Monday, December 22, 2008

India – What Hinders Its Development?

Some thoughts on the interesting book “In Spite of the Gods – The Strange Rise of Modern India” by Edward Luce, the Financial Times' Washington Bureau Chief. He worked and lived in India for years.

While his conclusion is that India will become an economic super power, its many negatives will delay its development.

Some of the negatives:

Its massively ineffective and corrupt "quasi-socialist" political system.

Labor laws are too restrictive, cannot fire or lay off any employees, even if they are criminals, which supports the case for outsourcing only and not investing in 100% owned operations.

Literacy in China is 90%, in India it is 65% - female literacy is 48%. Focus in India is on university education, not elementary school education which China has focused on to build a viable work force. By comparison, the USA's literacy rate was 90% during its industrial and economic ascendancy in the 1800s.

India lacks investment in infrastructure, just starting to build roads and highways.

Bulk of population lives in small villages, not an urbanized country most developing countries tend toward. Of 1 billion population, 750 million live in small villages.

People are not motivated to seek a better life, caste system is an obstacle, lack of ambition somewhat stifled by elite strata which are still very British oriented.

Corruption is pervasive and extensive. Bribes are commonplace.

A telling difference between China and India is that China has accepted capitalism. Surprisingly for China's controlling government, its economy is based on market-driven industrialization. India has not accepted capitalism with its over-regulated private sector which is a draw back to growth and development.

An interesting fact:
India's police have "encounter specialists" which are policemen who kill criminals the police decide are guilty - prior to a trial. India has a 27 million criminal and civil case backlog. Police kill criminals because evidence gets lost, witnesses die, low-paid judges are easy to bribe and it takes too long for cases to come to trial.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mitt Romney Advises: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”

Governor Mitt Romney offers some interesting advice regarding the Big Three in his November 18, 2008 New York Times Op-Ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” summarized as follows:

“If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car…But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries…

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.”

Governor Romney is correct.

In a July post on my blog I opined that running out of cash may be the trigger that puts them into bankruptcy, but it will be a blessing in disguise. My reasoning is that the Big Three’s hourly labor costs are reportedly $20 to $30 higher than their USA based Japanese competitors. In my experience as a Turnaround CEO, this will not be reduced in a voluntary agreement with their union. If it is not corrected, they will continue to decline and probably will not survive.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection does not mean the end. The companies will continue to operate. While it will be a severe shock to the USA, it is not liquidation. It will allow modification of the factors contributing to losing money - including the high cost labor contracts.

Click here to review my July 28, 2008 post: “Bankruptcy – The Fate of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?”

Monday, November 10, 2008

2nd Follow-up to the Analysis of the Financial Crisis

Mr. Komal Sri-Kumar analyzed the Financial Crisis on October 31. It is his fourth webcast since October 3. Mr. Sri-Kumar is TCW Group’s Chief Global Strategist.

It is a meaningful, worthwhile analysis.

A summary of Mr. Sri-Kumar's views and forecasts:

1. The 4th quarter of 2008 will be the worst quarter with a 4% drop in GDP.

2. Is relatively optimistic in expecting the USA recession to end in the middle of 2009 because: “…the economy and stock market went down very fast…for the same reason the upturn will be equally rapid”.

The significant decline in consumer sentiment suggests a deep consumer recession. Does not see a depression risk. Expects unemployment to hit 8% or higher.

3. Federal Reserve should not have cut the interest rate by 50 basis points. It gave little stimulus to the economy. It was not the reason for the stock market increase. The stock market surged because the TED risk spreads have come down. The principal negative issue is the “liquidity trap” in that lenders are not willing to lend.

He suggests that direct to consumer stimulus is more important than interest rate reductions.

Does not see an inflation risk – including copper and oil. But he advises that the Federal Reserve will need to increase the interest rate in six months to avoid inflation.

Federal Reserve has ignored older people who largely rely on interest income for living expenses. An important factor to the economy.

4. As this webcast was prior to the Presidential election, he commented on both candidates and said the new President will not have much flexibility. Senator McCain cannot reduce taxes because of the sizeable budget deficit. President-elect Obama will not be able to increase taxes – particularly dividend and capital gains tax rates – because of the negative impact on economic growth.

5. Forecasts a $1 trillion budget deficit in 2009 which at 7% of GDP he views as manageable.

6. Continues to be bullish on equities. Is negative on Europe’s prospects. Expects equities to yield 9%-10% over the next 3 to 5 years. Forecasted 3% GDP growth and 2% inflation. Considers leverage dead.

7. Surge in the dollar has ended.

8. “What worries him most?” Policy maker errors. Not the economy. Not consumers. In September 2007 he predicted a recession. Federal Reserve and Treasury policy makers ignored the signs. “…will need to depend too much on policy makers”.

