August 25, 2009

News Briefs

  1. Despite Declines, Housing Numbers Offer Silver Lining
  2. Obama Moves to Increase Small Business Access to Government Contracts
  3. Strengthening Credit and Sales Relationships
  4. Bankers Caution IASB, FASB on Speedy Accounting Standard Setting
  5. Reader's Digest Files for Chapter 11
  6. UBS Settlement on Offshore Tax Fraud Gets Mixed Reviews
  7. Climate Change Bill Debate Heats Up
  8. Commercial Real Estate Woes Far From Over, Survey Shows

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Despite Declines, Housing Numbers Offer Silver Lining

The housing sector plays the thorn in the lion's paw of the U.S. economy. After two consecutive months of increases, the residential construction numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) showed that building permits for July receded 1.8% from June to 560,000. After the rapid fall during the final six months of 2008, the most recent numbers are 39.4% lower than the 924,000 permits estimated in July of last year.

Housing starts were also down from June, easing 1% lower from 587,000 to 581,000 in July. Providing a barometer for the economic devastation that has taken place over the past 12 months, those figures were more than 37% below the 933,000 starts seen in July 2008. On a positive note, single-family housing starts were up 1.7% to 490,000, the fifth straight month with an increase. However, single-family home completions fell 4.1% to 491,000, continuing its teeter-tottering trend.

Even though the July figures showed declines, they are still on the top side of the bottom hit in April.
"Monthly data for housing activity are volatile, but today's nominal decline stands as a reminder that the economy is still fragile," said U.S. Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Rebecca Blank. "Looking at the big picture, we are confident that we've created the stability necessary to turn things around."

On the cheery side of the numbers, the Commerce Department pointed out that total permits rose 12.4% during the last three months which followed the plunge down the backside of the bell curve that took place in the sector between April 2005 and April 2009, where total permits plummeted 78%. Total housing starts have also increased more than 21% after a near-fatal tumble of 78.9% from a peak in January 2006 to the lows seen in April 2009.

Though there may be buds, the roses aren't yet fully in bloom. During the last 12 months, the construction sector as a whole has lost more than one million positions. The construction industry is trying to cope with an unemployment rate of 18.2%, almost double that of the nation's average. And according to the Federal Reserve Board, U.S. banks are reporting a record delinquency rate of 8.27% on total real estate loans, while residential loans have hit a new high-water mark of their own with a delinquency rate of 8.84%, nearly a full percentage point higher than seen in the first quarter of this year. Charge-off rates have increased to new peaks as well, with banks reporting a charge-off rate of 2.17% on total real estate loans in the second quarter and 2.34% on residential real estate loans.

Nonetheless, the government and the markets are becoming more optimistic that recovery is well underway. Blank stressed what has become the Commerce Department's company line over the past week of economic indicator releases, saying, "As we double Recovery Act spending in the second half of the year, and with every new project we start, we are one step closer to getting there."

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer

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Obama Moves to Increase Small Business Access to Government Contracts

While the health care debate has effectively drowned out discussion of any and all other political issues currently facing the U.S., President Barack Obama has quietly found the time to advance his other campaign promises, most recently launching a new initiative to increase small and minority-owned business access to government contracts. "In order for the federal government to better meet or exceed the goal of 23% of prime contracts for small businesses, Vice President Biden and I have tasked Small Business Administrator Karen Mills and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke with leading a federal government-wide initiative to increase outreach," said Obama. "Over the course of the next 90 days, agency officials will take an important step forward by holding or participating in more than 200 events focused on sharing information on government contracting opportunities."

In addition to the government officials' attendance at numerous procurement events, Locke and Mills were also charged with expanding their outreach to fellow contracting officials, passing along best practices and education to help agencies reach their contracting goals and promoting small business procurement in remarks and discussions with business groups nationwide. "It has been a priority from day one of this administration to ensure that small and minority-owned businesses are aware of and have access to federal contracts and funding opportunities," said Locke. "Over the past 40 years, minority-owned businesses have grown from 300,000 to nearly 4 million today. Their success and the success of small American businesses are vital to our economic recovery."

