Entrepreneurship: The Way To the Future?

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A decade ago, nearly all of the smartest business school graduates flocked to Wall Street traditional corporate jobs in finance and management.

Today, I see a growing number of newly minted Ivy League graduates decide to start their own businesses or go to work for Silicon Valley startups.

In one study of over 30,000 Wharton graduates, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that more than 7% of 2013 grads started their own companies right away — five times as many as in 2007.

They also discovered that, since 1990, nearly a quarter of Wharton grads have been entrepreneurs at some point, even if it wasn’t straight out of school.

I believe America today needs more entrepreneurs than ever. One of the great trends we’ve been witnessing over the past decade, and in particular the past 5 years, has been what you might call the “democratization” of entrepreneurship”. It’s a powerful trend and one that I think will have a huge impact not just on the US economy and workforce, but perhaps even more intensely on other areas of the world – particularly developing economies.

I predict that this growth is likely to continue and most probably accelerate for several reasons.

  1. The high number of students seeking entrepreneurial opportunities stems, in part, from the feeling of control that owning and running your own company provides. Even though they’re working at least as hard as the bankers, they have control over their own destiny. In fact, entrepreneurs tend to be happier than workers in any other profession. Also In places like Silicon Valley, breaking into the scene is all about who you know, making these networks invaluable assets.
  2. Earning an MBA creates an instant backup plan in case the business fails. Knowing they can always count on a graduate degree from a top school to land a more traditional job allows MBA holders to take more risks. They’re able to turn an entrepreneurial failure into something that won’t hurt their resumes, as opposed to other botches, such as bad performance reviews.
  3. For the older set who cut their teeth on Wall Street, Silicon Valley or a path to entrepreneurship may offer the promise of a healthier lifestyle. Being a Wall Streeter myself, I know for a fact that the Wall Street vets who switch careers are usually making “a lifestyle choice.”
  4. Given Wall Street is today under a lot of regulatory scrutiny and pressures that are outside of any individual day-to-day control, going to a high-profile technology company or taking the entrepreneurial path can be more liberating and freeing. It is the ultimate place where you can be creative instead of reactionary in addition to the innovation, creative freedom, and meaningful work that is not available anywhere else.
  5. Most importantly, entrepreneurs don’t care about pedigree. It is a fact that entrepreneurial communities are networks, not hierarchies. Openness, the free flow of information, the lack of community gatekeepers and entrepreneurs as leaders are hallmarks of these networks. As a result, the fundamental tenants that underpin these networks there is a decreased emphasis on pedigree, background and connections. While this hasn’t completely taken hold in all countries, in many places entrepreneurs are rightly judged by the strength of their ideas, the value they bring to the community and the success of their past efforts and not on their family name or where they attended school. This has opened the door for many entrepreneurs who 10 or 20 years ago would have found themselves cut off from the opportunities they have today.

Fundamentally, I believe the world does and will further benefit from the democratization of entrepreneurship as more people look to themselves as the engine to grow beyond their circumstances. And this phrase works in reverse as well – entrepreneurship promotes democratization. Entrepreneurs value the stable systems that democracy tends to bring, they see themselves and not government as the answer to their societies challenges, they provide jobs and economic stability that promote stable society and they work in networks that by their nature are fundamentally more democratic than hierarchical regimes.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know exactly what the next 20 or 50 years will bring. But I do believe that the global trend towards “entrepreneurship” will continue and that the world will be much better for it.

Share your thoughts…

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Financial Policy Best Practice Framework

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On March 18th 2014 the US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen stated the need for “reasonable confidence” in order to effectuate a more conservative monetary policy focusing on interest rate raise. Chair Yellen has indicated four macroeconomic factors that need to be further monitored.

  • The labor market with further unemployment rate decline;
  • A continued rise in currently slumped wages;
  • Core inflation stabilization (independent of energy ‘push’);
  • A higher “market-based” expected inflation rate.

The Fed’s decision to hold off on short term rate hikes comes one week after its macroprudential bank stress tests. Notable amongst the results was the “conditional approval” of Bank of America’s capital plan, with complete rejection of Deutsche Bank and Santander’s capital plans. It is clear that under Yellen the Federal Reserve is attempting to uphold the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. From a general standpoint, it is also quite glaring that the Federal Reserve as a central bank is fast adopting more of an eco-political role as a quasi-indirect financial system regulator through financial system monitoring. As has been mentioned before, monetary policy is the fastest mechanism to quell financial system defects, as fiscal policy results tend to lag.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, many economists have called for a more active regulatory role from central banks other than pure monetary rate fixes and being a lender of last resort. In January 2013 Fed Governor Powell met with members of the Financial Services Forum Policy Roundtable to the need for further engagement with appropriate bank regulators with regards to Dodd-Frank and specific cooperation among federal banking agencies. Here we see the Federal Reserve’s role expand into embracing full regulatory responsibilities and acknowledging the need to be more cognizant of fiscal agency activities. Since it is fast becoming the trend of the US Federal Reserve and of central banks in general to take up more than pecuniary monetary policy functions, it is the responsibility of the Financial Policy Council to suggest optimal regulatory best practices.

