Monday, September 29, 2008
The Financial Crisis: A Finance Professor's perspective
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
1) FDR had it partially right when he said that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." While we have other worries as well, the greatest obstacle to economic progress is the HUGE psychological impact of Americans watching the stock market plummet right in front of their faces. This is going to cause consumer spending, lending, borrowing and investing to freeze like a deer in stadium lights. When people stop spending, economies start dying.
2) This crisis was a long time coming. De-regulation pushes down on the economic gas, but increases the chances of an economic crash. The dramatic growth of the past 8 years was a result of the same policies that are leading to the huge challenges we are faced with today.
3) Much of the impact of this crisis is a financial illusion. A large percentage of the devaluation in stock and home prices is driven by the fact that the original value was incorrect in the first place. When prices are out of whack, they must correct themselves. While a crisis may also be a correction, a correction is not necessarily a crisis.
4) Prepare for a period of "Financial McCarthyism" in America. Many baby boomers are closing in on retirement, and scared to death. To boot, many of these individuals have not properly prepared for retirement. When Americans get scared, politicians get nasty. We will likely see some of the most Draconian legislation in history.
5) What makes this crisis such a concern is that even before the meltdown, the economy was already quite fragile. With soaring gas and food prices, the economy was the #1 issue on the minds of most Americans. The decline of many financial services firms was, for the most part, a logical continuation of the fact that many homeowners were defaulting at the start of the year. This crisis is most certainly going to shift the political landscape and might give us our first Black president.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the forthcoming book "Black American Money". He does regular work in national media, including CNN, ESPN, BET and CBS. For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com
Sunday, September 28, 2008
By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Most of you have been watching politicians shuck and jive in predictable ways to try and manage the even more predictable liquidity crisis that has terrorized our financial markets. As a supporter of Senator Barack Obama, I am hopeful that this will serve as the final signal to America that a Harvard graduate with extensive Economics training might be a better choice than a mediocre student who claims to know nothing about the economy. I won’t even mention Sarah Palin, who now makes George Bush the runner-up in the “Unfit to Manage a Burger King” contest. I am not big on Obama-mania, but I tend to be big on common sense. It is also telling that many Americans would sacrifice our nation’s future in order to avoid the discomfort of seeing a Black man in the White House. OK, let me shut up before I say what I REALLY think.
This is not about the pale one called Palin or John McCain’s Black Extermination Plan for criminal justice. It is about USOBA. USOBA doesn’t stand for the “United States of Obama”, rather, it stands for the “United States of Black America”. This is about finding ways to manage, contextualize and internalize this crisis so we can figure out what to do right now. Neither McCain nor Obama is going to take care of you and your family, since politicians tend to take care of themselves (note Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s prior affiliation with Goldman Sachs will likely drive his desire to save his Wall Street buddies). The truth is that we are all Presidents of our own households, and as President, your job is to shield your household from the impact of FICA - The Financial Ignorance Crisis of America. Here are some quick thoughts:
1) The government bail-out doesn’t necessarily mean you should bail-out of the Stock Market: If you are invested in the Stock Market, I would strongly consider staying there, especially if you are under the age of 50. In fact, you might want to buy more stocks. Warren Buffett (a man who is sometimes wrong) had it absolutely right when he said that you should “be greedy when everyone else is cautious and cautious when everyone else is greedy.” Drops in the Stock Market can be the best times to invest because the historical data clearly shows that when the US Stock Market declines, it eventually comes back up. Personally, I plan to use this market decline as an opportunity to expand my portfolio. But I am not going to try and pick individual companies: I am going to buy into a diversified mutual fund that spreads my money around the entire global economy.
2) Paying off credit card debt is one of the best investments you can make: Which would you prefer? To possibly earn 10% interest in an investment in the Stock Market or to DEFINITELY save 18% per year on that high interest credit card in your purse? Remember that money SAVED is money EARNED. Get rid of the bulk of your high interest debt before you even consider investing in the Stock Market or anywhere else.
