Another Go at Pro-Supplier, Pro-Subcontractor Federal Legislation Due This Summer

Even as the Senate stripped out surety protections that were tacked onto a bigger legislative effort—one passed by the House with those measures still in—just days ago, the fight against the inadequacy of current federal surety laws isn’t going away so easily.

Jim Wise, NACM’s lobbyist with the firm PACE LLP, warned weeks ago that the Senate, like in past years, could pose an obstacle for those pushing for surety reform. Since the latest defeat, Wise said new legislation with such protections has been slated for consideration in the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee in late July. Among other issues, Senate lawmakers expressed frustration with attempts to tuck in unrelated provisions within a massive defense spending measure, as was the case earlier this month.

The American Subcontractors Association, which has been rallying consistency for improvements to federal surety mandates, said that legislation, S. 1526 (Construction Consensus Procurement Improvement Act of 2015), would include the following:

  • Prohibit the use of reverse auctions for awarding contracts for federal construction and design services to help maintain the integrity of the bidding process for construction.
  • Curb use of fraudulent individual surety bonds on federal construction by using an existing standard in the Miller Act to ensure performance and payment bonds issued by a non-corporate surety are backed by assets that are real, adequate and readily available.
  • Expand opportunities for small firms in the federal construction market by increasing the guarantee of Small Business Association

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 last week, but not before stripping out legislation included to improve individual surety protections. The legislation was designed to establish clearer standards for assets pledged by an individual surety on federal construction projects included statutory language designed to require an individual surety to solely pledge assets currently allowed by law directly to the government and place those assets in the care and custody of a federal entity. It also sought to increase the amount of surety bond guarantees from the Small Business Administration from 70% to 90%.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM managing editor

CMI Sneak Peak: Positive Trend May Prove Elusive in June Statistics

Although data won’t be finalized and released by NACM until Tuesday, the June 2015 Credit Managers’ Index (CMI) seems to have something for everybody: the optimists, the pessimist and the neutrals. That’s not necessarily a good thing for fans of consistency. 

It appears the June CMI reading will not build upon the last two month’s increases, though the combined index also is nowhere near the level of contraction. “It’s more of the see-saw, and this is really starting to get tiresome,” said NACM Economist Chris Kuehl, Ph.D. “Every month there comes a new set of data releases. Every month the clear statement proves to be elusive once again. There always seems to be something for both optimists and pessimists to latch on to.”

The silver lining is that the CMI readings have remained well above the 50 line that divides expansion from contraction for more than three years. In addition, there will likely be positive news within the Index of Favorable Factors, notably in new applications and amount of credit extended, than bad. Even categories that seem to be on a mild downward trend, like sales, should remain comfortably in the upper 50s.

The unfavorable factors, however, could be the black cloud for June, as preliminary statistics foreshadow a decline from May’s level (50.9) that was already too close to contraction for comfort.

Manufacturing data also appear to lack anything resembling continuity of late, according to Kuehl. “On the one hand, there is some hope for better numbers in the future, as the favorable look better than they have in a long while; but the present is not so positive, as the unfavorables are getting worse,” he said. “[The latter] signals many companies are not in the shape they would like to be and are falling behind in their obligations.”

- NACM staff

Last Minute Deal Gives Trade Deal Life After Long Fight

There have rarely been such intense lobbying efforts on the part of the Obama White House as there were to garner Congressional approval of trade promotion authority. In the end, they enabled a deal in the Senate that will snatch victory for President Barack Obama’s prized trade platform from what seemed like certain defeat.

The Senate has passed legislation that will grant Obama “fast-track” authority, meaning the president can negotiate trade deals and present them before Congress for amendment-free voting. Obama needs this authority to bring the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to conclusion despite intense opposition coming mostly from within his own party.

