CEO resignations hit record high

Dozens of hospital CEOs have resigned this year as a record number of chiefs across all industries have exited their roles, according to a May 18 Challenger, Gray & Christmas report. 

Nearly 520 CEOs left their posts between Jan. 1 and the end of April, the highest total since the executive outplacement and coaching firm began tracking CEO changes in 2002. The total is up 18 percent from the 440 CEO exits announced in the same period of 2021. 

Thirty-six hospital CEOs exited their roles in the first four months of this year. That’s up from the 20 hospital chiefs who resigned in the same period last year, according to the report. 

CEOs are leaving their positions and businesses are making changes at the top for several reasons, Challenger, Gray & Christmas Senior Vice President Andrew Challenger said. 

“Inflation, staffing shortages, and possible recession concerns are giving more cause for companies to reevaluate leadership,” Mr. Challenger said. “This, after years of companies trying to figure out the right formula to attract and retain talent and create a culture of inclusion, issues that often start at the top.”

Massive Growth in Expenses and Rising Inflation Fuel Continued Financial Challenges for America’s Hospitals and Health Systems

https://www.aha.org/costsofcaring

Hospitals are experiencing significant increases in expenses for workforce, drugs and medical supplies

Introduction

For over two years since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s hospitals and health systems have been on the front lines caring for patients, comforting families and protecting communities.

With over 80 million cases1, nearly 1 million deaths2, and over 4.6 million hospitalizations3, the pandemic has taken a significant toll on hospitals and health systems and placed enormous strain on the nation’s health care workforce. During this unprecedented public health crisis, hospitals and health systems have confronted many challenges, including historic volume and revenue losses, as well as skyrocketing expenses (See Figure #1).

Hospitals and health systems have been nimble in responding to surges in COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic by expanding treatment capacity, hiring staff to meet demand, acquiring and maintaining adequate supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect patients and staff and ensuring that critical services and programs remain available to the patients and communities they serve. However, these and other factors have led to billions of dollars in losses over the last two years for hospitals, and over 33% of hospitals are operating on negative margins.

The most recent surges triggered by the delta and omicron variants have added even more pressure to hospitals. During these surges, hospitals saw the number of COVID-19 infected patients rise while other patient volumes fell, and patient acuity increased. This drove up expenses and added significant financial pressure for hospitals. Moreover, hospitals did not receive any government assistance through the COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund (PRF) to help mitigate rising expenses and lost revenues during the delta and omicron surges. This is despite the fact that more than half of COVID-19 hospitalizations have occurred since July 1, 2021, during these two most recent COVID-19 surges.

At the same time, patient acuity has increased, as measured by how long patients need to stay in the hospital. The increase in acuity is a result of the complexity of COVID-19 care, as well as treatment for patients who may have put off care during the pandemic. The average length of a patient stay increased 9.9% by the end of 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.4

As hospitals treat sicker patients requiring more intensive treatment, they also must ensure that sufficient staffing levels are available to care for these patients, and must acquire the necessary expensive drugs and medical supplies to provide high-quality care. As a result, overall hospital expenses have experienced considerable growth.

Data from Kaufman Hall, a consulting firm that tracks hospital financial metrics, shows that by the end of 2021, total hospital expenses were up 11% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Even after accounting for changes in volume that occurred during the pandemic, hospital expenses per patient increased significantly from pre-pandemic levels across every category. (See Figure #1)

The pandemic has strained hospitals’ and health systems’ finances. Many hospitals operate on razorthin margins, so even slight increases in expenses can have dramatic negative effects on operating margins, which can jeopardize their ability to care for patients. These expense increases have been more challenging to withstand in light of rising inflation and growth in input prices. In fact, despite modest growth in revenues compared to pre-pandemic levels, median hospital operating margins were down 3.8% by the end of 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Kaufman Hall. Further exacerbating the problem for hospitals are Medicare sequestration cuts and payment increases that are well below increases in costs. For example, an analysis by PINC found that for fiscal year 2022, hospitals received a 2.4% increase in their Medicare inpatient payment rate, while hospital labor rates increased 6.5%.5

These levels of increased expenses and declines in operating margins are not sustainable. This report highlights key pressures currently facing hospitals and health systems, including:

  1. Workforce and contract labor expenses
  2. Drug expenses
  3. Medical supply and PPE expenses
  4. Rising economy-wide inflation

Each of these issues separately presents significant challenges to the hospital field. Taken together, they represent conditions that would be potentially catastrophic for most organizations, institutions and industries. However, the fact that the nation’s hospitals and health systems continue to serve on the front lines of the ongoing pandemic is a testament to their resiliency and steadfast commitment to their mission to serve patients and communities around the country.

