June 2, 2009
NACM's most recent monthly survey indicated that most credit professionals and their companies are split on assessing late charges to delinquent or past-due accounts. In response to the question, "Does your company assess late charges?" 43% of respondents said "yes" and a slight majority (56%) said "no." Only 1% of participants were unaware of whether or not their company assessed late charges.
"Late charges are booked on the first day of each calendar month and calculated on month-end balances. Once a customer is past terms, the late charge is calculated on its calendar month-end balance," said one respondent, who noted that their company had been assessing late charges for at least seven years. They also noted that, despite the current state of the economy and the company's interest in getting paid, these late charges are stringently enforced and not seen as a deterrent to business or prompt payment. "We only make exceptions in rare instances," they said. "The recent downturn has enhanced the need to enforce these fees as customers slow down in their payments."
Other credit professionals noted that their companies operated on the same principles, but that the procedures differed slightly. "If a customer is more than nine days late, they are charged interest on the outstanding balance; this is our version of a late fee charge," said one respondent. "We are pretty stringent with this charge, although we have some customers who are on an interest exception list and do not get charged interest."
As for the participants whose companies do not charge late fees, they cited difficulty in collecting and unnecessary work as the reasons for not assessing these charges. "We feel that it would be hard to collect most late charges and it could also mean additional cost for the credit staff and possibly lead to additional legal fees," said one respondent, who noted that their company's policy of no late charges was firmly entrenched. "We are not considering changing our policy regarding late charges."
Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer
NACM's June Survey Now Available!
The latest monthly survey from NACM is now available at www.nacm.org. This month's question asks whether or not your company's outlook aligns with the most recent Credit Managers' Index (see article 7 below for the report), which indicates that the economy bottomed out in February and an end to the recession is within reach.
Respondents are awarded .1 roadmap points toward an NACM designation and are automatically entered into a drawing to win a free teleconference registration! Visit www.nacm.org to participate today!
The U.S. economy has been in one of its worst tailspins in 50 years, falling more than 6% in the fourth quarter of 2008 and continuing down another 5.7% in the first quarter of 2009. Epic bailouts that have tried to resuscitate the faltering financial system have shuffled through Congress, while bicameral options to increase trade have been routinely explored.
Debate over implementing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Panama is nothing new, but there is a new sense of urgency being placed on the topic as recently indicated by the Senate Finance Committee. The FTA wouldn't be a cure-all to widespread economic woe, but it is viewed as a definite boost to flailing industries such as construction, agriculture and manufacturing. Last year, states like Texas and Florida exported more than $1 billion in goods to Panama, while eight states touted exports in excess of $100 million and 19 recorded exports of at least $10 million. In all, 37 states saw their exports to Panama at least double between 2004 and 2008. More importantly, of the 6,000 U.S. companies that conducted business with Panama, an overwhelming majorityâ€”(81%)â€”were small- and medium-sized enterprises.
"The United States is far and away Panama's largest trading partner with a 33% share of Panama's imports and purchasing 36% of all Panamanian exports," said James Owen, chairman and CEO, Caterpillar, Inc. "The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is now moving ahead and presents significant opportunities for U.S. companies to provide goods and services to the government of Panama as they embark on one of the largest public works projects since the Three Gorges Dam in China."
Then there is the construction of a new metro system in Panama City and the Petaquilla mine, which will be the fifth largest copper mine in the world. For companies like Caterpillar, a trade agreement represents a significant advantage. Currently, Panama has a tariff on off-highway trucks and diesel engines of 10%. For other products that Caterpillar offers, tariffs range from 3-5%. On the other side of the fence, the United States doesn't have a tariff on mining or construction equipment.
"The chief argument I've heard is that given the magnitude of our global trade deficit, the last thing we should do is implement new trade agreements," remarked Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. "The problem is that argument is based on a false premise. It suggests that trade agreements translate into trade deficits. I dispute that."
Grassley pointed to the trade agreements with countries in Central America and the Dominican Republic as success stories. Before the implementation of these FTAs, the U.S. ran a cumulative trade deficit with those countries. Now, the nation enjoys a $6 billion trade surplus.
