Reasons Why Many Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Fail to Survive

SMB Small business failure trendIt’s a known fact that small and medium sized business failures have continued to increase over the past three years. Some businesses are failing in the first three to five years. It can’t just be bad luck that causes so many companies to lose ground permanently. Below are some of the biggest reasons small and medium businesses don’t survive.


Poor Planning

To have a successful business, planning and innovation is required. The amount of pre-planning that must be done before a business starts up can be exhausting but necessary. A good business ownerwill have a good methodical and systematic approach to ensure business goals are implemented and met. Smaller companies often fail at this step. They tend to start right off without a future plan and end up far from where they expected.

Avoid Technology

Technology can enhance a business in so many ways. Small and medium sized businesses can take advantage of automated accounting, internet, e-purchasing and sending e-catalogs to their current and potential customers. When a business fails to see how important technology is in their day to day business, they won’t be able to keep up with the market demands or business goals. Businesses that don’t take advantage of things such as SEOand PPC won’t be able to stay up to date with their competition. This can lead to little or no sales.

Lack of Funds

Many small and medium sized businesses underestimate the funds they need to help the business survive. Unrealistic expectations can add to the risk of bankruptcy. All businesses need to have a very good idea of how much funding is needed for starting up a business and staying in business. Business owners have to be prepared to make an investment into the business for years before it can make good profits.
Quality
Many businesses fail because they neglect quality. Providing quality can cost the business more up front, but it will produce better results in the long run. When businesses neglect having quality, they usually experience a downfall. Doing things below quality can significantly affect your customers. Customer service is always critical for a business to survive. If customers are not given the proper attention, if they are not treated with professionalism and respect, it can be the downfall of your business. Customers who receive good customer service can be the ones who stabilize your business.
Product Range 
When businesses offer a wide variety of products, they have more chances for success. Businesses have to consistently be proactive when it comes to modifying, endorsing or even eliminating products. When a business isn’t open to new ideas, or when they are not flexible with their products, they may not be able to keep up with their competition which can lead to failure. When a customer changes what they need, the business must be ready to change the product.
Small and medium sized businesses can do well when their owners have a good bit of knowledge about systems, processes and technology. It also benefits a business owner to be skills-associated with production, distribution, cash flow and employees. Following certain practices and rules can help small and medium businesses survive.
Max Boddicker writes about business, economics & more at www.homeequityloan.net.

Funding Tips for SMBs

Tips for Funding Medium-Sized Businesses in Today’s Environment

When running a business, one of the biggest problems many have right now, is obtaining funding. In the past, money has been much easier to borrow, but with current economic conditions, easy funding is gone. Businesses borrow money for any number of reasons including to hire employees or open up new locations. In reality, a lot of businesses of any size falter because of the lack of adequate funding. Here, are 5 tips for obtaining funding for medium-sized businesses in today’s environment.

Venture Capital
When running a medium sized business, one needs to determine how much they are willing to give up in regards to control. Venture capital money is usually obtained for higher risk, higher reward companies. This is an excellent way to get a serious amount of money to take a business to the next level. The downside with venture capital is; they end up owning a portion of the business. Oftentimes, they even want to control aspects of the day to day operations. Venture capital money can be used to start up a company, or to expand operations or ideas.

Traditional Banks
By the time a business is medium-sized, they will no doubt, have a banking relationship. Even though, receiving funding is difficult, an established business can still get money. Banks are exceedingly strict when giving out loans, so be prepared to have financial statements on hand. A business that over the long term has made money will have no problem qualifying for a loan. Establishing a banking relationship with a local bank is a terrific idea for a business owner.

SBA-Guaranteed Loan

Image representing U.S. Small Business Adminis...

Image via CrunchBase

If a bank will not loan money, there are other options. One is through the SBA guaranteed loan program. There are SBA district offices all over the country where one can fill out a loan application. The people at the SBA will be able to assist one in filling out the application. Many medium sized businesses can get more consideration if they are hiring new workers or in a certain industry. The small business association can help one qualify for the maximum amount of money.

