Vol. 62: Strategic Finance Fundamentals: It’s time!

“If I am through learning, I am through.”– John Wooden

Some of you will remember – back in the day – the E. F. Hutton commercials that intoned, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” (Some of you are probably wondering – who is E.F. Hutton in the first place?) These days, the Sage of Omaha has taken their place and has the ear of many. When I finished re-reading Warren Buffett’s Annual Letter to Shareholders, it resonated with similar messages in a number of recent articles.

What is growth?

From a Wall Street Journal article on March 25 discussing Conoco/Phillips’ future plans: “We asked ourselves, ‘What is growth?’” an executive said. “Growth could be viewed as just growing absolute volumes, but we felt that in this challenging environment what’s really important is to grow the value of the company.”

Or this one, from an article in the April 5 edition of Business Week about the Sears/K-Mart merger: “Simplistic analyses … ignore the fact that negative or below-market returns on invested capital are as harmful to creditors as to shareholders.”

Finally, in Warren Buffett’s shareholder letter, (more…)

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Small business still swimming upstream

Like big bears hovering over the waterline picking off salmon swimming upstream, the economy is not  much of a friend to small business. As you probably realize, small businesses generated 65% of the job growth between 1993 and 2008, and represent about half of the private-sector employment in the U.S., according to the Small Business Administration. “Smaller firms, with fewer than 20 employees, account for 25% of all jobs, but they generated 40% of the [job] growth in the last expansion in 2001,” says Joseph Brusuelas, a director and senior economist at Moody’s Economy.com.

Nouriel Roubini, the NYU economist,  writes in a column published in BusinessWeek that the small business economy, is still mired in an “deep and persistent recession”. In fact, a Goldman Sachs analyst recently explained that small business sentiment is out of line with other measures of the economy, like GDP.

What’s the answer? A recent meeting of chief executives concluded that efforts need to center on getting more credit to small and mid-market businesses. The CEOs argued that the main impediment to a faster economic recovery was the high level of unemployment and called for ensuring that credit was available to jump-start hiring, with an emphasis on smaller businesses. I seriously doubt that’s the holdup and am inclined to agree more with the NFIB Chief Economist. (more…)

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