Included in the contracting opportunities that the administration will begin promoting to small businesses are those that fall within the broad infrastructural investment initiatives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA also provided an increase in funding for the Small Business Administration's (SBA's) microloan program, piling an addition $50 million for loans and $24 million for technical assistance into the program's budget in the hope of increasing small firm access to capital. "Government contracts can play a key role in helping small businesses turn the corner in terms of expansion and job creation," Mills said. "But make no mistake, the benefits the government receives are equally as impressive—working with small businesses allows the federal government to work with some of the most innovative companies in America—with a direct line to the CEO."

The initiative drew cheers from Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chair Mary Landrieu (D-LA). "The announcement today that the Obama Administration will follow through with commitments to increase federal contracting opportunities to small businesses, including minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses, is a step in the right direction. The federal government is the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world. Small businesses are due at least 23% of all contracts awarded, and this administration's effort to ensure they are not left out of the process demonstrates their commitment to small business growth throughout the country."

Small business owners looking for more information on existing contracting opportunities can visit the administration's website at www.fedbizopps.gov. Commerce and SBA officials are also available to answer questions in local offices across the country and can be found on the agencies' websites, www.commerce.gov and www.sba.gov.

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer

CFDD National Conference: Learn Effective Networking from the Best

According to networking expert Hazel Walker, it's important to recognize that the word "networking" includes the four-letter word "work." Join CFDD in October to hear Walker speak.

In her presentation, she'll outline six important steps to successful networking. Some of the work includes:

1. Know why you are networking
2. Know the rules of the game
3. Know who you need to network with and why
4. Know your message
5. Know how to build your message

Don't miss Hazel Walker at the CFDD National Conference in Denver on October 8-10, 2009.

Strengthening Credit and Sales Relationships

There is no shortage of lament about the relationship between the credit and sales functions. Each views the other as a necessary evil: integral to a business' function but populated with impediments to success. Though the path is forged by miles walked in the other person's shoes, bridging that gap is essential to a company's health. Having a lower profile, it is the burden of the credit function to make those first steps.

Davy Tyburski, founder, CREDITandSALES.com, cites work done by the Credit Research Foundation (CRF) that asserts credit professionals must take a leadership role in process improvement initiatives, as well as in creating seamless processes that reduce errors, delays and rework. By working with sales to identify common mistakes and hiccups, the credit function can establish itself as a herald for the common mantra of the modern business world that companies must evolve into complete customer service-oriented organizations.

"Those words are thrown out a lot: 'We need to be customer driven;' 'We need to listen to our customers,'" said Tyburski during his NACM-sponsored teleconference "Strengthening Your Credit and Sales Relationship." "But very few business credit and collection professionals know how to do that. And even if they know how to do it, it's sales that can take the appropriate actions to make that dream a reality."

The credit and collections department must face the fact that corporate executives don't completely understand business credit. This is made apparent in the two questions Tyburski asks when he personally works with companies to improve cross-functional relationships: "What is the perceived value of business credit?" and "What is the perceived value of sales?" On a scale of one to ten, company executives will rate the value of the credit department as 7.5, which is a vast underestimate of importance. The average perceived value of the sales team is 9.25.

"It doesn't matter where you are at today," said Tyburski. "What matters is what are you doing from today forward to increase your perceived value within your organization?"

Sales is on the front line, delivering revenue to a company, while business credit is on the back end, delivering cash. The problem is often that the sales staff fails to realize the frustrations and difficulties that arise in collections when they make rash decisions about low-quality accounts. The impact is felt directly on a company's bottom line. Delinquent accounts bleed away profits and the longer the account remains in arrears, the less likely that a company will see that money. After 60 days delinquent, more than 15% of accounts will go completely uncollected. After 90 days, the percentage rises to over 27%. At six months, over 43% of delinquent accounts will never be collected. So, the credit and sales relationship must be improved to reduce days sales outstanding (DSO).

Tyburski recommends that credit managers zero in on three relationship principles between the sales and credit teams: respect, appreciation and communication.

Credit departments must respect the time of sales staff, because for salespeople, time really is money. There may be just ten hours a day for them to try and sell, but in many organizations with which Tyburski has worked, sales ends up serving as the middleman between credit and the accounts payable person, spending as much as 25-30% of their time on what he called "administrative-type duties." These could be researching problem invoices, sitting down at a customer's location making copies of invoices and then getting those invoice copies to credit. In this type of situation, the credit department needs to be proactive and think of ways to provide salespeople with more time to sell. Another way credit can help eliminate needless mistakes and confusion, as well as wasted hours, is to create a sales guide to business credit.

