NACM Credit Managers’ Index to Close Year on Weak Note

Although it would have been nice to end the year on a high note, data in the final Credit Managers’ Index for 2014, to be released on NACM’s website tomorrow/Wednesday, will illustrate weakening conditions. In fact, some categories are expected to show the worst performance since the start of the year.

There are two major problems with this data: it is not readily apparent why the numbers are so disappointing, when many other economic indicators for the economy are stronger, and real weakness exists in the unfavorable factors categories. The latter indicates problems as far as financials are concerned. With the majority of the bad news expected in the unfavorable categories, it makes early 2015 that much harder to forecast.

“Given that some of the other national data has been improving, it begs the question why credit data is not pointing in the same direction,” said Chris Kuehl, PhD, NACM Economist. “At first blush, it appears that there have been stressors all year and that some companies have been able to cope better than others. For companies that were weak to begin with, there has not been enough growth to pull them out of it.”

Favorable factors will remain in pretty strong territory, even as the sales category is unlikely to reach high expectations in December’s CMI. Data from the service sector will prove far better than its counterpart in manufacturing, but not good enough to offset the latter’s losses.

“This is not too shocking given the fact that this is the prime time for the retail community and, by all accounts, the last month was pretty impressive for the retailers,” Kuehl said.

- NACM
Complete December CMI data will be available on the NACM website (www.nacm.org) Wednesday morning. Additional coverage will also be in this week’s edition of NACM eNews.

Oil Price Increase a Small Reminder of Volatility

The slight rise in the price of oil doesn’t necessarily signal that cost levels of just about a year ago will return quickly. Significant oversupply of crude in the market remains, but the latest hike serves as a reminder of just how fragile and volatile the oil market is and how quickly a period of low prices can end.

The production of oil has been the topic of conversation in most circles as it has been changing drastically, albeit over a fairly short period. The emergence of the United States as a major world producer thanks to shale oil revolution has set off a chain reaction through the oil world, one that altered strategies. In past years, an oil glut would have been halted with a decision from OPEC to restrict production. This time, such production restrictions remain absent as it would appear that OPEC is almost powerless to alter the current path of pricing. Problematically, too many nations reliant on whatever revenue they can get from their oil have no intention of reducing output regardless of the price.

If oil-producing nations won’t cut output voluntarily, the reduction in oil supply will have to result from some other event(s). Libya provides such an example: violent unrest. A near civil war is breaking out in this fractured nation, and the sense is that various combatants want the oil to flow—the fighting is over whom controls the money that oil generates. The prediction is that Libyan oil could essentially vanish from the world supply for a time. While far from a huge dent in the global supply, markets sometimes react to even small geopolitical threats. Libya is certainly not the only oil producer with political issues. Markets would react even more rapidly and strongly to issues in Iran, Nigeria, Angola and so on.

The point is that many things can happen to interrupt the supply of oil and, if these occur, the existing glut that is holding prices down will evaporate and prices will rise once again.

- Chris Kuehl, PhD, NACM economist and founder of Armada Corporate Intelligence

Bankruptcy RoundUp: European Auto, US Gaming

Netherlands-based sports car maker Spyker declared bankruptcy on December 18 after failing to secure a bridge loan to help the one-time owner of Saab refinance and restructure its organization. The firm started the process to enter into the Dutch equivalent of Chapter 11 earlier in the month. The company plans to resurrect the group and focus on electric vehicles, according to news reports. Earlier this year, a US District Court dismissed Spyker’s $3 billion lawsuit against General Motors, in which it alleged GM sabotaged a Saab deal between Spyker and Chinese investors. The judge held that GM, which sold the Swedish automaker to Spyker, had the right to oppose the sale based on their sales agreement.

In other bankruptcy news, Caesars Entertainment Operating Co. (CEOC), the largest subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corporation, expects to file for Chapter 11 in mid-January. Caesars Entertainment, Caesars Entertainment Resort Properties and Caesars Growth Partners, which are separate entities with independent debt capital structures, will not be affected. CEOC announced on December 19 that it and Caesars Entertainment reached an agreement with CEOC's first lien note holder steering committee regarding the terms of a comprehensive financial restructuring plan that will substantially reduce debt and lower interest payments.