It was clear that few Congressional Democrats were very comfortable with Obama and Republicans in lock-step on an issue. Even Democrats in states that depend on trade and would benefit from better access to emerging Asian nations could not bring themselves to back authority that will likely lead to the TPP’s completion. After all, there also continues to be intense opposition from the unions and the progressive wing of the party.

In the end, 60 senators voted in favor of re-establishing the authority, the same number of lawmakers who days earlier blocked a move brought by a far-right Republican that would have closed down debate on the legislation. With the pact heading to the president’s desk by the end of the week, Obama will now be part of a global meeting on the trade pact next month and the long-delayed TPP will likely become a reality.

Foreign policy has not been viewed as Obama’s strong suit as a president, and he has few global allies of note. Even as Obama has been a supporter of trade in the past, nobody expected this kind of determination. Still, the president’s team of economic advisers is largely in favor of free trade and believes that the U.S. economy needs global engagement to thrive, emphasizing exports and the kind of jobs such activity generates.

- Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., NACM Economist and Armada Corporate Intelligence

Credit Insurer: Oil-Dependent Economies, Including Canada, among Countries Placed on Negative Watch

Global credit insurer Coface, in its quarterly country risk Panorama, has lowered the growth forecast of emerging countries to 4% for 2015, compared to 4.2% in March 2015. The outlook for developed economies has improved to a 2% growth forecast for 2015 and 2016, up from 1.5%.

Hydrocarbon-exporting countries are suffering from the consequences of their dependency on the oil sector:
  • Canada's A1 country assessment has been placed under negative watch, due to the impact of the decline in oil prices on investment, the risks weighing on the property sector and the negative growth during Q1 2015.
  • Algeria's A4 assessment has also been placed on negative watch. The decline in oil prices has had a negative impact on public accounts and the country's current account. If prices do not pick up, activity in the country will remain sluggish. 
  • Gabon's B assessment has been placed on negative watch. The country's high dependence on oil should result in a slowdown of economic activity to 4% in 2015 (compared to an average of 5.4% in recent years).

Also, China’s assessment has been downgraded to A4. The country's level of private debt has increased to 207% of GDP in 2014, compared to 130% in 2008, according to the IMF. This level is considered worrying and is far higher than the levels noted in other emerging countries. As such, the solvency of companies in fragile sectors could be affected. The cement, chemicals and steel segments associated with infrastructure spending are weakened by their overcapacity.Tanzania is suffering from the rapid decline in its exchange rate against the US dollar. The shilling's depreciation is causing concern and companies could suffer considerably. The country's growth is slowing while public deficit is deepening. Coface has placed its B assessment on negative watch. Finally, the economy in Madagascar is suffering from continued political instability. Its C assessment has also been placed under negative watch.

The Czech Republic, Portugal and Vietnam were all placed under positive watch in January 2015. They are continuing on the right track, with their economies driven by consumer spending.

- Source: Coface


Coal Industry Struggling, Still Not Likely Going Away Soon

Another surge in discussion about climate change and increasingly frequent news regarding some coal companies’ financial struggles perhaps begs the question: are the days of coal numbered?

There have been some decries that the role of coal as an energy source would be all but eliminated within 15 years, to be replaced by alternative sources like wind and solar and tidal and geothermal ... That is, if the pledges made by the various governments are kept. The latest round of talks on the subject of climate change have given rise to the same set of pious pronouncements as have been offered in the past. In the future, there will be all kinds of tough decisions made about the provision of energy, and the world will change.

The part that is interesting is that all of these changes will take place well after the current crop of politicians are long gone. That means the next generation is supposed to make good on promises they didn’t make and had no impact on. It is highly unlikely these promises will be kept and highly likely that coal will be around a lot longer than 15 years.

- Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., NACM economist and co-founder of Armada Corporate Intelligence

House Passes Trade Promotion Authority (Again), Kicks Newest ‘Clean’ Bill Back to Senate

The House finally passed legislation Wednesday to grant President Barack Obama trade promotion authority he needs to complete a multilateral free trade agreement in Asia. Still, there is no clearer indication that the latest attempt will prove successful in the Senate.

