Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985. Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand. She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.
image from linked article (Earl Wilson; NYT)
All managers have to decide what their managerial persona will be like. Some are tyrannical, some are pushovers, some lead by example, some are good listeners, others are brilliant but quirky. Sheryl Bryant, the CEO of Taylor Morrison, a home-building company, developed her personal style by learning from her working experiences, and from the experiences moving around a lot as a child. Here are some of the things she learned:
Source: "Sheryl Palmer on Her 'Shoes Off' Leadership Style," by Adam Bryant, New York Times, January 27, 2017.
How crazy is it to have an ad campaign to market an actual advertisement itself? What does it matter: it is happening. Snickers is marketing the ad that it will be airing on the 2017 Super Bowl. They are giving press conference/cocktail parties and airing a promotional piece (show above).
Snickers is not the only product whose ads are being promoted prior to their Super Bowl debut. Anheuser-Busch (a Super Bowl ad favorite) distributed "Media Briefing" folders at a recent event (the folder highlighted Bud Light, Michelob Light, Budweiser and Busch)--but did not show their Super Bowl ad(s).
Social media has also jumped on the Super Bowl bandwagon:
“Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, they all have different types of buys you can make,” he said. “The Super Bowl has created a cottage industry for other media companies to take advantage of it as well.”
Will it all pay off?
Source: "$5 million for a Super Bowl Ad. Another $1 Million or more to market the ad," by Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times, January 29, 2017.
Common stock has traditionally had certain rights--and the right to vote has been one of them.
But Snap, the parent of Snapchat, is contemplating an IPO for stock with no voting rights. They are not the first tech company to do this.
As a reminder, corporations are required to have common stockholders. These stockholders have rights by default--but, like any legal construct, the rights can be forgone if disclosed in advance. The default rights of common stockholders include:
Some of these rights can be threatening to corporate managers. For example, corporate management is probably the most threatened group in a hostile takeover situation--because the company buying up stock to take over will want to replace or influence the former management. The rising price of the stock in a takeover situation certainly tempts stockholders to sell to the new, high bidder, transferring power and ownership. However, if the stockholders have no voting rights--then it would be less likely that another corporation would want to buy up the non-voting stock, because it would not grant the company any say in running the corporation.
Because many tech stocks are overpriced (based on traditional measures of valuation based on performance), their value is based on the perception of a potential viral market penetration. Much of the future value could be based on the purchase of the company by another, bigger company. But non-voting shares would be less valuable in this situation.
So, the question is: what, exactly, are purchasers of non-voting common stock really buying? They don't have dividend guarantees like preferred stockholders...and with no votes, they might never get dividends. Nevertheless, the possibility of selling the stock at a profit...or not missing out on a possible next-best-thing...can be a driving force in tech company stock sales.
Source: "When Snap Goes Public, Some Shareholders' Voting Rights May Disappear," by Steven Davidoff Solomon, New York Times, January 24, 2017.
image from linked article: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The linked Planet Money podcast is the story of Ed Thorp, a math analyst and statistician. He applied his skills to developing "a mathematical system to beat the casino at blackjack." He based his system on some strategies that were developed by math guys when they played the game in the Army. Thorp worked for a year on refining the algorithms to perfect his own system, then he published a paper on this system in a professional journal.
Manny Kimmel (an experienced gambler) read that paper and sought out Thorp to test his theory--using $10,000 of Kimmel's money. They flew to Las Vegas to play blackjack...and made more than $10,000 in a few days. This lead Thorp to play more blackjack, win more money, and then publish a book about how to shift the odds from the dealer to the blackjack player by using mathematical statistics. The book was called Beat the Dealer.
Thorp then applied his risk strategies to successfully investing in "call options," and went on to make hundreds of millions of dollars running an investing firm.
Source: "Episode 749: Professor Blackjack," by Jacob Goldstein, National Public Radio: Planet Money, January 20, 2017.
