Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rally Your Troops Like Churchill

Rally Your Troops Like Churchill: "Rally Your Troops Like Churchill
How you can borrow from the British politician's speaking skills to lift the spirits of managers, employees, and customers worried about today's econ"

Learning from a Social Entrepreneur

leasons for CDN healthcare ?
Learning from a Social Entrepreneur: "Learning from a Social Entrepreneur
To improve access to quality education, a real estate developer aims to puts public schools in commercial buildings—and convince investors her for-profit model works"

"Since most problems boiled down to real estate, I decided to marry my vision of improving access to quality education with my newfound belief in the power of real estate development. "The caveat? I'd become an entrepreneur who did well by doing good, not just while doing good.

Too Good to Be True?
I had my first pivotal idea for how to execute this vision in 2000, after working for the New York City Mayor's Office. During that time I had seen plenty of desirable office space left vacant from the dot-com bust while urban schools continued to struggle to find quality locations. I became convinced schools could be built faster and cheaper if integrated into private commercial buildings. In turn, schools could pay market rents and make great, creditworthy tenants, especially when markets went soft—as they were in 2000 and are again today. Also, it seemed any kid or teacher would far prefer to go to school in a swanky office building than in most traditional schools, which to me often resemble prisons.
At first, investors and government officials thought the concept sounded too good to be true, and assumed the catch was either that schools would drive out surrounding commercial demand or that such facilities would compromise the integrity of school environments.

But I thought I had a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. I just needed to show them it could actually work. In 2003, I received a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. It was a perfect fit because it brought me the credibility to go from being a commercial developer to an education policy reformer, and allowed me to prove my idea was both possible and scalable. After a year of intense research, I had strong evidence that my concept could indeed create enormous benefits to student achievement, including enhanced teacher retention and increased access to professional role models. During that time, I also co-founded my first urban development company, the Christie Wareck Co., returning to New Haven to begin several downtown redevelopment projects with the hopes of bringing schools into them.

"visiting friends who were struggling to make a measurable impact through the traditional NGO [nongovernmental organization] paths. It was then, witnessing their frustration, that I began to see how well-suited my business strategy was to developing countries under pressure to increase access to quality education with extremely limited financial resources. "

When I raise capital, I live the challenge we social entrepreneurs often face of not being easily categorized by philanthropists and investors. Social venture funds assume we're exploiting students or targeting privileged families, neither of which is the case. Conversely, I struggle to convince mainstream investors, distracted by the compelling social outcomes, that they're investing in a commercial real estate deal, not a philanthropic venture. Luckily, some sophisticated investors familiar with emerging markets do indeed get the point. After all, many of them made a killing through microfinance using similar principles.
Still, several investors have asked if I'd set up a nonprofit to accept a donation for a tax shelter rather than make an investment that could yield robust returns. This is disheartening. It shows how many still assume social and economic returns are mutually exclusive.

The silver lining is that the skepticism of others creates my first-mover advantage to seize fringe opportunities they can't yet see. But I suppose that's what all risk-taking entrepreneurs do—arrive unfashionably early to the party and warm up the dance floor for all those watching but too afraid to get their groove on.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Flaherty budget advice panned;

Brantford Expositor - Ontario, CA: "Ontario is the 'manufacturing heartland of Canada,' but huge increases in spending by McGuinty, along with high corporate taxes, have dissuaded businesses from investing in the province, Flaherty said.
'Since I was treasurer and did the (Ontario) budget in 2001-2002, spending has gone up in the past six years by more than 50 per cent,' he said."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why the government wnts you to smole secretly

More government gouging and hypocrisy "for the public's good eh" PR

Why Your Government Wants You to Smoke Cigarettes
By Dan Ferris, editor, Extreme ValueMarch 22, 2008

The largest civil settlement in history totaled $246 billion, paid out over 25 years.
The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was signed in 1998 by four tobacco companies, and it details payouts to all 50 states and six U.S. territories.
In addition to the huge financial burden, the master settlement also prohibits tobacco companies from targeting young people, bans cartoons from tobacco advertising, restricts brand sponsorship of teams and events, eliminates outdoor and public-transit advertising, restricts lobbying, and requires tobacco companies to disclose internal documents to the public.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors. Idaho and Washington prohibit the distribution of samples to the general public at little or no cost. At least 10 states have imposed bans on smoking in bars (!) and restaurants. In Baltimore's Inner Harbor area, you're not allowed to smoke anywhere, inside or out.

