Monday, January 21, 2008

Recession Ramblings

No one can say for certain whether or not we are currently in a recession, but economists are saying that the effect of the economy largely depends on the stability of each individual’s company.

The companies my husband and I work for seem more stable than they did at the beginning of the recession in 2001.

As you may recall, my husband and I both worked for the same company in the late 90’s. This company continuously struggled to make payroll. I used to joke, if they couldn’t make money in the “exuberant 90’s” they certainly weren’t going to do well in an economic downturn. Sure enough, when the economy went into a recession in March 2001 this company was hit hard. My husband ended up being laid off due to lack of work.

I had started a new job in 1999. My new company was well established, having been in business over 50 years. This did not prevent them from coming extremely close to closing its doors for good. In 2001, they were highly leveraged, had a huge build up of inventory, and had recently begun selling specialized tech equipment that was not part of their core business. Unbeknownst to them, the technology for this equipment evolved quickly, leaving company shelves bulging with obsolete inventory. Once the recession hit, sales dwindled and a huge cash shortage ensued. To make matters worse, the cost of both business and health insurance sky rocketed. To save the company, management went into a major cost cutting endeavor like I had never seen before. A new bank was brought in with less stringent collateral requirements which provided a higher line of credit. Debt was refinanced at much lower interest rates. Massive amounts of inventory were returned to vendors for credit (of course this was after huge restocking fees were tacked on). For inventory not returned, management begged manufacturers for deep discounts and lengthy repayment plans. Employees were laid off. Every discretionary service was cancelled; including cleaning services at all company stores. After a two year struggle the company’s finances began turning around culminating in 2005 with the healthiest balance sheet in the company’s history.

What has changed in seven years?
The latest economic news reports that employers are not trimming hours as they usually do when demand for their product falls off. Plus, inventories are not unusually high making it less urgent for manufacturers to scale off production.

On a personal level: My husband has a new job which he loves; just last week he was assigned to a new project that comes with a three year contract. My company has never gotten back to the glut of excess spending of the late 1990’s. Our inventories are lean and manageable. Employee count remains low; few new overhead positions have been added. Are sales down? Yes. Are margins low? Yes. Is the year going to be easy? No. But I am confident both companies are healthy enough to ride the storm.

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