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with technology industry leaders at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday. From left are, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and Trump. (AP/Evan Vucci) via theblaze.com
According to a widely accepted piece of business wisdom (see this Forbes article), the most important business commodity is trust. There are many factors that can erode trust, but one factor can be an "activist" who is perceived as a "loose cannon." For years, according to the article linked below, CEOs did not trust Carl Icahn, as he had a track record as an "activist investor." He has specialized in hostile takeovers of companies, then selling off their assets, crippling or at least changing operations as they were. (Companies he has been involved with include TWA, Texaco, Phillips Petroleum, Western Union, Gulf & Western, Viacom, American Can, USX, Marvel Comics, and Revlon.)
Ironically, in December, Icahn was appointed the Special Advisor to the President on Regulatory Reform by Donald Trump. This does make sense in light of Trump's stated goal of being an activist President.
Much as many CEOs would like to see their industries subject to less regulation (and probably lower taxes), the unpredictable nature of Trump's plans make CEOs uneasy. Especially disconcerting is the possibility that any action on their part that may be perceived as unsupportive of the President may lead to a Twitter accusation or "tirade" that would damage their businesses. Appeasing the President by taking actions that at least can be perceived in a sound bite as acceding to a Trump demand have already occurred. Ford stopped their plan to build a Mexican factory; FoxComm (a Taiwanese company that manufactures iPhones) says it will build a factory in the USA.
An evolving issue that will be controversial is how to "repatriate" the cash that companies now hold in other countries in order to avoid U.S. taxes. Trump's "my way or the highway" negotiating style may not allow room for input that might mitigate the unforeseen consequences inherent in any plan.
CEOs are understandably unsettled about what the next few years might bring.
Source: "For CEOs, a new concern: the Activist in Chief," by Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times Dealbook, January 23, 2017.
'The Founder' is a film opening this week. It portrays the business development of McDonald's from its inception. The title star of the film is Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, who found himself as a struggling milk shake machine salesman when he was in his early fifties. He stumbled upon Richard McDonald (played by Nick Offerman) and Maurice McDonald (played by John Carroll Lynch)--brothers who had developed an assembly-line type system of delivering food in a very fast and efficient way. Ray Kroc was able to develop this concept into a multi-million dollar business, and change forever the way Americans approached low-end restaurant food.
Product development, marketing, management, financing and motivation were all essential elements of Kroc's success. The McDonald brothers also had a different kind of success. And the starring and supporting actors have had successful careers as well. All make for interesting and informative stories.
Source: "'The Founder': Burgers, Fries, and a Couple of Wiseguys," by Dave Itzkoff, New York Times, January 18, 2017.
image source linked below
The cartoon above represents a "top down" lack of ethics. The message is delivered in a way that would probably not result in successful prosecution of the boss, but the message to the accounting professional is clear:
"Our business is not doing well, but we want it to appear as if it is doing well. The only way that can happen is if you 'massage the data' or do some 'creative accounting' so that the numbers look good."
This kind of pressure is the business equivalent of being 2 points down in the last 3 seconds of a football game, and the pressure is on the kicker to kick the 52 yard field goal. Except that in the business situation, because there is no legal way to "win," there is the added pressure of taking the risk of getting caught. The boss might not want to know what the details are, so that he can weasel out of taking the blame.
Pressure from a boss to do something wrong comes in many ways, for example:
In the financial arena, the penalties may be greater, because there are third parties (banks, investors, the IRS) that rely on the correct representation of the facts.
Source: Cartoon, by Robert Weber, published by Conde Nast.
image from Girl Scouts, Inc.
S'mores. There's a taste treat that is often associated with Girl Scouts. Campfire s'mores and cookies are both Girl Scout icons. Now the two have joined forces for the 2017 sales season--January to March. The question is: what are these new cookies really like?