"The trade agreements required our trading partners to give our exporters the same duty-free access to their markets that their exporters already had to ours under our unilateral preference programs," explained Grassley. "In other words, we leveled the playing field for our U.S. exporters."
Opponents of the trade agreement like to cite the large deficit that the United States has in trade with Mexico. The argument is that the bilateral trade deficit is the result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since, prior to its implementation, the U.S. had enjoyed a modest trade surplus with its southern neighbor. Grassley disagreed with this statement saying that before NAFTA, over 51% of imports from Mexico entered the U.S. duty-free and that the average tariff on the remaining imports was about 4.2%, representing an overall average tariff rate of just over 2%.
If the agreement with Panama enters into force, 88% of Panama's tariffs on U.S. consumer and industrial goods and a majority of tariffs on U.S. farm exports will be eliminated. The agreement would also lock in Panama's access to the U.S. market, creating a new level of certainty for investors and traders in that country.
"American manufacturers already export $4.5 billion annually to Panama despite the fact that about 40% of U.S. exports to Panama face import tariffs of 10% or more," said National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Vice President for International Economic Policy Frank Vargo. "The agreement would eliminate those tariffs, making the price of many U.S. products 10-15% lower than competing products from other countries."
Vargo said that with that kind of price shift, Panama importers would be swayed to purchase more U.S. goods. In light of the extensive projects on which Panama is embarking, it's viewed as an opportunity for U.S. businesses that legislators shouldn't ignore.
"We know that some in Congress fear an onslaught of manufactured goods imports for Panama," said Vargo. "However, last year, U.S. manufactured goods imports from Panama were valued at $117 millionâ€”1/40th as large as U.S. manufactured goods exports to Panama."
In comparison, the U.S. imports as much from Panama in a year as it does every three hours from China.
On the agricultural side, Panama is expected to import U.S. agricultural goods like wheat, rice, corn, cotton, soybean and livestock products in excess of $151 million per year by 2027.
See article 8 below for more on current export trends.
Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer
NACM's Bankruptcy Point/Counterpoint
General Motors' recent Chapter 11 filing has once again vaulted bankruptcy to the media forefront as observers and analysts try to dissect the process and its potential outcome. In these harsh economic times with more bankruptcies expected to follow General Motors', the timing could not be better to hear Wanda Borges, Esq. and Bruce Nathan, Esq. The two will engage in a lively and entertaining debate on the hot bankruptcy issues today at tomorrow's NACM teleconference, "Bankruptcy Point/Counterpoint." Wanda and Bruce will be discussing the rights and obligations of trade creditors with pending contracts with a Chapter 11 debtor, and how creditors have fared on the priority claim in favor of goods suppliers and critical vendor orders. Using case studies, this program will cover both sides of the issues as presented to the courts and according to recent rulings. Given the numbers of commercial bankruptcies, there will also be a discussion of hot preference issues including whether an applied credit is a preference, a consensus view that credit card payments are subject to preference exposure and other issues relating to the new value and ordinary course of business defenses that will assist creditors in their efforts to protect their companies from preference attacks long before bankruptcy is filed by a customer.
To learn more, or to register, click here.
According to some NACM members, the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) "Red Flags" Rules are unfair to business creditors and potentially detrimental to their companies' finances. In response to last week's eNews story, "Eye On the Hill: NACM Considers Stance on 'Red Flags' Rules, Among Other Issues," some credit professionals have voiced their opposition to the regulations noting that they agree with the goals, but feel there should be a separate set of simplified guidelines for commercial creditors.
"We believe that the 'Red Flags' policy, as written, is too cumbersome to our business," said one credit professional. "[Our company was] incorporated in 1948, and we are not aware of even one instance of identity theft in relation to our commercial credit. We believe that our current credit application processes are more than adequate. The 'Red Flags' procedures require much documentation; this, added to the staffing cutbacks we have incurred this last year, has been a real challenge. Add to that our executive's time in reviewing and approving our staff's findings, and we are just adding more cost to the credit application process."