CEOC’s proposed restructuring plan would eliminate about $10 billion of its debt ($18.4 billion). Annual interest expense would fall by about 75%, to approximately $450 million. The filing will affect 44 casinos and resorts, all but five in the United States, under the Caesars, Harrah’s and Horseshoe brands. Under the terms of the proposed financial restructuring, CEOC will separate its US-based gaming operating assets and real property assets into two companies, including an operating entity and newly formed, publicly traded real estate investment trust that will directly or indirectly own a newly formed property company.

- Diana Mota, NACM associate editor

Fed Study Finds Credit Cards Most Likely Place for B2B Fraud Attempts

A study—one that saw robust participation from NACM members earlier this year— involving five of the nation’s Federal Reserve Banks finds payments fraud, especially attempts involving credit cards, escalating as a concern for US businesses. Notably, nonfinancial services (non-FS) companies are less likely to report attempts than banks or other financial institutions even though a higher percentage of the former reported fraud-based losses in the last year, the Fed report illustrates.

The 2014 Payments Fraud Survey, spearheaded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, notes that non-FS respondents reported that the top priorities for fraud prevention are:
  1. Replacement of credit card magnetic strips with chip-based ones.
  2. Better information sharing on emerging fraud tactics
  3. More aggressive law enforcement
The survey dovetails with current efforts to improve electronic payments domestically by the Fed's Remittance Coalition, of which NACM is a member, and identifies inadequate staffing as the biggest obstacle to reducing payment fraud. Though check usage still ranks first as the top payment type accepted in non-FS-based transactions, respondents reported that credit card fraud attempts stand out as the most frequent, by percentage, among incidents reported and the culprit for the highest losses. Although point-of-sale transactions, which apply to very few trade creditors, were the most common site of fraud scheme attempts, online use of counterfeit or stolen cards placed a close second. Both nearly doubled the third-most prevalent scheme attempted (counterfeit checks).

Notably, 67% of non-FS business that made key changes to risk management practices saw the percentage of losses decrease. Still, respondents voiced concern regarding the amount spent on fraud mitigation over the last two years, as it was often higher than estimated losses.

The 2014 version of the survey shows an increased commitment by the Fed to include non-FS industries in its studies. Since the last study in 2012, the share of non-FS companies, which includes trade creditors represented in the study, jumped to 44% of total respondents from 6%. Among non-FS groups, 17% reported an affiliation/membership with NACM, which marked the highest representation among all trade associations participating in the 2014 Fed study.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM Managing Editor


Please visit the NACM's Knowledge & Learning Center and scroll down to the "Download Surveys" section to view a copy of the full report. 



Index Finds Major Economies Comparatively Low on Corruption, But Not Leading Way

The usual suspects, mostly nations in Northern Europe, demonstrated the lowest levels of corruption in an annual Transparency International study released this month, while the United States held relatively stable among the 20 best-performing nations.

The US placed 17—alongside Barbados, Hong Kong and Ireland—with a score of 74 in the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption for 175 countries/territories worldwide. The score advanced one point from 2013’s score, which marked a two-position improvement in the rankings. No country earned a perfect score and 69% scored below 50 on a scale from 0 for highly corrupt to 100 for very clean.

The six best-performing countries were Denmark (92), New Zealand (91), Finland (89), Sweden (87), Norway (86) and Switzerland (86). The top three maintained their positions from last year. North Korea and Somalia finished at the bottom, both scoring an 8.

Regionally, the Americas had an average score of 45 with Canada placing first with 81 and Haiti and Venezuela last, each with 19. The EU and Western Europe averaged 66 with Denmark in the lead and Greece, Italy and Romania dubiously scoring worst with 43 each. Eastern Europe and Central Asia averaged 33 with Georgia scoring a best of 52 and Turkmenistan at the bottom with 17. The Middle East and North Africa averaged 38 with the United Arab Emirates at the top with 70 and Sudan at the bottom. The Asia Pacific’s average score was 43 with aforementioned New Zealand and North Korea representing the respective high and low scores. The Sub-Saharan Africa had an average score of 33 with Botswana at the top with 63 and Somalia at the bottom.

Of the G20 countries, an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies, 58 percent scored below 50. Overall, global performance averaged at 43 and G20 at 54. (For the full list of results—with comparisons to 2013 and 2012, visit www.transparency.org/cpi2014/results.)

- Diana Mota, NACM staff writer

Spending Bill Passes House, Future Looks Complicated

For the last several years, there has been a temptation on the part of US lawmakers to hold the overall budget process hostage to other political issues. Republicans famously did this a couple of years ago and the entire federal government came to a screeching halt as the political battle over the size of the budget was fought.

