First Blockchain Syndicated Loan a Success

During the week of Nov. 5, the first-ever loan between three countries was transmitted via blockchain. A total of $150 million in a syndicated loan for Red El├ęctrica, the Spanish grid operator, was sent over a private blockchain network BBVA, which also worked with partners MUFG of Japan and BNP Paribas of France.

This marks an innovation in the development of blockchain, further refining the exchange of money through digital means. The timeline of the loan exchange was also time-stamped, showing a clear progression for just how quickly blockchain transactions are performed. The syndicated loan process can be done in a matter of days compared to the usual couple of weeks, and loan signing and documentation processing can be done in just a few minutes.

The blockchain network for this loan was protected with user codes, ensuring the transfer was secure and safe. BBVA not only proved using blockchain for syndicated loans saves time, it also reduced internal costs for clients. All the back-office operations were completed by the blockchain, speeding up the process and the need for tedious labor.

In many nations, governmental regulation of blockchain remains sparse if not nonexistent, and Spain has been working toward more secure blockchain structures throughout 2018. Now that Spain has successfully transferred a loan via blockchain, perhaps more innovations will occur in the near future.

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate

Chinese Exports, Imports Boom in October, Despite US Trade War

The U.S.-China trade debacle has yet to cease, but according to a CNBC report on Nov. 1, Chinese exports and imports flourished in October, reaching a trade surplus of $31.78 billion with the U.S. Despite economists’ predictions of an overall $35 billion trade surplus, the country’s General Administration of Customs reported it was nearly $1 billion less.

Chinese exports and imports improved over October 2017’s numbers, rising 15.6% and 21.4%, respectively. In a Reuters poll, economists predicted only an 11% growth in the country’s exports in addition to a mere 14% growth in imports.

“Many economists say the phenomenon is mostly due to exports benefiting from increased orders before the tariff’s hit, but the figures are likely to show stress in the months ahead,” CNBC states.

“The government would say confidence is the issue and the trade war is the trigger, so that’s why we should blame the trade war,” added Independent Economist Andy Xie in an interview with CNBC. “It’s an excuse to not do anything (to solve the problem, and) rather to frame this as part of the big trade war.”

Year-over-year, September’s export and import numbers in China weren’t as successful as last month’s results; however, they did improve over 2017, growing 14.5% and 14.3%, respectively.

­—Andrew Michaels, editorial associate

The 2018 Election Results on Public Construction Funding

The Nov. 6 election saw record voter turnouts across the country, making history in gubernatorial and Congressional elections. Results flooded in, changing the balance of power in the House of Representatives and shaking up statewide legislation. The construction industry saw changes too, primarily in terms of funding public projects. Several states voted to: use gas taxes to fund projects, fund water systems projects, fund new transportation construction efforts and more. Some of the biggest changes to construction funding came out of Florida, New Jersey, California, Missouri and Colorado.

Two counties in Florida—Broward and Hillsborough Counties—voted to pay more for transportation and infrastructure. Broward County voters passed a 30-year tax increase that will fund a new bus service, begin construction of bike lanes and build road drainage projects in flood-prone areas. Other transportation-focused construction initiatives will also receive funds. Hillsborough County voted to increase county sales tax by 1% to pay for road improvements.

New Jersey voted to borrow $500 million to improve water systems in public schools and increase funding for K-12 security measures. Other projects include funding vocational schools and expanding educational efforts outside of the construction sphere.

California voted “no” on Proposition 6, meaning the state will continue to fund public construction projects through fuel taxes. These taxes are part of an effort to fund a $52 billion state infrastructure initiative.

Unlike Florida, New Jersey and California, Missouri and Colorado voted against funding public construction projects.

Missouri voters rejected Proposition D, meaning the state’s fuel tax will not be increasing by 10 cents per gallon. The funding would have been used for road and bridge construction. This result does not come as a surprise to most voters as the most recent gas tax for construction funding in Missouri was passed more than 20 years ago.