After careful examination, we found great quantitative insight in regards to the prevention, control and monitoring of financial crises by central banks through the International Monetary Fund’s Policies for Macrofinancial Stability: How to Deal with Credit Booms. (Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, Deniz Igan, et al. 2012). As the title suggests, credit booms are cited as the main, very complex cause of large scale financial crises which mere shifts in short term interest rates cannot fully solve. It is important to note that credit booms are intrinsically not detrimental to the financial system and to the macro economy at large, once properly and timely monitored. The tail risk associated with credit booms can bring strong growth or absolute demise to the financial sector depending on how it is mitigated during the boom, and controlled for the expected credit trough cycle. While there is increased regulation of the overall banking sector within the US, there is a renewed tendency towards credit increase within the non-banking business sectors, which in turn spur the banking sector to increase product (mortgage) marketing to remain competitive. This is a structural aspect of the financial system which encourages credit booms, and credit crises within the US.

Credit Boom Identification

  • The IMF defines credit boom as any period during which the annual growth rate of the credit-to-GDP ratio exceeds 10 percent. A boom ends as soon as the growth of the credit-to-GDP ratio turns negative; thus, the credit-to-GDP measure for any sovereign is crucial to monitor by the Federal Reserve, even in the resetting of an indirectly related short term market shocks.
  • Dell’Ariccia and his IMF colleagues applied the definition of a credit boom and ensuing variance stress tests to a sample of 170 countries with data starting as far back as the 1960s and extending to 2010, with the identification of 175 credit booms therein.
  • One of the most telling results of sample testing showed that no matter the country classification or geographical sphere, one in three booms was followed by a banking crisis within three years of the boom. As well, the IMF results showed that the geographical regions that experienced credit booms had even greater credit delinquency during and well after the crises.
  • Three out of five booms were followed by subpar growth in spite of further macro economic stimulus packages for at least six years following the credit contractions, or outright credit busts. The referenced term for this phenomenon is a “creditless recovery.” One very strong contributing factor to this type of recovery is a failure of both monetary and fiscal policy to focus on credit aggregates, and instead silo industries and sectors according to individual need (e.g. Real Estate).
  • An even more concerning find by the IMF study showed that credit booms generally start at the tail end or after buoyant economic growth. Many decision makers in the lower federal or parliament house tend to believe a credit boom is an absolute sign of economic growth. This is not necessarily so. In many cases, a credit boom occurs to make up for declining economic growth, depending on the sovereign’s liquidity position.

Monetary Policy Control

In particular, credit booms seem to occur more often in countries with expansionary macroeconomic policies, and low quality of banking supervision. This model usually fits a developing country or emerging market paradigm. Thus, it is noteworthy that the major financial crises of 2008 stemmed from the US banking and financial systems, and even more so from a primarily credit risk perspective. It is as if the central banking system completely dismissed signs of macroeconomic overheating. Should monetary policy then remain conservative with high cost of borrowing, low asset price valuations to stifle credit growth? The answer goes both ways. Most times central banks focus on short term rate adjustments to adjust money supply, all the while paying attention to market risk. This was the case of the US Federal Reserve prior to the financial crisis of 2008. We have already pled the case for allowing a credit boom to occur, with control. A credit boom naturally has credit risk to adjust for; therefore it is necessary for central banks to change monetary policy in response to aggregate asset price. We note here that aggregate asset price valuation control is necessary over a focus on individual bank institutions to effectively mitigate credit risk factors.

A serious problem faced by central banking decision makers is tightening monetary control during the first sighting of a credit boom, as purely political decision makers may confuse a credit boom with absolute economic growth. Monetary policy measures to control a credit boom can spur a higher short term unemployment rate, which leads to fiscal issues. Well meaning monetary policy control can also exacerbate macroeconomic pressures: increases in rate borrowing costs can lead to an outflow of funds to foreign lenders, even more creative variable interest only lending options, and a further increase in the banking sector’s debt service.

Almost all sovereigns immediately turn to monetary policy unsupported by immediate regulatory policy to ‘fix’ the repercussions of a credit decline, credit bust, and ensuing financial crisis, since monetary policy does have the ability to create corrective action without an extensive time lag. The IMF study states that stand-alone monetary policy can help slow down a credit boom during economic overheating, or simply put, when the economic crisis hits. However stand-alone monetary policy is still reactive without the support of immediate macro prudential regulatory policy, with a policy framework considering aggregate changes.

