Mass Layoffs Jan 2010

1 03 2010

Sorry I have been a little short on blogs the last few weeks…

The US Department of Labor – Bureau of Statistics released the January Mass Layoff Events data for January.  I have been watching the Mass Layoff events for a while now for a couple of reasons, but primarily as a leading indicator of the economy.  I spoke last year a great deal how the number had exceeded 2000 events for 12 straight months and how this was most likely a sign of a protracted recovery period.   The January number was 1,761 which was roughly the same for the last three months.  While the move under 2,000 was at least a step in the right direction it appears as if we continue at an elevated rate.

Job creation is one of the primary keys to economic recovery and it seems as if we are still shedding above normal levels of jobs.   Continuing at 1,700+ events (which in Jan actually meant 180,000 claimants – or an annualized number of over 2 mil initial claimants.  The point is that I feel the economic climate is still contracting, though perhaps at now slower rates.

From a street level assessment I am starting to hear of more projects starting, consulting firms seems to be a little more optimistic outlook for the year, and less people concerned about their current state.





Mass Layoffs Nov 2009

23 12 2009

Yesterday, the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics released the November Mass Layoff Report.  The news was upbeat in that the trend continues to get better (meaning fewer mass layoff events) with only 1,797 events.  We have spoken about 2,000 events as being extremely high and November was the first time in the last 14 months that the number dropped below 2,000.  The bad news is this is still higher than 80% of the monthly numbers since 1999 so the numbers are again not positive, just less negative.

One bit of interesting news is that the number of layoffs (officially claimants) per event was at one of its lowest levels since the beginning of 1999.  This means that while the number of layoff events is still high, there were fewer claimants per event (fewer people laid off or more found something else), or that instead of 200,000 claimants, we saw only 165,346.  This number is a healthier indicator than the number of events (see the dotted red lines in the chart below and compare the crimson line and the blue line from the chart above).





Danger of Leading Indicators

22 12 2009

UPDATED 12-23, 2009:  Boston.com story about home sales – seems like we have stories with divergent viewpoints.  Good example of how a single version of the truth depends upon the story teller…

CNN Opening Paragraph: NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — After surging 10% in October, sales of existing homes jumped again in November, growing 7.4% compared with October to an annualized rate of 6.54 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors. (full article)

Boston Globe Opening Paragraph: WASHINGTON—Sales of new homes plunged unexpectedly last month to the lowest level since April, a sign the housing market recovery will be rocky and heavily dependent on the generosity of Uncle Sam. (full article)

Read each…Ahh, the politics of spin, or is it the spin of politics of spin.

November saw a healthy jump in home sales.  The good news is that home sales and housing starts are usually very good leading indicators about the health of the economy.  Yet the bad news, in this case we have a potentially baked number.   The market is being artificially inflated with both lower interest rates and a government subsidy for first time home buyers.  What makes this worse is we have created a situation where we know less – we know a number improved, but we have no understanding if the economy is better.

CNN Story on November Home Sales

This is one of the fears about designing the right KPIs.  We want to find the perfect KPI, or create a list that tries to include everything.  What we need are a few KEY indicators to trigger the right conversations about what actions (business levers to pull) to take or not take.   We also need to discuss performance and action in a holistic manner and not get caught in panic mode because one indicator seems to be below expectation.  We also do not want to trigger an action to artificially improve a number.

For example…Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) can be used as a measure of customer satisfaction.  The interpretation is that people pay the bills of the people they like first.  If you are able to shrink the number, then you at least have an indication that customers are generally happier than they were last month.  If the Marketing VP were compensated on Customer Satisfaction and we used DSO, the VP might change the payment terms.  While we might see improvement in DSO, we are probably not seeing an improvement in Customer Satisfaction, which was the goal when we started.

As you are designing KPIs:

  • Start with your high level annual goals for the year
  • Build out a system to discuss the implications (don’t just look at the number)
  • Assign someone to write up the implications on a regular basis
  • Create a commonly understood definition of the KPI, and document it where it can be easily accessed




Consumer Price Index – October 2009

20 11 2009

Yesterday the US Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics released the October report on the US Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Not all that surprisingly, the number rose .27% following last months .17% growth.  This marks the six straight month of growth in the CPI and that the Index is returning to the trend line prior to the October disruption.