The House voted 218 to 208 to give the grant trade promotion authority to the president in a so-called “clean” bill, which means much of the worker protection and re-training program money the Senate insisted upon in its own legislation earlier this month is not included. The Senate must now decide is the House’s updated attempt is good enough.

“We urge the Senate to quickly consider the stand-alone TPA bill so it can move to the president’s desk … the world is watching the U.S. Congress and our nation’s commitment to free and open trade,” said National Retail Federation Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French.

In perhaps the biggest legislative defeat to President Obama to date, the U.S. House of Representatives rebuffed efforts on June 12 to grant trade promotion authority because there was not enough support of far left-championed worker protections included in a Senate version. As such, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that includes several emerging, desirable (but growingly impatient) Southeast Asian nations continues to hang in the balance.

The White House, moderate lawmakers and the greater business community have been rallying for the trade promotion authority to enable the Obama Administration to finalize the TPP deal because it would open markets like Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam. Supporters characterize public opposition from lawmakers—led for months by current buzz politician/media darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), among others—as misguided and largely based on inaccurate analysis and/or the behest of aggressive unions.

“Opponents of fast-track have been flying under the protectionist banner,” said Frances Smith, an adjunct fellow at CEI. “Protectionism may seem comfortable, but it destroys the future of the competitive economy of the U.S. and isolates us from the opportunities that free trade provides.”

An inability to break the impasse on giving the same trade promotion authority held by every president since the 1930s other than President Obama would render the advancement of the TPP all but fantasy.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM managing editor
For more analysis and background on the TPA and TPP, read NACM’s latest edition of eNews, which will be available late Thursday afternoon at www.nacm.org, and previous posts here, NACM's Credit Real-Time blog.

Fed Holds Line on Policies, Hints at Coming Rate Hike on Improving Conditions

The following statement was released by the Federal Reserve Wednesday afternoon:

“Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in April suggests that economic activity has been expanding moderately after having changed little during the first quarter. The pace of job gains picked up while the unemployment rate remained steady. On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources diminished somewhat. Growth in household spending has been moderate and the housing sector has shown some improvement; however, business fixed investment and net exports stayed soft. Inflation continued to run below the committee's longer-run objective, partly reflecting earlier declines in energy prices and decreasing prices of non-energy imports; energy prices appear to have stabilized. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

The committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace … the committee continues to see the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced. Inflation is anticipated to remain near its recent low level in the near term, but the Committee expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2% over the medium term as the labor market improves further and the transitory effects of earlier declines in energy and import prices dissipate. The committee continues to monitor inflation developments closely.

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% 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 and international developments. The committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2% objective over the medium term.

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.

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.”

- Federal Open Market Committee
Editor’s Note: The Fed also unveiled revised, more positive predictions for economic growth going forward, including a potential 25% rise GDP from 2015 to 2016.

Trade Promotion Authority Failure in House Again Stymies Obama’s Target Platform

In perhaps the biggest legislative defeat to President Barack Obama to date, the U.S. House of Representatives rebuffed efforts to grant trade promotion authority to the president Friday. So, again, a free trade agreement (FTA) that includes several emerging, desirable Southeast Asian nations has been left hanging in the balance.

The House was not able to pass legislation previously backed in the Senate supporting the authority, which streamlines the negotiation process when trying to forge a multilateral deal. Proposed legislation to approve funding for domestic worker and retraining programs failed 302-126. And, although the House did have enough votes to pass a standalone bill to grant Obama the trade promotion authority, the Senate’s legislation mandated that the worker aid needed to pass in the House as well. The White House’s only remaining hope for the trade promotion authority is for it to essentially go back through the Senate, almost from scratch, and pass a measure without the aid program. This approach failed in early May.