Hospitals and health systems are the cornerstones of their communities. Their patients depend on them for access to care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hospitals are often the largest employers in their community, and large purchasers of local services and goods. Additional support is needed to help ensure hospitals have the adequate resources to care for their communities.

I. Workforce and Contract Labor Expenses

The hospital workforce is central to the care process and often the largest expense for hospitals. It is no surprise then that even before the pandemic, labor costs — which include costs associated with recruiting and retaining employed staff, benefits and incentives — accounted for more than 50% of hospitals’ total expenses. Therefore, even a slight increase in these costs can have significant impacts on a hospital’s total expenses and operating margins.

As the pandemic has persisted for over two years, the toll on the health care workforce has been immense. A recent survey of health care workers found that approximately half of respondents felt “burned out” and nearly a quarter of respondents said they anticipated leaving the health care field.6

This has been mirrored by a significant and sustained decline in hospital employment, down approximately 100,000 employees from pre-pandemic levels.7 At the height of the omicron surge, approximately 1,400 hospitals or 30% of all U.S. hospitals reporting data to the government, indicated that they anticipated a critical staffing shortage within the week.8 This high percentage of hospitals reporting a critical staffing shortage stayed relatively consistent throughout the delta and omicron surges.

The combination of employee burnout, fewer available staff, increased patient acuity and higher demand for care especially during the delta and omicron surges, has forced hospitals to turn to contract staffing firms to help address staffing shortages.

Though hospitals have long worked with contract staffing firms to bridge temporary gaps in staffing, the pandemic-driven-staffing-shortage has created an expanded reliance on contract staff, especially contract or travel registered nurses. Travel nurses are in particularly high demand because they serve a critical role in delivering care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients and allow the hospital to meet the demand for care, especially during pandemic surges.

According to a survey by AMN Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest health care staffing agencies, 95% of health care facilities reported hiring nurse staff from contract labor firms during the pandemic.9 Staffing firms have increased their recruitment of contract or travel nurses, illustrating the significant growth in their demand. According to data from EMSI/Burning Glass, there has been a nearly 120% increase in job postings for contract or travel nurses from pre-pandemic levels in January 2019 to January 2022. (See Figure #2)

Similarly, the hours worked by contract or travel nurses as a percentage of total hours worked by nurses in hospitals has grown from 3.9% in January 2019 to 23.4% in January 2022, according to data from Syntellis Performance Solutions. (See Figure #3) In fact, a quarter of hospitals have experienced nearly a third of their total nurse hours accounted for by contract or travel nurses.

As the share of contract travel nurse hours has grown significantly compared to before the pandemic, so too have the costs of employing travel nurses compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, hospitals spent a median of 4.7% of their total nurse labor expenses for contract travel nurses, which skyrocketed to a median of 38.6% in January 2022. (See Figure #3) A quarter of hospitals — those who have had to rely disproportionately on contract travel nurses — saw their costs for contract travel nurses account for over 50% of their total nurse labor expenses. In fact, while contract travel nurses accounted for 23.4% of total nurse hours in January 2022, they accounted for nearly 40% of the labor expenses for nurses. (See Figure #3) This difference has grown considerably compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, suggesting that the exorbitant prices charged by staffing companies are a primary driver of higher labor expenses for hospitals.

Data from Syntellis Performance Solutions show a 213% increase in hourly rates charged to hospitals by staffing companies for travel nurses in January 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels in January 2019. This is because staffing agencies have exploited the situation by increasing the hourly rates billed to hospitals for contract travel nurses more than the hourly rates they pay to travel nurses. This is effectively the “margin” retained by the staffing agencies. During pre-pandemic levels in 2019, the average “margin” retained by staffing agencies for travel nurses was about 15%. As of January 2022, the average “margin” has grown to an astounding 62%. (See Figure #4)

These high “margins” have fueled massive growth in the revenues and profits of health care staffing companies. Several staffing firms have reported significant growth in their revenues to as high as $1.1 billion in just the fourth quarter of 202110, tripling their revenues and net income compared to 2020 levels.11