"It is our obligation to comply with the 'Red Flags' ruling; we do not argue that," they added. "We simply feel that there should be a simplified 'Red Flags' policy/procedure for commercial credit."
Other credit managers noted that, due to the familiar nature of their business, the rules are not only onerous, but somewhat unnecessary. "We know who our customers are and where they do business. We don't sell a product and then ship to someone we've never seen," they said. "The majority of our business is with the same companies, on an ongoing basis for service. We have business relationships with owners, construction managers or general contractors for our construction work. The 'Red Flags' Rules are just not applicable to our business and will require an investment of our resources that is not necessary."
It should be noted, however, that the FTC's "Red Flags" Rules apply only to those businesses with accounts that are considered to be at a reasonably foreseeable risk of identity theft, as opposed to any risk of identity theft. Instances like the ones mentioned above may exempt certain businesses from having to comply with the rules since, in their professional opinion, there isn't any reasonably foreseeable risk of identity theft because of certain aspects of their business or their interactions with customers. The regulations leave the definition of a "reasonably foreseeable risk of identity theft" to companies themselves, meaning that while they may seem to broadly apply to each and every business in the country, it's up to businesses to consider their own operations and determine whether or not they need to adopt a "Red Flags" policy.
NACM is currently considering its position on the FTC's "Red Flags" Rules and member input will be crucial in deciding on an approach to the issue. To share your thoughts on the regulations, send an email to email@example.com.
Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer
A Return to Form in the Wake of the Global Financial Crisis
If all the financial world is a stage, then it could be argued that credit controls the curtains. As a profession, credit and risk management has operated in the wings, charged with protecting a company's assets and judging who sees what of their goods and services, along with how much and under what terms. The harsh reality of the global financial crisis has shifted the position of risk management to one of prominence in many companies, lending a deserved bit of gravitas to the warnings of credit managers and pushing them ever closer to the CFO at board meetings.
This shift in position has also been accompanied by a shift in the nature of risk itself, both in the amount and intensity and in the philosophies adopted for managing it. Theories and schools of thought have always varied from person to person when it comes to hedging a company's risk, but in many instances, the most innovative companies are the ones that can stick tightly to the fundamentals while still managing to make things work.
To learn more about the current state of the credit professional and risk management, read this article in the June 2009 issue of Business Credit magazine. Click here to subscribe.
The vast majority of companies in the United States aren't massive enterprises raking in tens of millions of dollars per year. Much like the population at-large, the corporate landscape is comprised mainly of modest small- and medium-sized firms. Unfortunately, as the economy has wilted over the last couple of years, these are the companies feeling the brunt of the impact, especially in terms of available credit.
The annual Small Business and Micro Business Lending in the United States study by the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Office of Advocacy found that, unsurprisingly, lending has weakened to smaller firms. For the most part, the banking system is the number one provider of credit to small businesses, representing slightly more than two-thirds of credit provided.
As the economy stalled, the study found that for the year ending June 2008, the total value of small business loans outstanding increased 4% and the value of micro-business loans outstanding increased 6.8%. The total amount of outstanding small business loans stood at $711.3 billion, a more than $26 billion increase, though still only half of the $51 billion increase seen in 2007. The single largest increase in lending was in the number of micro-business loansâ€”loans of less than $100,000â€”which shot up 15.7% to 25 million, totaling $170.5 billion. The increase is a sign that more of these types of loans are being made through small business credit card programs marketed by issuers. This was also reflected in the fact that the largest lenders focused primarily on the micro-loan market, accounting for 69% of the number of loans by the end of June 2008, concentrated primarily in the credit card market.
"In the current financial climate it's especially critical for small firms to know which banks and financial institutions have been the most likely to make small and micro-business loans," said Victoria Williams, Advocacy economist and co-author of the study.
For mid-sized small business loansâ€”those between $100,000 to $1 millionâ€”the picture was starker as the number of loans fell more than 23% after seeing a more than 31% increase last year, though the dollar amount increased 3.2% to $540.7 billion. Borrowing of loans of more than $1 million went up 12.2%.
Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer
Industry Credit Groups
Credit groups are an effective management tool. They permit credit professionals of different companies servicing the same customer, regardless of industry or trade, to compare information on collection history and provide a forum for the exchange of data as to the most recent payment practices. The purpose of exchanging information is to help group members segregate fiction from fact, so competent and realistic credit decisions about a customer can be made.
Managed and operated by NACM Affiliates nationwide, NACM-Canada in Canada and FCIB internationally, credit groups:
â€˘ Provide unparalleled networking opportunities
â€˘ Assist in the exchange of credit information on common customers
â€˘ Facilitate the receipt and analysis of information to make unilateral credit decisions
â€˘ Provide the forum to discuss the latest developments on credit department procedures, equipment and other credit management functions
â€˘ Support the discussion of account information and delinquent account reports
â€˘ Adhere to federal antitrust guidelines
Click here to learn more about NACM credit groups and find the group for your industry.
The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) recently published for public comment an exposure draft of new guidance on the measurement and application of fair value accounting. If adopted, the new guidance would alter International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) to create a single definition of fair value and offer further authoritative guidance on how to use fair value accounting in inactive markets.
"This exposure draft is an important milestone in our response to the global financial crisis," said IASB Chairman Sir David Tweedie. "It proposes clear and consistent guidance for the measurement of fair value and also addresses valuation issues arising in markets that have become inactive." According to Tweedie, the new guidance would also further align IFRS with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which are maintained by IASB's American equivalent, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), and draw the two competing financial standards even closer to one another. "The proposed guidance ensures consistency with U.S. GAAP on issues related to fair value measurement and would achieve overall convergence with U.S. GAAP."
In an effort to further ensure consistency between GAAP and IFRS, the IASB included in its most recent guidance the FASB's newly-issued rules on fair value measurement, which is also aligned with a report published in October 2008 by the IASB's Expert Advisory Panel on fair value measurement in illiquid markets. The latest guidance continues the IASB and FASB's efforts to converge GAAP and IFRS into one universal accounting standard and acts as a response to the requests of the Group of 20 (G20) countries to further unify accounting processes in order to stem the tide of the global financial crisis.
Proposals will be available for public comment until September 28, 2009 and can be found on the IASB's website (www.iasb.org) under the "Open for Comment" section. A webcast will be hosted by the IASB to introduce the proposals in the draft and details will be announced via the board's website.
Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer
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C4F: Employment Connections for the Business Credit Community
As the United States continues to weather the plodding recession, the facets of nearly every industry are showing the effects of the strain. During the past two quarters, the economy has slowed to hover around 6% and there are few shelters from falling revenues and surging layoffs. Between February and March, national unemployment leapt up 4.9%, highlighting the mounting deterioration in the labor markets as bankruptcy filings continued to escalate. For the accounts receivable management (ARM) sector, the impacts of the economy at-large are reflected in the Kaulkin Ginsberg Index (KGI), which slid down 5.5 points from February to March to 1160.0. This represents a decline of 0.5% tacked to the 3.1% drop seen the month prior, while the year-over-year declines have amounted to 6.8%.
The KGI's slip was primarily attributable to the rise in bankruptcies and job losses, as well as the fact that outstanding consumer credit declined by roughly $13 billion between February and March to an estimated total of $2.55 trillion. A would-be larger drop in the index was moderated by stabilizing values for the market capitalization of ARM companies, which increased more than 28%, and charge-off rates that held steady at 2.04%.
Though there was little to be optimistic about in the March figures, the KGI may foretell good news just beyond the horizon. April's KGI is showing a preliminary increase of 23.5 points to 1183.5, though it would still represent an overall decline of 8.3% from April 2008. Kaulkin Ginsberg believes that the deceleration in decline from March may be a precursor to improved collectability towards the latter part of the year.
A similar trending was seen by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) between March and April. In all, the credit markets have apparently eased since January, though almost half of the NABE's industry survey respondents reported that tighter conditions adversely affected their businesses and a resounding 78% reported that credit conditions had adversely affected their customers.
