask us how they can do the same…It will be Glorious….What do you say…Are you with me?”

After you collected your final unemployment check, and your benefits were about to run out, I would imagine you’ve used that time constructively to reflect on how “Stupid and Foolish” they all were for not listening to you. Ah…what a joyous time it will be..Hmmmmm!

I wish I could laugh about all this and say it’s all fiction, and no one would ever think this way or worse yet, profess it. But I can’t. Even worse, there are many more who have NO IDEA of what it takes to run a business, or be an entrepreneur. They believe this dribble, and think money comes from some swell place where “Everything is always beautiful” resides.  However..those of us in the real world, who have run a business, been responsible for employees, been responsible for profits, and losses see such trite as harmful.

If there’s anything to take away from this, I hope when you watch TV, read a newspaper, or listen to the radio you remember this……

You know what the difference is between an Economist/Analyst…and a Businessman………When a Businessman makes a prediction on his business and predicts wrong……The business could wind up in Bankruptcy……..When the Economist/Analyst makes a wrong prediction…..They just make another prediction.

I predict in the end Business people will prove their smarter by not listening to the so called ” Smart Crowd.”

Mark

What if the “Green Shoots” are Poison Ivy?

We hear over and over again from commentators on TV, Radio, and alike that there are signs of “Green Shoots” all over the economic landscape. You hear them quoting this statistic and that statistic. You hear them compare this with that, and so on and so forth, blah blah blah.

I’ve been speaking and writing for a while that the so called” Economic facts and figures ” can not be looked at with the same reverence or the same indicator weight that they once seemed to infer. One example that I’ll sight is the recent jobless claims. I listened to so many so called “Experts” rally around any microphone or TV camera they could find to start yelling….”This is a sign we’re heading in the right direction….Jobless claims are a lagging indicator so this shows the recession is beginning to fade”….an far too may other such nonsensical gibberish that left me shaking my head.

I’m not saying I’m smarter than the people who claim to be “Experts” But…. I am saying to just listen to their analysis of the data, and not look for ways or means other than theirs to substantiate or to contradict so you can weigh the validity of either and make an informed decision is not only foolish….It’s Stupid!

The continuing claims for the jobless numbers is watched very carefully by those who want to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the economy. However, the people who are informed and have their OWN MONEY in the game, and base their livelihoods on their decisions understand, “The drop in numbers might not be people Retuning to Work…but Worse…They are now No Longer able to collect Unemployment because their benefits have RUN OUT.” If that is the case, then things are not getting better, they might be getting much worse.

I can’t say that I’m correct in my assumptions ( But I feel I am closer to what is actually going on than most others.) but at least I have looked at both sides, and will base my decisions on what I believe is truer to the situation at hand. I will not walk blindly into a patch of “Green Shoots” just because they’re green, when it could be a patch of poison ivy. I’ve had a similar thing happen once before.

I grew up in the inner city as a kid, we regarded plastic grocery bags blowing down the street as ” urban tumbleweeds”. Three tenements houses was where we lived, so when I bought my first house, I bought a house in the country on a couple of acres with a forest as my back yard. One day after clearing branches from my yard, I had a bad rash on my forearms but didn’t know why. After going to the doctor, I was informed I had poison ivy. I never had it before, and I didn’t know where I could have gotten it from since I didn’t even know what it looked like. So I looked up what poison ivy is, and what it looked like. Low and behold all those pretty green vines and white lace flowers growing all over my trees and stone walls….Yup!..all poison ivy. I had never known how to spot them before, but now with my new found understanding my eyes were wide open, and could not look at all green shoots the same way again.

It’s kind of like the way one should look at economic data….. Is the way it’s being presented making you feel a little itchy?

Mark

The Sharks are no longer looking for blood….They’re chumming!

To anyone who’s not an avid fisherman, the word chumming might mean palling around with some friends. Trust me…that’s not what I mean!

It has been said many times that “Truth is stranger than fiction” , but reality can stand all conventions on it’s head. What went as the norm yesterday or was an unbroken or unwritten rule is now either thrown upon the scrap heap of days gone by, or is relegated to the land of heresy.

It’s a funny thing about economy shifts. Whether for good or bad no one can say things will stay the same. So here’s the latest…..

We’ve all been a custom to those commercials we see over and over again on TV….”If you’ve been injured in a collision….or  If you’ve been given medication that……”  for the ambulance chasing type lawyers. But to my greatest surprise I was shell shocked the other night ( does that qualify for a damages suit?) when on the TV came a commercial stating ” Have you been misrepresented by an attorney in a lawsuit….Did you feel your lawyer didn’t perform his duties the way you believe they should have, and you lost your case resulting in not getting the judgement you feel you were entitled to?   Call us the Law Office of………” Well I almost fell out of my chair. ( Could almost falling qualify for maybe half as much as truly falling in a suit?)

It has long been an unwritten rule that lawyers don’t sue other lawyers, or to say it another way…if there are 3 people in a lawsuit and only 2 will get paid, it’s the lawyers not the defendant who’ll get the money. Doctors, manufacturers, and many others have been at the brunt of trying to rectify or subdue the skyrocketing cost for protection under the so called Torte Laws. So far it has been an almost impossible plight. Most companies and even many professionals have been put out of business, or decided to change careers rather than paying the extorted fees of trying to keep enough insurance protection to dodge a wave of assaults on their business or capitol even if they hadn’t done anything wrong! Just the mere fact that they might have deep pockets from running a successful business has made them targets to prove something they might have never done, or worse…settle for a payment that was less expensive than defending ones self. ( The latter in my book is called extortion..Sorry but that’s how I feel!) All frivolous lawsuits don’t get paid for out of some giant slush fund that someone else pays for. The people who pay are You and Me. We pay in higher prices, or we pay in advances in medicine that wont come on line or be available to the public for fear of lawsuits and too many others to list. It takes a degrading toll on Capitalism and Free Enterprise. This is not to say that there are not legitimate suits and lawyers that work from the highest degrees of ethics. The problem with this like everything else is that the best become mixed with the trash and it hurts and cost us all.