The data indicate that the growth in labor expenses for hospitals and health systems was in large part due to the exorbitant rates charged by contract staffing firms. By the end of 2021, hospital labor expenses per patient were 36.9% higher than pre-pandemic levels, and increased to 57% at the height of the omicron surge in January 2022.12 A study looking at hospitals in New Jersey found that the increased labor expenses for contract staff amounted to $670 million in 2021 alone, which was more than triple what their hospitals spent in 2020.13 High reliance on contract or travel staff prevents hospitals and health systems from investing those costs into their existing employees, leading to low morale and high turnover, which further exacerbates the challenges hospitals and health systems have been facing.

II. Drug Expenses

Prescription drug spending in the U.S. has grown significantly since the pandemic. In 2021, drug spending (including spending in both retail and non-retail settings) increased 7.7%14, which was on top of an increase of 4.9%15 in 2020. While some of this growth can be attributed to increased utilization as patient acuity increased during the pandemic, a significant driver has been the continued increase in prices of existing drugs as well as the introduction of new products at very high prices. A study by GoodRx found that in January 2022 alone, drug companies increased the price of about 810 brand and generic drugs that they reviewed by an average of 5.1%.16 These price increases followed massive price hikes for certain drugs often used in the hospital such as Hydromorphone (107%), Mitomycin (99%), and Vasopressin (97%).17 For another example, the drug manufacturer of Humira, one of the most popular brand drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, increased the price of the drug by 21% between 2019 and 2021.18 A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in Medicare Part B and D markets, half of all drugs in each market experienced price increases above the rate of inflation between 2019 and 2020 – in fact, a third of these drugs experienced price increases of greater than 7.5%.19 At the same time, according to a report by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), eight drugs with unsupported U.S. drug price increases between 2019 and 2020 alone accounted for an additional $1.67 billion in drug spending, further illustrating that drug companies’ decisions to raise the prices of their drugs are simply an unsustainable practice.20

As hospitals have worked to treat sicker patients during the pandemic, they have been forced to contend with sky-high prices for drugs, many of which are critical and lifesaving for their patients. For example, in 2020, 16 of the top 25 drugs by spending in Medicare Part B (hospital outpatient settings) had price increases greater than inflation — two of the top three drugs, Keytruda and Prolia — experienced price increases of 3.3% and 4.1%, respectively.21

As a result of these price increases, hospital drug expenses have skyrocketed. By the end of 2021, total drug expenses were 28.2% higher than pre-pandemic levels.22 When taken as a share of all non-labor expenses, drug expenses have grown from approximately 8.2% in January 2019, to 9.3% in January 2021, and to 10.6% in January 2022. (See Figure #5) Even when considering changes in volume during the pandemic, drug expenses per patient compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019 saw significant increases, with a 36.9% increase through 2021.

While continued drug price increases by drug companies have been a major driver of the growth in overall hospital drug expenses, there also are other important driving factors to consider:

  • Drug Treatments for COVID-19 Patients: Remdesivir, one of the primary drugs used to treat COVID-19 patients in the hospital, has become the top spend drug for most hospitals since the pandemic. This drug alone accounted for over $1 billion in sales in the fourth quarter of 2021.23 Priced at an average of $3,12024Remdesivir’s cost was initially covered by the federal government. However, hospitals must now purchase the drug directly.
  • Limitation of 340B Contract Pharmacies: The 340B program allows eligible providers, including hospitals that treat many low-income patients or treat certain patient populations like children and cancer patients, to buy certain outpatient drugs at discounted prices and use those savings to provide more comprehensive services to the patients and communities they serve. Since July 2020, several of the largest drug manufacturers have denied 340B pricing to eligible hospitals through pharmacies with whom they contract, despite calls from the Department of Health and Human Services that such actions are illegal. Because of these actions, many 340B hospitals, especially rural hospitals who disproportionately rely on contract pharmacies to ensure access to drugs for their patients, have lost millions in 340B drug savings.25 In addition, these manufacturers have required claim-level data submissions as a condition of receiving 340B discounts, which has increased costs to deliver the data as well as staff time and expense to manage that process. The loss of 340B savings coupled with increased burden of providing detailed data to drug companies have contributed to increasing drug expenses.
  • Health Plans’/Pharmacy Benefit Managers’ (PBMs’) “White Bagging” Policies: Health plans and PBMs have engaged in a tactic that steers hospital patients to third-party specialty pharmacies to acquire medication necessary for clinician-administered treatments, known as “white-bagging.” This practice disallows the hospital from procuring and managing the handling of a drug — typically drugs that are infused or injected requiring a clinician to administer in a hospital or clinic setting — used in patient care. These policies not only create serious patient safety concerns, but create delays and risks in patient care; add to administration, storage and handling costs; and create important liability issues for hospitals.

