Monthly Archives: February 2009

‘Goodbye Colorado’

That was the headline in today’s Rocky Mountain News. The paper, which had published since 1859, put out its final edition today.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

The plane, boss. The plane

The debate over the appropriate use of corporate jets rages on.

ABC News has deemed Bank of America chieftain Ken Lewis’ luxury plane ride Thursday to New York to tell the state’s attorney general virtually nothing an inappropriate use of a $50 million corporate jet.

My take on this hasn’t changed: Using corporate jets for business is fine, and it’s NEVER been targeted by President Obama, despite attempts by the punditry to make it so.

Is this trip business? We opine, you decide.

A lesson in context

It’s predictable, I suppose, to see panic and hyperbole flourish in the tough economic times we now face.
But it doesn’t have to be acceptable.
Today’s hysteria comes to us from the airwaves and cyberspace, two mediums claiming that President Obama “drove a stake” through the Wichita planemakers last night, as one B-98 caller put it, by putting an end to the use of corporate private jets.
Not quite true – in journalism, we call that a “misquote” – as the text of Obama’s speech on will indicate.
Here’s the exact quote: “I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet.”
Maybe I’m just context-happy, but that appears to me a reference to expensive vacations on the company jet, not a commentary on the viability of the plane-building industry.
Our planemakers have survived a lot of downturns. I suspect they’ll prosper again, hysterical hyperbole notwithstanding.

Wichita real estate hits USA Today

The tale of Wichita’s residential real estate market, one we’ve been telling for months, made the pages of USA Today Tuesday.

The national account is accurate: The market is relatively solid, with steady inventories of about four and a half months. Home values are appreciating, albeit slowly. Interest rates are low.

In fact, it is a good time to buy a house in Wichita. There’s money to be borrowed for homes, as long as you can handle some old-fashioned terms and you’re willing to bring some skin to the game. The no-money-down home loan is gone.

The problem is, it’s not such a great time to sell one. Buyers are skittish as layoffs gain steam around the area. Plus, the uncertainty and political wrangling around President Obama’s economic recovery plan don’t ease anyone’s concern.

Buyers and sellers both are on the sidelines, waiting for better days.

Entrepreneurship thrives in a recession

The headline above is the mantra of Tim Pett, director of Wichita State’s Center for Entrepreneurship. And now, this article by Financial Express substantiates that.

In fact, Pett thinks now is the time for entrepreneurs to begin chasing their dream, much as Bill Gates used a recession to kick-start Microsoft.

Your thoughts?

Recession to end by summer

I’ve had my fill of forecasts, particularly wrong ones. But there’s a new one, with maybe a little more credibility, from the National Association of Business Economists, a group of top business economists, that puts an end date to the economic misery.

Their forecast for ’09: recession officially ends mid-year; unemployment will peak at 9 percent by end of the year; inflation will fall to under 1 percent; interest rates will remain flat at a very low level; corporate profits, a key driver of business jet purchases, will fall 9.4 percent (after falling 8.4 percent in ’08).

This forecast is gloomier than the last one, and that one was gloomier than the one before, so these guys have had to keep adjusting to reality. Take it for what it’s worth.

A move to greater transparency?

Earlier this week, the Treasury Department released its first report on the lending activities of the nation’s 20 largest recipients of Capital Purchase Program funds.

What it showed is that between October and November, giants like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo were indeed making new loans in all kinds of categories, from first mortgages to commercial and industrial loans.

Read the report here.

Treasury intends to publish this report every month.

What would be even better is to see the lending activity of all the banks receiving CPP funds, including those in Kansas and Wichita.

The real economic stimulus under fire

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting States has the real middle-class economic stimulus check – lower gas prices – in its sights.

With a goal of doubling the per-barrel price of oil – to $70 – the group is considering further output cuts, although some of its members are reportedly fudging on the first round of output cuts.

Meanwhile – despite relatively steady barrel prices in the $30s and $40s and with continued declines in demand – gas has risen 40 cents a gallon in Wichita.


Mark Chestnutt for Wichita CVB chief? Uh, no.

You know, maybe it’s a mark of my rural upbringing, but I don’t have any trouble staying busy in Wichita. It seems that country music artist Mark Chesnutt doesn’t agree, though, as the song “Things To Do In Wichita” indicates. This link includes a link to the song.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is precisely the kind of country music that makes me want to give my brain a lead enema – that tried and true lovelorn theme that’s been used in about 790 billion country songs over time.

Plus, the equally tired – oops, tried – cheap shot at Kansas. I won’t say a word about the two-fingers-in-the-nose twangy style, because I’m a business writer, not a music critic.

I think Mark and his songwriters need a little face time with John Rolfe and the good people at the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau.

How about chickens in your garage?

During his presidential campaign of 1928, Herbert Hoover promised a chicken in every pot to encourage the nation’s economy. We know how that worked out the following year.

But economic hard times are here again and so is talk of chickens.

Scott Beyer, a Kansas State University professor and poultry specialist, said he has been getting a lot of phone calls and emails requesting information about raising a small flock of chickens.

“One can’t help but wonder if the economy has anything to do with this renewed interest in poultry husbandry,” Beyer said.

He said he asked questions of the callers and emailers about their interest. And while he said the responses varied, he said, “The economy does seem to be a common thread.”

“When faced with difficult times,” Beyer added, “people seek efficiency and a return to simpler times.”

He said some of the queries came from people who were interested in supporting American products, while others wanted to reduce their carbon footprint and not purchase foods that travel long distances. Still others just wanted fresh foods grown locally, he said.

Beyer cautioned city-dwellers to check with local rules about the legality of raising chickens in town. In Wichita, it’s legal.

So perhaps raising chickens for their eggs or to fill a pot is right for you. But Beyer probably won’t be able to help you with the rest of Hoover’s campaign pledge:

“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”

Doctor, doctor, give me the news

The next time you’re waiting to be called back to the exam room, remember this:

A 2008 survey by the Physicians’ Foundation showed that 78 percent of physicians say the practice of medicine has become less satisfying over the past five years.

Let’s hope yours is one of the 5.6 percent who find it more satisfying.

Some compensation common sense

I have to confess: When I opened this commentary from former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, I expected to be smacked in the face with the words “The fundamentals of the economy are strong,” the phrase that brought down her friend John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Being oblivious is never a good thing.

Instead, what this commentary does is bring forth some common-sense moderation on the admittedly absurd compensation packages CEOs receive. As we’ve seen, too often the CEO is busy driving the company into the ditch with just one hand, because the other’s plunged deep into shareholders’ pockets and employees’ futures.

It’s predictable, frankly, that Americans — and our leaders — are going to react harshly to the unregulated corporate greed that’s so heavily damaged our economy.
But moderation’s never a bad idea, either.