Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Henrique de Campos Meirelle On Brazil's Success Through the Financial Crisis

Henrique de Campos Meirelles is the Governor of Banco Central do Brasil. Maybe Ben Bernanke could learn a thing or two from this interview with the economist:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Maybe You Prefer Pisner Urquell or Budweiser (from České Budějovice!) or Klášter, But István Szoke Thinks Staropramen Is a "Hidden Gem."

The MoneyMeisters (I can not call them breumeisters) at Anheuser Busch InBev are shuffling their portfolio.  They are selling to private equity investors, CVC, their eastern and central European operations and distribution system for $2.2 billion.  Matthew Curtin judges "CVC is paying around nine times last year's Ebitda assuming it hits its return targets, triggering another $800 million payment to ABI. CVC will fund the deal with $1 billion in debt raised from a variety of banks. The three times debt to Ebitda is well below the six times-plus multiples typical during the boom."  EBITDA is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.  It is an operating cash flow approximation that is often used in valuations. Lex in the Financial Times adds, "Evolution Securities estimates $2.23bn represents about eight times 2009 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. That is some way below the 10 times-plus of big boom-era beer deals but for AB InBev it is respectable enough, given the potential extra $800m payments."

Matthew Dalton fills out the price: "AB InBev will receive $1.62 billion in cash for the Central and Eastern Europe assets. AB InBev will also receive a $448 million unsecured deferred payment obligation from CVC with a six-year maturity that can be extended 2 years, paying interest at between 8% and 15%. Finally, AB InBev will get $165 million in minority interests."

He tells us "The operations being sold are located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia."  CVC gets to "brew and/or distribute Stella Artois, Beck's, Löwenbräu, Hoegaarden, Spaten and Leffe -- AB InBev's main brands in Europe" in those countries.  They acquire, among other brands, Staropramen.

InBev wants to focus on big brands in big countries.

But how good a deal is it for the buyers?  Yes they are paying less than the heady multiples of the bubble years. It looks like they have been clever in structuring it.  Interestingly, according to Martin Arnold and Philip Stafford, "István Szoke, head of CVC’s new central and east European buy-out team, told the Financial Times that Staropramen was 'the hidden gem' among the assets."

The deal turns financially on buying at the bottom and an eventual recovery in revenues as the local economies recover.  Mr Szoke told FT, "We think we are buying this business at somewhat of a trough, as we expect the [east European] region to recover and grow, which will benefit the top line of the company." The Czech Republic, a world leader in beer consumption, is like the caboose on a train in the globalized economy.  “We were surprised by how hard beer consumption has been hit in the region,” said Mr Szoke. “But beer consumption is driven by disposable income and that will recover once this crisis ends in a year or so.”  Since world trade started turning around in early spring, maybe the caboose will make back to the pub by next year.

The Rise of the Loonie

The Canadian dollar is so strong, the Bank of Canada may intervene lest a too strong Loonie stifle the recovery north of the border.

The State of General Aviation and the Consequences for Wichita

The National Business Aviation Association conference is opening in Orlando, Florida next week.  It and surrounding events will provide focus the business world's attention on general aviation and the economic hammering it has taken.  The Wichita Eagle's Molly Mullins in a big Business Section feature surveys the damage, "The state of Kansas' business aviation industry."

She writes:

"Nobody saw this coming.

"Thousands of jobs lost. Production cuts. Furloughs. The cancellation of a major new aircraft program.

"The global financial crisis hit the business jet market hard and fast and put Wichita's lifeblood industry in an agonizing free fall.

"A year later, there is evidence that the global economy is in the early stages of recovery. But for business aviation and Wichita planemakers, the climb back will be long and slow."

Back in March, 2008, I argued that the national economy had been in a recession for six months or more ("What is Good for Wichita Is Hemlock for Wall Street.") The National Bureau of Economic Research eventually dated the recession to have started in December, 2007.  Few fully appreciated the extent of the general aviation bubble ("2007 Increasingly Looks like It was a Bubble Year for the Aircraft Industry.")  The bursting, when it came in the fourth quarter of 2008 was dramatic. 

Peter Sanders at the Wall Street Journal reports on the effect of the aviation downturn on Wichita's economy noting that "more than a quarter of the area's aviation work force has been let go, not including thousands more layoffs among parts suppliers and support businesses."