Colorado rejected not one but two proposals—Propositions 109 and 110—to fund public projects to “Fix Our Damn Roads” and increase taxes by 0.62% to fund $6 billion for multimodal projects, upgrades to roads, bridges and highways.

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate

For more construction news, visit NACM's Secured Transaction Services.

E-Payments Make Another Stride Forward for B2B Transactions

Another initiative to push e-payments in and paper checks out of the business-to-business (B2B) sphere emerged recently, this new method using libraries in a Business Payments Network (BPN). Visa and Billtrust announced an open buyer and supplier payments platform designed to digitize the payment chain between businesses.

Most consumers have switched from cash and checks to debit cards and e-payments, but B2B payments have largely resisted this change: two-thirds of all business transactions are still done through paper mail. Banks and payment companies have been attempting to innovate the process recently, catching the B2B world up to speed.

Throughout the last 20 or so years, Billtrust compiled information from roughly 2,000 suppliers in the U.S., tracking how each supplier accepts e-payments (by card or ACH). After it’s determined how the supplier will be paid, the accounts payable (AP) provider—a bank or an independent software company—will send the instructions through the BPN to pay the supplier by the preferred method.

While this effort has taken a couple of decades to launch and checks still remain relevant in B2B payments, the use of this BPN will not make any significant changes overnight. But this method may inspire businesses moving forward into the e-payment and digital world.

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate

Freight Shipments Fall in Q3, Spending Sees Increase

The effects of Hurricane Florence and tariffs on imported goods impacted 2018’s Q3, seeing a 5.2% quarterly decline in freight shipments, according to the U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index. Year-over-year, freight shipments fell by 1.1%.

Even with these drops, freight spend still increased by 13.5%, year-over-year. Constrained trucking capacity limited the amount of goods that were shipped, but it is likely the jump in freight spending comes from higher-than-average transaction prices.

Clean up and restoration from Hurricane Florence still continues in the southeastern United States, which will likely boost sales and freight shipments for relief efforts. The demand for labor and supplies is predicted to balance out the freight industry in the areas affected by Florence as the year comes to an end, but it may not see an immediate bounce back.

"As trucking often leads the broader economy, the decreases seen in the U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index suggest economic growth may have peaked and may decelerate in the fourth quarter and beyond," Bob Costello, chief economist for American Trucking Associations (ATA), said in the press release. "Despite the sequential decreases in freight shipments and spending last quarter, the national truck market remains solid and capacity tight."

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate

Super Typhoon Yutu and Recovery Efforts in US Territories

One of the strongest storms to hit the U.S. since 1935 struck western U.S. territories Oct. 25, leaving more than 100 injured and one dead, according to KUAM News. Relief efforts continue, now with help from federal funds as a Major Disaster Declaration for Super Typhoon Yutu was confirmed Oct. 27. With such devastating damage, rebuilding efforts will include construction, which will likely trigger a larger customer base and much-needed attention in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam where the storm hit hardest.

Yutu comes just a month after Typhoon Mangkhut, another serious storm that hit Guam and the Philippines. Recovery efforts for Yutu are expected to be slow predicted Brandon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Especially given the lack of Western media attention throughout the week of Oct. 25 and onward, construction efforts may be overlooked but are still necessary.

"This is the worst-case scenario. This is why the building codes in the Marianas are so tough," Aydlett said in a CBS News story. "This is going to be the storm which sets the scale for which future storms are compared."

When working with customers in U.S. territories, like U.S. states, all laws vary. Guam last updated its Mechanic’s Lien Law in 2009, repealing the 1962 law that was previously in place. To learn more about doing business in Guam and other U.S. territories during times of natural disasters, visit NACM’s Secured Transactions’ Lien Navigator.

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate

For more construction news, visit NACM's Secured Transaction Services.

Somber Credit Managers’ Index Starts Q4

After a string of solid results in NACM’s Credit Managers’ Index (CMI) starting this past spring, the predictive index is at its worst output since April. The October CMI reading dropped nearly two points to 54.5 from 56.4 in September.

