What Does the Fed’s Prediction of Increasing Growth Mean for Business Owners?

Posted on July 2, 2013

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Last month Chairman Bernanke spoke and the markets reacted by dropping more than 5% in a few days.  Clearly he must have shared some very bad news for business owners.

Actually not!  Coming into the year many observers thought that the federal budget sequester would put the economy at risk of stalling at best and dropping back into recession at worst.  Instead the Fed now foresees annual economic growth at 2-2.5% this year, moving to as much as 3.5% by 2015.  And it’s the private sector that’s carrying the load, not government programs.

Let me say that again.  The Fed now believes that growth is going to accelerate over the next several years.  As a result the economy may not need so much artificial stimulus (QE) going forward.  The economy is no longer digging a hole; we’re back to building a foundation of real economic growth.

What does this mean for the deal business and for private companies considering M&A or corporate finance transactions?  Bottom line: there is going to be much more demand for capital to fund growth.  Unless the banks step up to the plate, which we believe is unlikely, this capital must come from private lenders and equity providers.

The good news is that there is a great deal of financial market capital available to meet this need.  We just closed a mezzanine financing that gave us a good window into the market’s current appetite.  Over the past few years, major investors have made significant financial commitments to entities designed to fill the void left by banks which have abandoned their commercial lending franchise.  As a result today there are numerous private debt providers seeking opportunities to provide senior, hybrid and mezzanine capital to private companies.  Where equity capital is needed, private equity groups are … read the rest

Living in a Low Growth World

Posted on May 16, 2013

Michael Drury, Chief Economist, McVean Trading and Investments LLC – Reprinted with Author’s Permission

Perhaps the question we are asked most frequently is when things will get back to normal, meaning in most investors’ eyes the way they were before Lehman.  Unfortunately, our answer is “That bird has flown” and we are now dealing with, and will continue to deal with for many years, a very different environment.  The mainstay of that difference is a lack of trust between those that have money to invest and those that want to use it for risky undertakings, and, in particular, a lack of trust in the banking system that used to intermediate between these two groups.  The result is a glut of savings available to “safe” investments driving risk-free yields to very low levels.  However, the central banks, by buying bonds and manipulating long term interest rates lower, are introducing a significant risk of capital loss into even “risk-free” assets.  Investors are both moving and driven out the risk and yield curves, and returns on riskier investments are falling.  The decline in returns at the precise time many investors want to start spending investment income has pushed up prices for proven existing income flows.  Meanwhile, a combination of distrust and a reduced pool of money that will wait long periods before income is produced have generated fewer green-field investments in physical plant and equipment, resulting in a slower potential growth path for the economy.

We are neither monetarist nor Keynesian, but rather institutionalist and a storyteller.  We see the current situation as the culmination of a long path where growing reliance on banks and the central bank to maintain economic growth has run aground.  Both re-establishing trust and balance in the old system or building a new one will take time – likely many years … read the rest

Winds of Change: Banking

Posted on May 8, 2013

John Mason – Originally Published at Seeking Alpha – Reprinted with Authors Permission

Another Executive Leaves JPMorgan…” reads the headline of the business section in the New York Times. The question is, what is going on at JPMorgan Chase (JPM)?

The timing of this last leaving is raising questions. The latest major departure is Frank Bisignano, the co-chief operating officer. The questions are about the status of Jamie Dimon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan, the “persistent executive turnover,” and the up-coming board meeting where a debate is raging about whether or not Mr. Dimon should hold both top positions.

To me, there are two reasons for the recent departure events. First, Mr. Dimon is in control and he does not like what has happened inside JPMorgan over the past two years or so, with “the London Whale” and other events that have tarnished the “bravo” image of Mr. Dimon and his bank. The activity going on inside the bank remind me of a “turnaround” operation!’

But, there is a second reason for the things that are going on. Mr. Dimon is moving JPMorgan into the future.

If this is true, then this whole effort is to move JPMorgan into the future in the face of the “hostile” regulatory environment that exists, in the face of the changes that information technology are forcing on the banking industry, and the changing nature of the financial industry.

If I were Mr. Dimon, my feeling would be that the current regulatory environment “sucks”!

Being John Mason, my feeing is that the current regulatory environment “sucks”!

In either case, the basic feeling is that I really don’t want to run a bank. I want to run something different.

Second, whatever is being done in the financial industry, the future of commercial banking…of finance … read the rest

Winds of Change: Energy

Posted on May 6, 2013

John Mason – Originally Published at Seeking Alpha – Reprinted with Authors Permission

In my last post I wrote about all the economic re-structuring that is taking place. Even though economic growth remains relatively tepid, changes are taking place in the economy that are going to dominate the future when the economy fully adjusts.

Maybe one of the reasons that the economy is growing so slowly is that the economy is going through a transition phase, like in the 1930s, where resources have to be re-allocated and re-structured in order for the economy to take off once again.