Opponents object to the secrecy with which the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA negotiations are being conducted and seek amendments to include an extraordinarily high level of guarantees for U.S. workers at the behest of unions. The White House, moderate lawmakers and the greater business community (including numerous small business advocate groups) have been rallying for the trade promotion authority to enable the Obama Administration to finalize the TPP deal because it would open markets like Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. They characterize public opposition from lawmakers—led for months by liberal Democrats like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and current buzz politician/media darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—misguided and largely based on inaccurate analysis and/or little factual evidence.

An inability of President Barack Obama—should the effort stall completely, as appears more likely than ever —to at some point garner the same trade promotion authority held by every other president since the 1930’s would render the potential of the United States remaining part of the TPP all but fantasy. These Southeastern Asian markets are increasingly drawing manufacturing and call-center jobs formerly popular in China and India, a shift that has given rise to consumerism among demographics in these markets. With even the smallest U.S. businesses exporting much more than ever before, a trend that took flight following the recession and weak rebound, the TPP is seen as a way to better reach these emerging markets for domestic companies of all sizes, as well as a way to dilute Chinese economic influence and dominance in the region. The TPP also involves Canada, Japan, Australia, Chile and Peru.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM managing editor

Chapter 11 Filings Surge in May

Commercial Chapter 11 filings increased 23% in May when compared to the 405 filings registered the previous month, according to Epiq Systems, Inc. And the increase over May 2014's pace marks only the seventh year-on-year uptick since 2011, though this is the second since January.

Deborah Thorne, Esq., of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, is among a growing list of bankruptcy experts wondering how many of the Chapter 11s are connected with oil and gas. “There is particular stress in that industry,” Thorne said. On Tuesday, yet another product producer tied to the industry (Boomerang Tube LLC), filed for bankruptcy protection as part of the ongoing fallout from the significant price declines in the price per barrel.

Lynnette Warman, Esq., a partner with Culhane Meadows PLLC, notes that her firm is experiencing “a material increase in calls from clients who are reporting increased late payments in commodity industries as well as in oil- and gas-related companies.” In addition, pressure seems to be building in the economy’s lower-middle market segment, where volatile prices and markets are affecting businesses’ liquidity, according to Warman.

“Many lenders are becoming more conservative again and reining in availability under their lines,” she said. “Many commentators in the restructuring field are predicting that Chapter 11 filings will continue to increase over the next year, until the various commodity markets stabilize again. My own experience is consistent with that prediction: this looks to be the busiest year for me in some time.”

- Diana Mota, NACM associate editor
For more detailed information on the latest bankruptcy numbers, released monthly by Epiq Systems, check out the extended version of this story in the latest edition of NACM eNews, available late Thursday afternoon.

Small Business Optimism Reaches ‘Normal’ Level

The National Federation of Independent Businesses’ (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index reached its highest level this year, but it still remains below December’s level. The survey increased 1.4 points to 98.3 with six of the 10 index components increasing.

“Overall, the index remained in a holding pattern, a few points below the prerecession average, although at the 42-year average, and showing no tendency to ‘break out’ into a stronger pattern of economic growth,” NFIB noted in its report.

“It appears that the small business sector has finally attained a normal level of activity, which will hopefully keep the economy moving forward, even if at a sub-par pace,” said Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB chief economist. “That being said, improved profit trends accounted for over half the index gain, a rather unusual but welcome development. This was supported by positive sales trends and continued, although rising, fuel prices.”

Over the month, the earnings component added nine points, reaching a new cycle high. Sales also rebounded into positive territory for the first time since 2012. Regardless, sales expectations were moderate, NFIB said.

Four percent of owners said their borrowing needs were not satisfied, unchanged and historically low, while 30% stated their credit needs were met and 50% made it clear they didn’t need a loan. “For most of the recession, record numbers of firms have been on the ‘credit sidelines,’ seeing no good reason to borrow,” the May report states. Those stating that financing was their top business problem (2%) remained the same. “In the Great Recession, no more than 5% cited credit availability and interest rates as their top problem compared to a high of 37% in the Volcker era,” NFIB said. “If credit availability is really a problem, owners let it be known. Twenty-nine percent of all owners reported borrowing on a regular basis, down one point.”