"Here's the secret about salespeople: we don't really like a lot of text. We like pictures. We like graphs. We like flow charts," said Tyburski. "If you can make it in color, that's even better." He suggested making the guide 25 pages or less so that the salespeople can carry it with them in their sales bag. The guide should be full of flow charts and ideas that can expedite the application process. For example, if a credit manager notices that Line 7 is often not complete whenever credit applications come in from the sales team or the customer, it's something to point out in the guide. Also include common issues, occurrences and problems due to the delays they ultimately cause in processing credit applications and company revenue and, ultimately, in the salesperson receiving their commission.

Credit can also sit in on sales calls, make joint customer visits and have credit members present at sales meetings to better improve the relationship and understanding between the two functions, because, as Tyburski says, "You will not hear me until you know me."

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer

Weathering the Storm

Join Deborah Thorne, Esq. of Barnes & Thornburg LLP on September 2, 2009 at 3:00pm EST for the NACM-sponsored teleconference, "Weathering the Storm: How to Deal with Trouble in the Supply Chain." When crisis hits, companies need to have an "action plan" to deal with troubled customers or vendors in the supply chain, and that's exactly what attendees of this teleconference will walk away with. Thorne will offer a practical to-do list of what needs to happen before a crisis occurs and pose several questions that companies need to ask before their customer gets into trouble. Do Article 2 UCC rights continue into bankruptcy? How should you structure credit relationships knowing that a possible bankruptcy is on the horizon? How can you protect your company but avoid violating the automatic stay? How should you best and most economically protect your rights under Section 503(b)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code? What should you do if your company is selling services and has no protection under Section 503(b)(9) of the Bankruptcy Code? You may not be able to avoid the storm completely, but after this presentation, you'll be better equipped to navigate your way through it.

To learn more, or to register, click here.

Bankers Caution IASB, FASB on Speedy Accounting Standard Setting

A recent white paper released by the American Bankers Association (ABA) has raised concerns about the approach the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and its U.S.-based partner, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), are taking toward setting new global accounting standards related to financial instruments. The ABA paper also urges the two boards to remain diligent despite the urgency of the now waning global financial crisis. "What the accounting boards are discussing now would be the biggest accounting change we've ever seen," said Donna Fisher, ABA senior vice president of tax, accounting and financial management. "We are deeply concerned that the shortcuts being taken will result in flawed or inconsistent rules."

The ABA raised concerns with the IASB's scheduled timeline for completion, which some fear would not allow U.S. companies to get a word in when it comes to the proposal and public comment stages of standard setting. Recent proposals to expand mark-to-market accounting, also known as "fair value" accounting, in financial statements were also of concern to the ABA, which has supported mark-to-market accounting for actively traded assets, while opposing it for most of the more traditional loans in which banks traffic. "Given the role that mark-to-market has played in exacerbating the current economic crisis, it is hard to understand the rationale for expanding it at this time," said Fisher. "Mark-to-market accounting lacks a sufficient level of reliability, which the current market has demonstrated."

Still, while the white paper took aim at some of the board's actions and proposals, it agreed with the IASB's and FASB's long-term overall goal of international accounting standard convergence. "If the IASB finalizes its rule on accounting for loans and debt securities prior to the FASB finalizing its rule, FASB will have to adopt the IASB's rules or adopt a different rule which would result in divergence between U.S. GAAP and international rules," said the white paper. "The goal should be improving the current accounting rules that are in need of repair within a time frame that provides for due process and strives for international convergence."

Earlier this month, the ABA sent a document to the FASB and IASB offering its guidance on developing a new accounting model for loan and debt securities. Full copies of the white paper and the ABA's other communications with the IASB and FASB can be found on the association's website at www.aba.com.

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer

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Reader's Digest Files for Chapter 11

Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (RDA) filed yesterday for bankruptcy restructuring under a voluntary pre-arranged Chapter 11. RDA is best known as the publisher of Reader's Digest, the world's largest circulated magazine. Despite the global recession and the announcement, the company says that operationally it remains strong and that revenue declines for this year are expected be in the "low single digits."