In the chart below are two parallel lines marking a rough trend of the CPI.  It appears as if the steady growth rate is returning.  This is at least an indication that the economy is stabilizing.





Mass Layoff Events October 2009

20 11 2009

Today the US Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the October Mass Layoff Events (here are the Sept and Aug blogs).  We have watched this since late last year when the number of events crossed the 2,000 mark.  This marks our 14 month in a row where we have exceeded that level.  While this is still an alarming rate of Layoff Events at least we can say that the trend could be moving in the direction of dropping below the 2,000 next month.

I still have concerns about the state of the US Economy as we approach the end of the year.  If I were to guess, I think we will see this number drop below 2,000 for November, but return to greater than 2,000 in December and/or January.





Producer Price Index October 2009

18 11 2009

Yesterday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) release of the Produce Price Index (PPI) saw prices moving north again, this time a .3% gain compared to last months .6% loss.  The numbers seem to be stabilizing (one month a little up, on month a little down).  Looking into a little more depth we see that Energy and Food are the primary drivers.

If you are looking for more information relevant to your industry – check out www.bls.gov/ppi/.  They break out the information a number of different ways.

 

 





Price of Oil

27 10 2009

One of the biggest impacts to the US economy is the cost of oil.  We are still the leading consumers, though our lead is being taken over by China.  It is no surprise that the price of oil/gas can either fuel US economic growth, or bring it to a crawl.  I remember (somewhat fuzzy) as a kid waiting in line for gas, and I sold my Ford Expedition in fear that gas was going to see $5/gallon last year. While perhaps I sold the car a little prematurely, the basic fundamental truth about the control of the price of oil is well beyond me. And in someways beyond any of us.

OPEC mostly gets away with what it wants in terms of prices, and China is clearly working to leverage its relations with OPEC countries to improve its position.  While this isn’t necessarily bad for the US, we do lose some of our bargaining power.  And as China continues to increase demand, it drives up market prices.

I am going to try to add the Price of Oil to the Baumohl Indicator series on a bi-weekly basis.  My goal is to continue to explore some of the indicators of US Economic Performance and how they impact business cycles.





Producer Price Index Sept 09

20 10 2009

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the September 2009 Producer Price Index report.  The PPI dropped a little this month mostly due to cost of gas declines (0.6% decline).  In August we saw a significant increase at 1.7% raises a little alarm in that the fluctuations are evident.  The fact that most of this is based on energy prices swinging is both a little calming and potential for more signs that oil prices are moving too much.

“Wholesale prices in the U.S. unexpectedly fell in September on lower fuel costs, a sign inflation remains muted and the Federal Reserve has leeway to keep borrowing costs low as the economy recovers.”  Bloomberg

What does this mean to me: we will probably not see much increase in prices over the coming months (keep watching the price of oil/gas).  This is also a sign that while some of the recent indicators have been good, we might see a lull in the recovery process.

As a part of this series, I am also going to add the price of oil.  It was not one of the Baumohl Indicators, but I think that might have been because it comes out of the financial markets.





The Dow (DJIA) hits 10,000

16 10 2009

On Wednesday this week (October 14, 2009) the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 10,000.  Although it struggled out of the gate this morning, I am curious why we did not take the time to celebrate re-reaching this milestone.  Clearly, this is a sign that the economy is chugging forward again.

If we look back to September 19th, 2008, the DJIA closed at 11,388 and only days away from near free fall.  Over the next couple of days, panic would set in and the markets were paralleled to “The Great Depression.”  The DJIA at 10k represents we have recovered 70% of what we lost since September 19th, 2008.  We still have a way to go, but a little celebration might just be what we need right now.  Not much, we can’t afford the hangover, but perhaps a little toast to reaching 10k again and may we keep doing a little better every day.