While May’s survey results confirm that the economy is moving ahead, it’s occurring “at an uninspiring pace,” Dunkelberg said. “Owners do what is necessary, like hiring workers when needed, to keep up with growth mostly powered by an increasing population.”

- Diana Mota, NACM associate editor


Global Service Sector Remains Steady Despite Drop in PMI

In spite of dropping to a three-month low, the global service sector remained solid in May and posted at 54.1, staying above the contraction zone for its 32nd consecutive month. According to May’s JPMorgan Global Services Business Activity Index, employment increased at its fastest pace since 2007.

“Although the PMI indicates the rate of expansion lost further steam, job creation hit an 89-month record and business optimism remained relatively high,” said David Hensley, director of global economics coordination at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “This suggests that the growth rate of the sector should at least hold its ground through mid-year.”

The U.S. service sector followed a similar trend, posting at 56.2 in May—down from 57.4 in April. “Nonetheless, survey respondents remain highly upbeat about their prospects for growth over the next 12 months, with the degree of business optimism rising to its strongest since November 2014,” according to Markit.

In the eurozone, the service sector remained above the 50.0 contraction zone as well, posting at 53.8 in May, a decrease from 54.1 in April. Employment increased for the 70th consecutive month and job creation reached a four-and-a-half year high. Spain recorded the sharpest increases in both output and new orders, while Germany, France and Italy reported business activity growth.

Meanwhile, service activity in China posted at 53.5 in May, up from 52.9 in April. “Service providers saw the strongest upturn in new business for three years in May, which supported sharper growth of activity and employment,” said Annabel Fiddes, economist at Markit.

The service industry in Brazil, however, was not so positive and fell at its fastest rate since March 2009—from 44.6 in April to 42.5 in May. The decrease is attributed to difficult economic conditions and decreasing opportunities for new work.

- Jennifer Lehman, NACM marketing and communications associate

Number of U.S. Small Business Start-ups on the Decline

The number of businesses started each year after the recession has decreased 44.7%, according to an Experian analysis on business start-ups. In 2014, the number of newly formed small businesses fell to 16.1%, compared with 29.1% in 2010.

“During the height of the recession, there was an influx of businesses opening, presumably due to layoffs and skyrocketing unemployment,” said Peter Bolin, Experian’s director of consulting and analytics. “While many of these consumers-turned-entrepreneurs may have started their own venture out of necessity as a way to bring in income, as the economy has improved the rate of new business start-ups has returned to a more consistent pace.”

As a point of reference, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, on average 21% of businesses fail after the first year, more than 50% after year five and more than 75% after year 15.

Markets can be unpredictable and successful businesses take work, Bolin said. “By making timely payments to creditors and suppliers, entrepreneurs can show the creditworthiness of their businesses and gain the necessary funding to help them grow and succeed.”

Restaurants were entrepreneurs’ No. 1 business of choice. In 2014, 52.3% more restaurants opened than the next-highest industry—personal services (69%). The remaining industries in the top five were miscellaneous retail (6.6%), business services (6.3%) and general contractors (5.5%).

Lenders can use this data to their benefit, Bolin said. By gaining insight into newly formed businesses, “[they] can better understand specific industries that are experiencing a higher growth rate.”

California was one of the few states to see an increase in new businesses in 2014, increasing by 17% to 14.6% since 2010. The next four states with the highest percentage of start-ups during the year were California (14.6%), Texas (10.3%), Florida (6.9%), New York (5.4%) and Georgia (3.9%).

The analysis also found that while the restaurant and personal services industries were among the most popular, they also had the two highest rates of failure in 2014, at 9.2% and 8.1%, respectively. Special trade contractors (7.3%), general contractors (6.8%) and business services (6.0%) followed.