Fiscal Policy

Fiscal policy has the least immediate positive effect on immediately controlling credit booms. Fiscal policy counts in the long term outcome of controlling the likelihood of credit booms through resetting tax provisions that affect borrowing. The IMF study cites that fiscal consolidation independent of a credit boom can bolster the financial sector in case of a credit crisis. However, the time lag and political implications associated with fiscal policy are inhibiting factors to a proactive control at the early stages of a credit boom. This brings to question the overall effectiveness of governmental fiscal policy in an ever changing and increasingly sophisticated global financial arena. Empirical support from the IMF study suggests that fiscal tightening is not associated with a reduced incidence of credit booms that lead to financial crises in the short to medium term. If so, it may be quite precarious to place increased financial system decision making in governmental folds.

Dell’Ariccia and his IMF colleagues propose countercyclical taxes on debt to offset the credit cycles, and so add tightening balance during a credit boom. In this regard, there will be further fiscal consolidation, or “buffers” that may act in the same manner as a regulatory capital requirement. A salient point made in favor of this measure is that the taxation would apply to the very active nonbank financial institutions as well. The issues cited with such fiscal policy modifications have to do with an easy circumvention of tax policy through various “tax planning” mechanisms especially employed by the nonbank sectors. Indeed, the IMF regression results actually depict that during a period of high economic growth, increasing tax revenues are simultaneously correlated with an increase in credit lending by both bank and nonbank entities. Further taxation may then truly be counterproductive to financial system tightening.

Regulatory Policy

Macro prudential policy consists of capital and liquidity requirements, and regulatory stress testing of the banking sector throughout the economic cycle. Capital and liquidity requirements act as countercyclical buffers to control the cost of bank capital; loan-loss provisions especially demand capital increases to account for an economic trough. When put into practice in a consistent manner, regulatory policies provide adequate information to decision makers on the credit health of the banking sector. To date, most of these policies have been fully monitored and implemented in hindsight as it pertains to curtailing and preventing a credit boom. Regulatory policy as a stand-alone has not been fully effective with curtailing the start and duration of an overheating credit boom.

Aggregate measures of macro prudential policy include the following:

  • Differential treatment of deposit accounts;
  • Reserve requirements;
  • Liquidity requirements;
  • Interest rate controls;
  • Credit controls;
  • Open foreign exchange.

The IMF team found through empirical analysis that these measures are truly helpful in predicting a negative outcome of a current credit boom, rather than being able to actually prevent credit overheating in the financial system. The IMF also found that the global banking sector has been able to circumvent credit controls such as asset concentration by utilizing foreign partner or parent banks, and/or by creating foreign banking and nonbanking spinoffs. Empirical analysis also suggests that the Loan to Value (LTV) ratio monitoring is particularly prudent in restricting negative credit overheating, especially when faced with real estate credit crises.

Conclusion

The IMF study suggests and we agree that financial policy is justifiable in preventing, curbing and monitoring credit overheating in the global economy. We also see that stand-alone policies are not fully effective in mitigating negative credit and tail risks with the boom. Overall, a credit boom occurring during an economic boom can have positive returns once aggregate risk is effectively managed. Since the 2008 financial crisis we see the US Federal Reserve take a more active role in setting financial system policy monitoring, which in effect may be necessary given the highest stand-alone weakness of fiscal policy. Suggestions are as follows:

  • When credit booms coincide with a general economic boom, monetary policy can be the initial (not sole) tool to manage and slow down economic overheating.
  • During the early stages of a credit boom, macro prudential and other regulatory policies should be effectuated in line with monetary policy to ensure capital buffers to mitigate a credit crisis.
  • The IMF has stressed that the governing body to enforce macro prudential polices must have a thoroughly structured task force to supervise and detect when capital requirement thresholds are triggered on a case basis and in the aggregate.
  • More than half of credit booms examined that started at an initial credit-to GDP ratio higher than 60 percent ended up in crises. This ratio needs to serve as a primary quantitative credit risk trigger for central banks and federal agencies.
  • Fiscal policy falls short in curbing credit overheating in the short term, even when coupled with monetary or macro prudential policies. Fiscal policy providing tax code provisions to limit borrowing can bolster the overall health of an economic boom, but possibly may not aid in curbing a specific credit overheating.

As global markets become more sophisticated and fast paced, we see the need for central bank decision making for the financial system, which entails a marked focus on credit risk and macroeconomic indicators. We expect to see the US Federal Reserve and central banks in general employ a well structured mix of financial policies to manage credit booms, mitigate associated risks, and turn around “creditless recoveries” into long term economic stability.