It all sounds like more than enough reason to stay away from tobacco stocks.
On the other hand, there's an important detail that most people don't know about the 1998 agreement: The master settlement payments rise and fall with cigarette shipments.
If cigarette volumes go down, the payments go down. But if the volumes go up... payments go up even more. It's a perverse paradox: Your state government hopes you smoke like a chimney, and it – not Big Tobacco – is going to gouge you for the privilege.

Big Tobacco's payments to politicians and lawmakers don't end with the master settlement. Federal and state excise taxes kick the payoff up another notch. The federal excise tax is $19.50 per thousand cigarettes, or about $0.39 a pack. In 2007, combined state and municipal excise taxes ranged from $0.07 (South Carolina) to $3.66 (Chicago) per pack of cigarettes. Last year, 10 states increased taxes, adding another $0.20 to $1 per pack.
Between high state excise taxes and the master settlement, tobacco companies have become a bizarre sort of utility company. Let me explain...

A public utility is really just a good business into whose pockets and affairs the government has permanently intruded, but whose survival is thereby assured. State governments make more money off each pack of cigarettes than anybody. If Big Tobacco fails, municipalities all over the United States fail.

That's no phantom idea, either. There's real leverage here... Back in 2003, an Illinois judge told a Big Tobacco company it had to post a $12 billion bond before it could appeal a defeat in a class-action lawsuit. The company said the move could force it into bankruptcy court and prevent it from making a master settlement payment.
Washington state's attorney general flew to the company's side – seven years after suing it for billions – telling the court, the bond "could deal a significant, unnecessary financial blow to the states." Virginia, California, New York, and Kansas put more than $7 billion in bond issues on hold until the matter was cleared up. The company didn't go bankrupt. On the contrary. It's made more than $50 billion in net profit since then.

Over the years, I've discovered different types of competitive advantages a business can have. One type of competitive advantage stems from "rules and regulations." The SEC's rules and regulations keep Standard & Poor's and Moody's entrenched as national ratings organizations. The Food and Drug Administration and its rules for new drugs keep big pharmaceutical companies entrenched, making it difficult for smaller companies to fund new drug development. Without intellectual property law, Microsoft would be a much smaller company... if it still existed.
Big Tobacco is benefiting from the onerous taxes only it can afford, the master settlement. States demand such high payments, they've put small manufacturers of bargain-priced cigarettes out of business. That's one reason the cigarette business is so profitable. U.S. cigarette sales totaled $70 billion last year. The total profit: $8.8 billion – an impressive after-tax profit margin of about 13%.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, is less delicate even than I am about Big Tobacco's competitive position post-settlement. In a 2000 report, Cato's Thomas O'Brien wrote, "Tobacco companies have purchased, with smokers' money, permission to raise prices collusively and suppress competition."

For investors, this means simply big cigarette companies have an enduring competitive advantage.
Remember, too, cigarettes are not a cyclical business. The economy is bad right now, but smokers will continue to smoke. Cigarettes remind me of what the late, great Lee Garfield, creator of the Baltimore landmark, Lee's Ice Cream Factory, once told me about his business. He said, "I never worry about the economy. When people can't afford to go to the beach or buy a new car, they can still afford to shell out a buck or two for some ice cream."
Cigarettes are like that, too – a cheap, readily available form of daily escape. What's a smoke break but a chance to get away from it all without spending $15,000 and flying to Hawaii?

Given their government-backed advantages, unrelenting global demand, and cheap valuations, buying shares in Big Tobacco will turn out to be one of the best investment decisions you can possibly make right now.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Whistle-blower courage

Whistle-blower faced 10,579 questions
$6M Lawsuit; Discovery 'taken beyond reasonable limits'
Shannon Kari, National Post Published: Saturday, March 08, 2008

In their attempt to show that Joanna Gualtieri was not the victim of harassment and reprisals when she made claims of misspending and waste in the 1990s at the Department of Foreign Affairs, federal government lawyers have already required her to answer 10,579 questions in court.
The former realty portfolio manager at Foreign Affairs has been "examined for discovery" for 31 days over the past several years by Justice Department lawyers defending a $6-million lawsuit she filed against the federal government and eight employees in 1998.
Ms. Gualtieri, a 46-year-old lawyer and mother of two boys aged four and two, first came forward in the early 1990s to suggest that millions of dollars of public money were being wasted by Foreign Affairs at several Canadian embassies.

She alleged that she was ignored or thwarted by her superiors and then shunned, harassed and ultimately moved into a position with no assigned duties.