September 22, 2023

You’re the Boss Blog: This Week in Small Business: Watching Armageddon From an Armchair


A weekly roundup of small-business developments.

What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.

The Economy: Credit Where Credit Is Due

Kevin Drum says he feels like he’s “watching Armageddon from an armchair.” President Obama says that a strong recovery begins with small business and plans a speech on the economy for September. Support for the president’s economic policies hits a new low. A.I.G.’s chief sees a ‘core of strength’ in the economy. Rural businesses are doubtful of the latest government plan. Fitch, another credit bureau, disagrees with Standard Poor’s and reaffirms America’s AAA credit rating. Starbucks’ chief tells politicians to stop fighting and start creating jobs. Amid skepticism, the newly formed debt panel is pressed for a deal and is told by a business group to revamp taxes and cut Medicare. Politicians and investors often rely on incomplete economic data. Meanwhile, Robert Reich offers an alternative (and funny!) explanation for the credit downgrade.

The Data: Leading Indicators Are Up?

The market ends down 4 percent.Dell cuts its forecast. Wal-Mart reports higher profits and weaker sales. Jobless claims go up. Bank of America plans to lay off 3,500. TLC lays off Kate Gosselin. Gallup reports a rise in unemployment. The A.I.A. architecture billings index drops yet again. Housing starts fall 1.5 percent. Existing home sales are down in July but up sharply from a year ago. Builder confidence holds steady and the home remodeling index hits a record high. United States industrial production resumes its growth but Fed surveys in both the Empire State and Philadelphia show significant contraction. Core inflation rises the most in six months and construction material prices have risen 8.9 percent this past year, but Paul Krugman says inflation fears are receding. Leading indicators are up, and oil falls to $81 a barrel.

Taxes: Warren Buffett Wants to Pay More

Warren Buffett wants to raise taxes on the rich, and President Obama agrees. Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron disagrees: “The way to promote a hard-working, entrepreneurial and innovative society is to celebrate great wealth so long as it has been earned by legitimate means. When this is not the case, policy should target the wrongdoing directly, not demonize everyone who hits it big.” A tax expert says Mr. Buffett misses the facts: “Mr. Buffett chose to leave most of his fortune to the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation and, thus, avoided an estate tax that could potentially give 55 percent of his wealth to Uncle Sam.”

Starting Up: Winter May Be Coming for Tech Start-Ups

According to the Angry Bear, new data implies that net job creation comes largely from the creation of new establishments and that few of them manage to survive over the long run. A start-up offers employment to locked out N.B.A. players. Seattle’s “green” job programs is a bust. If your green start-up is also suffering, here are 10 ways to wind it down. The Kaufmann Foundation’s Jonathan Ortmans has an update on Startup America. One entrepreneur believes that anybody can build a consumer start-up, but selling to enterprises “separates the men from the boys.” And tech start-ups be warned: some think winter is coming.

Red Tape Update: Hide Your Accounting Software

Republicans focus their anti-regulatory attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency. Many of us should pay attention to upcoming patent reforms. Lobbying is a booming business in Florida. Independent contractor rules continue to be narrowed. An accountant warns that the I.R.S. may be after our accounting software. Cyndia Zwahlen says that “small-business owners who work at home might not have to worry about a commute, but figuring out their taxes could make the 405 Freeway at rush hour seem like a piece of cake.” Fran Tarkenton talks up small business (he’s not a fan of the president).

Marketing: Too Important to Be Left to The Marketing Department?

Major Web sites such as and have been tracking people’s online activities using “super cookies.” Facebook is showing sharp declines in usage for certain activities, and an analyst thinks both Facebook and Groupon are in trouble. Time lists its 50 best Web sites of 2011. A former “Nightline” producer shares his 10 commandments of media outreach. Isabelle Mercier Turcotte lists 13 ways to respond to the complaint, “it costs too much.” A blogger  shares 20 marketing quotes that inspire him, including one from David Packard: “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” A marketing engineer explains how some manufacturers are using social media effectively. Here are seven ways you can strengthen your customer relationships. Or better yet, just try to be more like Morton’s Steakhouse.

Management: It Pays to be Mean

Abercrombie Fitch offers to pay the Situation NOT to wear its clothes. Almost one in two small-business owners have experienced late client payments in the past 12 months, according to a new report, with a quarter facing serious cash flow shortages as a result. Amy Levin Epstein shares tips on how small-business owners can get paid on time, every time. James Gardner shares 10 epic idea management fails. A survey finds that 72 percent of small-business owners who go away on holiday are unable to leave work behind. Hilton welcomes the Chinese. The Chinese are not very welcoming to the Georgetown Hoyas. But they do seem interested in our technology. Nick Morgan’s podcast explains how to be a passionate communicator. Michael Hess offers foolproof diet and exercise tips — for businesses. A study finds that mean people earn more.

Contests: America’s Favorite Small Business

Check maker Deluxe Corporation begins a yearlong marketing lab that gives small-business owners tools and resources. Dell, MasterCard and Microsoft are offering $75,000 to America’s favorite small business.

Opportunities: It’s All Science

Cars are expected to surpass laptops as the largest lithium battery market. A company reports that tomorrow’s pacemakers could be powered by light. Beth Goodbaum writes about a handful of recent developments in materials science that have significant business potential. A new preservative could extend shelf life for five years. Are these the most honest people in the world?

Finance: Opening Up the Spigots (a Little)

A soon-to-expire government initiative aimed at spurring small-business lending has barely gotten off the ground. Here’s where you should never, ever use a business credit card. Capital One issues a new cash-back card for small business. An angel investor network debuts in Minnesota. An analysis says that many of the nation’s biggest banks are making significantly fewer small-business loans than they did before the recession, but The Wall Street Journal says that banks are opening up the spigots … a little.