Taken together, these factors increase both drug expenses and overall hospital expenses.

III. Medical Supply and PPE Expenses

The U.S., like most countries in the world, relies on global supply chains for goods and services. This is especially true for medical supplies used at hospitals and other health care settings. Everything from the masks and gloves worn by staff to medical devices used in patient care come from a large network of global suppliers. Prior to the global pandemic, hospitals had established relationships with distributors and other vendors in the global health care supply chain to deliver goods as necessitated by demand. After the pandemic hit, many factories, distributors and other vendors shut down their operations, leaving hospitals, which were on the front lines facing surging demand, to fend for themselves. In fact, supply chain disruptions across industries, including health care, increased by 67% in 2020 alone.26

As a result, hospitals turned to local suppliers and non-traditional suppliers, often paying significantly higher rates than they did prior to the pandemic. Between fall 2020 and early 2022 costs for energy, resins, cotton and most metals surged in excess of 30%; these all are critical elements in the manufacturing of medical supplies and devices used every day in hospitals.27 As COVID-19 cases surged, demand for hospital PPE, such as N95 masks, gloves, eye protection and surgical gowns, increased dramatically causing hospitals to invest in acquiring and maintaining reserves of these supplies. Further, downstream effects from other global events such as the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis in China, as well as domestic issues, such as labor shortages and rising fuel and transportation costs, have all contributed to drive up even higher overall medical supply expenses for hospitals in the U.S.28 For instance, according to the Health Industry Distributors Association, transportation times for medical supplies are 440% longer than pre-pandemic times resulting in massive delays.29

Compared to 2019 levels, supply expenses for hospitals were up 15.9%30 through the end of 2021. When focusing on hospital departments involved most directly in care for COVID-19 patients − primarily hospital intensive care units (ICUs) and respiratory care departments − the increase in expenses is significantly higher. Medical supply expenses in ICUs and respiratory care departments increased 31.5% and 22.3%, respectively. Further, accounting for changes in volume during surge and non-surge periods of the pandemic, medical supply expenses per patient in ICUs and respiratory care departments were 31.8% and 25.9% higher, respectively. (See Figure #6) These numbers help illustrate the magnitude of the impact that increases in supply costs have had on hospital finances during the pandemic.

IV. Impact of Rising Inflation

Higher economy-wide costs have serious implications for hospitals and health systems, increasing the pressures of higher labor, supply, and acquisition costs; and potentially lower consumer demand. Inflation is defined as the general increase in prices and the decrease in purchasing power. It is measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U). In April 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the CPI-U had the largest 12-month increase since September 2008. The CPI-U hit 40-year highs in February 2022.31 Overall, consumer prices rose by a historic 8.5% on an annualized basis in March 2022 alone.32

As inflation measured by consumer prices is at record highs, below are key considerations on the potential impact of higher general inflation on hospital prices:

  • Labor Costs and Retention: Labor costs represent a significant portion of hospital costs (typically more than 50% of hospital expenses are related to labor costs). As the cost-of-living increases, employees generally demand higher wages/total compensation packages to offset those costs. This is especially true in the health care sector, where labor demands are already high, and labor supply is low.
  • Supply Chain Costs: Medical supplies account for approximately 20% of hospital expenses, on average. As input/raw good costs increase due to general inflation, hospital supplies and medical device costs increase as well. Furthermore, shortages of raw materials, including those used to manufacture drugs, could stress supply chains (i.e., medical supply shortages), which may result in changes in care patterns and add further burden on staff to implement work arounds.
  • Capital Investment Costs: Capital investments also may be strained, especially as hospitals have already invested heavily in expanding capacity to treat patients during the pandemic (e.g., constructing spaces for testing and isolation of COVID-19 patients). One of the areas that has seen the largest increase in prices/shortages is building materials (e.g., lumber). Additionally, a historically large increase in inflation has resulted in increases in interest rates, which may hamper borrowing options and add to overall costs.
  • Consumer Demand: Higher inflation also may result in decreases in demand for health care services, specifically if inflation exceeds wage growth. Specifically, higher costs for necessities (food, transportation, etc.) could push down demand for health care services and, in turn, dampen hospital volumes and revenues in the long run.