3) Change the game: With all of Barack Obama’s speeches about how Black men need to learn personal responsibility, he may have wanted to save that speech for the rest of America. The typical American consumer has been incredibly irresponsible with spending, saving, borrowing and investing habits over the past 20 years. I grow sick of seeing one article after another attempting to argue that African Americans have a monopoly on irresponsible financial behavior. Don’t believe the hype – ALL OF AMERICA has a problem with financial choices. The goal is not for you to emulate the behavior of the rest of America….it is to set a new standard. Black people can be quite good at saving money. Many of our grandmothers could support a household with two nickels and a hot dog bun. Perhaps we can tap into our natural survival instincts to get us through this mess.
4) This crisis might be the tip of the iceberg: I agree with my respected colleague Paul Krugman at Princeton, who is the only other commentator I’ve heard mention that recent financial problems may be nothing more than a symptom of more serious fundamental issues in the US economy. All I could say when I heard that was “Amen”. Without going into much detail, I can say that it is time to remember that old saying “Learn to save your money, so your money can save you.”
5) Don’t be “scuuuurred” (translation for the uppity among us: “Don’t be afraid”): This is NOT the end of the world. The financial systems are not going to melt down. This is not likely going to be the start of any kind of Great Depression. Truth be told, the Black community has been in a Great Depression for about 400 years! We have survived worse, and just because the economy struggles, that doesn’t mean you have to struggle along with it. Remember that our greatest challenges are usually our greatest opportunities for growth. Learn from this experience, grow from it, and we will continue to move forward.
Your financial liberation is part of your social and spiritual liberation. Let’s use the shake-up as an opportunity to shake ourselves off the plantation. I’m tired of someone else owning me.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the forthcoming book “Black American Money”. For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
By Dr. Boyce Watkins
I am no fan of President Bush. I made fun of the silly man long before it was popular to do so. However, in this case, I have to be one of the first to stand up and say that you can’t put all the blame for this financial crisis on his back. The War in Iraq? Yes. Hurricane Katrina? Absolutely. Damn near everything else? Sure, why not? But this financial mess should not, as our leading presidential candidates want you to believe, be slapped on the political tomb of Mr. Bush. That doesn’t mean he didn’t play a role, but Bush was more of a supporting actor in this horror story, not the star.
The horror story to which I am referring is that little news event surrounding a $700 Billion dollar bailout being sponsored by the Office Underwriting Corporate Hedonism (OUCH), also known as the Federal Reserve. Now, this is a different brand of corporate welfare, as taxpayer dollars are not being given away. At worst, taxpayer resources are being put at risk, as the Federal Reserve is making huge capital allocations to some of the nation’s most troubled financial institutions. As a lender of last resort, the Fed is responsible for investing money where the rest of us certainly would not.
To put it in layman’s terms, this is like using your savings account to loan money to an uncle who was fired for drinking on the job. Sure, he has been responsible in the past, and will likely be re-employed, but his recent behavior leaves you a little concerned. In the same light, taxpayer dollars in a financial crisis are like little soldiers being deployed to provide stability to the deadliest parts of the world. Many soldiers will come back home, while quite a few are going to be killed. Depletion of our government capital is quite likely in this scenario, for solving a global liquidity crisis with available reserves can be like using a kitchen sponge to soak up the ocean.
With that said, let’s discuss what this crisis is really all about. We must first understand the nature of our financial institutions. Banks and other entities providing credit to the consumer are a lot like drug dealers (both legal and illegal drug dealers are included in this example). Drug dealers give you something that you definitely want and even think you need. The drug (cash) is powerful, makes your problems go away and has a long-term consequence if you abuse it. That’s where the government steps in. The role of government is to regulate our financial drug dealers to ensure that they are not encouraging substance abuse from the users (American consumers), and to also ensure that consumers are relatively well-educated about the consequences of using the drugs (that’s where terms like “predatory lending” come from).