Angel Investor
If a business is viable and profitable, an angel investor may be able to assist. Like borrowing from a bank, one needs a solid plan for what they plan to do with the money. One would need to have financial statements and proof of profits to have a serious chance of receiving funding. Angel investors are different from venture capitalists in that an angel investor does not seek to run the operations of a company.

Sell Stock
A company that is seeking funding, can also sell a portion of their company. This is a way to gain funding, while still controlling the company. This is a way a business can get a large amount of money, to really fund operations needed for growth. Stock can even be sold to employees who are confident in the companies operations.

Anyone looking to obtain funding for their business needs to be prepared. Financial statements and a serious business plan are needed. This is because anyone giving out a loan wants to be sure they are dealing with a legitimate business. When obtaining funding, a business has an excellent opportunity to take expand exponentially.

Skylar Rickman writes about business, finance & more at www.creditreport.org.

Central Bank Pursuing an Active Role to Address Democracy’s Shortcomings?

Jeff Madrick

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow; author, ‘Age of Greed’

Central Banks are Saving Democracy From Itself

The Federal Reserve‘s recent announcement of aggressive new policies is more than a little welcome. It involved a new round of quantitative easing focused on mortgage-backed securities, but more importantly, a statement that the Fed would keep rates low for a long time, even if the unemployment rate begins to fall markedly. In other words, the Fed will be more tolerant of rising inflation. A couple of points are clear and have been widely discussed:

First, more inflation is what this economy needs. It will reduce “real” interest rates down the road. It will also reduce the level of debt, which will now be paid off in somewhat inflated dollars. Lenders will pay the price; borrowers will benefit.

Second, the Fed is at last accepting its dual mandate, which is not only to keep inflation in check but also to keep unemployment in check as well. Inflation got almost all the focus since Paul Volcker‘s reign in the early 1980s.

Third, inflation targeting as almost the sole purpose of any government policy is now either not applicable to current circumstances or never really was the answer to our prayers. The main claimant on the uses of either hard or soft inflation targeting was none other than Ben Bernanke himself. He was the champion of the Great Moderation, which held that less GDP volatility and low inflation were admirable ends in themselves — proof of a nearly perfectly managed economy.

Never mind that growth in the late 1990s was supported by high-tech speculation in the stock market, or that growth in the early 2000s was supported by a housing bubble and crazy, risky practices on Wall Street. And forget that job growth was the worst of the postwar period under George W. Bush, even before the 2008 recession, and wages had been performing poorly for 30 years. It was all really great, said Bernanke, and only a few mainstream economists disagreed.

But there is another point that needs emphasis and is being passed over. This one is about democracy. Bernanke is acting aggressively because the American Congress and president are locked in an austerity embrace. Fiscal stimulus is now turning into de-stimulus. Even the president’s budget calls for fiscal restraint. The deficit bugaboo is strangling the world.

Those who want to make the Fed more subject to democratic control — and to a degree, I am sympathetic — should heed a lesson here. Democracy — that is, a democratically elected Congress and president — is choosing a damaging course of austerity. In Europe, it is far worse.

Needed policies are coming from America’s central bank, which was deliberately created as an independent entity. Note that it is Romney who is saying he wants Bernanke out of there and crying wolf about inflation. Bernanke, not subject to the whims of democracy, has had the courage to change his own thinking. He knows the consequences of tight policy now.

So what do we do? We should be a little modest about the universal benefits of democracy. For example, I think democracy may yet work to end the severest levels of austerity in Europe. People are mad. Governments are changing for the better. Democracy in America is the only answer to an ever-richer and more powerful oligarchic class in the U.S., which wants to lower taxes, limit regulations, and cut government into ever smaller pieces.

But we must also deal with the disturbing fact that one of the least democratic of our institutions, the Fed, is the only one saving the day now. The same is true in Europe, where the European Central Bank is now acting intelligently, in contrast to the fiscal hawks dominated by the German policymakers and apparently supported by a majority of the German people. This issue is not simple.

Cross-posted from Rediscovering Government.

Central Banks of the World Flying By the Seat of Their Pants

Mohamed A. El-Erian

CEO and co-CIO, PIMCO

Central Banks’ “Responsible Irresponsibility”?

