October Credit Managers’ Index Returns to Better Level

The October report of NACM’s Credit Managers’ Index (CMI) is highlighted by a return to a respectable status.  The readings, now available at the NACM website, are back to highs seen at the start of the year.

Though off the pace set in the summer, the index of favorable factors is trending in the right direction again. The index of unfavorable also rose impressively from September’s disappointing level, the lowest point reached in almost two years. This means that the concerns about the state of creditors have eased a little.

“The rebound in the data this month could be referred to as stunning were it not that last month felt like an anomaly,” said NACM Economist Chris Kuehl, PhD. “Given the progress made through the course of the year, many were shocked at the low numbers registered in September and theories abounded to explain the slump—everything from reaction to politics to the impact of the weather…The global slowdown is still a factor and will likely put something of a damper on the US economy through the rest of the year and into next, but the domestic economy is showing some resilience and that is reflected in the numbers for October’s CMI.”

Within the favorable factors, look for particularly positive movement in sales and dollar collections. On the unfavorable factors side, of note were improvements in rejection of credit applications and accounts placed for collection.

“The sense overall is that much of the crisis atmosphere has dissipated and most creditors are staying current as far as their obligations are concerned,” Kuehl said. “The rapid rebound this month is support for the notion that last month was an anomaly and perhaps a reaction to some of the issues that emerged globally toward the end of summer.”

- NACM


For a full breakdown of the manufacturing and service sector data and graphics, view the complete October 2014 report at http://web.nacm.org/CMI/PDF/CMIcurrent.pdf. CMI archives may also be viewed on NACM’s website at http://web.nacm.org/cmi/cmi.asp.

Fed Ends Asset Purchase Program Amid Improving Economy, Rates Unchanged

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in September suggests that economic activity is expanding at a moderate pace. Labor market conditions improved somewhat further, with solid job gains and a lower unemployment rate. On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources is gradually diminishing. Household spending is rising moderately and business fixed investment is advancing, while the recovery in the housing sector remains slow. Inflation has continued to run below the Committee's longer-run objective. Market-based measures of inflation compensation have declined somewhat; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, with labor market indicators and inflation moving toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced. Although inflation in the near term will likely be held down by lower energy prices and other factors, the Committee judges that the likelihood of inflation running persistently below 2% has diminished somewhat since early this year.

The Committee judges that there has been a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market since the inception of its current asset purchase program. Moreover, the Committee continues to see sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment in a context of price stability. Accordingly, the Committee decided to conclude its asset purchase program this month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that the current 0 to 1/4% target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain this target range, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations and readings on financial developments. The Committee anticipates, based on its current assessment, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the 0 to 1/4% target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time following the end of its asset purchase program this month, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2% longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored. However, if incoming information indicates faster progress toward the Committee's employment and inflation objectives than the Committee now expects, increases in the target range for the federal funds rate are likely to occur sooner than currently anticipated. Conversely, if progress proves slower than expected, then increases in the target range are likely to occur later than currently anticipated.

When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2%. The Committee currently anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Janet L. Yellen, Chair; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Lael Brainard; Stanley Fischer; Richard W. Fisher; Loretta J. Mester; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; and Daniel K. Tarullo. Voting against the action was Narayana Kocherlakota, who believed that, in light of continued sluggishness in the inflation outlook and the recent slide in market-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations, the Committee should commit to keeping the current target range for the federal funds rate at least until the one-to-two-year ahead inflation outlook has returned to 2% and should continue the asset purchase program at its current level.

- Federal Reserve

Real Estate Backslide Continues

The significant deceleration of US housing activity continued in August, according to the latest data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. Some other metrics, however, point to at least slight hope of a turnaround by year’s end.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed 5.5% and 5.6% year-over-year gains in the 10-City and 20-City Composite Indices in August. Figures for both categories tracked at 6.7% just one month before, and even that was viewed as a disappointing drop from June. All 20 of the largest US metropolitan markets saw slower growth rates in the latest round of research, with early 2014 rebound story Las Vegas reporting the sharpest decreases in the pace of home price growth even though its 10.1% growth rate is second highest. Granted, Las Vegas continues to try to dig out of one of the worst single-market holes left after the dramatic real estate crash last decade and continues to be a big boom-and-bust. However, David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, noted all of those markets at least continued to grow, not contract, though Cleveland came dangerously close to the line (0.8% annual growth in August 2014).