Click on this link for access Mr. Sri-Kumar’s October 31, 2008 webcast, approximate duration 60 minutes, expires January 31, 2009:

On October 15, 2008 a panel of economists at New York University gave a decidedly bleaker analysis of the financial crisis compared to the analyses Mr. Sri-Kumar has given.

Click on this link for a summary and access to NYU’s October 15 webcast:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Follow-up to Analysis of the Financial Crisis

Two weeks ago, I posted about Mr. Komal Sri-Kumar’s near calming treatise of the financial crisis provided on October 3rd. He is TCW Group’s Chief Global Strategist.

Mr. Sri-Kumar expects a 6 to 9 month Recession, with the stock market starting it's recovery in April 2009. He is rather bullish on equities, and does not believe we are heading into a Depression. Bearish on oil and bullish on the dollar: Oil $75, Euro $1.25, Gold $700.

However, last week I attended New York University’s financial crisis seminar. This Panel’s views and forecasts were decidedly bleaker than Mr. Sri-Kumar’s.

NYU Panelists:
• Dennis Berman, Deputy Bureau Chief, Wall Street Journal’s Money & Investing
• Mark Patterson, Chairman, MatlinPatterson Global Advisors LLC
• Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics, NYU Stern School of Business
• Lawrence White, Deputy Chairman & Professor of Economics, NYU Stern School of Business
• Moderator: Thomas Cooley, Dean, NYU Stern School of Business

The NYU Panel’s views:

1. Predicted that the worse is yet ahead.

2. The recession would last 18 to 24 months. The question is whether the recession will be V, U or L shaped. While the word “depression” was not used, the Panel described the economic recession as one of the worst since the Great Depression years.

3. Equities will decline further from current levels and will not have a meaningful recovery for perhaps two years.

4. Housing prices expected to decline further. Housing prices will not recover quickly and will reduce the net worth of consumers to such an extent that it will affect spending.

5. Expect consumer loan defaults and hedge fund failures to add to the financial crisis.

6. The bond default rate is currently at 3%. Its historical average is 4%. The Panel expects it to rise to 10% or higher with the possibility it could reach 25%. The covenant light and toggle loans will delay defaults and bankruptcies.

7. China’s funding the USA trade deficit will become problematic and may require higher interest rates and perhaps a political “quid pro quo” such as Taiwan.

Mr. Sri-Kumar and the NYU Panel are in agreement that:

1.The Financial Rescue Plan was not developed and implemented effectively. The solutions have come late to a problem that was obvious in 2007. The handling of the Crisis by officials world-wide undermined their credibility and the predictability of the Crisis which has exasperated it.

2. “Inter-bank lending” is a key variable.

Click here to access the NYU Panel’s webcast link. Seminar held October 15, 2008. Duration: 97 minutes.

Click on this link for a summary and to access Mr. Sri-Kumar’ October 3, 2008 teleconference call.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Analysis of the Financial Crisis

Mr. Komal Sri-Kumar, TCW Group’s Chief Global Strategist, gives a thorough, almost calming, treatise of the financial crisis in his October 3rd teleconference call.

It is worthy of review.

A summary of Mr. Sri-Kumar's content and conclusions:

Believes the two major reasons crisis came about:
1. Low interest rates in force for a longer time than necessary which encouraged borrowing regardless of qualifications or the ability to repay the loan.
2. Ineffective regulation.

Not heading into a depression. Disinflation is major threat, not inflation.

His expectations include being bearish on oil and bullish on the dollar: oil $75, Euro $1.25, Gold $700. USA recession starts 4th quarter 2008, 1st quarter 2009 and ends March April 2009 with the stock market starting its recovery. Recession will be worldwide. Bullish on USA equities. The $700 billion rescue plan may result in a profit for the Federal government.

Europe will continue to decline and will decline much steeper than other areas. Particularly affected will be the United Kingdom since 20% of its economy relies on the financial sector versus the USA’s 5%.

China’s GDP growth will be reduced perhaps to 7%-8% in 2009 compared to 2008's expected 11% with the complication that China has stopped trying to curb inflation and is striving for growth.

His presentation explores: When will this crisis end? Are foreign investments safer than investing in the United States? What areas of the world offer attractive investment opportunities now? The origins of the ongoing financial crisis. An explanation of what the rescue plan is intended to achieve.

The recording of Mr. Sri- Kumar's Conference Call is available for free to the public domain.

For the Digital Playback call:
Primary Playback Number: (888) 843-8996
International Playback Number: (630) 652-3044
Passcode: 22866500
Call available: October 3, 2008 - November 3, 2008
Broadcast on October 3, 2008 – duration 45 minutes.

Click here to get a copy of the PDF of his presentation.
(* It is not necessary to register on the web site to listen to the conference call, just call the 888#).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jack Welch & GE’s Stock Price

What is the root cause of the loss of investor confidence with General Electric’s Jeffrey Immelt?