This backfired temporarily, as it seems that people may support budget discipline in theory, but not when it starts to really hit them personally. Since that debacle, there has been little support for taking budget talks to the brink. It was assumed that the process this year would be predictable with both parties making their points but supporting a compromise in the end. That eventually happened, but it came by a far narrower vote than had been expected.

The House vote was very close, with 139 Democrats voting against it and only 57 for it. It now moves to the Senate, where its fate is not at all certain given the control Democrats still have there. If there is a government shutdown this time, the blame will fall on the Democrats. That is not something the White House wants, nor is it the position that most Democrats want to be in.

The bigger issue is that there are now essentially four political parties in the US and two of them are very aggressive. The Republicans have their Tea Party wing and the traditional wing though, in the last set of primary elections, the traditionalists won many of the contests. The Democrats had been more unified, but that seems to end when the last election ended so poorly for them. Now there is an aggressive left wing that is pushing the traditionalists in the Democratic Party. With neither party able to project much in the way of unity, this setting up a very contentious couple of years and could usher in even more political paralysis than existed before.

- Chris Kuehl, PhD, NACM economist

Global PMI Growth Pace Slows



Continued economic output strength in November for nations including the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland was not enough to counteract increasing struggles on the part of some key European Union members and emerging economies.

The JPMorgan Global All-Industry Output Index, which is produced in conjunction with Markit Economics to analyze manufacturing- and service-sector Purchasing Managers’ Index data, slipped to 53.2 from October’s 53.5. Though the overall index and its six key subcategories (output, new orders, input prices, output charges, employment, backlogs) all remained firmly above the 50 level that separates expansion from contraction, November’s performance marked a seven-month low.

“November saw global economic growth continue its gradual slowdown from the highs of the middle of the year,” said David Hensley, director of global economics coordination at JPMorgan. “The results were again reinforced by slower inflows of incoming new business.” Hensley added that little possibility existed for a fall into contraction territory in December, but that fourth quarter growth would almost surely be “cooler” than previous quarters.

By industry, technology equipment was the top-ranked industry and the biggest one-month gainer, according to Markit. Tourism and travel posted the second-fastest growth.  Commercial and professional services, the previous leader, remained in the top five despite an easing pace of growth in November. Construction materials and media were the only industries to report a PMI in contraction territory, though declines in industries tied to automotive production and parts as well as metals and mining put each dangerously close to 50, Markit statistics indicate.

Growth in the US remained strong, but problems in other parts of the world seemed to act as a drag on US production potential more in November than most of 2014. The Markit US Manufacturing PMI declined to 54.8, its lowest point since January, and the Markit US Services Business Activity Index fell to 56.2, the worst growth pace since April. Export orders fell by the most significant pace since June 2013. It is likely no coincidence that manufacturing PMI statistics were especially problematic in the EU—Germany sank below 50 to a 17-month low, France’s contraction accelerated and Italy remained stagnant in negative territory. Additionally, composite PMI readings dropped all of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) except India, and the culprit was largely the manufacturing sector. 

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP

503(b)(9) Survives in ABI Bankruptcy Reform Proposal

The American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) Commission on the Reform of Chapter 11 has unveiled a lengthy list of recommendations it will present to the US Congress that include attempting to streamline the process for small businesses that have been adverse to seeking Chapter 11 as an insolvency remedy and preserving trade-critical 503(b)(9) priority claim rights for goods delivered within 20 days of a filing. The recommendations follow a lengthy series of ABI field hearings, including one hosted by NACM at the 117th Credit Congress in May 2013.

The ABI Commission has been studying what potential changes to the Bankruptcy Code would help Chapter 11 reduce barriers to entry, which it argued especially hinders small and medium-sized enterprises from use, and generally improve the process. Commission members, in previewing today’s official release of the recommendations during an event on Saturday, said they believe the recommendations could do just that, and notably provide more alternatives and flexibility to make bankruptcy work as a “safe harbor.”

Of significant importance to trade creditors was the issue of 503(b)(9). In fact, NACM members were the first to testify during ABI Commission hearings about the importance of preserving 503(b)(9), which was once thought to be a possible target for proposed elimination by the ABI Commission. It announced that 503(b)(9) would not be eliminated as part of approximately 240 recommendations ABI will make to US lawmakers in 2015.

