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    Archive for the 'Economy: National and Global' Category

    Small business can’t fund an economic expansion alone

    How’s the economy going?

    In my long career, it’s hard to imagine a time when you could get as many different answers to this question.

    We know the answer if we’re talking to any of the millions of chronically unemployed or under-employed; they’re not represented in the misleading U3 unemployment index used by politicians and the media. And the same goes for the millions who were forced to transition from unemployment to early retirement, disability or welfare.

    Photo courtesy of morgueFile

    Photo courtesy of morgueFile

    How about small business owners? Recently we asked them this question: How is the economy looking for you over the last third of 2014? Almost two-thirds of our respondents allowed they like what they see. That’s an improvement from polls we’ve conducted over the past couple of years when barely half expressed optimism.

    Are small businesses finally feeling more confident about the economy? For generations Wall Street was accepted as a leading indicator of the economy; today it’s merely an indicator of itself.  I consider Main Street to be the more relevant economic indicator so this increased optimism is good news — at least until Wall Street and Washington do something to derail all of our hard work, like the last financial crisis they created together.

    In a follow-up poll we asked small business owners how they would fund their next growth opportunity. Almost half reported they would grow organically with retained earnings (profits) and current cash flow. And consistent with previous polls by myself and others, only three percent chose the historical small business funding source: a bank loan.

    Ironically, this growth-by-bootstrapping response is a silver lining of the financial crisis cloud. As I predicted in 2009, in order for small businesses to survive the Great Recession they had to operate more efficiently while reducing debt, which produced two very important financial conditions: 1) a better cash position and 2) more profit. Consequently, it’s not surprising when almost 50% of respondents to this poll reported the ability to capitalize future growth with in-house resources.

    Unfortunately, small business retained earnings alone won’t take the economy from moribund recovery to robust expansion. That will require Corporate America to stop hoarding cash and start investing in the economy. The question is, when will Wall Street let them?

    Write this on a rock … Small business alone can’t fund an economic expansion.

    Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

    RESULTS: How is the economy looking for your business as we enter the last trimester of 2014?

    The Question:
    How is the economy looking for your business as we enter the last trimester of 2014?

    36% - This year has been great and we plan to finish strong.
    29% - This hasn’t been a great year, but it looks like we’ll finish strong
    14% -  We started out well, but the rest of the year doesn’t look so good.
    21% - We’re not going to have a good year, first half or last half.

    Jim’s Comments:
    Comparing our poll this week to similar results over the past couple of years, it actually looks like small business owners are finally feeling more confident about the economy. In previous polls we’ve barely gotten half of our audience to say they were optimistic about the next few months. But this week almost two-thirds like what they see for the last third of the year.

    As you know, I now consider Main Street, not Wall Street, to be the leading indicator of the economy. If I’m right, this poll response is good news we can count on–at least unless Wall Street and/or Washington does something stupid to derail all of our hard work.

    Main Street, not Wall Street, is the leading economic indicator

    What sector of the U.S. marketplace produces over half of the economy, signs the front of over half of U.S. private payroll checks, and is the perennial new job engine?

    No, it’s not Corporate America or Wall Street banks. It’s Small Business America. If this sector were a sovereign country it would be the largest economy in the world.

    So why does Wall Street, instead of Main Street, get all of the economic media coverage?

    William Dunkelberg, Ph.D., NFIB’s Chief Economist, is the oracle of the Main Street economy. For more than 40 years his monthly Small Business Optimism Index has been the gold standard for this sector. Alas, since 2007 his Index has recorded an unprecedented cycle of sustained levels below the 40-year optimism average. Find the Index at smallbus.org and NFIB.com.  Plus Bill reports his findings on my radio program every month.

    On the other end of the precious metals scale of small business polling, closer to the copper standard, is me. For several years my online poll has asked small business owners weekly about their take on the economy. Recently we asked which of five business issues is the most pressing:  cash flow, a business loan, more customers, Obamacare, taxes and/or regulations.