That is, resources are mis-located now relative to what is happening in the economy. For the economy to pick up its full head of steam, resources have to be re-aligned to fit what the economy is evolving into…not what it was. Economic policies that attempt to put resources…especially labor…back into the jobs they historically held…just doesn’t work!

Therefore, as I mentioned in the previous post, this re-structuring is creating tremendous opportunities for investment. But, one has to change ones perspective…and not focus on what was. This is why I found the recent article on the future of energy by Clifford Krauss in the New York Times so refreshing. The title to the article, to me, says it all, “By 2023, A Changed World in Energy.”

“If you could close your eyes for just a moment like Rip Van Winkle, and blink them open in 2023, you might see a very different energy world.

Electric cars may be popular. Solar energy could be cheap enough that millions of households and businesses deploy solar panels to generate their power needs. Fossil fuels will probably still dominate, but most trucks and many trains could run on natural gas rather than more polluting diesel. And the United States could be … read the rest

The Winds of Change Are Blowing

Posted on May 5, 2013

John Mason – Originally Published at Seeking Alpha – Reprinted with Author’s Permission

The world is changing. The world is changing because it must change. When the unemployment rate hits 27 percent, as it now stands in Spain, something more is going on than just a business cycle.

Unemployment is also above 27 percent in Greece. In Italy, the unemployment rate is close to 12 percent. In France, the unemployment rate is above 10 percent. The employment problems in these countries are not just cyclical, they are structural.

The same for the United States. Although the unemployment rate in the United States is under 8 percent, the startling figure concerning the U.S. labor market is that the labor participation rate has dropped below 64 percent, a figure not reached since the latter part of the 1970s when women were not as big a part of the workforce as they are now.

These structural forces are causing divisions between countries as the world tries to recover from the Great Recession and more. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, “highlights eurozone divisions.” The unemployment rate in Germany is 5.4 percent.

But, as we know, the utilization of capital in the western world tends to be lower now, for this stage in the business cycle, that at any other time in the past fifty years. Western countries are not only not using the human capital that is available; it is not using the physical capital it possesses. The competitiveness of the eurozone is an issue that comes up over and over again.

Phillip Stephens writes in the Financial Times about The New Deal for Europe: More Reform, Less Austerity. “High unemployment in Europe is not just a reflection of recession. It often mirrors ossified labor markets that lock out young people and discourage investment and innovation.”

But … read the rest

Will a Superabundance of Capital Lead to an M&A Boom?

Posted on February 17, 2013

Authored by John Mason

“Bain & Company, the consultancy, forecasts a ‘superabundance of capital’ between now and 2020. In a recent report it argued that markets would be distorted by surpluses in Asian and Middle Eastern countries and private investment funds.

“It estimates that the world’s financial assets will outbalance its domestic product by ten to one – it will have $900 trillion of financial assets compared with $90 trillion of GDP – by 2020. The result will be a ‘world that is structurally awash in capital’ chasing few opportunities.

“‘Capital superabundance will increase the frequency, intensity, size and longevity of asset bubbles. The propensity for bubbles to form will be magnified as yield-hungry investors race to put capital into assets that show the potential to generate superior returns,’ the report concludes.”

These words from John Gapper appeared over the weekend in the Financial Times of London.

The signs of this possibility, according to Gapper, are two: first, the presence of lots and lots of cash on the balance sheets of corporations, hedge funds, and other financial interests; and second, the apparent movement in the buyout and acquisition market that reflects a growing belief among international investors that the US economy is stabilizing, the eurozone crisis has reached its final stages, and that elsewhere in the world economic recovery continues and capital flows are increasing. Apparently with these events, the desire to take on more risk has risen.

I have written for three years or so about the build up of cash on the balance sheets of corporations. Companies that never had issued long-term debt before took advantage of exceedingly low interest rates to increase their cache of money. The basic reasoning behind this buildup was that these financially sound firms would “make a killing” as the United States economy began to grow faster … read the rest

A Wonderful Life for Community Banks?

Posted on December 27, 2012

During the yearend holidays we reach out for the comfort of the familiar.  One of the best ways to do that is to revisit films with a seasonal focus such as White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street and most particularly It’s a Wonderful Life.  Directed by Frank Capra and released December 20, 1946, the film, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed tells the story of a young man, George Bailey, who was plunged into a difficult and entirely unfair situation as a result of the actions of others beyond his control.  George is driven to a point of such deep despair that he is considering suicide.  He is saved by a guardian angel and the support of those for whom he has toiled unselfishly for years.  For decades the film has provided us with the assurance that, if we just do right by others, we will ultimately be redeemed.

Great film of course, but did you ever think about the underlying issues that forced George Bailey to consider jumping off a bridge?  Bailey begrudgingly inherited a community-oriented Building and Loan Association in the 1940’s when just before Christmas his Uncle lost over $8,000 on the way to make a deposit.  The regulators had just arrived at the Building and Loan and found the loss.  They promptly issued a warrant for George’s arrest.  Even though he was innocent George was so unwound by the actions of the regulators that he felt his life was at end.

