Sunday, May 31, 2009

Innovation, Sentiment, Economics, and the Market

The thought “one company’s cost savings are another company’s lost revenue” below offers interesting economic insight:
{ On Private Equity: Scott Schoen, THL }

As I have pointed out in this blog based on Shiller’s and Stiglitz’s articles, “sentiment”/ “perception” and other such “soft” or “behavioral” aspects play an important part in the economic engine of a region: {Financial Transactions, Trust and Keynesian "Animal Spirits"} & {Financial Markets, Economic Crises And Global Co-ordination}

Economic contraction would lead to a destruction of value through the destruction of existing market players, structures and relationships, before the economic engine restarts. This may lead to a slower recovery. This can be a good rationale for a central bank investing in an economy to keep it afloat in such a way.

However, once we accept that “sentiment” is a factor in the economic engine; could the effort to maintain existing market players, structures and relationships also impact the incentives for the economic engine to generate lasting recovery?

What do you think?

Microeconomics, Synergies and Operational Portfolio

A case discussion link below would give you background perspective on this post { Private Equity Case: Dialogic Carve Out from Intel}:

I checked with a technology industry focused private equity investor on whether his investment committee considers synergies across its operational portfolio in its investment decision making. After all, technology is a pretty broad term- do they see an advantage in narrowing their focus?

His rejection of the idea was couched in an excellent example. The investment team would not buy competitors. This was a pretty straight forward discounting of the potential of merger efficiencies, and we can list numerous reasons for it- from strategic ones like the hypercompetitive nature of the technology industry, to investment ones like the heightened risk of a larger company’s underperformance weighing down upon the rest of the portfolio.

However, this should remind you, as it reminded me, of microeconomics. Does rejecting competitors also mean you would reject complements? Strictly as an investment strategy, wouldn’t investing in complements also increase the correlation across investments?

Investment examples in the technology industry would be:
1. Investing in Facebook and Fun Wall, or investing in Twitter and Twitterdeck.
2. Investing in the Transmeta Crusoe process and a windows power management utility for that processor

Would this mean that the investing team needs to have processes in place to monitor revenue correlations across portfolio companies?

The Venture Capital Context
Lets look at this in the venture capital context, discussed in my post here: {Venture Capital: “If it ain’t broke…” Does the VC Model Need Fixing?}

Investing in startups, especially the very early stage ones, needs to account for some strategy shift. However, sometimes even late stage startups may need to adjust their strategy to account for monetization opportunities in tough economic times.

How would the venture capital firm react if this strategy shift made this investment a complement of anther portfolio investment?

What do you think?

The Usual Disclaimer: This is purely a knowledge sharing resource and I have been careful to protect panelist/ speaker interests. Ethically, context is everything, and I will gladly retract anything that affects the parties mentioned. Call this my mini OpenCourseWare, if you will, where Open signifies life experiences.

US Consumer Confidence, Economists' Optimism, and the Economy.

Chatting with a brand manager at a Consumer Goods/ Beverages company recently, I got the sense that the consumer was focused on value and was still buying. So I took another look at the news to put the conversation in perspective:

A. Did someone say "green shoots"?

1> US consumer confidence reports has interesting, and intriguing numbers, this week:

2> Economists are turning optimistic about the economy as well:

3> Even Roubini has mentioned that we are in the trough phase of the U shaped recession. While he still stands by the possibility of a "perfect storm" in 2010, I am inclined to call this positive news.

B. Are we there yet?
For contrast to the signs of Spring we see above:

1> Dr. Altman recently demonstrated, backed by research, that corporate defaults had hit 8 percent in January.

2> He also pointed out that many creditors are in no position to take companies through a bankruptcy.

3> Additionally, on the consumer front, credit card defaults are still a concern.

Now that we have a contrast between most economists and Doctors Doom and Gloom, what does the impressive rise in consumer confidence mean? 70% of the economy is consumption- so a rise in consumer confidence may, at best, be good news in the short term. So, based on this recent news, we seem to have the right economic tools at work to "salvage" the situation and those tools seem to be having an effect.

However, I still think of this as a zero sum game when it comes to investing (bailout) in pulling the economy from the brink. Here are some thoughts:
1> In 2001, the US government took some steps to "salvage" the situation, that eventually led us to 2008. What are economists suggesting needs to be done to prevent us from ending up in an downward spiral of increasingly severe recessions? Could Roubini's W shaped "perfect storm" really be plain old speculation about "when", not "if", the next storm lands at out doorstep?
2> How will the world pay for this? Could an effect show up in international finance, where some countries pay more for this rebound that others?

While I hope economists continue to huddle to figure out options and tools that will solve some of the problems, these questions give you the context to make decisions that steer you and the enterprise through the storm.

What will you do?

P.S. This note is based on a post on a macroeconomics forum on the morning of 05/31/09.

I later found some interesting articles that provide more structured and well thoughtout arguments. The leader here is Nouriel Roubini:

Also, Fareed Zakaria's GPS episode, dated 05/31/09, will give you more food for thought, besides the added bonus of seeing Kissinger talk about US options in NE Asia.