Monthly statistics showed a 0.2% monthly increase between July and August. Notable were the three markets posing price declines (San Francisco, San Diego, Charlotte). There were gains of 0.5% or better in Detroit, Dallas and Denver, however. Despite the wave of negative data, Blitzer appeared more upbeat this month than in previous ones.

“Despite softer price data, other housing data perked up,” he said. “September figures for housing starts, permits and sales of existing homes were all up…Continued labor market gains, low interest rates and slower increases in home prices should support further improvements in housing.”

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

Preliminary Markit Numbers Show Slight Improvement in Global Growth

There is some good news that the flash (preliminary) estimate of the Markit Economics version of the Purchasing Managers’ Index beat the expectations of the analysts, even though the gain was hardly striking. The previous month saw the reading at 52 and this month it is at 52.2. Ordinarily this would be dismissed as essentially flat performance but, right now, Europe is grasping at straws.

Three aspects of this performance can be viewed as welcomed. The first is that, against all odds and expectations, there is growth in the euro zone. None of the prior estimates signaled that gains were imminent. The consensus opinion was that the Markit reading would perhaps be as low as 50 or even slip into contraction territory soon. That there was growth was a welcome shock, albeit one with reservations. The second piece of good news is that much of this rebound was due to improved performance in Germany. The fact is that euro zone recovery is impossible without German strength. The third issue of note is that some of the more stressed nations saw minor improvements. Although France fell deeper into contraction territory, Italy and Spain stabilized a little.

The discouraging news from the Markit report comes from the various sub-index activity, as this is often where the real detail lies. The performance of the new order index was as poor as expected and that reinforces the notion that most of these nations are nervous, cautious and, thus, unwilling to take risks of any substance.

Other sub-index concerns focus on the employment side of things. Layoffs became a concern again and there are more businesses suggesting that they will be reducing the size of their workforce. At this point, it doesn’t appear that mass layoffs are on the way, but even an extended trickle of lost jobs will further hamper the recovery as people become very concerned that they will be next on the chopping block. This makes the business community even more uneasy and leads to more firing. It’s all a very unhealthy cycle.

- Armada Corporate Intelligence

STS, ASA, Industry Awaits Response of Protest Against Texas Municipality's Bond Waiver Plan

Officials from the City of Kilgore, TX have gone quiet since a raft of opposition was voiced by the construction industry in response to their plan to waive bond requirements on a baseball complex. Chris Ring, of NACM’s Secured Transaction Services, said the plan to reduce costs by skirting obligations of a surety bond on such projects is about accountability and providing some kind of path toward payment when a problem arises.

“In Texas, once the general contract price exceeds $25,000, the general contractor is required to post a payment bond as non-payment relief for subcontractors and material suppliers—However, public agencies and general contractors can ask that the requirement for the payment bond be waived,” Ring said. “When the waiver is granted, downstream subcontractors and suppliers have no relief in the event of non-payment.  Just because a payment bond should be in place for a public project, doesn’t mean that it will be placed.  It’s critical that material supplier and subcontractors ask for and obtain copies of payment bonds, to assure they exist.”

In response to reports of the planned surety bond waiver, the American Subcontractors Association wrote to Kilgore City Council members and construction officials urging the city "to require the prime contractor to provide a 100% payment bond, as required by Texas law."

The following was noted in an ASA news release: ASA told the city that "without a payment bond, subcontractors and suppliers will encounter a dangerous void in essential payment protections for work performed." The high risk inherent in the absence of reliable payment protection can "only reasonably be expected to increase costs for the overall construction project being undertaken, as subcontractors and suppliers seek to accommodate the increased risk or even completely deter bidding by the most skilled subcontractors and suppliers, whose resources can be directed at projects for which payment protections are available."

