Monday, November 24, 2008

Anatomy of a Meltdown

For a good summary of the global economic crisis, and specifically, Ben Bernanke's role as Fed Chairman, I suggest taking a look at John Cassidy's recent article in The New Yorker. Here is the link.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Paul Ingrassia on The Auto Industry

Paul Ingrassia has a fabulous op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal today about the auto industry. The title of the article is: The Auto Makers are Already Bankrupt. Ingrassia dispels a number of myths about the situation regarding the Big Three:

Myth 1: Bankruptcy is not an option.
Myth 2: Management changes would be pointless.
Myth 3: Bankruptcy means death.
Myth 4: Banning executive bonuses or requiring more fuel-efficient cars will save Detroit.
Myth 5: A GM-Chrysler merger will help save both firms.

This is definitely worth a read. Ingrassia has covered the auto industry for years, and he brings all that expertise to bear with a concise and insightful argument regarding a potential bailout.

Monday, November 17, 2008

General Motors and Bankruptcy

Business Week has a good, balanced article on the pros and cons of various scenarios for General Motors, as it pertains to a potential Chapter 11 filing. The article does a very nice job of pointing out how the government may actually step in to help facilitate an orderly Chapter 11 restructuring. In other words, the government might not execute a bailout to help GM avoid bankruptcy, but instead, would provide funds to help GM work through a Chapter 11 filing with the least amount of disruption to the rest of the economy. The article also points out that a successful Chapter 11 restructuring would put a great deal of pressure on Ford and Chrysler, as they would then face a domestic competitor with potentially much lower costs due to the restructuring. Thus, any bailout would have to consider how to deal with all three firms, not just GM.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Financial Crisis and Groupthink

Robert Shiller had a very interesting article in the New York Times on November 1st about the global financial crisis. Shiller notes that a number of people did foresee oncoming troubles in the housing market and the financial system several years ago. However, he argues that the Federal Reserve downplayed the warnings being sounded by various people. Here is an excerpt from Shiller's article:

"But why weren’t the experts at the Fed saying such things? And why didn’t a consensus of economists at universities and other institutions warn that a crisis was on the way?
The field of social psychology provides a possible answer. In his classic 1972 book, “Groupthink,” Irving L. Janis, the Yale psychologist, explained how panels of experts could make colossal mistakes. People on these panels, he said, are forever worrying about their personal relevance and effectiveness, and feel that if they deviate too far from the consensus, they will not be given a serious role. They self-censor personal doubts about the emerging group consensus if they cannot express these doubts in a formal way that conforms with apparent assumptions held by the group."

I think Shiller has made a good point about social pressures for conformity that arise in groups and organizations, and that cause warning signs to be downplayed at times. However, I don't think the term groupthink technically applies here. Janis' work on groupthink tends to focus on pressures for conformity that arise within a team, such as the advisers to a President of the United States. In this case, Shiller is talking about a much more widespread pressure for conformity that extends beyond a team, and in fact, well beyond one organization.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Vertically Integrated Clothing Retailer?

Business Week had an article about Zara, the Spanish apparel retailer, a few weeks ago. I actually just taught a case study about Zara, as I often do in my MBA strategy course. It's a fascinating company. While many clothing retailers outsource all production to low wage nations, particularly in Asia, Zara actually produces a substantial percentage of their clothes in their own factories in Europe.

Their vertical integration strategy is designed to enable them to react very quickly to market trends, and to produce fashionable clothes very quickly as part of their "fast fashion follower" strategy. The fast replenishment model and massive flexibility means Zara makes fewer mistakes, and when they do make a fashion error, it is less costly becuase they haven't ordered a huge shipment of the item from Asia. Because of this, they have fewer markdowns, and their markdowns tend to be smaller. That helps create higher operating margins.

Vertical integration always has its risks, but in this case, Zara has found a way to make it very profitable. It also has helped to create a unique business model that is very hard to imitate.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Should Disney Acquire Electronic Arts?

The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, in the Heard on the Street column, speculated on the potential value that could be created if Disney were to make a bid for Electronic Arts. The column focused, in particular, on the fact that EA's stock price had been knocked down recently due to less-than-expected earnings. It's an interesting notion, given the links between the video game publishers and the creators of entertainment content, such as movies and music. Over the past decade, firms such as EA have become more dependent on the film companies, because they have been licensing more and more content for their games. Many entertainment companies, including Disney, have been forward integrating or looking at forward integrating into video game development. The increased dependency on the film studios, as well as the threat of forward integration, both have put pressure on the margins at video game companies such as EA. Perhaps there is some possibility here for a vertical integration play. Of course, there are always downsides to vertical integration. How would Disney handle the possibility of licensing deals with other video game producers? How would EA handle licensing deals with other film studios? At this point, it seems as though the Wall Street Journal report is not indicating rumors of a deal in the works; it appears to simply be a suggestion that this deal might make sense. It will be interesting to watch if anything comes of it.