RDA announced that it has filed a number of motions to ensure that the filing does not adversely affect day-to-day operations for its employees, customers or suppliers. The company is seeking—and fully expects to receive—approval for a variety of first-day motions, including requests to honor its customer obligations. Suppliers and vendors who provide goods and services to the company on or after August 24, 2009, will continue to be paid in the ordinary course.

RDA will be aided considerably in the restructuring process by reaching in principle a debt-for-equity agreement last week with a vast majority of its senior secured lenders which will reduce its debt burden 75% from $2.2 billion to $550 million. Senior lenders representing 80% of the dollar value of outstanding bank debt and 70% of investing institutions agreed to the deal. The bankruptcy filing will bind the remaining lenders.

Pre-packaged Chapter 11s have emerged as a symptom of the current bankruptcy system. The recent case of Source Interlink was a prime example of the success pre-arranged plans can have, as the company filed and emerged from bankruptcy in a little over 30 days by reaching agreements with lenders. On the other side is Charter Communications, which filed for bankruptcy in April with what it thought was a pre-arranged plan, only to be met with objections from lenders and the company was filing amended plans in court at the end of July.

Mary Berner, president and CEO, RDA, has heaped gratitude upon the company's senior secured lenders for taking the exchange of a substantial percentage of the $1.6 billion in senior secured debt for equity that transfers the ownership of the company to the senior lender group. This means that Ripplewood Holdings LLC, which purchased RDA for $2.8 billion in 2007 and has been trying to control costs ever since, will relinquish its stake in the company. All members of the Board of Directors that have served since the 2007 acquisition have resigned, with the exception of Berner. The agreement with the senior secured lenders also established $150 million in new money Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing, which the company believes will provide sufficient liquidity and the necessary capital to emerge from bankruptcy. There is also the establishment of substantive terms for the $550 million in debt that will stay on the company's balance sheet. RDA's pro form capital structure will include the $150 million exit facility; $300 million in a second priority U.S. term loan and approximately another $100 million (USD) in a current Euro Term Loan, both part of the senior secured lenders agreement; and a single class of common stock.

RDA's international operations will not be affected by the Chapter 11 filing.

In conjunction with the bankruptcy announcement last week, RDA chose not to make a $27 million interest payment on its 9% Senior Subordinated Notes due 2017. Instead, the company is utilizing a 30-day grace period available to it as discussions are ongoing with the lender group and stakeholders in the push for a consensual de-leveraging transaction. RDA stressed that choosing not to make the payment does not constitute default, which would allow for the acceleration of the Senior Subordinated Notes or any other debt.

A person familiar with the case said that the key obstacle that remains for RDA is negotiating with the lenders of $600 million in junior subordinated debt. If the company has any hope of succeeding with a pre-packaged Chapter 11, it needs two-thirds of the dollar amount and half the number of the lending group to agree to a plan and the offer made to these lenders has been mainly a buy-in.

Berner said today, "We look forward to emerging with a restructured balance sheet and as a financially stronger organization that is positioned to pursue our growth and transformational initiatives."

Reader's Digest, like the majority of print media outlets, has taken a beating from declining advertising dollars and a shrinking readership base. Earlier this year, the magazine lowered the number of issues released per year from 12 to 10, and lowered its circulation guarantee with advertisers from 8 million to 5.5 million. In its 10-Q filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the second quarter, RDA reported revenues were down from $575 million in the first three months of 2008 to $479 million in 2009, with operating losses of $535.9 million and net losses for the nine months ending March 31st 2009 of $652.6 million. The company also reduced the value of its trademark on the name Reader's Digest from $621 million in 2008 to $288.7 million this year.

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer

Distressed Business Services

Many NACM Affiliates are involved in a national network to provide assistance in the rehabilitation (if possible) or liquidation (if necessary) of businesses in severe financial difficulty.

While courts can take several months or more to start a reorganization plan, NACM Affiliates can assist in getting a plan approved in as little as 30 days. Most helpful is the knowledge that experienced professionals are ready to step in at the most difficult time. NACM Affiliate staff members can serve as secretary to creditors' committees, provide other needed advisory services and are fully aware of the prevailing laws and regulations relevant to each situation.

Click here to learn more about NACM's Distressed Business Services.