SOURCES

Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, Giovanni, Igan, Deniz et al. “Policies for Macrofinancial Stability: How to Deal with Credit Booms.” The International Monetary Fund Staff Discussion Note. June 2012.

Matthews, Steve. “Yellen Is Watching These Four Indicators for Signals on When to Raise Rates.” Bloomberg Business Online. March 2015.

The US Federal Reserve Regulatory Reform. “Resolution Framework.” The US Federal Reserve Online. March 2015.

Van den end, Jan Willem et al. “The Interaction between Central Banks and Government in Tail Risk Scenarios.” De Nederlandsche Bank Working Paper. March 2013.

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Are You Really The Entrepreneur You Claim To Be?

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It is real funny but it looks like everyone without a job today calls himself an entrepreneur, and–judging by the way the word is thrown around–you might think every one of those self employed people is.

The term is applied to politicians and college presidents, cabdrivers and bookies. People like Donald Trump and Richard Branson are held up as models of entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, newspapers routinely refer to lone wolfs trying to sell something at a profit as entrepreneurs.

Well let me tell you something folks. Entrepreneur is not a meaningless word, and we shouldn’t let it become one. It’s the only word we have to describe a person who performs a particular function that’s critical to our economic well-being. I’m talking about the conversion of ideas into viable businesses by means of ingenuity, hard work, resilience, imagination, luck, and all the other ingredients that go into a successful start-up. That process is not the only way to create wealth in a capitalist economy, and the people who do it aren’t members of some sort of business elite. But they do something that’s important and different from what other businesspeople do, and they deserve to have a name.

So what is the definition of an entrepreneur? I have a very simple one. In my book, entrepreneurs are people who, starting with nothing more than an idea for a new venture, have the ability to take it to the point at which the business can sustain itself on its own internally generated cash flow.

I’m not talking about people who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Luck is a factor in every start-up, but I don’t count people who start one company and then can’t do it again to save their souls. And I don’t include people who become what I call “lifestyle entrepreneurs” because they are not able to find a decent job to pay their bills. These are called entrepreneurs by accident.

I also rule out people who build on existing businesses.

Ray Kroc for example, who built McDonald’s from a successful hamburger stand into one of the greatest companies in the world, a great businessman and one of the best managers ever, is though in my definition no entrepreneur. He was without doubt a pioneer and a figure bigger than life, but the people who got the company up and running were the McDonald brothers.

By the same token, I would exclude people who inherit a business, no matter what they do with it afterward. Ned Johnson of Fidelity Investments, for example, has revolutionized the financial-services industry, but his father, who started the business, was the entrepreneur. Same goes for Donald Trump.

Nor do you qualify if you do nothing more than acquire existing businesses, like most of the people doing so-called industry roll-ups. They go around the country, buying up local businesses–say, ambulance services or delivery companies–which they then bundle together to create a new national entity. To be sure, they call themselves entrepreneurs. A couple of them have even been designated “Entrepreneurs of the Year,” which is a joke. By and large, they’re just smart accountants.

The point is that entrepreneurs, real entrepreneurs, are people who create companies from scratch. They start with nothing except what they themselves bring to the party–a concept, a few contacts, maybe some capital, plus all of those intangible qualities that are important to success in any new venture. And that’s about it. There are no salespeople, no offices, no telephones or computers, no accounting system, no operations, no customers or suppliers. The entrepreneurs’ job is to put everything together, wearing 10 different hats, juggling 20 different balls, relying on their own knowledge and instincts and creativity to get them to positive cash flow.

And the best entrepreneurs are masters of the process, which is not to say that they’re necessarily the greatest businesspeople in the world. Very few of them are industry pioneers. Many of them have a hard time managing the companies they create. They may even fail in a newbusiness venture now and then. But they know how to bounce back from failure, and they keep on trying until they succeed. What they’re good at is starting businesses. They can do it again and again.

So who are the real entrepreneurs? Ross Perot is certainly one of them. So is Steven Jobs. I would also include Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Federal Express founder Fred Smith too.

But most real entrepreneurs are people you’ve never heard of. There are thousands and thousands of them–men and women of every race and nationality, in every industry and every corner of the globe. They’re starting businesses every day, and the world is a better place because of it.

For their sake, let’s reserve the title of entrepreneur for a particular group of people–the ones who’ve earned it and provide them with access to the capital they need to build their dreams and reshape the world.

After all, and as the late Peter Drucker used to say: “Entrepreneurship rests on a theory of economy and society. The theory sees change as normal and indeed as healthy. And it sees the major task in society – and especially in the economy – as doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done. That is basically what Say, two hundred years ago, meant when he coined the term entrepreneur. It was intended as a manifesto and as a declaration of dissent: the entrepreneur upsets and disorganizes. As Joseph Schumpeter formulated it, his task is “creative destruction.”

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