Many monetary policy purists will not recognize what central banks in Europe and the United States are up to these days. And those that do are likely to express outrage at how far these traditional guardians of monetary stability have ventured into unfamiliar territory — a situation they undoubtedly regard as inadvisable, if not dangerous.

Such reactions are understandable. Yet confusion and outrage are not the right responses for the rest of us. Whether you are a government, an investor or a concerned citizen — and whether you live in the west or in an emerging economy such as Brazil — it is important to understand why both the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve are so far adrift from conventional central banking; and what this means for the global economy as a whole, and for individual countries.

Like fiscal agencies, central bankers responded aggressively to the calamity of the 2008 global financial crisis. Eager to avoid an economic depression, they slashed interest rates, opened all sorts of emergency financing windows to keep banks alive, and also injected liquidity into the economy through whatever avenue they could think of.

From the very beginning, the intention was for this unusual policy activism to be both temporary and reversible. Indeed, much time and effort were devoted to designing “exit strategies” that allow central banks to return to “normalcy” in an orderly and timely fashion.

Yet there has been no exiting. Instead, central bankers have found themselves drawn deeper — much deeper — into experimental mode.

With ultra-low interest rates proving insufficient to deal with the economic malaise, the Federal Reserve has felt compelled to provide unprecedented “forward policy guidance.” It signaled its strong expectation that rates would remain floored at zero until at least the end of 2014. And by claiming that it could see that far into the future, it essentially challenged the time-tested view that monetary policy acts with “long and variable lags.”

This was not the only unthinkable. The Federal Reserve has aggressively bought US government and mortgage securities. On the other side of the Atlantic ocean, the ECB has acquired trillions of bonds issued by struggling members of the Eurozone; and it has even found a back door to get money to the Greek government in order for it to meet its debt obligations to the ECB.

The numbers are getting very large; especially as both central banks have signaled their intention to do more (including last Thursday’s ECB announcement). Already, the ECB has ballooned its balance sheet to over 30 percent of GDP and the Federal Reserve to 20 percent of GDP. (Note that the Bank of England and the bank of Japan are in the same ballpark).

Through their ever-larger presence in markets, central banks have inevitably influenced liquidity, price signals and information content. In some cases, even the provision of financial services to the public has been impacted (including money market saving instruments, pensions and life insurance).

Imagine if this were attempted by central banks elsewhere. It would be met in the west by cries of irresponsibility. Yet, ironically — and using a formulation adopted by economists such as Paul Krugman and Paul McCulley — central bankers in Europe and the U.S. have felt that it is in fact responsible for them to be irresponsible.

Central bankers will tell you that they have had no choice but to operate increasingly in unfamiliar and unconventional policy territory. After all, despite massive monetary (and fiscal) stimulus, the US economy has remained sluggish and unemployment is still way too high. Meanwhile, Europe continues to struggle with a debt crisis that started in Greece in 2009 and has spread wide and far. Even Germany, the continent’s powerhouse and the country that has undertaken the deepest structural reforms, is now slowing markedly.

Due to political paralysis and polarization, central bankers seem to be the only policymakers both willing and able to respond to these unusual challenges. Yes they are using imperfect tools. Yes the outcomes of their actions involve collateral damage and unintended consequences. But they see all this as preferable to the alternative of doing nothing.

I suspect that central bankers, whether in Europe or the U.S., realize that — acting by themselves — they cannot deliver the much-needed outcomes of growth, jobs and financial stability. Rather than guarantee the destination, they are helping to define the journey. They are building bridges, hoping to buy time for politicians and other policymaking entities to overcome their bickering and dithering.

Time will tell whether this strategy will work. In the meantime, the rest of the world has no choice but to adapt to this “responsible irresponsibility.”

The more western central banks inject liquidity into their economies, the greater the splash for other countries. The result is something that has been experienced by countries such as Brazil: significantly greater exchange rate volatility, disruptive flows of capital, and higher tensions between domestic and external realities.

Brazil and other responsive emerging countries have responded by re-caliberating their macroeconomic policy mix. They have aggressively cut interest rates while tightening fiscal policy; and they are looking to revamp structural reforms.

It is still early days though. Further policy adjustments will be required in the months and years ahead as western central banks implement additional unconventional policies, and as the longer-term effects become more visible. And it will not be easy. Policy responses will be analytically hard to calibrate precisely, especially as all this is happening with virtually no global policy coordination to speak of.