ASA Chief Advocacy Officer E. Colette Nelson noted that Kilgore is a prime example that public entities around the country are increasingly waiving or considering waiving surety bonds. She emphasized the need for ASA and its chapters to intervene at every level of government that is considering waiving payment assurances. In addition, she reminded subcontractors on public work to confirm that the prime contractor has provided a payment bond, to obtain a copy of that bond and to assure that it complies with the all of the notice and claims procedures.

Potential Staples Breach the Latest to Shake Confidence in Data Security

Just weeks after Home Depot joined the growing list of major retailers to be hacked, Staples may have experienced the same fate. Though company officials have been significantly more vague than companies like Home Depot and Target, Staples has acknowledged it is investigating the possibility of breach of payment card security.

Perhaps the most out-front on the potential breach was not company officials or mainstream media experts but, rather, a blogger (Brian Krebs) who wrote about suspicions arising from numerous banks regarding potential fraud incidents in some of Staples’ Northeastern region locations. This puts payment security and data information back among top news stories. While mainly only retail consumers were affected—though the Target breach started when access was gained during a hack against a vendor/supplier—this breach may lead to elevated concerns even in trade credit spheres, as noted in a feature article in the November/December edition of Business Credit. After all, more and more managers are storing credit data in Cloud-based solutions. Software and Cloud-services providers, however, believe any backlash will be muted in what a very different business-to-business spheres, even as an increase in questions is a natural response from potential users.

Said Chris Calvert, vice president of sales, marketing and client services at CreditPoint Software,“if people had questions before, it might have them asking more questions…but I don’t think it is shaking our customers’ confidence in the Cloud.”

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

For in-depth coverage of recent data security breaches and their muted effect on B2B transactions, check out the feature article “Rumblings in the Cloud?” on page 16 of the November/December edition of Business Credit. The magazine is available here and is compatible with all smart devices and tablets. The printed issue should be arriving to most subscribers within the next week.

Detroit Bankruptcy Conclusion Due in Weeks?

The finish line for the complicated Detroit Chapter 9 may just be in sight, as the judge presiding over the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history has targeted the first full week of November for a ruling on the city’s exit plan.

Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said testimony and arguments will wrap next week in the city’s complicated bankruptcy case, barring an extreme situation. Granted, Rhodes had vowed early this year to move the case rapidly and have it wrapped by summer, but the complexity of the case as well as a mountain of objections and court actions from creditors trying to maximize returns and unions trying to preserve pension and health care benefits rendered the accelerated timetable impossible. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as expert attorneys like Lowenstein & Sandler LLP’s Bruce Nathan have long described the Chapter 9 process as one with high potential for delays and complications not seen even trickier Chapter 11 cases.

The outcome of the Detroit case remains under close watch nationally because of its potential implications for many US cities struggling with escalating debt problems tied primarily to retiree benefits such as pensions and health insurance, which is among the core issues in play in the Motor City.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

FCIB Global: Dangerous to Rely on Region-wide Data, Trends?

In business, generalities tend to be bandied about quite a bit. And a topic that continues to suffer from this seemingly centuries-old trend is international trade (e.g., “Europeans don’t pay on time,” “All of the Middle East or Eastern Europe is dangerous right now,” etc.). Often, nations or even regions within a country get unfairly lumped in with places where instability or slow payment culture are pervasive. Even within the latter distinction, there are companies that could be considered diamonds in the rough. Throughout FCIB’s 25th Annual Global Credit Conference, expert speakers from the credit and financial industries tried to remind attendees of these dangers, especially in missed opportunities, or relying primarily on broad-brush, surface-level analysis.

“Finland and Spain are as different as the US and China,” said Michael Andreasen, ICCE, who is based in the Netherlands with TNT Express N.V. and a member of FCIB’s European Advisory Council. “Many people have the misunderstanding that all of Europe is the same.” The Middle East can be considered in the same lens, as other Global speakers noted increased wariness of doing business there because of Islamic State and Israel-Palestine fighting this year even through there are many countries in the overall region that are almost completely unaffected by these conflicts and are rife with opportunity for Western exporters.

