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This Time, It’s Real

On this, the first business day of the second quarter of 2012, everyone seems to be writing and talking about the spring in this year’s early spring.  No, not the weather, but the economy and how, this time, the rebound finally seems real and sustainable.
 
In early 2010, we, and most others, thought things were turning around.  We even asked our landlord about the two vacant offices adjacent to our suite in Century City.  Glad we didn’t sign on.
 
Then again in early 2011, the economy once again appeared to be heading in the right direction. But, alas, hopes were dashed, and it stalled again.
 
Today, it not only feels different, but the facts seem to be saying so, too.
 
Jobs are being created and unemployment is falling.  According to our client, Greg Palmer, CEO of staffing industry advisory firm Greg Palmer and Associates and his Palmer Forecast™, the use of temp help among businesses throughout the nation is on the rise, one indicator that good things are in store.
 
Last week, nine companies went public, the most IPOs in one week in more than 15 months.  More than 200 companies have filed with the SEC and are waiting in the wings.
 
Even James Surowiecki, who writes the Financial Page column in my favorite magazine, The New Yorker, recently wrote, “…there are at least a couple of reasons to think that, this time, we aren’t looking at a false spring.”
 
The two reasons, according to Surowiecki, are autos and housing.
 
Pent-up demand for autos is morphing into active demand.  Our client, the nation’s largest wheel manufacturer Superior Industries, is operating at near capacity.  And client Autobytel just recorded its first full year of net income since 2004 fueled by many positive changes within the company but also buoyed by the industry’s recovery.  New car sales fell from a pre-recession annual peak of 17 million to just over 10 million in 2009. The seasonally adjusted annualized (SAAR) forecast of new car sales for March is estimated at 14.3 million, down from last month, but up from 13.0 a year ago and the highest since August 2007.
 
As to real estate, things look better there, too. PondelWilkinson client Market Leader, which provides more than 100,000 real estate professionals throughout the United States and Canada with online technology and marketing solutions, delivered 39% revenue growth last year in what can conservatively be labeled a challenging, aka, stinky, environment.  The latest National Association of Realtors forecast predicts that existing home sales and prices, along with new home sales and housing starts all will be up for 2012 and will rise even more in 2013, with continued low (but climbing a little next year) mortgage rates.
 
The 2012 first quarter was outstanding in the stock market as well, to the tune of 900 points on the Dow.  In fact, it was the best Q1 for the Dow in 14 years and the best for NASDAQ in 21 years.
 
So welcome to Q2. Let’s all do our best to keep the momentum going and not let the media pundits in yesterday’s newspapers, television shows and blogs dampen our enthusiasm with their commentary about the prospect of a slip and the anxiety that is creeping back into the markets, as New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper and others  believe.  After all, yesterday was April’s Fool day.

 

— Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com
 
 

M&A Advice You Rarely Read About

The New Yorker—my all-time favorite magazine and the one I read to steal myself away from business news—had an insightful piece about mergers and acquisitions.
 
Tucked inside the Financial Page column (June 9 & 16, 2008 issue), which focused on CBS’s recently announced acquisition of CNET Networks, were some hidden gems of advice for acquirers of companies:
 

  • It is not necessary “to own a company to make money from its properties. Much of what mergers are supposed to accomplish can be achieved through partnerships and alliances.”
  • Mergers “that rely more on cost cutting from such actions as combining back-office operations and eliminating redundancies than on promises of vast growth are more likely to be successful.”
  • “Acquisitions of smaller, younger private companies are usually wiser than acquisitions of publicly traded firms,” where the acquirer must typically pay a steep premium to an already known public valuation.
  • While acquisitions may “boost a company’s growth rate, they too often make it bigger without making it better.”

 
The article’s author, James Surowiecki, aptly quoted Warren Buffett: “Executives see the companies they acquire as handsome princes imprisoned in toads’ bodies, awaiting only the ‘managerial kiss’ to set them free. Unfortunately, most toads turn out to be as warty as they look, and magic kisses are harder to bestow than executives think.”
 
Surowiecki has written a well-received book, The Wisdom of Crowds—Why The Many Are Smarter Than The Few And How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies And Nations, which describes systematic ways to organize and aggregate the intelligence available in organizations in order to arrive at superior decisions—often better than those that individuals would make, even if they are ‘experts.’

 

Roger Pondel, President, rpondel@pondel.com