Have no doubt. While most countries would prefer to be just observers, they are in fact reluctant participants in one of the biggest monetary policy experiments of all time. The entire world shares an interest in the success of this unprecedented endeavor — after all Europe and the United States anchor today’s international monetary system and will do so for quite awhile. Yet in hoping for success, we are all well advised to also think of the range of contingency steps to deal with the collateral damage and the unintended consequences.

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Brazil’s Estado de Sao Paulo.

Day of Reckoning? Influential Insider Now Supports Break Up of Big Banks

In Defining Hypocrisy, Weill, Who Led Repeal Of Glass Steagall, Now Says Big Banks Should Be Broken Up

Courtesy of ZeroHedge. View original post here.

Submitted by Tyler Durden.

Who is Sandy Weill? He is none other than a retired Citigroup Chairman, a former NY Fed Director, and a “philanthropist.” He is also the man who lobbied for overturning of Glass Steagall in the last years of the 20th century, whose repeal permitted the merger of Travelers of Citibank, in the process creating Citigroup, the largest of the TBTF banks eventually bailed out by taxpayers. In his memoir Weill brags that he and Republican Senator Phil Gramm joked that it should have been called the Weill-Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Informally, some dubbed it “the Citigroup Authorization Act.” As The Nation explains, “Weill was instrumental in getting then-President BillClinton to sign off on the Republican-sponsored legislation that upended the sensible restraints on financecapital that had worked splendidly since the Great Depression.” Of course, by overturning Glass Steagall the last hindrance to ushering in the TBTF juggernaut and the Greenspan Put, followed by the global Bernanke put, was removed, in the process making the terminal collapse of the US financial system inevitable. Why is Weill relevant? Because in a statement that simply redefines hypocrisy, the same individual had the temerity to appear on selloutvision, and tell his fawning CNBC hosts that it is “time to break up the big banks.” That’s right:the person who benefited the most of all from the repeal of Glass Steagall is now calling for its return.

Hypocrisy defined 5:20 into the interview below:

I am suggesting that [big banks] be broken up so that the taxpayer will never be at risk, the depositors won’t be at risk, the leverage of the banks will be something reasonable… I want us to be a leader… I think the world changes and the world we live in now is different from the world we lived in ten years ago.

How ironic is it then that at the signing ceremony of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley, aka the Glass Steagall repeal act, Clinton presented Weill with one of the pens he used to “fine-tune” Glass-Steagall out of existence, proclaiming, “Today what we are doing is modernizing the financial services industry, tearing down those antiquated laws and granting banks significant new authority.”

How ironic indeed. And how hypocritical for this person to have the temerity to show himself in public, let alone demand the law he ushered in, be undone.

Weill discussing all of the above and more with a straight face here:

For those curious to learn a bit more about Weill, here is some good reading:

Weill is the Wall Street hustler who led the successful lobbying to reverse the Glass-Steagall law, which long had been a barrier between investment and commercial banks. That 1999 reversal permitted the merger of Travelers and Citibank, thereby creating Citigroup as the largest of the “too big to fail” banks eventually bailed out by taxpayers. Weill was instrumental in getting then-President Bill Clinton to sign off on the Republican-sponsored legislation that upended the sensible restraints on finance capital that had worked splendidly since the Great Depression.

Those restrictions were initially flouted when Weill, then CEO of Travelers, which contained a major investment banking division, decided to merge the company with Citibank, a commercial bank headed by John S. Reed. The merger had actually been arranged before the enabling legislation became law, and it was granted a temporary waiver by Alan Greenspan’s Federal Reserve. The night before the announcement of the merger, as Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley writes in her book “Tearing Down the Walls: How Sandy Weill Fought His Way to the Top of the Financial World… and Then Nearly Lost It All,” a buoyant Weill suggested to Reed, “We should call Clinton.” On a Sunday night Weill had no trouble getting through to the president and informed him of the merger, which violated existing law. After hanging up, Weill boasted to Reed, “We just made the president of the United States an insider.”