Panelist Nelson de Castro, senior VP and US head of trade sales for Wells Fargo International Trade Services, agreed that failing to drill down beyond region-wide statistics and anecdotal information continues to be a problem, especially for those newer to exporting. Granted, US-based credit professionals could deduce as much from business at home in some ways. “Pennsylvania and Texas are like two different countries,” de Castro joked. 

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

FCIB Global: Reshoring Still a Concept in Eye of Beholder

Bringing formerly outsourced jobs, especially manufacturing ones, back to the United States continued to be a hot topic this week at FCIB’s 25th Annual Global Credit Conference. While it is clear that outsourcing of jobs is no longer considered as much of a cost no-brainer as several years ago, nothing resembling a consensus on the matter has been established.

Some, like Euler Hermes Economist Dan North, proclaimed during his Global keynote speech that manufacturing reshoring is a real trend. Reasons for this include the US’s emergence as more of an energy power from its natural case holdings (Re: the cost of energy in and near America continues to decline), closer proximity to its destination markets of choice, easier quality control measures and some erosion of massive labor cost advantages formerly flouted by China and India, among others.

However, there are many success stories of outsourcing or, similarly, use of shared service centers for some credit functions. Hitachi Data Systems Corp. is an example of shared services working brilliantly, with demonstrated strong performance coming out of places like Poland. In addition, some believe mass reshoring still is more theoretical than the industry standard.  “I’ve heard a lot about reshoring, but I haven’t met anyone who has actually done it,” said Cynthia Wieme, CCE, ICCE, MICM, of Norgren Inc.  Also, with the recent Obama Administration pushback against tax inversion strategies, it stands to reason that the taxation status related to some offshoring operations could also be further considered by the federal government.

Even North, who views the re-shoring trend as one that is gaining, said there will be challenges for US producers, even if energy costs remain highly favorable. One blinding reason is, like Japan, a majority of the working population fits into an older demographic that is much closer to retirement than their prime productivity years. 

“We’ve got an age problem in the United States,” North said. “We don’t have enough skilled employment to fill the labor market participation gaps.” He added that the US likely will need an improved program to encourage legal immigration of skilled workers from around the world.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

FCIB Global: Personal Touch Increasingly Critical in Latin Collections

Talking about the weather in a customer’s area, how their kids are doing and what they’re having for dinner might inspire debtors in urban parts of the United States, especially the Northeast, to be impatient or even to seek an end to the conversation. However, in Latin America, failing to do so with some regularity will almost certainly downgrade the position of one’s company when it comes to whom debtors will pay in timely fashion when liquidity is a problem, said a breakout panel of credit experts at FCIB’s 25th Annual Global Credit Conference this week.

Moderator Alessia Zalambani, CBA, ICCE, corporate credit manager at Domino Foods Inc., was first to note the importance of building and maintaining a business and personal relationship with customers in many Latin-based countries. “If they have the choice between buying from you or paying you or someone else, the relationship is so important,” she said.  

This could become particularly important in the coming year, as Latin America’s recent hot performance could be counteracted at least somewhat by a number of problem situations: non-diverse product and service options beyond the natural resources sector at a time when Chinese demand is slowing dramatically (virtually every Latin nation except Brazil and Mexico), growing anti-US sentiment (Bolivia, Argentina), national elections between candidates with vastly different views on the business community (Brazil), poor FX holdings (Venezuela) and increasing pushback for debtor-favorable terms (Mexico).

Baltimore Aircoil Company Inc., Global Credit and Collections Director Sean Papperman noted that once delinquency has crept into a payment situation, it’s too late. “The sooner you set up the relationship, the better, and you have to refresh it—you can’t afford not to,” Papperman said.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer
The extended version of this story will be available in this week's edition of eNews, available late Thursday afternoon at www.nacm.org.