The answer is: the cookies are quite different--depending on which area of the country--and sometime which county--you live in or order from. In some places, "S'mores" means a cookie with a graham cracker layer and a marshmallow-like layer surrounded completely by chocolate.
In other places, the cookie is a sandwich-style cookie (much more like the original), with graham cookie layers surrounding a layer of chocolate (like the Hershey bar of the original) and a layer of white icing (which is a stand-in for the roasted marshmallow).
As a former Girl Scout (as well as a cookie sales regional distribution volunteer when my daughter was a Scout), I wouldn't call anything a "S'more" unless it had a burnt-marshmallow flavor in that white layer, but--according to reports--the sandwich cookies have no marshmallow flavor at all. Nevertheless, new products often produce new sales, and this product adds synergy to the Girl Scout brand, so it may result in higher sales.
Here is an online link to buy cookies, by the way.
Source: "One Cookie, 2 Versions: Why Girl Scout S'mores Won't All Be the Same," by Tejal Rao, New York Times, January 13, 2017.
image by Bryan Steffy for Getty Images. This is Kirk Golding, SR Vice President of Silverton Casino Lodge (L) and Lee Amaitis, President & CEO of Cantor Gaming, at the Silverton Casino Lodge on November 29, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Two things that a lot of people like--money and sports--converge in Las Vegas. Nevada is the only place in the U.S. where it is legal to bet on sports, so that is where the action is. As it turns out, Wall Street investors also wanted to get into the betting-on-sports action in Vegas as well:
"We've got a story about Wall Street guys trying to act like gamblers, gamblers trying to act like Wall Street guys and a cop from New York City trying to figure out just where all those bags of cash were going."
The details involve Lee Amaitis, an assistant to the CEO at Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment firm. The firm specialized in "low margin, high volume" businesses like bond trading. So Amaitis became interested in bookmaking, as it had a parallel profit structure. Soon a new entity was formed: Cantor Gaming. They developed their own brand, simplified the ways bets were placed, and grew their business with the help of a memorable ad campaign.
Cantor Gaming ad via YouTube
Cantor Gaming also brought in new technology, and upped the stakes from around $5,000 per bet to $50,000. Because the stakes were higher, bookies had to look beyond Nevada to get enough bets to balance out their risks, so an investigation traced the funds to a New Jersey booking operation, where sports bets were illegal. Cover-ups, subversion, and an operation parallel to money-laundering resulted in the proper reports not being filed. This would have been a known offense to a Wall Street operation like Cantor Gambling. Conspiracy charges were eventually brought against some of the operation's principals.
A new law was passed, however, that allowed third party business operations funded elsewhere to be headquartered in Nevada, so now it is easier to run the same operation in an above-board legal manner. Another win for Wall Street!
Source: "Wall Street Goes to Vegas" [podcast] by Keith Romer and Noel King, Planet Money, Episode 746, January 6, 2016. or transcript.
image from cardrate.com
Banks promote credit card adoption through direct mail, online ads, TV ads and in-person at sign-up desks in malls and on college campuses. Some of these deals look pretty good, and can produce the equivalent of interest-free loans, discounts on merchandise, and/or airline miles. They all come with some requirements and limitations, however:
"If you are new to credit card bonuses, every offer will require various requirements within a specified amount of time to earn the bonus. Typically this will be a set minimum amount you must spend on purchases within the first initial months of account opening."
The article below might help you sort through some of the offers current as of January 2017.
Source: "Best Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Offers, Promotions, January 2017," by Tony Pham, moneysmylife.com, January 5, 2017.
image from a guest experience
In these days of high rents in so many cities, it is tempting to rent out a space in one's home as part of an Airbnb rental. Airbnb is a kind of social networking site that provides an advertising and meet-up platform to find travel housing and provide a more personal home-away-from-home than a hotel can provide. Airbnb operates all over the world, so adventures travelers who want more of a taste of the local experience might even prefer this type of travel.