"Key indicatorsâ€”industry demand, employment, capital spending and profitabilityâ€”are still declining, but the breadth of the decline is narrowing," said Sara Johnson, IHS Global Insight. "This suggests that the economy is at an inflection point but has not yet reached a turning point."
Labor market deterioration is widespread as the NABE's industry survey saw 33% of firms planning to reduce employment over the next six months while only 16% planned to add workers and half expecting staffing levels to remain the same. Overall, the respondents were glum about the U.S. economy for the remainder of 2009, with over half expecting real gross domestic product to slide down at least 2% this year and only a handful (7%) expecting any positive growth.
Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer
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Lately, there has been a great deal of discussion about whether or not there is reason for some optimism regarding the U.S. economy's recovery. The phrases are showing up everywhere: "green shoots" and "light at the end of the tunnel" and even references to a "phoenix rising from the ashes." "Those who have been watching the Credit Managers' Index have been able to refer to these improvements for three months already, and the May data carries the same theme," said Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., NACM economist.
CMI data began to show some upward movement in February and has now carried forward those gains for four straight months. There have been additional recent indicators of recovery: consumer confidence is up, durable goods orders are up, first time claims for unemployment are down and even the much beleaguered housing market is showing some movement. The CMI presaged these more optimistic statistics.
The latest CMI combined index rose from 44.3 to 45.4, which equals levels not seen since October 2008 when the overall economy began its major slide. The index is certainly moving in the right direction and is now only a few points away from breaking above the 50-point threshold that would indicate expansion as opposed to contraction. Kuehl said, "The recession essentially came to an end in February and March of 2009. The CMI data, combined with various other measures, suggest that the economy finally reached its lowest point and has been in the recovery stage since." Kuehl pointed out that this doesn't mean the economy will come roaring back in the next few months, but asserted that the second quarter will be the last quarter of negative GDP as the third quarter should show some growth.
The specifics within the survey are even more interesting as they reveal some important driving factors in economic recovery. For example, sales jumped from 37.4 to 41.8, representing one of the biggest increases in the last several months. There has also been substantial movement in the new credit sphere, a sign that businesses have started to lean toward expansion again. One of the underlying factors the CMI captures is the access to capital. Without the presence of additional open capital markets, there is no opportunity to expand credit; the CMI is now showing that some of that credit is being extended again. Additionally, a couple of negative factors declined, reflecting some stability in terms of delinquencies and disputes and some reduction in dollars outstanding.
There is still a great deal of regional and sector variation, which mirrors the performance of the U.S. economy as a whole. The states that have seen the highest rates of job loss and bankruptcyâ€”California, Florida, Michigan and Ohioâ€”are seeing the weakest performance in terms of credit. However, some states seeing severe declinesâ€”most notably Arizona and Nevadaâ€”have shown some improvement. Kuehl noted that he has been speaking before a variety of NACM industry groups during the last few months and has observed some very different moods. The sectors that have been struggling are those one would suspect: automotive and retail. The growth sectors in medical and energy are reacting differently and may even be in true recovery by this time. The overall energy sector has been growing, especially in the area of alternative technologies. The entertainment sectors have also been holding steady.
Looking at the year-over-year performance, there is even more reason to take heart in the pace of the recovery. It is beginning to show the classic "U" that signals a normal recessionary pattern. At the moment, the gains are taking the index back to where it was in October 2008, just after the meltdown started to accelerate. If the trend continues at its current pace and in the same direction, the index will be back above 50 by mid- to late summer. That would reinforce the assessments by various groups that hold that real GDP growth will return in the third quarter.
The full text of this report, complete with tables and graphs, may be viewed at http://web.nacm.org/cmi/cmi.asp.
HSBC Bank USA, N.A. has announced the results of its second annual survey of U.S. mid-sized companies, a vital yet under-researched segment of the U.S. economy. The poll of 500 senior financial executives from companies with annual sales between $20 million and $5 billion focused on the opportunities and challenges they face when operating in multiple markets worldwide either by selling or sourcing goods and services.
