Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Food for Thought

Stop your bellyaching. Reduce restrictions on education, science and entrepreneurship and let high potential startups get big fast.

If you’re going to a Thanksgiving gathering of more than three or four people this week, chances are the dinner table conversation will eventually veer toward politics and the economy. Trust us on this. The football games. All your nieces and nephews are way above average in everything they do, and Aunt Mildred’s gall bladder operation will get tiresome after an hour or so.

While your relatives are moaning about their bloated tummies and underfed 401(k)s, try this for fun. Remind them that (a) we have a lot to be thankful for and (b) economists have predicted 27 of the last three recessions and the Great Economic Disruption we’re still struggling to emerge from wasn’t technically a recession--much less a depression.

Say what?

That’s right. It’s just been a period of extremely “slow growth” according to Forbes Publisher, Rich Karlgaard’s latest blog post

Now you might get a fork in the eye from a family member who’s recently lost a job, a home, been transferred far away or been forced into early retirement. But Kaarlgard argues we’ve been so accustomed to economic growth rates of four percent or more, that when it gets down to one or two percent, it actually feels like a contraction.

Since 2008 the U.S. economy has performed slightly better than flat. In 2008, 2009 and (projected) 2010, the U.S. GDP was (and is), $14.3 trillion, $14.2 trillion and $14.6 trillion.

Experts say the American economy has averaged 3.3 percent growth annually since World War II. But even small changes in GDP cause big swings in stock market values, investor animal spirits, and consumer sentiment, says Karlgaard. That’s why 4 percent growth feels like a boom, 2 percent growth feels like a recession, and flat feels like the 1930s. Karlgaard argues that America is in a “growth recession” which is anemic growth of less than three percent, but still growth statistically speaking.

The Kauffman Foundation, says the key to getting the economy booming again is directly correlated to startups that get big.
Kauffman’s Carl Schramm has said on several occasions that “the single most important contributor to a nation’s economic growth is the number of startups that grow to a billion dollars in revenue within 20 years.” Schramm says the U.S. economy, given its large size, needs to incubate 75 to 125 billion-dollar startups per year to feed the country’s post World War II rate of growth. Faster growth requires even more successful startups.

While the strength of the Forune 1000 certainly helps the overall economy, entrepreneurship has always been the key. But, even though small business is credited with creating the bulk of new jobs, Schramm says that’s not enough either.
He says we need an “X-factor” –a hundred or so companies, per year, that launch, find a market, execute, scale, learn, adjust and sail over the billion-dollar mark within two decades. They don’t have to be Googlesque. But they’ve got to be bigger than Mom, Pop and Uncle Joe.

If we’re going to get those 100 stars to the launching pad, Schramm says we better get serious about removing the tax and regulatory barriers for these kinds of startups with the potential to scale.

For example: how about any immigrant who graduates from a U.S. university should get a green card along with his/her diploma? So should any immigrant who starts a business that grows to more than 5 people on the payroll. Ambitious immigrants, disproportionately, create growth companies.

Chances are there’s a family elder around your Thanksgiving table that fits this description. They may not know an app from a nap, but they probably had super-size helpings of courage (and cajones) and didn't stop looking for new customers and serving their existing customers just because times got tough. We guarantee you’ll learn something.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quantitative Easing Not Relieving Qualitative Pain

But, stocks, housing, private sector jobs and Wall Street bonuses are on the rise. Financial, tech and airline sectors are rebounding with marketing dollars in tow. Why B2B marketers need to act now.

Maybe it took what the President called a good old fashioned “shellacking” of his party in last week’s midterm elections to get the Administration to see how far out of favor they have fallen from the business community, not to mention conservative and independent voters. When we say business community, we’re talking everyone from your local small businesses to the Fortune 500. Mr. Obama said he needed to "make clear to the business community, as well as to the country, that the most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our business sector and make sure that they're hiring.”

Business runway getting longer

“The legislative uncertainty that’s kept businesses on their heels the past several years is starting to lift,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial [www.lpl.com], whom several of us met yesterday at a financial advisor conference in New York. “The Fed’s been a little clearer about what it wants to do and that’s giving businesses a longer runway.”

As just about everyone on the planet knows by now, the Federal Reserve said it would buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth. The strategy, officially known as “quantitative easing” (QE2) has had a positive effect on the financial markets, but could backfire in the long run.

If not managed carefully, the Fed’s spending spree on government bonds could be highly inflationary, since it would flood the economy with money and raise worries about too much government spending. Also, it could continue driving down the value of the U.S. dollar which gets other countries pretty pissed. Why? Because a weaker dollars hurts their exports and can spike inflation in their own countries as outside capital surges in from investors seeking better returns than they’re finding in U.S. markets. The Prez may want to wear a helmet and mouth guard to the G-20 Summit starting in South Korea tomorrow.