Brian X. Chen shares his knowledge as a very experienced Airbnb Superhost in the attached article. His advice includes:
All-in-all, treating the Airbnb experience as a hospitality business pays off for Mr. Chen.
Source: "The Guide to Being an Airbnb Superhost," by Brian X. Chen, New York Times, January 11, 2017.
Maybe we are in the "Age of post-Reason," but doesn't it seem logical that the prices at gasoline pumps should change proportionately with the changes in price of the wholesale crude oil?And that the laws of supply and demand should operate without interference in a free capitalist market?
It doesn't seem to work that way. What industry observers have noted is that, while prices at the gas pump rise (at least proportionally) when the barrel price of crude oil rises, the pump prices do not fall commensurately when the crude prices fall. It would seem that, barring collusion, at least some companies would pass on the savings to the consumer and reap the benefits of increased sales volume.
The latest observation, however, is perhaps more insidious. The Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog has alleged that companies are manipulating the supply side of the economic equation by withholding gas from the market, in order to justify maintaining higher prices due to the lower amount of supply. But lower wholesale prices have driven down the retail prices of gas in other parts of the country. Still, on a pre-tax basis, the retail price of gasoline in California is an average of 50-58 cents higher than it is in the rest of the country.
Consumer Watchdog presented its findings to the California Energy Commission’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee, citing several comparative examples of prices in various parts of the country. One factor in the discrepancy may be that four companies control 83% of the market--essentially an oligarchy.
Source: "Consumer group alleges that California refiners are manipulating gasoline prices," by Ivan Penn, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2016.
image from mypalmbeachpost.com
Privatization of prisons have been on the decline, as the prison population has declined slightly. However, stock prices for the top two private prison corporations jumped 20% for one and 40% for the other immediately after the election of Donald Trump. There appears to be an expectation of an increase in incarceration and a priority to allow private for-profit corporations to take over the management of prisons. Trump had previously reasoned aloud that this would save the government money.
That might be true, but it might not provide the greatest good for the majority of stakeholders. The interests of government and the general populace (rehabilitation to prevent recidivism, maintenance of basic standards of health care, enforcement of humane treatment and laws regarding compensation for work) do not have much overlap with the main interest of private corporations: cutting expenses to make the highest profit.
Private prisons also do not have the best track record. According to the linked articles, the experience with private prisons has included:
In spite of this history, private prison businesses also see an expansion opportunity in the incarceration of individuals involved in immigration prosecutions under the Trump administration.
Source: "Will the private prison business see a Trump bump?" by John Burnett, NPR, January 4, 2017.
image from a site that provides another perspective on this topic
A portion of commercial banks' business (and a smaller portion of investment banks' business) comes from personal bank accounts. Opening new accounts represents the sales function of banks. The cold-call outreach means that many consumers receive bank offers in the mail several times a week.
But, from the consumer side, it can be paralyzing to decide to opt for any given offer--particularly if it means closing an account that one has had for a long time. Also, there is the nagging suspicion that there is another bank account deal that might be better.
Bonuses for opening new accounts are very popular now, and so it might make good financial sense to make a switch. Tony Phan, in the article linked below, has summarized the deals offered by Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, US Bank, PNC Bank, Regions Bank, SunTrust Bank, TD Bank, Fifth Third Bank, KeyBank, and Citibank, among others. The bonuses range from $100 to $1,000--but many have restrictions and financial requirements.
Which ones might work for you?
Source: "Best Bank Account Bonuses and Promotions January 2017," by Tony Phan, moneysmylife.com, January 10, 2017.
In London, the RMT union staged a 24-hour shut down at key (Zone 1) Tube stations beginning Sunday evening, January 8th.
"Up to 4,000 station and ticket office workers walked out in a bitter dispute over job losses and ticket closures after last-ditch weekend peace talks between transport bosses and unions collapsed."