Cessna's New Orders "Nosedived" In the Fourth Quarter of 2008

To amplify Sanders' report, Cessna's new orders, net of cancellations, averaged about $2.4 billion a quarter in the first three quarters of 2008.  They fell over 80 percent to $400 million in the last quarter.  (These are my estimates based on Textron financial reports.)


Sanders also reports on a "recent push to manufacture offshore that many Wichita aerospace companies have embarked on. Some companies have opened operations in Mexico. During the boom times in late 2007, Cessna announced it would build a new, small propeller plane in China. That plane would be shipped to Wichita for reassembly and delivery to U.S. customers.

"While the companies are guarded about their plans in light of the downturn, officials concede that it is unlikely that they would expand their Wichita operations beyond today's level. Any future growth would probably happen abroad."


A few points:

1) 2007 was a bubble year for general aviation.  Look at the new orders data. 

2) The bubble was fueled by the same over expansion of credit that fueled the housing bubble. 

3) The negative short term interest rates of 2002-2004 enabled (should I say caused?) the credit over expansion.

4) The general aviation industry over expanded in 2008. 

Fun Question: Would Cessna have expanded production as much in 2008 had it been independent rather than owned by Textron?

5) On the commercial front, Boeing expanded much more cautiously.  Compare Boeing's production in the run-up to this recession with its production in the run-up to the 2001 recession.   This has allowed Spirit to hang tight and manage for the longer run.

Fun Question: Do you attribute that to good management, conservatism, or technical delays?

6) Hypocrisy in Washington about corporate jets is business as usual.  Congress votes to appropriate for themselves a more elaborate fleet of planes than the Air Force requested.  Simultaneously, it pillories corporate executives.  (For the Journal, Brody Mullins and August Cole reported in August, "the House more than doubled the [Air Force's] request to $550 million for a total of eight new passenger planes for use by government VIPs.")

7) Outsourcing has its drawbacks as the yo yo economy of 2008 demonstrates.  

8) Outsourcing means having less control.  Boeing has had to buy back three of its suppliers to get the Dreamliner back on path.

9) The administration's fiscal policy and the Fed's monetary policy represent more than the benign neglect of the 1980s.  This may be Washington's real industrial policy.  Let the dollar get so worthless that manufacturing will find it cheaper to come home.  We can debate whether that is a plan.

In the long view of things, Wichita's current 8.9% unemployment rate (10% in July) is collateral damage from Alan Greenspan's and Ben Bernanke's misjudgment that preventing bubbles was not their job.  As in the refrain from the old Pete Seeger song goes, "When will they ever learn?"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson Win the Nobel Prize In Economics

"Governance" is the key word in this year's economics announcement.   How do people come up with organizational solutions to problems other than individulalistic market transactions or centrally imposed solutions?  How do they solve issues of collective rights?

The Committee tells us "Economic transactions take place not only in markets, but also within firms, associations, households, and agencies. Whereas economic theory has comprehensively illuminated the virtues and limitations of markets, it has traditionally paid less attention to other institutional arrangements. The research of Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson demonstrates that economic analysis can shed light on most forms of social organization.

"Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes."

Understanding why the firm exists is one of the crucial questions of economics and not one extensively explored in mainstream economics. 

I am fascinated by Ostrom's award.  How people work out collective rights with neither a simple market solution nor government imposing one is a great area of inquiry.  Here we get to the nexus between law and spontaneous order.   What is the relationship between economic regulation and property rights?  When does positive law harm collective decision making? I have some reading to do!

One issue from the financial crisis to which Ostrom and Williamson's work is directly relevant is whether investment banks behave more responsibly as partnerships rather corporations.  Their excessive risktaking seems directly related to their going public.

Speaking of the financial crisis and organizational forms, maybe the committee should give George Benston the Nobel prize posthumously for demonstrating empirically that banks with investment affiliates performed better than those without.  In other words,  Glass Steagall's separation of investment from commercial banking was more about Senator Glass's Anglophilia than economic sense. Glass Steagall left investment banks outside prudential regulation. If the SEC had that responsibility, it is hard to see it in its history. Thanks to the structure set up by Graham Leach Bliley, all the major investment banks are either owned by a commercial bank or have become bank holding companies and are now under the Fed's prudential regulation.