Health care and hospital prices are not driving recent overall inflation increases. The BLS has cited increases in the indices for gasoline, shelter and food as the largest contributors to the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The CPI-U increased 0.8% in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, whereas the medical care index rose 0.2% in February. The index for prescription drugs rose 0.3%, but the hospital index for hospital services declined 0.1%.33

This is consistent with pre-pandemic trends. Despite persistent cost pressures, hospital prices have seen consistently modest growth in recent years. According to BLS data, hospital prices have grown an average 2.1% per year over the last decade, about half the average annual increase in health insurance premiums. (See Figure #7) More recently, hospital prices have grown much more slowly than the overall rate of inflation. In the 12 months ending in February 2022, hospital prices increased 2.1%. In fact, even when excluding the artificially low rates paid to hospitals by Medicare and Medicaid, average annual price growth has still been below 3% in recent years.34

Conclusion

While we hope that our nation is rounding the corner in the battle against COVID-19, it is clear that the pandemic is not over. During the week of April 11, there have been an average of over 33,000 cases per day35 and reports suggest that a new subvariant of the virus (Omicron BA.2) is now the dominant strain in the U.S.36 As a result, the challenges hospitals and health systems are currently facing are bound to last much longer.

As COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are decreasing in some parts of the U.S. and increasing in others, hospitals and health systems continue to care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. With additional surges potentially on the horizon, the massive growth in expenses is unsustainable. Most of the nation’s hospitals were operating on razor thin margins prior to the pandemic; and now, many of these hospitals are in an even more precarious financial situation. Regardless of potential new surges of COVID-19, hospitals and health systems continue to face workforce retention and recruitment challenges, supply chain disruptions and exorbitant expenses as outlined in this report.

Hospitals appreciate the support and resources that Congress has provided throughout the pandemic; however, additional support is needed now to keep hospitals strong so they can continue to provide care to patients and communities.

The winter jobs boom

It was a winter of surging job creation. Employers created jobs on a mass scale, Americans returned to the workforce, and the labor market shrugged off the Omicron variant and its broader pandemic funk.

  • That’s the takeaway from the February jobs report, which showed employers added 678,000 jobs last month. December and January job growth was better than previously thought, and the unemployment rate fell to 3.8%.

Why it matters: Yes, inflation is high as prices rose 7.5% over the last year as of January, and could rise higher as disruptions from the Ukraine war ripple through the economy.

  • But rising prices are coming amid an astonishingly rapid jobs boom.

Between the lines: The report shows the pandemic impact is fading. But some analysts warn not to expect this level of gains to continue as the crisis in Ukraine cuts into growth.

  • “The improvement in the American labor market is now very much a rearview mirror phenomenon,” economist Joe Brusuelas wrote in a research note.

One big surprise: Wage growth was essentially nonexistent, with average hourly earnings rising only a penny to $31.58.

  • That may reflect the nature of the jobs being added — disproportionately in the low-paying leisure and hospitality sector.
  • That is good news for those worried that rising wages and prices will drive further inflation. It is worse news for workers, whose average pay gain of 5.1% over the last year is far below inflation.

The share of adults in the labor force — which includes those looking for work — ticked up, as did the share of the population that’s actually employed. That suggests the robust job growth is pulling people back into the workforce, if gradually.

  • The labor force participation rate was 62.3% in February, more than a percentage point below its level two years ago, before the pandemic.

State of play: The Federal Reserve is set to begin an interest rate hiking campaign on March 16, amid high inflation and new geopolitical uncertainty from the Ukraine war. The new numbers are unlikely to change that one way or the other.

Thoughts of the Day: Charlie Munger

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/charlie-munger-warren-buffetts-right-hand-man-just-turned-98-and-has-some-choice-words-about-inflation-ebitda-and-marriage-11641319939?siteid=yhoof2

Many Americans, even those who don’t pay much attention to investing and the markets, know the name Warren Buffett.