The fix was in to repeal Glass-Steagall, as The New York Times celebrated in a 1998 article: “…the announcement on Monday of a giant merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group not only altered the financial landscape of banking, it also changed the political landscape in Washington…. Indeed, within 24 hours of the deal’s announcement, lobbyists for insurers, banks and Wall Street firms were huddling with Congressional banking committee staff members to fine-tune a measure that would update the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from Wall Street and insurance, to make it more politically acceptable to more members of Congress.”

At the signing ceremony Clinton presented Weill with one of the pens he used to “fine-tune” Glass-Steagall out of existence, proclaiming, “Today what we are doing is modernizing the financial services industry, tearing down those antiquated laws and granting banks significant new authority.” What a jerk.

Although Weill has shown not the slightest remorse, Reed has had the honesty to acknowledge that the elimination of Glass-Steagall was a disaster: “I would compartmentalize the industry for the same reason you compartmentalize ships,” he told Bloomberg News. “If you have a leak, the leak doesn’t spread and sink the whole vessel. So generally speaking, you’d have consumer banking separate from trading bonds and equity.”

Instead, all such compartmentalization was ended when Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in late 1999. In his memoir Weill brags that he and Republican Senator Phil Gramm joked that it should have been called the Weill-Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Informally, some dubbed it “the Citigroup Authorization Act.”

Gramm left the Senate to become a top executive at the Swiss-based UBS bank, which like Citigroup ran into deep trouble. Leach—former Republican Representative James Leach—was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, where his banking skills could serve the needs of intellectuals. Robert Rubin, the Clinton administration treasury secretary who helped push through the Citigroup Authorization Act, was the most blatant double dealer of all: He accepted a $15-million-a-year offer from Weill to join Citigroup, where he eventually helped run the corporation into the ground.

Citigroup went on to be a major purveyor of toxic mortgage–based securities that required $45 billion in direct government investment and a $300 billion guarantee of its bad assets in order to avoid bankruptcy.

Weill himself bailed out shortly before the crash. His retirement from what was then the world’s largest financial conglomerate was chronicled in the New York Times under the headline “Laughing All the Way From the Bank.” The article told of “an enormous wooden plaque” in the bank’s headquarters that featured a likeness of Weill with the inscription “The Man Who Shattered Glass-Steagall.”

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Pensions – Not So Boring Anymore…

In my deep past I wrote a paper for a college economics class.  I recall it was on a solid but boring topic for the time (mid – 70’s), related to pensions and the effect on budgets of mis-forecasting rates of return.  Now this was in an era when interest rates were boring, but soon they would not be so.  In the Seventies the big issue became inflation, or stagflation, which after the ’73 oil shock, started heading towards double digits.  At a time when inflation revolved around 10%, the question was can a pension then earning 9% keep up?

The yield problem, particularly for public sector pensions, has come home to roost in the current era of minimal inflation.  With nominal interest rates near zero, it is hard to achieve a return above 7%.  This is causing political problems for many municipal entities, a problem foreseen several years ago.

Responses have varied, but have come from both the right and left.  With the Tea Party behind him, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attacked the unions on collective bargaining rights, going after pay and pensions.  The left has taken up the call, as noted by Democratic advisor David Crane of California in 2010, “I have a special word for my fellow Democrats,” Crane told a public hearing. “One cannot both be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform.”  All this rancor over a bucket of money which has been promised to our public servants (teachers, fire, police, etc.).  But as Crane implied, in the current environment, keeping up with these fixed return obligations is threatening basic services like public schools and social services for the needy, not to mention fire, police, and garbage collection.

All this is being revisited across the country now, as an example New York City faces the prospect of an additional $1.9 billion in annual pension contributions due to a reduction in the assumed rate of return from 8% to 7%.  Its pension contributions currently make up 10% of the total operating budget.

With the majority of American workers now facing retirement with a combination of maybe a 401K yielding 2% and Social Security looking dicey, the public sphere is living in the past.  It is time for them to share the risks of the markets that we all do.  A promise to pay is one thing, a promised return is another.  It is time to put to bed traditional pensions for municipal employees, and the arcane activity of forecasting reasonable returns.

Rob Cannon is a frequent guest contributor at SMBmatters and is a principal at Cannonomics.  He is a virtual CFO for hire.