That said, we like E2’s chances of succeeding at this stage of the business cycle if it’s deployed gradually and intelligently – two big IFs. In addition to the impact of cheaper borrowing, higher stock prices (see below) could encourage households to spend more and businesses to invest more, and a weak dollar could make U.S. exports cheaper and thus easier to sell in normal times.

Why B2B marketers need to act now

Instead of waiting around for the all-clear signal for the government: here are some of our own leading indicators that the worst is over and now is the time to invest for the surge in consumer and B2B demand that’s likely to pass you by if you’re not ready:

Finance and tech ad rebound continues in business magazines

According to MediaWeek data released last week, ad pages in Forbes are up a whopping 353 percent from this time a year ago, Fortune is up 88 percent, Fast Company is up nearly 58 percent, Entrepreneur is more than 52 percent ahead of last year’s pace and Wired is up 11.4 percent. The leading brands depend overwhelmingly on the technology and financial services sector and generally run longer and more complex media schedules as they have to reach buyers in a long-term sales cycle with multiple purchase decision influencers to win over.

Airlines rebounding

After collectively losing $26 billion during the previous two years, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) www.iata.org, the majority of national and international carriers are reporting one of their most profitable quarters in years (for the 3 months ended 9/30) and they’re on track to be in the black again by nearly $9 billion. IATA says average fares for first-class and business travel within North America are up a whopping 140 percent from this time a year ago and up about 20 percent for travel to Europe. Air travel is one of the first things to go when consumers and businesses are pessimistic about their bottom lines. We’re very bullish on this trend and travel-related advertising dollars should start flowing back to leading brands in all media categories serving consumer and B2B.

Wall Street bonuses up

Investment banks and financial firms are planning to dole out larger paychecks and bonuses this year than in 2009. Top Wall Street pay consultant Alan Johnson says he expects compensation by Wall Street firms to rise 5 percent in 2010. The Wall Street Journal projected a similar rise. A recent survey of financial firms by our friends at eFinancial Careers said they expect higher pay in 2010 than they received a year ago. While the number of people working in high finance is tiny compared to the number of people working on Main Street, they account for a disproportionate share of wealth (and consumer spending) and that usually trickles down into main street as well as ad spending by Main Street-supported businesses.

Stock markets up

As of this posting, the Dow and S&P 500 are both up about 8.8 percent for the year and the broader based Wilshire 5000 is up nearly 11 percent. Investors are showing more confidence in the equity markets and have reduced their cash holdings to 17 percent from 21 percent according to a recent Capgemini survey of high net worth individuals. Add to this microscopic interest rates and the likelihood that the Bush tax cuts are likely to be extended by at least one or two more years according to LPL’s Kleintop – “it’s the legislative path of least resistance” – and you’ve got a pretty favorable equities climate.

Private sector job gain

Sure unemployment’s stuck at 9.6 percent, but while the government is shedding jobs at a disturbing clip, more private sector jobs have been created this year than during the entire Bush administration. That’s right. 2010 has had more private job creation than during the entire 8 year tenure of George W. Bush.
According to The Department of Labor, this is the ninth straight month of private sector job growth in the midst of a devastating recession that has put a serious strain mostly on the poor and middle class. There have been a total of 863,000 private sector jobs created in 2010, exceeding the total created under the Bush/Cheney regime. We don’t make this stuff up, the DOL does.


Existing-home sales rose again in September, affirming that a sales recovery has begun, according to the National Association of Realtors. Existing-home sales, jumped 10 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of over 4.5 million in September from a 4.1 million in August. In a late October news release, Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said the housing market is in the early stages of recovery. “A housing recovery is taking place but will be choppy at times depending on the duration and impact of a foreclosure moratorium. But the overall direction should be a gradual rising trend in home sales with buyers responding to historically low mortgage interest rates and very favorable affordability conditions,” he said.


Whether or not we ever return to a 95 to 96 percent rate of “full employment,” the steady-paycheck lifestyle of a loyal employee dedicating one’s career to a single large manufacturing or corporate service entity is pretty much over.

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own business, read Seth Godin’s recent post How can you do it?!

The timing may never be better.

Remember, things were never quite as good as they seemed in the frenzied years leading up to the Great Disruption, and now they’re not as bad as the media, economists and out-of-favor politicians would lead you to believe. The time strike is while the iron’s getting hot; not when it looks, smells and feels like it really is hot. By that time it’s too late as someone else has already taken the iron and formed it into their own shape and vision.