Buffett, of course, is the billionaire philanthropist who created one of the greatest investment fortunes in history. Far fewer, however, know the name of his longtime business partner Charlie Munger.

And that’s a shame, because Munger is at least half the brains behind Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A BRK.B, the holding company he runs with Buffett and which manages billions and billions of investor dollars.

Notably, despite his deal-making prowess, Buffett is a big fan and longtime proponent of low-cost personal investing.

Munger turned 98 on Jan. 1. To celebrate his wit and market wisdom, here is a collection of quips from various interviews and question-and-answer sessions over the years.

On business education

Those of you who are about to enter business school, or who are there, I recommend you learn to do it our way. But at least until you’re out of school you have to pretend to do it their way.

On common sense

If people weren’t so often wrong, we wouldn’t be so rich.

On company earnings

Yeah, I think you would understand any presentation using the word EBITDA, if every time you saw that word you just substituted the phrase “bullsh** earnings.”

On a changing economy

So no, I’m optimistic about life. If I can be optimistic when I’m nearly dead, surely the rest of you can handle a little inflation.

On public spending

Everybody wants fiscal virtue but not quite yet. They’re like that guy who felt that way about sex. He was willing to give it up but not quite yet.

On legacy

Well, you don’t want to be like the motion picture executive in California. They said the funeral was so large because everybody wanted to make sure he was dead.

On stock buybacks

I think some people just buy it to keep the stock up. And that, of course, is insane. And immoral. But apart from that, it’s fine.

On marriage

Warren: Charlie is big on lowering expectations.

Munger: Absolutely. That’s the way I got married. My wife lowered her expectations.

On the purpose of money

Sure, there are a lot of things in life way more important than wealth. All that said…some people do get confused. I play golf with a man. He says: “What good is health? You can’t buy money with it.”

On money managers

The general system for money management requires people to pretend that they can do something that they can’t do, and to pretend to like it when they really don’t. I think that’s a terrible way to spend your life, but it’s very well paid.

On systematic investing

Well, I can’t give you a formulaic approach, because I don’t use one. If you want a formula you should go back to graduate school. They’ll give you lots of formulas that won’t work.

On human nature

As Samuel Johnson said, famously: “I can give you an argument, but I can’t give you an understanding.”

On financial innovation

It’s perfectly obvious, at least to me, that to say that derivative accounting in America is a sewer. is an insult to sewage.

On business competition

Competency is a relative concept. And what a lot of us needed to get ahead was to compete against idiots. And luckily there’s a large supply.

On cryptocurrency

I think the people who are professional traders that go into trading cryptocurrencies, it’s just disgusting. It’s like somebody else is trading turds and you decide, “I can’t be left out.”

On investment bankers

Once I asked a man who just left a large investment bank, and I said, “How does your firm make its money?” He said, “Off the top, off the bottom, off both sides, and in the middle.”

And finally, a parting shot

Munger: I think I’ve offended enough people.

Buffett: There’s two or three in the balcony!

M&A boom will surge into 2022: KPMG

Dive Brief:

  • The boom in global mergers and acquisitions in 2021 will surge into 2022, fueled by abundant investment capital, historically low interest rates and a rebound in global economic growth, according to a survey of 345 corporate dealmakers in the U.S. by KPMG.
  • “Based on the volume of new pitches in November and December — transactions that would come to market in Q1 and Q2 of 2022 — there are no signs of a slowing deal market,” according to Philip Isom, global head of M&A at KPMG. While facing high valuations, “most investors have limited time horizons to invest in, so they may be willing to reach further on price than they have historically.”
  • More than 80% of the survey respondents across several industries expect total M&A valuations to rise further next year, with about one out of every three predicting at least a 10% increase, KPMG said. Dealmakers said transaction levels will remain robust because companies “need to remain on the offense with the competition” and “feel pressure from investors to raise their own valuations.”

Dive Insight:

Worldwide deal value from January until mid-November this year hit $5.1 trillion, the highest level since 2015 and a 34% gain compared with all of 2020, KPMG said. U.S. transactions rose to $2.9 trillion, or 55% more than during all of last year.

M&A has soared in 2021 as the economy recovered from a pandemic shock, record monetary and fiscal stimulus pumped up liquidity and many companies sought through acquisitions to regain their footing after months of lockdowns and persistent supply chain disruptions.