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America – Land of the Non-Political Economy

It’s refreshing to be reminded about how little politics matter in our economy. How do we reflect on this? By looking at how influential they are in other countries. The latest example is in view at our biggest “competitor”, China. In a current NY Times report we see how political the economy really is. The Chinese (mainland, not Taiwan) economy has no free distribution mechanisms, there is not process nor established procedure for distributing opportunities, or rather they must be greased by and for the benefit of the oligarchy. In contrast, in America we have today (5/18/2012) a view of Facebook as it goes public. This company was invented by a few guys, funded by a bunch of endorsers over the years, and finally built into a web powerhouse, all without any political intervention, rather by a raw effort to build stickiness.

All this is to say, as we hear partisan bellyaching about the economic policies of one side or the other, remember that as much as the President and Congress can do structurally to set the rules, in the day to day they do very little vis a vis the economy. They by and large do not manage opportunities; they do not have any real control of gas prices, the labor market, or any other facet of activity. For that matter neither do our business moguls. If they had their way natural gas (ergo our heating bills) would be priced much higher today.

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Labor Market Efficiency

beveridge curve labor economics

David R. Kotok has written a salient commentary about the current state of the Labor Market. In it he describes what is going on in the above “Beveridge Curve”. In summation, the shift to the right of the data points over time indicates a less efficient labor market. That is, for any one data point, say Feb ’12, a concurrent job vacancy rate in say Nov ’01 shows a much lower U-6 (fully loaded) unemployment rate, here approx. 9.3% versus 15%. How can this be? Are there so many more folks now looking for a job with the same level of jobs available (vacant)? He does not posit a definite reason for this move, but a recent paper in the Harvard Business Review lends some insight.
What if the current ease of travel and taste for independence was driving some of this shift? What if people were taking a trade off in income for flexibility? In The Rise of the Supertemp, Miller and Miller assert that some 16 million Americans are working independently today (Source, MBO Partners). These include an estimated 3 million managers and professionals, defined as folks with graduate degrees or equivalent who desire the flexibility of temporary work. And what if this group tended to stay independent, given their level of talent and the ability to choose what they work on and with whom to work.
To quote, “The only comprehensive survey of U.S. Independent professionals to date, conducted in September 2011 for MBO Partners, found that close to 80% of independent workers are satisfied with their situation, including 58% who are highly satisfied.” Further, only 19% said they planned to seek a traditional job.

The ground rules for successful Supertemp engagements are project oriented and include:
1) Focus on what needs to be done now – this means specifying your most critical objectives
2) Define the work clearly – agree on written deliverables
3) Identifying additional resources required
4) Identifying the internal sponsor – the one who can make things happen internally, in small company cases this is usually the CEO
5) Check in regularly – to reassess goals and objectives.
Hurdles to an efficient market for Supertemps remain, e.g. the difficulty of obtaining healthcare outside traditional employment situations, and tax reform.

Regardless of the ongoing issues, we believe that temporary work is here to stay for the

Economics beveridge curve

Economics Beveridge Curve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

highly talented managers and professionals (think engineers, lawyers, accountants, CFOs, etc.) and will lead to a continued “inefficiency” in the traditional “Beveridge Curve” for the U.S. Employment market, or should we say to a new level of efficiency based on a permanent Supertemp professional class, working how and when they want to.

JPMorgan Trading Victims: The Shareholders?

Investors filed two lawsuits against the firm, alleging that the firm took undue risks and made misreprentations to shareholders prior to last week, when the firm announced the losses. Chief executive officer Jamie Dimon called the trading errors “egregious” and the losses “self-inflicted.”In Congress, lawmakers used a hearing on bank regulation to raise concerns about the JPMorgan investments that went awry. Some lawmakers argued for breaking up the largest banks, which include JPMorgan.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont called for new legislation to remove conflicts of interest between regulators and Wall Street banks. Two-thirds of theFederal Reserve‘s regional-bank board members are appointed by the banking industry, Senator Sanders noted in a letter to his fellow lawmakers. Mr. Dimon is now serving as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

All these developments are signs that, more than three years after a financial crisis plungedAmerica into a deep recession, the question of how to maintain a healthy bank system is still a hot one – and that industry’s risks remain at least partially untamed by new laws or managerial self-discipline.