The one glimmer of hope that might now be showing a faint light is that for the first time I can recall or have seen, Lawyers just might start to feel the sharks teeth that are just as sharp and viscous to the extremities that the rest of business has dealt with for years. I can picture it now….3 lawyers sitting at a table in some dim lit tavern…the TV playing in the background, when all of the sudden a loud boom is heard followed by the ungodly sound of….” If you think your lawyer showed malfeasance…Call the Law office of…..”

I think they’re going to need a bigger boat!

Mark

Mark this date down…..Our world just changed..

I know..I know….how many times has someone said the world changed and nothing seems different in your life. It seems to everyone, life is going on just like normal, what’s all the fuss I hear from some of these guys? They’re  just Chicken Little’s looking for the sky to fall, Right? I would like to agree, but this time I can’t, and worse, I find myself feeling a little like poor Mrs. Little, and here’s why……..

Money, finance, and business to many is an esoteric exercise in their minds. It’s too complicated or it’s too boring for most people to grasp. As long as they have a job to pay whatever bills or fees that come about in ones daily life, they feel secure that the so called ” Big Stuff ” will be handled by others. World finance, Bonds, and all that stuff is much too complicated. They just invest in their 401K’s and seem to be done with it. Gives everyone the “feeling” of being an investor. Trust me……you’re going through the motions similar to an investor, you have money in the markets, but an “Investor” you’re not.

People were scared when the collapse of Lehman Brothers happened. The stock market tanked, the news was dire, and people saw the effects pretty much immediately in their 401K’s, but unlike “Investors”…they just looked at their statements in disbelief, and believed all the talking heads on TV that said in almost unison” Hey..Corrections are normal…Stay in for the long haul…Things will get better” and so far it seems to have been the case. Some wouldn’t even open their statements for fear of seeing their balance. ( If that is you..You are Not in control of your finances as much as you would like to think, but that’s another column.)

The reason for the United States being the “Financial Capitol of the World” has been the rule of law. Some think the word “law” means the “Rights and Protections” afforded by police and such, but the world of finance is much different. Your protection is the ” Rule Of Law ” for business. People, Countries, Pensions, and like invest in certain structured dealings based on how much money can be made..and most important…How Much They Can Lose!. If you now change the rules that…for 250 years if X happens…You’re protected by this law. To now if X happens….Who knows what might happen, and you could lose Everything, but we can’t say for certain…You have just given your Gold Standard away…and You’re NO LONGER even a precious metal or stone……You resemble Costume jewelry…and nobody will pay you , or treat you like the Diamond you once were.

It wont happen overnight, but trust me, it will show it’s head very, very soon. The frightening thing about this type of shock to the system is this…250 years of contract law has just been eradicated in the last 24 hours, the damage I believe that this will do not only to our economy, but to our standing as the “Financial Capitol of the World” will be horrific, and will NOT be able to be remedied for years, if not decades.

Chicken Little was a fable….My hopes in the end that this column turns out to be one also, but I feel a little like you know who.

Mark

What if Nobody thought…….What if?

As I write this column we are less than 12 hours away from General Motors filing for bankruptcy. There are so many legs to this story a spider would be envious, but I only have two so lets look at this from the only sides I think matters…The Pros…and The Cons.  I’ll leave all the hoopla for the “Left..Right…Dems… Repubs..Union… Non Union, et al. (Fasten your seat belts, keep your hands inside the car, and restrain all loose objects, it’s going to be a dizzying ride!)

The pros of this decision to many will be,” The company is saved at this time, workers will still be employed, a collapse would have been debilitating, it gives us time to reorganize”, and there are many others. All of them sounding like they’re on sure footing. So one might say “OK Where’s the Cons?” Well here’s  a couple….”What happens now that the UAW and the Government owns GM and the price, and wage concessions were not enough. They were too zealous in their assumptions, cuts of another 10, 20, 30 percent are needed immediately. What then?…..The new “Greener Models” are not selling…projections were far too optimistic…the forecast for sales is off 10, 20, 30 percent. What then? The competition such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, begin building even better ” Greener ” cars than GM, all with American workers, and factories located in the USA. What Then?”  As you can see, true business decisions are far more black and white than others would give credence to.  That’s also the reason for the distinct difference of being a “Businessman”, and being an “Employee”. The mindset of each comes from two different universes where the expenditure of  money and resources are involved.

As in all these scenarios, one never knows exactly which way is best with 100% certainty. If one could, you would never be in trouble, and also be the richest person in the world because you would know Everthing! So all we can do as business people or investors is put Capitol or Money if you will, in the surest and seemingly safest place we can. From the outside looking in, I believe the whole General Motors story will be written in the history books of economics 101 as a detailed map, and example of  what NOT to DO and what Wont Work!

Some will say …”You have to give this time too work….Things take time to work out….You can’t turn a large boat on a dime!”…Seems like all that makes sense, but I’ll give you the other side of the coin….If  I told you 18 months ago…Investment Banks as you’ve known them over the last 100 years will cease to exist….The Government will OWN…Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, AIG, Citi just to name a few….Spent over 8 Trillion Dollars, and propose to put the USA federal deficit to over 12 Trillion dollars when we were at a surplus just a few short years ago, and General Motors would be owned by 70% of the US Government and 20% by the UAW, and be bankrupt, and DE-LISTED from the Dow Jones as of today.

You’re right….a boat that big doesn’t turn on a dime….It’s more like a pin!

Mark