    Here’s what we learned:

    SmallTownUSA

    One marker of sustained business success since 2008 is deleveraging, which manifests, in part, as improved cash flow. Consequently, when cash flow concern registers only a 16% response, and loan demand gets no takers, these are the two sides of the deleveraging coin. But low loan demand also means low growth expectation.

    Obamacare barely moved the worry meter at 5% in our poll because this issue will be dormant until Q4 2014, when we learn what the 2015 employer mandate will cost.

    The big concerns, more customers at 54% and taxes/regulations at 25%, can be taken two ways: No one admits to having enough business and no one likes taxes and regs. But based on the economic indicators of the first half of 2014, plus recent tax increases and out-of-control growth of regulations that disproportionately hurt small businesses, these are not gratuitous responses; they’re the true top concerns of small businesses. And they track with the NFIB Index.

    As I’ve been saying since 2006, Wall Street is no longer a leading indicator of the economy; it’s now merely a leading indicator of itself. If you want to know the true condition of the U.S. economy, listen to Main Street small business owners.

    Write this on a rock … The small business sector is now the true leading economic indicator of the U.S.

    Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

    The big concerns, more customers at 54% and taxes/regulations at 25%, can be taken two ways: No one admits to having enough business and no one likes taxes and regs. But based on the economic indicators of the first half of 2014, plus recent tax increases and out-of-control growth of regulations that disproportionately hurt small businesses, these are not gratuitous responses; they’re the true top concerns of small businesses. And they track with the NFIB Index.

    As I’ve been saying since 2006, Wall Street is no longer a leading indicator of the economy; it’s now merely a leading indicator of itself. If you want to know the true condition of the U.S. economy, listen to Main Street small business owners.

    Write this on a rock …

    The small business sector is now the true leading economic indicator of the U.S.

    Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

    RESULTS: Which of the following is the most pressing challenge your business has right now?

    The Question:
    Which of the following is the most pressing challenge your business has right now?

    16% — Negative cash flow
    0% – Getting a business loan
    54% — Need more customers
    5% — Impact of Obamacare
    25% — Taxes and/or regulations

    Jim’s Comments:

    RESULTS: Is your small business showing economic improvement?

    The Question:

    The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism shows small businesses see economic improvement and hiring is up. What is your experience?
    Photo courtesy of Wealthyauthority.com21% — Our business is improving and we’ll add employees this year.
    55% — Our business is improving but we’ll handle it with existing people.
    3% — We’re not growing but still plan to staff-up to pre-recession levels.
    21% —  We don’t see improvement and won’t be hiring.

    Jim’s Comments:

    The good news is that three of four of our respondents are seeing economic improvement. The bad news is those who plan to hire number barely one in five.  This means that the growth being seen is merely an upward trend, not economic expansion.

    Furthermore, the business owners I talk to say the current regulatory state, including the spectre of Obamacare, is causing them to make adding new people a last resort.

    Thanks for participating.  Be sure to participate in our new poll below.

    Inconvenient foreign policy hashtags

    @PresidentObama: “Today the world is less violent and more tolerant than it has ever been.”
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         #Benghazi  #BokoHaram

    @PresidentObama: “The reset button with Russia has worked.”
         #Crimea  #Ukraine

    @PresidentObama: “The United States is ready to respond to China’s aggression toward its neighbors.”
         #RedlineForAssad  #NuclearIran  #SeeCrimea  #SeeUkraine

    @PresidentObama: “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.”
         #ISISAdvancesOnBaghdad

    @JimBlasingame: What happens when a nation’s foreign policy is always defined by others?
         #NevilleChamberlain

    @JimBlasingame: The wages of the Obama Doctrine are being coined and spent by forces that won’t trade with those who value life and liberty.
         #LeadingFromBehind  #Feckless  #Impotent  #Predictable

    @JimBlasingame: The Obama Doctrine is approaching global critical mass.
         #GodHelpUs

    Thanks for being part of my community. I’ll see you on the radio and the Internet.