Section 503(b)(9) was included in 2005 changes to Chapter 11 and grants an administrative priority to any goods seller who provided its products to a debtor within 20 days of their bankruptcy filing. Trade creditors, including a panel of exemplary NACM members that testified at the ABI hearing held at Credit Congress in Las Vegas, have long argued that the statute's protections make it easier for businesses to extend credit and do business with struggling customers. Notably, 503(b)(9) only applies to providers of goods, but not services. 

Commission members noted the report also includes no recommendations of mandatory surcharging of secured creditors or the elimination of credit bidding, creditors' committees or preferences.  They also reiterated the presentation of the report is not the Commission's final word on bankruptcy reform--they expect continued dialogue on the proposed recommendations from stakeholders in the coming weeks and months.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

For more information on the ABI bankruptcy reform recommendations, please view the week’s edition of eNews on Thursday afternoon and return here to the NACM blog in the days after. Bruce Nathan, Esq., a partner with Lowenstein Sandler LLP, will also serve as presenter of an NACM teleconference on the matter, “The ABI Bankruptcy Reform Commission Speaks!,” on Wednesday. For more information or to register, click here.

November Bankruptcies Plummet

Overall bankruptcies filed in November dropped dramatically, with Chapter 11 filings showing a far bigger percentage drop than other categories, according to monthly statistics released by Epiq Systems Inc.

Commercial Chapter 11 filings fell from 487 in November 2013 to 296 last month, a drop that far outsized, by percentage, the 16% slide for overall bankruptcy filings for the same period, Epiq statistics indicate.The decrease from October's statistics to those of November was 39%, Epiq noted. A total of 4,817 Chapter 11 business filings have been reported so far in 2014, down 22% for the same period last year.

For perspective, "the number of Chapter 11 commercial bankruptcy filings for the current month represents a decline of about 69% when compared to the recent historical high-water mark of 947 filings, which occurred in 2009,” said Lorenzo Mendizabal, managing director at Epiq Systems.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

Construction Spending Rebounds despite Wobbly Home Price Growth

Better news awaited builders and their suppliers this week than last, as construction spending rose to its best level since May.

Construction spending in October tracked at a seasonally adjusted rate of $971 billion, up 1.1% from September’s disappointing $960.3 billion tally, according to the US Department of Commerce.  Spending through 10 months this year exceeded that of the same period in 2013 by 5.8%. School and single-family housing construction fueled the gains, while spending for commercial projects was particularly muted, the data suggest.

The positive shift followed by one week the woeful view illustrated in the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Although home prices increased in all 20 of the largest US markets on an annual basis, the pace of the gains continued a troubling downward trend. Nnine of the markets in the 20-City Composite showed declines on a monthly basis.

David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indicies, did mention that housing and construction statistics have been mixed, citing improved monthly housing starts, existing home sales and builders’ sentiment statistics. Still, Blitzer is optimistic heading into the new year. “With the economy looking better than a year ago, the housing outlook for 2015 is stable to slightly better.”

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM staff writer

NACM's Credit Managers' Index for November Slips

Data this month sent the Credit Managers’ Index (CMI) from the National Association of Credit Management (NACM), which is now available, back to the type of doldrums recorded in September. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that the disappointing performance could indicate that the higher readings in October were more of an anomaly than a predictor of the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

“This is the least desired outcome,” said NACM Economist Chris Kuehl, PhD. “The main question at the end of last month was whether the readings in September were anomalous or were October’s out of sync. It now appears that the October numbers were the odd ones. That changes the expectations for the rest of the year. There would not be quite the concern were it not for the fact that other economic data tends to support the notion that growth is stalling and worries that seemed to have faded earlier in the quarter have started to resurface.”

November’s CMI will show sales statistics stand as the most variable factor. Virtually every category under the favorable factors designation showed noticeable movement, except for the amount of credit extended.

“This is interesting given the drop in new credit applications, as it suggests that fewer companies were getting credit but those that were receiving credit were getting more than in the past,” Kuehl said. Larger companies appear to be expanding and that coincides with the data coming from the capital expenditure numbers.

Kuehl noted that the breakdown in the unfavorable factors “shows some serious problems developing.” Only one factor, disputes, showed an improvements and there was a dramatic fall in the area of rejection of credit applications.  “A sudden tightening of credit is not a good sign,” Kuehl said.

-NACM staff


For a full breakdown of the manufacturing and service sector data and graphics, view the complete November 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.