Looking back…Between Oct 24th, 2007 and September 19th, 2008, the DJIA shed about 20% of its value (14,093 to 11,388).  It would then lose an additional 34.4% by March 9th 2009 when the market reached its lowest level in 12 years at 6,547.  If we start the clock at Oct 24th, in two years we have recovered about 45% of the losses we incurred during the recession of 2008 and 2009.  Perhaps not as happy a picture, but consistent progress in the right direction.  This still represents ~50% recovery in 6 months, what we lost over two years.  If the trend holds, perhaps we are back to 2007 levels within another 6-8 months, and then can continue to recover on the lost time.

DJIA Recovery

The other item worth noting is the declining variation in the closing gains.  Over the last three months, the variability has diminished to levels not seen during the recession.  This is another great sign indicator of stability and overall economic health.  The market likes gains, but it loves consistency.

DJIA Recovery Variation





Consumer Price Index Sept 2009

15 10 2009

The CPI for September was released today.  Nothing all that surprising – it looks like the rebound last month towards a positive trend (perhaps not for everyone), or an upward trend continued for a second month.  It appears as if the trend may be resetting with a 1.3% drop from where we were in Sept 2008.

CPI History 1997

How to use this information:  Have your internal statistician look at CPI (and PPI) and see if they give you any early warning signs against some of your variable costs – raw materials, finished goods, average selling price, etc.

  • Does CPI move with your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), or your margins?
  • Could it give you a one month warning to tighten the belts a little bit?
  • What is the impact on your average selling price?
  • Do your customers move faster than you?

Historical Trends

If we look at this from a historical perspective, we can tell there has been a stead upward trend since the mid 60′s.  The variability was pretty consistent from the mid 60′s through 2004, then in 2005 it looks like the variability began to increase.  These charts don’t provide us much actionable information, but show us the trend has been consistent, and that there was a disruption with the recent economic conditions.  This disruption is what is highlighted in the earlier part of this blog.

CPI History 1913





Employment Situation Sept 2009

6 10 2009

Statement of Keith Hall, Commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics before the Joint Economic Committee UNITED STATES CONGRESS (PDF of his speech, or PDF of the actual report)

Job losses continued in September, and the unemployment
rate continued to trend up, reaching 9.8 percent. Nonfarm
payroll employment fell by 263,000 over the month, and losses
have averaged 307,000 per month since May. Payroll employment
has fallen for 21 consecutive months, with declines totaling 7.2
million. In September, notable job losses occurred in
construction, manufacturing, government, and retail trade.
Construction employment decreased by 64,000 in September.
Job losses averaged 66,000 per month from May through September,
2
compared with an average of 117,000 per month from November 2008
through April.

“Job losses continued in September, and the unemployment rate continued to trend up, reaching 9.8 percent. Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 263,000 over the month, and losses have averaged 307,000 per month since May. Payroll employment has fallen for 21 consecutive months, with declines totaling 7.2 million. In September, notable job losses occurred in construction, manufacturing, government, and retail trade.

Construction employment decreased by 64,000 in September. Job losses averaged 66,000 per month from May through September, compared with an average of 117,000 per month from November 2008 through April.”





Mass Layoffs August 2009

24 09 2009

Yesterday the Mass Layoff report was issued by the United States Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The data here is interesting in a few ways.  The Mass Layoff report highlights the number of events where 50 or people were laid off by the same firm.

  • Perhaps a little good news for the US economy
  • A little analytics lesson

First off, the US Economy.  We can look at a couple of things here that probably tell us the situation is still bad, but perhaps another indicator that we are rebounding.  In the first chart, the bars represent the events (not total layoffs – but the numbers are highly related).  You can see that the number for August appears to be quite a bit better than July and the previous 12 months, but August is also lower in general.  When you consider the raw volume of the last 12 months, perhaps we just ran out of people to layoff.  My initial assessment is that while it looks like we are heading in the right direction, we may just be witnessing the normal August dip.  Call it cautious optimism.

Aug 2009 Mass Layoff Peaks

Now looking at the data from a visual standpoint…below is how we typically look at this type of data.  Here we would conclude that things look like we have hit bottom and are moving in the right direction.