HSBC's U.S. Survey on International Business found that the portion of executives planning to increase their overseas sales targets rose from 49% in 2008 to 56% in 2009, underscoring continued interest for global expansion even during the midst of worldwide economic challenges. Once again, emerging markets stood out for their appeal to U.S. businesses, with China, India and Brazil ranking as the top three most attractive markets for the second consecutive year.
However, the survey also notes that growth in U.S. companies' overseas revenue has slowed significantly, with only 52% of corporate financial executives saying international sales are outpacing domestic sales, compared to 67% a year prior. "While overseas sales growth has slowed in the face of current economic conditions, U.S. executives remain fully committed to long-term global expansion," said Christopher Davies, senior executive vice president and head of commercial banking for HSBC-North America.
Anecdotes from the survey respondents show how companies are adjusting to the economic headwinds to maintain their global growth. One respondent is increasing his company's presence in smaller markets to avoid the risk of exposure to a single large market. Another is watching exchange rates more often to ensure that her company gets the best rate when transferring money abroad.
The optimism for overseas markets persists in the face of lingering effects of the market downturn. The survey found that 43% are increasing communication with bankers to maintain access to existing credit lines. Nearly one-third (30%) said they are concerned or very concerned about the solvency and reliability of overseas customers. Many are tightening their own credit policies when dealing with partners: nearly half of respondents (48%) are more actively collecting receivables; 40% imposing stricter credit policies with customers. As one survey respondent noted: "New customers are given smaller credit limits and receive no new merchandise until previous invoices are paid."
Additional findings from HSBC's U.S. Survey on International Business include:
- A majority of respondents (65%) expect their company will be stronger over the long-term once the current market turns around.
- Over two-thirds (67%) say they have learned to take a deeper look into every part of the company's infrastructure to increase efficiency.
- The leading factors limiting international growth continue to be 'foreign competitors' (44%); the 'high cost of doing business internationally' (38%); and 'difficulty in maintaining strong customer and vendor relations at a distance' (30%).
- Nearly half (48%) of respondents incur debt denominated in a foreign currency, up slightly from last year (44%).
"U.S. companies continue to look beyond their home markets as they plan their companies' future growth," said Davies. "Many are taking steps now to ensure that they are well positioned for opportunities that emerge when the global economy improves."
Source: HSBC Bank USA, N.A.
As Chrysler wends its way through U.S. bankruptcy court, most turnaround experts said the deal steered by the federal government to pay the carmaker's secured lenders roughly 30 cents on the dollar will drive up the price of secured loans and make them harder to obtain.
Half of the 29 Opinion Leaders responding to the Turnaround Management Association's Flash Watch Poll said the government proposal that elevated certain unsecured creditors above secured creditors will result in higher-priced loans. Another 35% predict that Chrysler's experience will make lenders less inclined to provide loans. Companies obtaining such loans are likely to find more restrictive covenants attached, according to nearly 20% of respondents.
"It appears that a sizable percentage of restructuring professionals are concerned that credit, which is already tight, will become more difficult to obtain and more costly for those companies in restructuring mode," said Thomas Pabst, chief operating officer of the Great American Group in Deerfield, Ill.
"There was an overreaction of some business people by claiming that this will be the end of secured lending. It will make lenders be more careful in valuing their collateral and that of lenders above them in the capital structure, but that trend has already started," said James Shein, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Chicago.
Nearly 40% said the plan will have no effect because Chrysler's secured debt holders abdicated their position and voluntarily accepted the government cramdown. Another 31% said the government's actions would set a precedent for avoiding the priority of payment rules established by Section 507 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
"The government has used its power to broker a settlement for the greater good of the economy. However, if the bankruptcy process is going to continue to be the basis for corporate restructurings and liquidations, it must be perceived as fair and impartial," said Mark Indelicato, TMA vice president of chapter relations and a partner with Hahn & Hessen LLP in New York.
Source: Turnaround Management Association
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