“This is not an emergency situation to be sure as these numbers are still solidly in the mid-50s, but it isn’t the trend that had been hoped for at this point in the year,” said NACM Economist Chris Kuehl, Ph.D.

Much of the deterioration was found in the favorable factors, with sales declining more than six points to its lowest level in 2018. Overall, the favorables sank to 61.6.

Within the unfavorable factors, bankruptcies slipped below a score of 53 for the first time since May 2017. The overall unfavorable index dipped into contraction territory (score below 50) for the first time since April.

“This was a fairly profound slide which comes at an awkward time. This is the time of year services should be carrying the load, but it isn’t at the moment, while manufacturing generally slides until the first of the year,” concluded Kuehl.

The full October 2018 CMI report will be published Oct. 31 on NACM’s website.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

Moody’s: US Oil Sector Debt Levels ‘Unsustainable’

The current debt levels of U.S. oilfield and drilling (OFS) companies is unsustainable over the long term. According to Moody’s Investors Service, OFS companies need a “substantial improvement in cash flow.”

"U.S. oilfield services and drilling companies' high debt levels will continue to constrain their credit quality in 2019 and beyond," said Sreedhar Kona, a Moody's senior analyst. "The largest firms are significantly better positioned to regain their credit strength next year than the smaller ones, though the threat of balance sheet restructuring will persist, particularly for the latter."

Smaller and less diversified OFS companies face the most risk, while larger firms such as Schlumberger and Halliburton stand to benefit the most from an OFS recovery. Over the past 10 years OFS credit quality as a sector weakened. The average debt to EBITDA ratio increased more than 4.5 times in 2017, states Moody’s.

“A decade ago, earnings were growing more quickly than debt, but the reverse was true between 2008 and 2014, then in 2015-16 cash flow shrank by more than 30%, with a consequent tripling in leverage,” concluded the release.

-Michael Miller, managing editor

Large Firms in UK Still Pay Late Despite Legislation

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the U.K. announced this week that larger firms that do not pay their suppliers on time should be stripped of government contracts. Late payments have caused nearly 50,000 companies annually to shut down, according to The Guardian. The firms owe tens of billions of pounds, and the closures of these companies have led to economic costs amounting to around 2.4 billion pounds.

Before U.K. giant Carillion went bankrupt, the company signed off on the Prompt Payment Code, which Carillion now stated does not have a real impact on the late payments landscape. FSB also said sanctions against larger firms should be enacted, including a ban from government businesses. Eighty-four percent of FSB member firms reported being paid late regularly, and at least one third of firms said that 25% of payments arrive later than the agreed upon terms.

“One member told me he was put on terms of 180 days. Our members are providing the working capital of big companies,” said FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry in a Financial Times report. Cherry also said despite the several government initiatives to solve late payments, late payments have only gotten worse.

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate

Metals Market Reacts to Death of Saudi Journalist, China’s Economic Dip

The global equity market is reacting to geopolitical tensions as the price of copper fell amid the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the slowing demand of copper in China, according to a recent article by Reuters. Benchmark copper fell a total of 0.7%, now costing a total of $6,196 per ton.

Today, Turkey’s president stated the death of Khashoggi was “savagely planned” by Saudi Arabia, likely in response to Khashoggi’s comments on the Saudi government and exercise of free speech through the press. With such political unrest between the two countries, the price of copper fell. “Metals are reacting to what is happening in equity markets right now,” said Capital Economics senior commodities economist Caroline Bain in the Reuters piece. As tensions escalate, the market will continue to react.

China has also contributed to the decline in the metals market. The country experienced the slowest growth in the third quarter since the global financial crisis. Chinese officials did announce an expansion of targeted measures that will calm financing issues following this drop in the third quarter; however, investors are not convinced such a plan will actually work.

—Christie Citranglo, editorial associate