Aug 2009 Mass Layoff Raw Data1

Yet if we look a little more closely at the data above (and perhaps dig at some of the underlying regional or industry data) we can make a lot of different potential comments.

  • We are coming out of a major event – any data is going to be a little blurry.  Any investments are going to be risky, but with that risk comes the upside reward of potentially being a first mover.
  • The general trend might be improving, but the volumes are still way above normal levels.  How long can we continue to shed people like we have for the last 12 months?
  • The peaks and troughs also show that we are still greater than 2x normal levels.  Clearly, there are still problems in the economy.




Consumer Price Index (CPI) August 2009

16 09 2009

Here is this morning’s press release of the August 2009.  It is a great example of how not to explain complex data.  Here are opening two paragraphs.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.4
percent in August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The index has decreased 1.5 percent
over the last 12 months on a not seasonally adjusted basis.
The 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted increase in the CPI-U was driven by a 9.1 percent rise in the
gasoline index. This increase accounted for almost the entire advance in the energy index and over 80
percent of the overall increase. Despite the August increase, the gasoline index has fallen 30.0 percent
over the last 12 months.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.4 percent in August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The index has decreased 1.5 percent over the last 12 months on a not seasonally adjusted basis.
The 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted increase in the CPI-U was driven by a 9.1 percent rise in thegasoline index. This increase accounted for almost the entire advance in the energy index and over 80 percent of the overall increase. Despite the August increase, the gasoline index has fallen 30.0 percent over the last 12 months.

In general, the CPI numbers are all over the place as a result of a rebounding economy.  It is also a great example of why we need to look at individual numbers and come up with an executive overview of what this means.

Over the next couple of days, I will add more analysis here as I can dig into the numbers in greater detail.  There is a ton of information here.





Producer Price Index (PPI) August 2009

15 09 2009

As part of my Baumohl series on US Indicators, here is the press release on the August PPI data.  The PPI (Finished Goods) increased a seasonally adjusted 1.7% in August.  July saw a .9% decrease and June a 1.8% increase.

So what?

If we are looking for signs for the economy it is a good sign that things are again improving.  If we look at the last 12 months, 8 of the 12 months saw declines in the PPI including 5 straight months from Aug 08 through Dec 08.  4 of the last 5 months have seen positive advances.

What about Cost of Goods sold?  I would certainly expect some industries to see their COGS rate start to increase.  If we remember back to late 2007 and early 2008, ingredient prices started to rise dramatically.  See the chart below and notice the area where the PPI was elevated quite a bit about the trend line.

Aug 2009 PPI History

What does it mean to your business?  It clearly depends on the industry and your ability to act on external data.  If you are a bread manufacturer and your margins are pretty lean, you might need to look somewhere to balance your expense ratios.

Investing?  Look at your portfolio.  What industries are you invested in?  How does the PPI impact those companies?  If we are seeing the trend return to perhaps the elevated levels of late 07 / early 08, perhaps there are some solid opportunities?  Look at how those companies did during those time frames in terms of performance?





Employment Situation Aug 2009

9 09 2009

This is a new series of blogs in which I will call out and blog on a number of economic indicators based upon the musings of Bernard Baumohl in The Secrets of Economic Indicators.  In this series, I will work to provide a visual or two to explain the situation as well as a link to the press release.  The goal will be to post a blog covering the reported data and to build out a series of informational charts based upon the data.

Employment Situation is one of the more important indicators of US Economic health, and perhaps even more so in this economic climate.  It provides us an indication if the economy is expanding, or contracting in terms of jobs and therefor money to be spent.  Here is the press release from 9/4/09 which is August 2009 data.

Key points (from press release):

  • Non-Farm payroll employment declined by 219,000
  • Unemployment increased by 466,000 to 14.9 million
  • Unemployment increased to 9.7% (up .3%)
  • While job losses continued, the losses are not as bad as the months before
Aug 2009 Unemployment Data by gender and race

Aug 2009 Unemployment Data by gender and race

Analysis:  We are still losing jobs in the economy.  Teenagers are at almost 2.5x the national average, and minorites having 2x the increase as the average.