UBS Settlement on Offshore Tax Fraud Gets Mixed Reviews

Opinions on the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) offshore tax fraud settlement with Swiss financial services giant UBS AG have ranged from positive to suspicious, with some left wondering if the terms of the agreement are good for the American taxpayer in the long run. Both sides of the political aisle agree, however, that more work on increasing tax compliance remains.

"This settlement is an important step in the fight against offshore tax fraud, and I welcome the diligence the IRS has shown to resolve this case," said Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, whose jurisdiction includes tax issues. "Still, the fight is far from over."

The IRS sued UBS in February in order to compel the firm to give up information on Swiss accounts used by some U.S. taxpayers and businesses to hide income and assets in order to avoid paying taxes. According to the terms of this most recent settlement, UBS will turn over the details on an estimated 4,450 accounts that have met certain criteria agreed upon by the IRS and the Swiss government.

Initially, however, the IRS was seeking information on 52,000 accounts, and the major drop in this number has left some suspicious of the settlement's worth. "The IRS needs to increase its enforcement of offshore tax evasion. Prior IRS commissioners agreed with Finance Committee leaders and other senators that it was time to crack the whip," said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member on the aforementioned Finance Committee. "It's not clear whether the UBS settlement is a good deal for the U.S. taxpayers. It may be, but before I render judgment, I need to know more, including how the IRS whittled down 52,000 accounts to 4,450." Additionally, Grassley noted that countries other than Switzerland are enabling tax evasion. "I'm also interested in whether the IRS is pursuing enforcement involving other countries too, especially those that don't have tax treaties with the U.S.," Grassley added.

Both Baucus and Grassley, as leaders of the Finance Committee, have repeatedly investigated ways to reduce the nation's tax gap, representing $345 billion in annually uncollected but legally owed taxes. Many measures have been proposed to reduce this gap, from cracking down on tax evaders, to tacking on a 3% withholding tax on all government contracts with businesses.

"We do not know whether the UBS scams represent the iceberg or the tip of the iceberg, and I am eager to find out more about this issue," said Baucus. "I look forward to examining this settlement and will continue working with the IRS to provide them the tools they need to combat and prevent such abuses."

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer

Climate Change Bill Debate Heats Up

As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released provocative numbers about the planet's temperature last week, the debate over Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey's (D-MA) "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009" (ACESA) climate change legislation continued to heat up.

According to NOAA's Climatic Data Center, the earth's ocean surface temperature in July was the warmest on record—1.06 degrees above the 20th century average of 61.5 degrees—and broke the previous high set in 1998. In the more than 120 years that the data has been collected, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature for July was the fifth warmest on record.

NOAA said the El Niño effect in the Pacific could be the culprit for some of the impact, as related sea-surface temperature anomalies increased for the sixth consecutive month. Still worthy of note is that Arctic Sea ice coverage decreased to the third-lowest level recorded and has continued to decrease at a rate of 6.1% per decade since 1979, which will likely add more fodder for proponents of the Waxman-Markey bill that narrowly passed the House in June and is awaiting Congress' return in September for debate to resume in the Senate. The bill requires a 17% reduction from 2005 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, striving for an 83% reduction by 2050.

On the other side of the argument is economics. Manufacturers and energy producers are the prime targets of the Waxman-Markey bill as it looks to curb greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades; the two industries emit the largest amounts of greenhouse gases. These industries argue that carrying the burden of additional costs placed on them by the bill will ultimately lead to massive job losses, an apt argument as the country stares at a 9.4% unemployment rate and wobbles toward economic recovery. For example, the American Petroleum Institute (API) claims that as many as 341,000 jobs would be eliminated in Texas alone if the version of the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House is signed unchanged into law. According to the analysis done by CRA International—the consulting firm API commissioned to conduct the study—the ACESA legislation would result in two million jobs lost across the United States and result in a 1.3% decline in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.