In order to make the economy appear strong, our financial drug dealers were allowed to run wild. Loans were being made to people who could not afford to pay them, causing the prices of homes to be bid out of control (it’s easier to bid a higher price on a home when your banker loans you all the money you need). Ultimately, consequences were felt when millions of Americans suddenly realized that they could not repay the amounts listed on the dotted line. This situation is not much different from what we are now seeing in the pharmaceutical industry, in which drug companies are using ads to encourage patients to walk into the doctor’s office and ask for whatever drug they saw on TV the night before (you hear that Rush Limbaugh?).
Now, before you go and burn down the nearest bank in your neighborhood, realize that it takes two to Tango. As Bill Cosby (perhaps naively) believes, “making good decisions makes everything ok.” We must remember that if all people made good decisions, drug dealers would have no customers. The truth of the matter is that in spite of the fact that our institutions and governmental authorities have failed us, one of the greatest culprits in this mess is the financial greed and myopia of the American consumer. We as Americans are among the most gluttonous and short-sighted consumers in the world. We borrow money to go on vacation without thinking twice, we don’t save for retirement, and we tend to do P Diddy/Paris Hilton imitations on every shopping trip. Money is our drug and we all rejoiced when there were more drug dealers in our neighborhoods.
So while Barack Obama and John McCain want to attack the clearly unqualified man in the White House over this mess, the truth is that we mostly have ourselves to blame. This crisis affects us all, and the corporate problems are nothing more than an aggregated manifestation of very bad individual decisions. Simultaneously, our legislators must be held accountable when ensuring that corporations are given incentives to engage in responsible lending. Perhaps a hybrid of the Cosby model is appropriate here: let’s get the drug dealers out of our neighborhoods, but let’s also make our neighborhoods a bad place to sell drugs.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the forthcoming book “Black American Money”. He does regular commentary on CNN, CBS and NBC. For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Should the United States federal government bailout companies like Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and American International Group (AIG) or should some level of responsibility be given to the executive leadership of these companies?
Every time I view the latest news on our federal government's bailout of these companies, I wonder what mess is our government covering up on how they failed to regulate unethical business practices.
It appears that the Enron, Worldcom and Arthur Andersen saga of 2000 is happening all over again. In response to this prior fiasco, the federal government passed The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This legislation was intended to establish standards for all U. S. public companies' board, management, and public accounting firms. The caveat is that this legislation does not apply to privately held companies. The legislation established the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) overseeing, regulating, inspecting, and disciplining accounting firms in their roles as auditors of public companies.
As recent news reports show that Balance Sheet manipulation occurred with the growing list of companies seeking bailout from federal government, bankruptcy protection or for companies to acquire them to stave off financial ruin, it is time for the federal government to finally advocate emphasis on a company's Statement of Cash Flows as the basis for investment and financial strength for companies.
Most accountants know that analysis of a company's Statement of Cash Flows is the only way to ensure financial stability. However, most companies and investment analysts want to emphasize the amount of revenue generated on the company's Income Statement or the amount and value of assets they have listed on their Balance Sheet. Generally, a company's Income Statement and Balance Sheet is where manipulation can occur by key executives and in my opinion, these financial instruments do not truly show the financial strength of a companies operating business.
If the federal government really wants to protect the tax payers from having to bailout faltering company's manipulation the public's confidence, it is time for the federal government to start emphasizing to companies and Wall Street that the Statement of Cash Flows will be the basis of analysis for investment purposes. But, will the federal government do this? I am not betting on it, but hopefully advocating for it. As tax payers, we should too.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Dr. Boyce Watkins
FYI to the fam: I am going to be on the Mike Gallagher Show Friday morning at 10:30 am EST. I don't know much about this guy, but apparently, he is one of the top 10 hosts in the country. The show likely comes on in your city (whatever station the conservatives appear on, I don't listen to them). Monday, I am going to do some commentary for The History Channel on Black Leadership. I'll keep you posted on when that is going to come out.
As I work with my Finance students (you are welcome to hang out with us on our blog at www.DrBoyceFinance.wordpress.com), the economy has been on my mind this week. So, I have shared some thoughts on Financial Leadership in the article below. As I've communicated in the past, strong Financial Leadership in the Black community is the most efficient way for us to fulfill Dr. King's dream. Equality will not come from Capitol Hill....it will come when we have Capital to pay the Bills.