A widespread labor shortage will probably push up dealmaking next year. One-third of survey respondents said they want to use M&A to acquire talent, KPMG said.

Also, companies increasingly use acquisitions to change their business or operating models, KPMG said, noting that industrial and financial services companies buy companies that help speed their digital transformation.

“The aim is to increase efficiencies and contribute to having more agile workforces,” according to Carole Streicher, KPMG’s deal advisory and strategy service group leader in the U.S.

Private equity firms will continue to push up the volume and value of M&A next year, after increasing their involvement in transaction value by more than 55% so far in 2021, KPMG said. PE firms have pursued deals this year in part because of the prospect of an increase in corporate capital gains taxes.

Growing support for sustainability among investors, regulators and other stakeholders may prompt M&A, “as businesses look at their ecological footprint and consider purchasing, rationalizing or divesting assets,” KPMG said. Investors are likely to consider sustainable businesses more adaptable to market shifts.

Finally, concerns about the potential for rising borrowing costs may prompt dealmakers who rely on debt financing to speed up acquisition plans. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell late last month said policymakers at their two-day meeting beginning Tuesday will likely consider speeding up the withdrawal of accommodation.

Dealmakers face some headwinds. Democrats in the Senate have yet to muster enough support for a roughly $2 trillion social policy bill that would help sustain economic growth. Meanwhile, the outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has highlighted the fragility of financial markets and the economy to any setbacks in curbing the pandemic.

Survey respondents identified several factors that will influence dealmaking next year, with 61% underscoring high valuations, 56% pointing to liquidity and other economic considerations, and 55% noting intense competition for a limited number of highly valued acquisition targets, KPMG said.

Still, only 7% of the survey respondents said they expect deal volumes to decline in their industries next year.

Survey respondents work at companies in industries ranging from media and financial services to energy and technology, with 194 of them CFOs, CEOs or other C-suite executives.

New jobless claims totaled 184,000 last week, reaching lowest since 1969

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/weekly-unemployment-claims-week-ended-dec-4-2021-192034644.html

Weekly U.S. jobless claims fell to 184,000, lowest level since 1969

New initial jobless claims improved much more than expected last week to reach the lowest level in more than five decades, further pointing to the tightness of the present labor market as many employers seek to retain workers. 

The Labor Department released its weekly jobless claims report on Thursday. Here were the main metrics from the print, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial unemployment claims, week ended Dec. 4: 184,000 vs. 220,000 expected and an upwardly revised 227,000 during prior week 
  • Continuing claims, week ended Nov. 27: 1.992 million vs. 1.910 million expected and a downwardly revised 1.954 million during prior week

Jobless claims decreased once more after a brief tick higher in late November. At 184,000, initial jobless claims were at their lowest level since Sept. 1969. 

“The consensus always looked a bit timid, in light of the behavior of unadjusted claims in the week after Thanksgiving in previous years when the holiday fell on the 25th, but the drop this time was much bigger than in those years, and bigger than implied by the recent trend,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in an email Thursday morning. “A correction next week seems likely, but the trend in claims clearly is falling rapidly, reflecting the extreme tightness of the labor market and the rebound in GDP growth now underway.”

After more than a year-and-a-half of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., jobless claims have begun to hover below even their pre-pandemic levels. New claims were averaging about 220,000 per week throughout 2019. At the height of the pandemic and stay-in-place restrictions, new claims had come in at more than 6.1 million during the week ended April 3, 2020. 

Continuing claims, which track the number of those still receiving unemployment benefits via regular state programs, have also come down sharply from pandemic-era highs, and held below 2 million last week. 

“Beyond weekly moves, the overall trend in filings remains downward and confirms that businesses facing labor shortages are holding onto workers,” wrote Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, in a note on Wednesday. 

Farooqi added, however, that “the decline in layoffs is not translating into faster job growth on a consistent basis, which was evident in a modest gain in non-farm payrolls in November.” 

“For now, labor supply remains constrained and will likely continue to see pandemic effects as the health backdrop and a lack of safe and affordable child care keeps people out of the workforce,” she added. 