Fast forward to 2012.  This time don’t look for a friendly angel to save a Jimmy Stewart style hero.  On December 4, 2009 the FDIC seized Buckhead Band and sold its assets to State Bank and Trust Company of Macon, Georgia which also assumed the liabilities of the Buckhead Bank.  On December 3, 2012, just one day … read the rest

Citigroup Changes Reflect Banking Industry in Transition

Posted on December 6, 2012

John M. Mason

Banking, in the past, has always been about people. Banking was built up around customer relationships and you had to have people to create customer relationships.

Bank of America (BAC) has about 275,000 employees; Wells Fargo (WFC) has some 265,000; JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has about 260,000; and Citigroup (C) also has around 260,000 employees.

Banks needed people to relate to their customers, to entertain their customers, to solve problems for their customers and to smile at their customers. People, we were told, were the “face” of the bank.

But, observers of the actions taken by Citigroup argue that this is only the first step, according to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the “opening salvo in a wave of cutbacks, business sales and other moves that could reduce the company’s global reach.” In another article in the Journal it is argued that this move “had better not turn out to be the whole show. Citi still needs reinvention.”

Departments need to go. Subsidiaries need to go. And, so on and so forth. The bank needs to be structured for the twenty-first century.

I certainly agree that commercial banks need to restructure. And, I certainly agree that banks need to become less of a “people” business. But, this is all a part of the evolution of the banking industry.

Let me begin with a true story.

In 1972, I joined the faculty of the Finance Department of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. This department was one of the leaders in the “new wave” of financial research talking about “betas” and the “CAPM model” and other such exotic topics of the time.

My background was banking and there were no courses at the time at Wharton about the management or … read the rest

November 2012 Capital Matters Newsletter

Posted on November 21, 2012

 Will 2013 Witness a Mergers and Acquisitions Boom?

The market for mergers and acquisitions is highly cyclical. After more than 25 years in the business we have seen a lot of ups and downs. Certainly the last 5 years witnessed one of the sharpest declines we’ve witnessed.

Source: Pitchbook

However, recent developments lead us to believe that we could be quickly moving into a period of very rapid recovery that will take the M&A market to new highs both in terms of deal volume and valuations.

In our last newsletter we presented evidence that valuations for good middle-market companies have approached the heady levels seen in the mid 2000s.  Since then we have seen tangible evidence that transaction volume is increasing as well:

•    Axial Market is the leading transaction listing service for middle market M&A transactions.  Axial recently reported a very strong rise in new deal listings in for October 2012

Source: Axialmarket

•    Andrew Ross Sorkin recently publish an article in the New York Times entitled More Money Than They Know What To Do With indicating that the largest private equity firms are expected to become much more aggressive in bidding for mega deals to use their “dry powder” of committed, but unexpended investment funds.  Sorkin indicates that $200 billion of committed capital must be spent over the next twelve months or returned to investors.  As a result he reports that private equity deal volume jumped from $17.1 billion in Q2 2012 to $45 billion in Q3 and that purchase price multiples have jumped in 2012 to 10.6 times EBITDA from 10.3 times EBITDA in 2011.

•    In our own practice we have recently experienced a competitive aggressiveness reminiscent of 2005-2007 between private equity firms competing to buy a large building products distributor that suffered tremendously during the crash, but has recently … read the rest

Categories: Banking, Investment Banking, Mergers and Acquisitions, Middle Market, Monthly Newsletters, Private Equity

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The Bankers Are Way Ahead Of The Regulators

Posted on November 20, 2012

The Financial Stability Board (FSB), a global financial policy group comprised of regulators and central bankers, just released new information on the status of the “shadow banking” industry. First, the FSB reported that from 2002 through 2011 the shadow banking industry grew by $41 trillion. Second, the shadow banking industry now is estimated to have $67 trillion in assets.

Note, as of November 7, 2012, the Federal Reserve H.8 statistical release shows that the total assets of all commercial banks in the United States amounts to a little less than $13 trillion. Third, the United States has the largest amount of shadow banking assets in the world, about $23 trillion.

Note, the share of activity based in the United States “has decline from 44 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2011.” The eurozone has $22 trillion in assets while Great Britain has $9 trillion.

What is a shadow bank? Lord Adair Turner, the U.K. regulator that led the FSBs work stated, “If it looks like a bank and quacks like a bank, it has got to be subject to bank-like safe-guards.” So, shadow banking is like pornography, it is what is in the eye of the beholder … in this case the regulator. It looks, therefore, as if we are in for another major round of rules and regulation for the finance industry … worldwide!

Looking for a job? I have seen many, many references to the health industry as the place to be if you want to get employed over the next decade or so. Looks to me like we have another growth industry here! If you want to get employed in a good steady job for an extended period of time become a regulator of the financial industry. Sounds like there are going to be plenty of jobs available and … read the rest

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