Risk:  While we have some indications that the recession is getting better, it is clear we have some elements that still have some ways to go.  If your business is targeted at teenagers and/or minorities you may want to plan for sales to remain weak until the trend at least turns back to positive growth.





KPI: Overhead per Customer

22 07 2009

If you are trying to measure management improvement, how about looking at Overhead per Customer (or per transaction).  This should be a decent indicator in terms of management and overhead scalability.  If we are doing a better job of managing the business we should see some increased returns in the management function.

  • If the trend is increasing, we should be discussing the scalability of the organization.
  • If the trend is decline, is it for the right reasons?

While you are at it, you might also include cost of sales per transaction.  This one is perhaps a little more debateable in that we don’t want to artificially manage this number.  Reducing the number of sales reps, may drive down the number.  Reducing compensation plans may chase away our better sales reps.





Key Risk Indicator (KRI): Customer Abandonment

1 07 2009

How often do you look at the indicators that a customer is thinking about leaving you?  Do you have a process around this, or do find yourself saying “why did this customer leave us?”

What are the possible indicators for a customer leaving:

  • Time between purchases
  • Decrease in volume
  • Time to Pay bills
  • Increase/decrease in calls to customer servicce
  • Temperature of calls into customer service
  • Longer sales cycles
  • Time between customer visits

Some of these may be difficult to quantify, but are well worth understanding.  I would venture a guess the cost to replace that customer (including lost opportunity value) is less than the effort to put a process into discussing customer abandonment.

If you have stories on how you track customers, or customers you lost and how you should have known, please share them.





KPI Design: Better than average

16 06 2009

In the June 1st issue of ESPN Magazine there was an interesting story about Rafael Nadal.  In the story there is a call out with some interesting facts about his play.  One of the items is his rotations per ground stroke versus the average pro.

Nadal Math Smaller
While this is fanatastic information to explain why he is better than average, what might have been more relevant to the article which is about his excellence would be to compare him versus the other top players.  What if all the top players are hitting at 5,000-6,000 rotations per ground stroke?

As we are designing KPIs and targets we need to make sure we are measuring against a relevant target, not just an industry average.





KPI Library: Profit per Employee

14 06 2009

If you are looking for a productivity or effectiveness KPI, a sure place to start is revenue per employee (unless you are in the public sector).

  • It is a straight forward calaculation
  • It is easy for every employee to get their heads around
  • It is a measure of scalability
  • It is a crtical measure for long term success
  • It triggers great conversations about the health and direction of the company

It has one primary weakness in that it is a lagging indicator.

Similar metrics to this are Revenue per Employee, Expense per Employee, Expense per Sale, Profit per Transaction, Profit per Customer.





Interesting Financial KPIs (REL Consulting)

28 05 2009

I found a few KPIs on the web that were worth discussion.  These are from REL Consulting (under solutions > key metrics).  These are both great KPIs for the CFO as well as for the organization to better understand.  

Here are a couple of initial thoughts:

  • As these are really Financial KPIs, which while clearly quite important, don’t always make good operational indicators.  Financial KPIs only make up part of the overall health of the organization.  
  • These are also lagging indicators, as are most financial metrics.  By the time these have changed, chances are we have already been through some business cycle and have potentially lost value we could have identified earlier.
  • The trend here is clearly important, as a change in any of these is clearly an alarm for their business.  These might be more monitoring type of metrics (sorry Jonathan, had to throw it in here), if the trend were to change it might indicate further analysis to define specific actions.  
  • We need to make sure we are not managing to these artificially.  Take for example, Days Sales Outstanding (DSO), this is often a proxy guage for customer satisfaction.  If marketing/sales changes payment terms just to impact this number we are doing the wrong thing (potentially).
  • Perhaps the greatest strength of these KPIs are as teaching tools.  If we are saying this is what is important as an end result, then we need to be able to communicate what they mean and how each of the individual processes, programs, and initiatives impact these metrics.  Most people in the organization don’t understand the financial outcomes with exception to revenue and perhaps margin.  HR and Finance should make this part of their training regimens to improve overall financial knowledge.
  • We also need to understand how these impact strategy.  If we are a high tech company with a priority on market share, chances are a lot of these numbers are going to slip.  Perhaps the converse is more interesting, if the market wants us to focus on market share growth, we need to be careful that these are not sacrificed to an inappropriate level.