- Diana Mota, NACM associate editor

U.S. Construction Spending Reaches Highest Level in Years

Domestic construction spending in April reached its highest level since November 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Total construction spending rose 2.2% above the revised March estimate to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1 trillion and is 4.8% above the April 2014 estimate of $960.3 billion. It marks the largest increase since May 2012.

During the first four months of 2015, construction spending reached $288.7 billion, 4.1% more than the same period a year ago. Compared with March, private construction rose 1.8% and total public spending, 3.3%. Private residential construction spending grew 0.6% over the prior month and is 2.1% less than the same month a year ago, while private nonresidential was 3.1% and 13.4%, respectively. Educational construction totaled $63.3 billion, 3.6% above March and highway construction, $87.1 billion, 8.5% more.

“Spending for February and March were upwardly revised, which should provide a boost to structure investment, all things equal,” Wells Fargo analysts said. “Keep in mind, the drilling component of structure investment is not included in the monthly construction spending report, which means we will still see a large contraction in [the first quarter].” Wells Fargo also expects single-family residential construction spending to continue its upward trend, even if May’s report therein “pales in comparison to the April surge.” However, inventory imbalances and the effect of flooding in key markets pose a threat to the prediction.

The firm expects overall construction activity to rise about 8% in 2015. Additionally, nonresidential components of architecture billings show improvement, and residential spending—backed by gains in multifamily housing—should also improve this year. “Firming in underlying economic fundamentals will also continue to boost commercial and industrial outlays,” it said. “Institutional construction spending has lagged commercial and industrial construction spending in the recovery, but should get a boost from healthcare and education building this year.”

- Diana Mota, NACM associate editor

Oil-Rich Nation Ready to Turn, Emerge?

Nigeria is a nation that should be doing far better economically than it has been and there are no shortages of reasons why this is true. However, the country has just experienced a rare event: a peaceful transition of power to a new leader through the democratic process.

There was no coup this time and relatively little violence before, during and after the vote that elected President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who once came to power in one of these coups. While this inspires hope with some analysts, he has a major task before him.

The most obvious asset in Nigeria, oil, is also something of a curse. Nigeria’s budget dependence on oil reserves exceeds 90%. When the price per barrel is high, the Nigerian economy has plenty to work with; but when the price per barrel is as low as it has been of late, the budget is strained. Furthermore, the Nigerian producers lost some of their most important markets as the U.S. buys little from them these days and European demand is likewise down.

Oil is also the center of corruption in the country—something the Buhari regime, like many that came before his, promises to be committed to rooting out. The country is regularly listed as one of the most corrupt in the world, which is not something that will be easily addressed. Buhari has a reputation of being clean and committed to dealing with this corruption, but the same can’t be said about the many political leaders elsewhere in the country, especially those in the oil sectors.

Additionally, the ongoing insurgency effort continues to weigh as a security concern in the oil areas, which is stoked by the problems that are visited upon the populations that live in the oil regions. These are the people who routinely attack the oil infrastructure, kidnap and intimidate workers, all generally inhibiting the development of this oil. The estimate is that Nigeria is only producing about half the oil it could due to these attacks. Boko Haram leaders have only stepped up attacks in recent months and recently affiliated with Islamic State forces. The Nigerian army has not been effective at combating this thus far.

According to a World Bank ranking, Nigeria ranks 170 out of 189 states assessed for difficulty of doing business. Every aspect of starting and running a business—from the arbitrary tax system to poor basic infrastructure—is hard, and there are far more disincentives than encouragements. Most foreign companies consider assignments here to be hardship posts and must pay more for those expats willing to give it a try.

For the sake of Africa, there is a strong desire to see Nigeria emerge as the nation it has the potential to be; but the task seems daunting at best. The enthusiasm for Buhari is genuine, but the corrupt patterns in the country look to be persistent.

- Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., NACM economist and co-founder of Armada Corporate Intelligence