economy, entrepreneurship, risk management

Management Flaws in Corporate America

The most recent rounds of corporate earnings reports for retail companies has by and large been very disappointing. Many companies are struggling to survive in an environment dominated by a few large ecommerce companies. (1) Life in an age of COVID has driven many to rely upon online sales.

Disappointing earnings have resulted in lowered outlooks and fallen stock prices of many retail companies. (2)

I recently had the opportunity to talk to several people who work in corporate America, particularly retail. What I learned is scary.

In addition to focusing on closing stores and reducing costs, many companies are resorting to extreme discounting and price matching strategies in order to draw in more traffic and stimulate sales. However, the net impact of this approach has been to alienate the company’s high value core clients (due to impaired customer service) and to attract a clientele that is focused on lower price and discounts. As a result margins are being squeezed even more than before.

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economy, health, income, risk management

New Employment Realities As Recession Risks Rise

“I’VE BEEN LET GO…”

It’s a terrifying experience… being fired or laid off from a job you have done well for a number of years. It seems daily that you see headlines focused on labor, hiring, and the shortage of trained help.

While the monthly jobs numbers are heralded as a sign of a strong economy there are undercurrents of weakness. New weekly unemployment claims continue to run over 375,000. While many businesses are expressing frustration about being unable to find new employees, such an elevated level of layoffs is confusing. (1) For decades more than half of all American’s have little or no savings. In 2020 personal savings rose as people saved much of the money received due to government programs to support the economy through fiscal policy. In 2021 73% of households had saved $1,000 to $5,000. That said, only 5% of households had more than $10,000 in savings. (2) Many companies report a weakening expectation for revenue and growth. The renewed outbreaks of COVID with the Delta variant, no prospect of more fiscal support, and elevated inflation are taking a toll. (3) CEOs are concerned about the effect of oncoming changes in Fed policy and it has caused many companies to delay capital investments and expansion. (4)

Many analysts have already indicated that China is in a recession. Some expect a slowdown or recession in the US within the next 6 to 12 months. Many are looking at the current economic environment and using the term “Stagflation” … a term last used in the 1970s. (5)

With that being the case, it pays to be prepared and understand what unemployment means in this new economic environment.

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Climate change, economy, environment, ESG, retirement, risk management, Socially Responsible Investing, SRI

Divestment From Fossil Fuels Gathers Steam

As an investor in today’s economy, you have a say in what companies you invest in and support. By investing in a company, you are effectively voting with your dollars.

By the same token, as an investor you also have the right to purposefully refuse to invest in a specific company or industry. Perhaps you disagree with their business model or you oppose the negative impacts they are having on society. This act of withholding investment is at the core of “Divestment”.

Without access to capital markets, fossil fuel companies cannot finance their operations. As fewer buyers come in to buy shares of fossil fuel companies, the potential value of these companies decline.

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AI, economy, income, risk management

Productivity and Robots

With the advent of COVID and the global shutdown of the economy, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) took on an increased importance with how business got done. Businesses invested in technology to assist in the change to work from home and the need to be social distanced. COVID accelerated a process that was already in process.

For decades the US economy has suffered from stagnant wages and stifled productivity. While the economy has grown in GDP since 1970 growing from $1 trillion to $18.5 trillion in 2016 and $20.513 trillion in 2018, the American worker has not enjoyed commensurate benefits. (1) Wages have remained flat for decades. 

In the past, studies have shown that part of the reason for this was the development of the computer and its influence on businesses improving efficiency. 

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Climate change, environment, retirement, risk management, Socially Responsible Investing, SRI

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

People are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of climate change. In October of 2018 the UN Panel on Climate Change stated we have 12 years to halt the growth of CO2 if we hope to avoid the worst possible consequences of global warming. (1) Yet following the shutdown of the global economy in 2020, the release of CO2 has accelerated. “In 2021 global energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to rebound and grow by 4.8% as demand for coal, oil and gas rebounds with the economy. The increase of over 1 500 Mt CO2 would be the largest single increase since the carbon-intensive economic recovery from the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, it leaves global emissions in 2021 around 400 Mt CO2, or 1.2%, below the 2019 peak.” (2)

Atmospheric CO2 in June 2021 stands at 418/ppm. In June 2020 the figure stood at 416/ppm. Ten years ago, in June 2011, the measure stood at 390/ppm. (3)

This awareness that the build-up of atmospheric CO2 is accelerating has led to many projects that are working to effect change. Greta Thunberg has raised the awareness of students and leaders to protest the inaction of adults on Climate. John Lui and others have organized eco-restoration camps to foster regenerative agriculture and to plant many more trees in degraded environments. Many foundations and pensions are pursuing divestment strategies from fossil fuel companies to reduce the capital available to produce carbon intensive projects. More people are turning to socially responsible investing as a way to have their own investments impact what the future will look like.