Again, I am not saying these are anything other than great measures.  Nor am I picking upon REL as I have heard very good things about them.  But as you are designing KPIs, they need to be easy to understand, linked to strategy, balanced across functionality, and more often than not leading indicators.

Best Possible Days Sales Outstanding (BPDSO)

BPDSO is the value that achieved if all customers paid exactly to the agreed upon payment terms. Typically a business will offer more than one payment term to its customers and therefore the BPDSO takes the different payment terms offered into consideration by using a weighted average based on value of sales/revenue by payment term. This measure is often called the theoretical days sales outstanding (DSO) because in reality it is almost impossible to actually achieve as there will always be customers who pay late and other external factors hindering receipt of payments to term (e.g. banking delays, post service delays, etc.).

Cash Conversion Efficiency (CCE)

CCE looks at how efficient companies are at generating free cash flow from operations, or operating cash flow from sales revenues – how much free cash flow makes the journey through the operating cost structure of a company. While CCE is a simple metric to derive using it can provide powerful insights into the overall health of an organisation’s cash-generation capabilities.

Days Inventory Outstanding (DIO)

DIO is financial and operational measure, which expresses the value of inventory in days of cost of goods sold. It represents how much inventory an organisation has tied up across its supply chain or more simply – how long it takes to convert inventory into sales. This measure can be aggregated for all inventories or broken down into days of raw material, work in progress and finished goods. This measure is normally produced monthly.

Days Payables Outstanding (DPO)

DPO is a relative measure of a business’ outstanding payment liability. DPO measures the level of outstanding payments at the end of a month expressed in terms of the number of days payments represented by the creditor balance, i.e. the number of day’s worth of payments still outstanding. The metric is useful as it gives an indicator over time of what payment terms are being accepted and complied with within a company.

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)

DSO is a relative measure of a business’ debtor exposure. It measures the level of outstanding sales/revenue at the end of a month expressed in terms of the number of days sales/revenue represented by the balance of the accounts receivables (i.e., the number of days worth of sales/revenue still outstanding). This measure is typically represented as a monthly trend and is important as the increase in the gap between DSO and BPDSO can be an early sign of deficiencies in the credit and collections process. When determining if the DSO of a company represents good performance, it should be compared to the company’s BPDSO. BPDSO is important as a reference point against which to compare a company’s DSO performance. A DSO of 92 may initially appear to be very high, but if the company’s BPDSO is 88, then a DSO of 92 represents a good performance.

Days Working Capital (DWC)

DWC is a measure of the cash conversion cycle that gives insight about the underlying health of a business. It is a key metric because it measures the average number of days of tied up working capital in the operating cycle. If DWC is trending upwards over time then it will have a negative financial impact on overall company profit.

Forecast Accuracy (FA)

Compares the ratio of forecast error to actual sales and is expressed in percentage terms. It shows the accuracy of the sales forecast compared to actual sales within a period of time, normally a month. Forecast accuracy typically shows better results when we are predicting demand for the next weeks as opposed to the next months, or where we aggregate the measure for a group of items. The more accurate the forecast, the easier it is to manage inventory levels across the supply chain.

Return on Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a ratio that indicates the efficiency and profitability of a company’s capital investments. The measure is important as ROCE ratio should always be higher than the rate at which the company borrows, otherwise any increase in borrowing will reduce shareholders’ earnings.

Shareholder Value Add (SVA)

SVA is a value-based performance measure of a company’s worth to shareholders. The basic calculation is net operating profit after tax (NOPAT) minus the cost of capital from the issuance of debt and equity, based on the company’s weighted average cost of capital. All working capital improvements help improve SVA.








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