Technology: Google Plunges In, H.P. Gives Up

The online meeting provider Webex introduces a half-price product geared toward small business. Google buys Motorola’s phone business. H.P. kills off its phones and TouchPads, and Best Buy is sitting on a bunch of unsold inventory. A tech writer reports that hackers are focusing more on smartphones. We’re now told that every hour of TV shortens life by 22 minutes. Kathryn Boehret says this about BlackBerry’s new phone: “If you’re wedded to the BlackBerry and you’re eager to upgrade, the BlackBerry Torch 9850 is a slick device that’s fast to respond in various tasks. But the scant number of apps available for it will be a real drawback and won’t satisfy BlackBerry fans looking for an iPhone equivalent.”

The Week Ahead: Bernanke Speaking

The Richmond Fed reports on manufacturing activity, and new home sales are released Tuesday. Most economists will be paying close attention to Durable Goods, weekly unemployment and preliminary Gross Domestic Product numbers. On Friday, Ben S. Bernanke is expected to deliver a speech.

This Week’s Bests

Reason to be tough Jeff Haden tells business people to Toughen Up, Sissy Boy: “Sound harsh? It’s not. T.U.S.B. is actually empowering. When you put the focus on yourself, you stop wasting time thinking about what you can’t control. You can’t control your boss. You can’t control your coworkers. You can’t control customers or vendors or markets. You can’t completely control what anyone does, even if they work for you — but you can completely control what you do.”

Reason to be optimistic about our energy future Foreign Policy magazine says it will be the Americas, not the Middle East, that will soon rule the energy market: “By the 2020s, the capital of energy will likely have shifted back to the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. endowment of unconventional oil is more than 2 trillion barrels, with another 2.4 trillion in Canada and 2 trillion-plus in South America — compared with conventional Middle Eastern and North African oil resources of 1.2 trillion. The problem was always how to unlock them economically.”

Way to live a fulfilling life Consultant Peter Bregman lists three questions that help him live a fulfilling life, including: “What is this day about? How will it bring me one day closer to what I want to achieve for the year? What is most important for me to accomplish today? I set my watch to beep every hour, interrupting myself for one minute to reconnect with my purpose for the day. In that minute, I ask myself two questions: Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now? Am I being who I most want to be right now?”

This Week’s Question What do you most need to be doing right now?

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Germany’s Low Unemployment Rate Stokes Inflation Fears

 But the latest decline in joblessness  also raised fears among some economists that the pace of German growth  could become unsustainable.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, unemployment fell below three million people for the first time since 1992, as Germany continued to benefit from strong exports of autos and other products. The jobless rate, 7.1 percent,  was unchanged from March, but down  from 7.8 percent last April. 

“The order books are full, capacity usage is high and help-wanted ads are  rising every month,” Rainer Brüderle,  the German economics minister, said in  a statement. The news came a day after estimates that inflation in Germany rose to an annual rate of 2.6 percent this month, well above the European Central Bank’s goal of 2 percent. The drop in unemployment also highlighted the divergence between booming Germany and slow growth in most of the rest of Europe.

 The average unemployment rate in  the euro zone last month was 9.9 percent, and Ireland and  Spain have jobless rates more than  twice as high as Germany’s.

Monetary policy in the euro zone is probably too loose for Germany, some economists say. Excessively low interest rates can lead to asset bubbles  and inflation, and set the economy up  for a painful retreat. “I see a long-term risk that Germany could overheat,” said Jörg Krämer, the chief economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. “It’s an ugly situation for the E.C.B.”

Just this month, the central bank raised its official rate to 1.25 percent, the first increase since 2008. The appropriate rate for Germany would be closer to 3 percent, Mr. Krämer said.

The euro has risen steadily against the dollar since January because of expectations that the central bank will continue to raise rates, in part because of the need to slow the German economy. On Thursday the euro rose to just short of $1.49, its highest level since the end of 2009, before falling back slightly.

Higher interest rates tend to raise the value of the euro by making it more attractive for investors to own euro assets.

As unemployment in Germany falls, companies may need to pay more to attract workers, which could further fuel inflation. In the prosperous southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, home to the carmakers BMW and Daimler, jobless rates were only about 4 percent in April. Companies report problems finding skilled workers.

 “Price and wage inflation should remain moderate,” economists in London  for Nomura wrote in a note, but added,  “German trade unions have become  more vocal in their wage demands.”

Still, various factors could limit wage inflation. Mr. Krämer noted that most union wage contracts did not expire until next year. In addition, beginning in May companies will be allowed to freely hire people from European Union countries like Poland or the Czech Republic. And jobless rates in much of eastern Germany remain above 10 percent.

However, Mr. Krämer said, “The time of ultralow wage increases in Germany is definitely over.”

Jean-Claude Trichet, the European Central Bank president, has consistently denied that there is any inherent problem in fashioning a monetary policy that fits fast-growing countries like Germany and poorer members of the euro zone.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Mr. Trichet said Germany’s return to growth after years of stagnation was good for its neighbors.

“We had an episode of a return to competitiveness, of hard work, and now we see the result of this hard work,” Mr. Trichet said in Frankfurt on April 7. “It is good for Germany and good for the euro area as a whole.”

Central bank data published this week  showed that negative pressures on the euro area continue even as  inflation quickens. Banks remain reluctant to lend because some are having  trouble raising capital, while demand for  home loans is decreasing, according to a bank survey published Wednesday.

 The information could reassure the  central bankers that they do not need to  be unduly hasty to raise rates.

While seasonally adjusted unemployment fell below three million, the absolute number of jobless people remained above that milestone, at 3.08 million. Economists consider the seasonally adjusted number a more reliable indicator of the strength of the economy.

In any event, the absolute number of jobless people will probably fall below three million next month, economists said.

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