Crash and Burn 101: A Finance Professor’s Take on Our Economy
By Dr. Boyce Watkins
The United States is respected throughout the world for its powerful economy. We are also, unfortunately, becoming known for our arrogance and financial irresponsibility. During my tenure as a Visiting Scholar with the Center for European Economic Research, one of my colleagues could not understand why American consumers earn more than Germans and pay less in taxes, but have savings rates less than 20% of the average German citizen. Basically, there is a degree of irrational overconfidence and financial carelessness that comes from never having to experience a deep recession first hand. This explains why most baby boomers are not ready for retirement, and why young people spend and borrow like drunken sailors.
American consumers aren’t the only pilots in our crashing economic airplane. U.S. Monetary policy, headed by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, is both art and science, and the apparent success of Alan Greenspan has forced any subsequent Fed Chairman to become a Financial Da Vinci. The saddest part of the Greenspan era, however, is that his choices in the 1990s caused major “speculative bubbles” (inflated asset values in homes and stocks) that have started to burst at the end of this decade. Our leaders create and dictate policies that impact the choices of companies and consumers. Financial leadership has taken the American consumer on a frightening ride, and this is only the beginning.
The US economy saw its financial chickens coming home to roost in 2008, as the recent recession and market downturns have been predicted for years. These “financial chickens” included excessive spending by American consumers, mixed with irresponsible borrowing and lending on the part of both individuals and banks. Personal responsibility is thrown out the window when discussing wealthy and so-called “mainstream” Americans, as financial leaders are called upon to bail out the banks, the consumers and everyone else.
The government bailout package for 2008 has, thus far, included a massive spending bill, one that featured tax refunds and support to help consumers keep their homes, even if they were the causes of their own demise. Another set of “financial steroids” being employed have been the strong and consistent cuts of the Federal Funds rate by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Bernanke has become known as “Bold Ben” by members of the media, who are consistently stunned by the Chairman’s massive and powerful attempts to control the economic downturn. The latest moves have included the $85 Billion dollar bailout of AIG, an insurance company that has apparently been deemed “too large to fail”. If only our government had the same compassion for the thousands of small businesses across America struggling to find capital to meet short-term financing needs.
Republicans, known for being fiscally responsible, have created budget deficits our country has never seen. Between the Iraq War and the 2008 recession, spending continues to go up, even when tax revenues are expected to go down. The ready availability of additional government borrowing to support our massive spending bills has our financial leaders behaving like teenagers in possession of a “really awesome” American Express card. Like the “blinged out” athlete who thinks his wallet will never be empty, our country may wake up to a grave financial nightmare.
Continuously cutting interest rates may provide additional stimulation to the economy, but the problem is that cutting interest rates, allowing the value of the dollar to slide and frivolous government spending is a recipe for serious, horrific and uncontrollable inflation. Inflation is a Pandora’s Box that doesn’t close nearly as easily as it opens. You think the economy is bad now, you haven’t seen how bad it can get in the face of stagflation (a declining economy with out of control inflation). It’s hard not to feel that “Bold Ben” and “Big Bad Bush” aren’t gambling with our children’s futures and current taxpayer resources.
Sometimes, when you party too hard, you are forced to deal with the hangover. Americans have been blessed with a financial celebration that has lasted over a decade. For the past 15 years, we drank straight out of the liquor bottle and danced with lamp shades on our heads: not saving effectively, spending like crazy and borrowing to cover our financial insanity. But rather than simply allowing the party to end and letting everyone sober up, our financial leadership has taken on the irresponsible behavioral norms of American consumers. Their excessive rate cuts and spending increases have kept us pumped up on Financial Dope in order to avoid the impending crash.
This is not solid financial leadership, and something has GOT to give. Hopefully our leaders will get it.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in Ways that Feel Good.” He is a regular commentator in national media, including CNN, CBS, NBC, BET and ESPN. For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.net or DrBoyceFinance.Wordpress.com.