The advocacy group Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) has lauded the Waxman-Markey bill as a step forward and continues to call for increased bipartisan support to ensure that the bill receives enough votes to clear the Senate hurdle. From REP's perspective, "winning broader support would require Senate Democrats to make a good-faith effort to engage Republicans" while at the same time requiring Republicans to contribute credible ideas for crafting a universally applauded version of the bill. The REP has drawn similarities to Ronald Reagan's battle to protect the ozone layer from emissions in 1987 to President Barack Obama's environmental/industry stand-off today. The argument of economic impact was prevalent then as well.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) also recently released a commissioned study of the Waxman-Markey bill that came to similar conclusions as API's. According to the analysis, by 2030, job losses in the U.S. resulting from the legislation would be between 1.8 million and 2.4 million. It also warned that by 2020, gasoline prices would increase between 8.4% to 11.1% and that those percentages would more than double by 2030, with natural gas and electricity prices seeing considerable increases as well. According to the NAM/ACCF study, losses to GDP between 2012 and 2030 would range between $2.2 trillion and $3.1 trillion, while GDP would fall between 1.8-2.4% by 2030 as a result of the Waxman-Markey bill.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has lashed out against the NAM study, calling the projected costs "grossly overestimated." "For example, they inexplicably restrict the amount of wind energy that can come online each year through 2030 to a level (5,000 megawatts) that was greatly exceeded last year (8,358 megawatts) and will soon be again this year," said Liz Perera, Washington representative, UCS. Much like REP, she recommended, "It's time for the country to work together to resolve this problem rather than trying to confuse the public."

While the senators have returned to their respective states to address local issues, as well as hear their constituents' opinions on the issues of health care and the environment, evidence for both sides will continue to mount. ACESA eked by in the House by a mere seven votes, and though Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in the Senate as well, it does not mean the bill's future is already written.

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer

Commercial Real Estate Woes Far From Over, Survey Shows

Despite signs that the global economic free fall may be over, conditions in the commercial real estate sector remain extremely stressed. A financing drought and declining property fundamentals are pushing up both "maturity" and "performance" defaults on commercial mortgages, threatening to undermine the economy's longer term ability to create jobs and grow, according to The Real Estate Roundtable's latest quarterly survey of senior commercial real estate executives.

Of the 120 CEOs, chairmen, presidents, board members and other top executives participating in the Q3 "Sentiment Survey," 93% said asset values are lower than they were a year ago, while 82% expect values to remain roughly the same or to erode even further in the next 12 months.

Debt markets, while reportedly back "from the brink of historic collapse," remain highly dysfunctional. Seventy-one percent of respondents said credit availability is worse today than a year ago, while 41% characterized it as "much worse." Not surprisingly, given the degree of current weakness, a majority of respondents (62%) expect credit conditions to be at least "somewhat better" by this time next year.

"The vast challenges facing commercial real estate today are far from over. Continued comprehensive policy action is called for to bring liquidity back to the market and avoid a cascade of negative repercussions for the economy," said Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer. "A sick commercial real estate sector means less revenue for local governments; layoffs and cutbacks for construction, hotel and retail workers; and an even smaller retirement nest egg for millions of investors."

The new overall sentiment index reading of 49 remains significantly below the ideal of 100—a reflection of the extreme weakness in current market conditions. The overall index is measured on a scale of 1 to 100 and is based on an average of the "Current Conditions" and "Future Conditions" indices. To attain an overall index of 100, all survey respondents would have to answer that conditions are "much better" today compared to one year ago, and will also be "much better" 12 months from now.

The Current Conditions index now stands at 36 and the Future Conditions index at 62. The Roundtable cautioned that the slight increase in the indices should not be taken as a sign of "improvement" in commercial real estate markets, but rather that the sense of a free fall in the markets had subsided. As one survey respondent said, "I felt until recently like we were running in quicksand, but we're not doing that anymore."

In his July 9 testimony before the congressional Joint Economic Committee, DeBoer urged a number of policy steps including extending the Term Asset-Backed Lending Facility (TALF) until year-end 2010, creating a federal program to facilitate origination of new loans (potentially, along the lines of a loan guarantee model cited by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke) and temporarily easing tax restrictions governing commercial real estate loans that have been securitized, so that borrowers and servicers can begin discussing potential work-outs before the point of default. [Visit www.rer.org for the testimony and the full set of Roundtable recommendations in this area.]

Bernanke on July 22 signaled that further governmental action might be appropriate to support the commercial real estate debt market—including a possible extension of TALF and some kind of federal guarantee program for commercial mortgages.

Source: Real Estate Roundtable

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