The dispute at issue involved job cuts and ticket office closures imposed by the previous mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Posters in Tube stations warned of the strike, so some commuters were able to crowd into trains just prior to the strike. But because there were overlapping bus and rail strikes, commuting to work was a major issue. Others planned to use bikes provided by local shops if they did not have their own, but a threatening snow storm predicted for the end of the strike made that option less appealing for some.
Because of the effect that integrated public transportation systems have on the workforce, a transportation worker walkout hurts many business because all commuters are affected--not just the ones working for the Tube. This may make the strike more effective.
Source: "Tube strike January 2017: London begins to grind to halt as 24-hour crippling TfL walkout starts," by Francesca Gillett, London Evening Standard, January 9, 2016.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of several measures over time, including but not limited to:
The average hourly wage has been the slowest measure to increase since the 2008 recession. From the article linked below:
"...the Labor Department reported on Friday that average hourly earnings rose by 2.9 percent last year, the best annual performance since the recovery began."
The trend is expected to continue, barring any radical changes in the economy. One statistic, however, is troubling:
"A more comprehensive government barometer of unemployment, which includes workers forced to take part-time jobs because full-time positions were not available, stood at 9.2 percent in December, a much higher level than at this point in past recoveries."
Although the President-Elect has not proposed any plans to improve this employment statistic, many of his supporters expect the forced part-time situation to improve.
Source: "Recovery Finally Yields Big Gains for Average Worker's Pay," by Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times, January 6, 2016.
compare the Consumer Confidence Index above to the Accounting Today index
The Accounting Today Research Council tracks its members level of confidence in the economy and reports the level on a quarterly basis. This is called the Accountants Confidence Index, which is explained in the article:
"The ACI tracks accountants' confidence in U.S. economic growth across five component categories, with 3-month and 6-month composite readings averaging the growth predictions of our Executive Research Council. Readings above 50 indicate expected growth; readings below 50 indicate expected contraction."
The most recent results show that confidence in the economy went down in November, but is up as of the beginning of January.
Source: "Accountants Confidence Index January 2017," sponsored by ADP (the payroll accounting giant), Accounting Today, January 3, 2017.
image from goodleadership.com
According to both common sense and backed up by several studies, sitting at a desk for eight or nine hours a day can increase the chances of diabetes, obesity, and depression, as well as cause negative effects on cardiovascular health. In addition, one recent study has shown that short bouts of walking exercise produces more benefit than the same amount of exercise done during one longer period. [Note: both had a positive effect, compared with sitting continuously and not exercising.] The study might assuage the fear of some employers that exercise might make employees more "tired and grumpy." In fact, the opposite effect was observed.
Some workplaces are installing treadmill or stand-up desks to combat the downsides of sedentary work. But these solutions are expensive. Instituting a short-walking-break habit would create no additional costs, and might actually have positive consequences.
Source: "Work. Walk 5 Minutes. Work," by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, December 28, 2016.
Over $3.6 trillion in technology company mergers and acquisitions occurred in 2016. Many of these involved one tech company buying up another. As all businesses become dependent on technology to stay current and innovate, however, companies in very different businesses are looking to get into the tech business by buying up a promising start-up. For example, Walmart has recently bought Jet.com, an e-commerce business.
The research and development that is required for a start-up to become a viable business is daunting to companies such as General Motors, whose expertise lies elsewhere. But non-tech executives are learning enough about information technology to make savvy choices among existing companies.
Source: "For Non-Tech Companies, If You Can't Build It, Buy at Start-up," by Leslie Picker, New York Times, January 2, 2017.
image from the Humphrey Fellows Broadcast School of Journalism +
A new year sometimes renews a person's openness to learning new skills. Maybe some of the podcasts mentioned in the linked article address skills that interest you regarding leadership:
For descriptions of these podcasts, as well as active links, please see the article linked below.
Source: "10 Podcasts That Will Make You A Better Leader," by Melanie Curtin, Inc. magazine, November 28, 2016.