Even before the loss made headlines, congressional hearings were under way on how to implement the Dodd-Frank banking reforms of 2010, and whether additional changes should be made to financial-system oversight.

Among the important questions being considered:

  • How to implement the so-called “Volcker rule” in Dodd-Frank to limit banks’ investment activity.
  • Whether to break up large banks – a legislative long shot, supported by some lawmakers.
  • Whether some broader constraints on financial risk are needed.

Now, the JPMorgan loss has colored all these conversations, with both sides employing it for their arguments.

Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee last Friday urged the Senate Banking Committee to hold a hearing on what the debacle implies for bank-system soundness. JPMorgan’s loss arose from credit-derivative bets on European corporate debt, involving a trader who became known in credit markets as the “London Whale.”

Rep. Ed Royce (R) of California on Wednesday used the JPMorgan affair to defend a post-crisis boost in the capital cushion that big banks are required to hold – a shift that some critics have said is harming economic growth. “I hope that recent incidents put that argument at rest,” Congressman Royce said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, eliciting agreement from one of the regulators testifying.

At the same hearing, Rep. Brad Miller (D) of North Carolina said the JPMorgan loss was evidence of the need for a tougher regulatory regime than Dodd-Frank has imposed so far. “What sense does it make to create banks this big?” he asked. “And they’re actually even bigger now than they were before…. Why not have smaller banks?”

The JPMorgan losses could also come up at a hearing on derivatives regulation, set for the Senate Banking Committee on May 22.

Although massive, the loss doesn’t put JPMorgan or the US banking system at any immediate risk. But it served as an alarm bell, given that the bank and its CEO had cultivated a sterling reputation. Dimon had been Wall Street’s lead spokesman for the idea that Congress should take a lighter regulatory approach to the industry.

The loss is a reminder that smart people, in sophisticated transactions, can sometimes go wildly wrong. If a large number of firms do this simultaneously, as occurred with investments related to the housing market prior to 2008, the whole financial system can be at risk.

In an election-year, the politicking is sure to spread beyond congressional hearings.

It’s an issue in the presidential race, where Republican Mitt Romney has been raking in donations from Wall Street, while remaining largely silent about bank regulation. And it figures prominently the Massachusetts Senate race in which Democrat Elizabeth Warren is seeking to oust Sen. Scott Brown (R).

The voting public didn’t like the bank bailouts crafted by the Bush and Obama administrations in 2008 and 2009. But they were crucial in avoiding an even more precipitous economic collapse, say many economists.

“When banks can’t lend,… the economy doesn’t do very well,” Northern Trust chief economist Paul Kasriel explained in an interview before his retirement last month. Mr. Kasriel suggests that a bank-credit revival was vital during the Depression, and has been the vital again since 2008.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports that US banks, although still facing challenges, are much stronger now than they were a couple of years ago. After sharply tightening the flow of credit during the recession, banks have have begun to ease a bit on loan conditions.

The challenge, which policymakers know but haven’t fully solved, is how to maintain a banking system that is both vibrant and safe – not allowing implicit government backstops to become licenses for risky behavior by bankers.

One such backstop contained in the Dodd-Frank law is the designation of the biggest banks as “systemically important,” which some lawmakers see as confirmation that those banks will be bailed out should they get in trouble again.


Masters of the Universe #2 – Volcker : They Shouldn’t Be a Bank…

Paul Volcker on Bill Moyers

On the heels of the recent post of Richard Lee on financial traders’ Masters of the Universe complex, we pick up Paul Volcker’s commentary that banks can’t “have their cake and eat it too”.  In an interview with journalist Bill Moyers, Volcker offers some unsympathetic criticism of “banks” that commingle proprietary trading activities with regulated bank functions, which followed a Fox News segment in which Jamie Dimon took issue with limitations he and the industry objected to regarding the Volcker Rule.

VIA TalkingPointsMemo.com
DAVID KURTZ MAY 16, 2012

JP Morgan can do all the proprietary trading it wants, Paul Volcker tells Bill Moyers — it just has to surrender its banking license.

DAVID KURTZ 

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

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