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economy, interest rates, retirement, risk management

2021 Inflation and Parallels to the Seventies

My most vivid memory of the Seventies is sitting in the car with my siblings and parents in a mall parking lot the week before Christmas and my mother crying because they couldn’t afford presents and had to file bankruptcy. For a 12 year old it made the challenges of real life… real.

The seventies were a traumatic time for many Americans… the end of the Vietnam war, the political chaos of Watergate and Nixon, the oil embargo, gas rationing throughout the decade, the suffocation of unions, the loss of jobs and industries as Japan and South Korea became exporters. Economic instability was an ever-present cloud.

Moving in waves through the decade, the economy suffered from bouts of inflation and deflation. It made policy decision-making challenging at best… boost the economy to keep it from slowing down, or is the economy running too hot?

When you drill down one sees many similarities between conditions that led to the “stagflation of the 1970s” and the situation we find ourselves in post COVID.

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Climate change, economy, environment, retirement, risk management

Global future growth… and Climate Change

A recent Bloomberg article titled “The Global Growth Hotspots of the Future Are Here” discussed an HSBC report which advises that investors need to focus on the growth of cities in the Emerging Markets. (1)

“While wealthier countries are more urbanized today, the proportion of urban to rural dwellers in emerging markets is expected to climb to 63 percent in 2050 from 50 percent now, according to the study, which draws on research by McKinsey and the United Nations.

Developing nations’ emissions are rising fast and the report predicted that their share of cumulative emissions would reach 51 percent by 2020. (2)

By 2050 some 5 billion people – more than half the world’s population – will live in emerging market cities, and account for more than half of global gross domestic product growth.

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Climate change, economy, entrepreneurship, environment, ESG, life insurance, new economy, protection, retirement, risk management, Socially Responsible Investing, SRI

Embracing the Future: An Interview with Charlotte Markward

I met Charlotte and her Husband Randy years ago at a Green Drinks in Philadelphia. It was before the days of Tesla, widespread solar power and organic food sections at the grocery store. People got together to share a beer and dream about a future that would be more sustainable. Things have changed a great deal in the past few years.

Charlotte is a graphic designer based in Philadelphia. She has agreed to share some of her experiences and insights so that we all might have an easier path to financial security.

Charlotte has been interested in supporting socially responsible investing for many years. I asked her what it means to her. Charlotte said, “For one thing it’s smart. We have a finite amount of resources and we are running out of them. To continue doing things in the old ways is to set yourself up for failure. Green investment is where the growth will be.”

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economy, income, interest rates, retirement, risk management

“Rising Prices in the Economy”: Inflation Post COVID

In September 2020 Jay Powell announced that the Federal Reserve would adjust how it reacts to inflation, one of its chief mandates, and allow inflation to run hotter for longer. The expectation is that it will be several years before the Fed raises interest rates. Traditionally, elevated rates of inflation indicate the economy is operating at full capacity and may be in danger overheating. Following the COVID recession of 2020 the Fed is trying to create a positive environment for the recovery.

In the Spring of 2021 signs of inflation are abundant. Since the fall of 2020 commodity prices had risen dramatically. Lumber prices had soared as supply constraints limited what was available, especially as housing prices went up and building accelerated. Copper surged to new record highs. Wheat, corn and other food commodities went up as the economy reopened and supply couldn’t keep up with demand.

Among tech businesses a shortage of computer chips affected the building of everything from cars to exercise equipment. “Just in time” supply chains showed increasing strain.

To top things off, a gasoline pipeline was held hostage by a ransomware attack in early May 2021. The result was gasoline shortages and higher prices throughout the east coast US.

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Climate change, economy, environment, risk management

Rising global temperatures can hurt global GDP

A study released by the science journal Nature makes the connection between the rise of global temperatures and the negative impact this can have on GDP around the world. In the study, titled “Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production”, researchers found that “fundamental productive elements of modern economies, such as workers and crops, exhibit highly non-linear responses to local temperature even in wealthy countries.” Meaning as temperatures rise, the effect is much greater and accelerates in ways that are potentially disastrous. (1)

One of the lead authors, Marshall Burke of Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science, calls their study “the first evidence that economic activity in all regions is coupled to the global climate.”

The study continues, “If future adaptation mimics past adaptation, unmitigated warming is expected to reshape the global economy by reducing average global incomes roughly 23% by 2100 and widening global income inequality.”

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