There are times when there seems little of great importance going on in the world. Right now there is more news than is possible to digest:
1. Stock markets in turmoil as they struggle to figure out if there will be a recession in the US and other parts of the world.
2. A stimulus package for the US economy
3. The biggest US interest rate cut in 25 years
4. Super Tuesday is looming and Obama and Clinton are fighting (again – Iowa Nice seems so long ago)
5. The Palestinians have found that unlike the Israelis the Egyptians will accept people simply demolishing the border between them so they can come and buy much needed supplies
6. The Italian PM resigns (that seems to happen every few years though)
7. A rogue futures trader allegedly costs French bank Societe Generale $7.14 billion
Against this amount of news it would seem almost impossible for any company to get on the front pages or be a lead story. Tough times for PR people…
If you read MarketWatch you will know they have cleverly embedded live stock quotes in their stories. It does add a nice dimension when you are reading a piece and suddenly one of the stocks listed shows an updated price. With today being another hugely volatile day on the markets, the article I was reading looked like it was covered in Christmas lights as the stocks kept changing. Indeed I ended up not reading the article and instead just watching the stock prices.
It has been a wild ride for the various exchanges around the world today. As you will likely know, the DOW opened down 450 points, only to recover most of it after news of a 0.75% cut in interest rates by the Fed. That said if you look at the chart throughout the trading day you will see it has bounced a round quite a lot even after the interest rate news. The same can’t be said for exchange rates. If you look at the exchange rates, you will see they have moderated over the day with far less volatility. Given the connection between interest rates and exchange rates you would expect there to be some shift in the value of the dollar following the unexpectedly large interest rate cut. Yet the dollar is only slightly worse off than it had been suggesting currency traders see more good news in the rate cut than bad. I’m curious why the opinions of currency traders haven’t been sought today by the likes of AP. I’m pretty sure they’d have some useful input to the discussions going on following the rate cut.
You know when someone is trying to tell you something and you do anything you can to make sure you can’t hear them? Well it would seem the various stock markets have become a little like that in the last few weeks. In the US Apple announced sales of the iPhone are doing great and the stock tumbled. Intel then announced profits up 50%, their stock was pounded. In our sector, Huntsworth and Chime both put out positive trading updates only to see their stocks fall – despite the fact that in both cases they used expressions like: “we are confident about our prospects for the year ahead.” So it would seem the best thing to do right now is stay below the radar if at all possible. Positive corporate news, it would seem, is more likely to remind analysts you exist and drive your stock down than do the opposite. It makes no sense of course but it’s hard to argue with.
Somebody wanted to FedEx a file to me today rather than email it to me even though it was only 8Mb and wasn’t the most important document on the planet. I couldn’t help but wonder how many files like this actually get sent via FedEx, UPS or DHL. I am guessing the number is quite large. Now in many cases it is because people want an original signed copy. My bank in the UK is big on this. I can converse with them via email quite happily but as soon as I want to transfer some money between the UK and the US I have to send a letter. What makes that all the more crazy is that today they emailed me to say they’d received my letter but could I just email them back to confirm what I’d just written to them about… All this bureaucracy must be doing a huge amount of damage to the environment. I wonder how many flights and truck journeys could be saved if a secure, digital transfer mechanism could be agreed that even small businesses and consumers could use so that orginals didn’t need to be sent? Of course I can’t see the likes of FedEx lobbying the government for such a thing as they’ll lose business so maybe it’s the sort of thing the likes of Google and other Internet giants should take up as a sign of their good citizenship.
If you haven’t yet seen the Bill Gates video from CES you should. click here. It’s interesting to watch as he’s clearly a little embarrassed when he introduces it and yet on the video he is quite a good actor – the gym scene is perhaps my favorite. Oscar winning potential? I don’t think so but he could play the odd cameo role. Acting aside this has to be good PR for Microsoft as definitely shows their sense of humor.
Reuters just published a piece saying: “Goldman Sachs on Wednesday said it expects the U.S. economy to drop into recession this year, prompting the Federal Reserve to slash benchmark lending rates to 2.5 percent by the third quarter. In a note to clients, Goldman said real gross domestic product would contract by 1 percent on an annualized basis in both the second and third quarters. For all of 2008, the investment bank said GDP would rise by 0.8 percent. The unemployment rate will rise to 6.5 percent in 2009 from the current 5 percent, it said.”
We all hate to read pieces like this as they suggest we are set for a year where belts/purse strings will be tightened. Of course, the reality of markets is that some businesses will thrive during a period like this and some will truly suffer. The challenge we all face (assuming GS is correct) is how to make sure we are in the first category. At the end of last year I wrote a piece on what agencies should do when recessions loom. I’d like to reiterate the advice in that but I’d also like to add some other points:
1. Make sure your work is focused on the same things the board is worrying about. If you don’t know what they are worrying about you should be worried. You need to know. Now of course we are all aware that in many businesses getting to the board is tough. That said, there are always access points so make it your mission.
2. Worry about the small things. When markets are bad people get nervous and look for the mistakes. Avoid making them. Good agencies have their share of good detail process people, people who can spot a tiny mistake. Give these people a voice and make it clear that they need to be listened to.
3. Provide insight. Recessions are like fog. They reduce corporate visibility making it hard to plan and even more difficult for businesses to act. Keep clients aware of what is going on around them. Give them data and some appropriate analysis that helps them understand what is going on. Decision making in the good times is easy as it gets less attention. In tougher times, everyone questions everything. The more insight you can give, the more you can help people feel good about the decisions they are making.
Of course it could well be that Goldman has it wrong. Over the holidays I met a couple of investment bankers from Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. Interestingly they both said they have several “chief” economists to make sure that they can never be wrong. In other words, as long as their economists don’t agree on the future one of them will be right!