On July 10, 2008, Bloomberg reported: “…investors, impatient with…Immelt’s effort to revive the shares…his job appears secure for now…it is safe in the short run. He has the support of the board in the short run…”

Could Jack Welch have created this uncertainty, with his April 16, 2008 statement on CNBC, claiming Mr. Immelt has suffered a “credibility crash”?

GE announced its first quarter earnings forecast on March 2008, just weeks prior to reporting the actual earnings. The bottom line was significantly lower than the forecast, leaving investors shocked and surprised. GE stock dropped significantly.

However, Mr. Immelt has almost doubled the earnings for GE over his 5 year tenure. Wouldn’t this be considered a success? Isn’t this proof of his credibility?

Was Mr. Welch’s negative insight merely a slip of the tongue? Did he ever make this type of verbal error in his twenty years as GE’s CEO?

Was this intentional? What would be the motive?

Perhaps as Genghis Khan once said, “It is not sufficient that I succeed - all others must fail.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bankruptcy - The Fate of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler may have to enter into Bankruptcy to reduce their hourly cost of labor. Running out of cash may be the trigger that puts one or all of them into bankruptcy, but it will be a blessing in disguise.

One of their most significant problems is that their hourly labor costs are reportedly $20 to $30 per hour higher than their Japanese competitors. Some of the differential will be reduced with the UAW’s assumption of retiree health care with VEBA -- Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association – beginning in 2010. This could reduce employee health insurance costs by one-third but will only produce a relatively small reduction in hourly labor costs. This won’t be enough - including consideration of the two-tier wage structure.

Most of the Japanese competitors have non-union hourly labor in their USA manufacturing operations. As such, their labor costs will not significantly increase over time. In fact, they will probably decrease because of higher capital investments with more effective productivity improvements.

By comparison, GM, Ford and Chrysler are at a distinct disadvantage. They are strapped for cash which severely limits their ability to invest capital for operating improvements. Recent plant closings and operational restructuring have reduced their overall costs by billions of dollars, as well as their hourly headcounts by the thousands. However, the overall impact is somewhat misleading. The hourly cost for direct labor employees has not been reduced. While the number of automobiles manufactured by the Big Three have declined in dramatic fashion, the actual cost of each automobile continues to be higher than its Japanese competition.

Will they be able to negotiate “voluntary” hourly labor cost reductions with the UAW?

One negative example from my turnaround experiences:

I was CEO of a legally insolvent, severely distressed manufacturing company. We asked the local union members to accept minor “voluntary” changes in the union labor contract. Specifically, we needed a delay in the contracted 3% increase in the base wage rate and an increase in the co-pay percentage for health insurance. These proposals were rejected by the local union leaders, although we had the International’s support for the changes. The local labor leaders proved indifferent to the company’s condition and were hostile to essential requests needed for the restructuring required to help save the company.

Admittedly this distressed company was not the size of GM, Ford or Chrysler. However experience suggests the UAW will not “voluntarily” agree to the significant reductions needed in hourly labor costs. (Which may require cuts as large as $10 per hour or more). Thus, the Big Three will be forced to attempt to terminate the labor agreement in Bankruptcy Court. If they fail to do so, they will continue to decline. And their future will offer even more desperate operating and financial conditions.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kinko’s – Was It Damaged?

Claudia H. Deutsch of the NY Times reported on Clayton, Dubilier & Rice’s management of Kinko’s on May 5th 2007 with an article titled "Paper Jam At FedEx Kinko's". One quote referring to the culture change: “Some say Clayton, Dubilier massacred Kinko’s, and that FedEx can never repair the damage.”

On March 8, 2008 the New York Times reported again on the issue, “...the unit has underperformed since FedEx bought the business for $2.4 billion.”

In my experience as CEO, a culture change was necessary in every turnaround I have managed. The turnarounds were largely penal colonies staffed with brow beaten and frightened officers and managers. The uncoordinated top-down, silo management process was used. Analysis made it clear that mistakes mounted and financial deterioration occurred a matter of months following the start of a punishing culture.

Improving the cultures was accomplished via cross-functional communication meetings with candid discussions at all organization levels. Once an improved culture was accomplished and a self-confident team was developed, profits followed shortly thereafter – usually in just a few months.

One lesson I learned seeing the consequences of the angry, confrontational style used by Emerson Electric Co.'s CEO was not to bully and yell at employees. As CEO I want strong, assertive but civil officers and managers to build a solid performing company. A CEO can whisper and get results.

Emerson Electric conducted anonymous employee opinion surveys annually on each of its divisions. Ironically, if a division president was confrontational with employees and maintained a punishing culture, Chuck Knight would remove him.

As Peter Drucker and Jim Collins advise, use metrics to make people accountable for tangible results. Fire the non-performers. Only deal in brutal facts in an open culture in which everything can be discussed. A tyrant style can sometimes get immediate profit improvement, but it usually results in the company becoming uncoordinated followed by unexpected mistakes and short-term profit decline. It can make the sale of the company problematic if potential buyers realize the management is weak.