Other recent data on the labor market have also affirmed these lingering pressures. The November jobs report released from the Labor Department last Friday reflected a smaller number of jobs returned than expected last month, with payrolls growing by the least since December 2020 at just 210,000. And the labor force participation rate came in at 61.8%, still coming in markedly below its pre-pandemic February 2020 level of 63.3%. 

And meanwhile, the Labor Department on Wednesday reported that job openings rose more than expected in October to top 11 million, coming in just marginally below July’s all-time high of nearly 11.1 million. The quits rate eased slightly to 2.8% from September’s record 3.0% rate. 

“There is a massive shortage of labor out there in the country that couldn’t come at a worst time now that employers need workers like they have never needed them before. This is a permanent upward demand shift in the economy that won’t be alleviated by companies offering greater incentives to their new hires,” Chris Rupkey, FWDBONDS chief economist, wrote in a note Wednesday. “Wage inflation will continue to keep inflation running hot as businesses fall all over themselves in a bidding war for talent.”

$1.7 trillion U.S. spending bill would not stoke inflation: Moody’s

Dive Brief:

  • The $1.7 trillion “social infrastructure” legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate would spur growth, expand employment and boost productivity with limited inflationary impact, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
  • The spending “would occur over 10 years, include significant revenue-raising offsets and would likely only start to flow into the economy later in 2022 at a time when inflationary pressures from disruptions to global supply chains and U.S. labor supply will likely have diminished,” Moody’s Vice President-Senior Analyst Rebecca Karnovitz said
  • “Investments in childcare, education and workforce development have the potential to boost labor force participation and increase productivity over the medium and longer term,” she said. While the Senate will likely insist on amendments, the Build Back Better (BBB) bill currently would invest $555 billion in clean energy and “climate resilience” and $585 billion in childcare, universal prekindergarten and paid family leave.

Dive Insight:

CFOs concerned about rising prices and the risk of a wage-price spiral have found sympathy from some lawmakers who warn that the $5.7 trillion in spending Congress has already approved during the pandemic will further stoke inflation.

“Inflation is hammering working families across America,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the chamber last week. The Kentucky Republican called BBB a “socialist wish list” and an inflationary “taxing and spending spree.”

Some Democrats — including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have cautioned that excessive spending could push up prices and worsen the fiscal outlook.

Sinema and Manchin have said that they want less costly legislation. With Democrats holding the smallest possible Senate majority, support from the two senators is essential for final passage of the bill.

“I have been concerned about high levels of spending that are not targeted or are not efficient and effective,” Sinema told the Washington Post on Nov. 18 while noting rising inflation.

“The threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not ‘transitory’ and is instead getting worse,” Manchin said on Twitter this month after the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose 6.2% in October on an annual basis.

CFOs face even higher price gains for wholesale goods. The producer price index for final demand, a measure of what suppliers charge, soared 8.6% in October from the prior year, according to the Labor Department. That was a record jump in a series of data first published in 2010.

The Moody’s analysis suggests that concerns about the impact of BBB on inflation and the U.S. fiscal outlook may be overblown.

“We expect the spending package to have a limited impact on inflation,” Moody’s said.

Referring to the U.S. credit outlook, Moody’s said, “we expect the legislation to have only a small effect on the sovereign’s fiscal position, given that the spending would be spread over a decade and the revenue-raising measures would help offset the impact on federal budget deficits.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House version of BBB would push up fiscal deficits by $367 billion over a 10-year period.

Yet the estimate excludes about $200 billion in revenue that would come from a provision in the bill funding tougher tax enforcement and collection, Moody’s said.

“Estimates of the bill’s impact on the deficit are likely to shift in accordance with provisions that may be stripped from the Senate’s final version of the legislation,” according to Moody’s.

Business forecasters see inflation heating up to 5.1%

Dive Brief:

  • Inflation as measured by the consumer price index will surge 5.1% year-over-year during the fourth quarter, forecasters for the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) said, raising their estimate in May for a 2.8% year-over-year increase in prices. The forecasters anticipate inflation will ease to 2.4% year-over-year during the fourth quarter of 2022, according to a survey.
  • “Inflation expectations have moved up significantly from those in the May 2021 survey,” according to Holly Wade, survey chair and executive director for the research center at the National Federation of Independent Business. “But panelists anticipate inflation will ease in 2022.”
  • The NABE panel reduced its estimate for growth in gross domestic product (GDP) this year to 5.6% from 6.7% in May, citing the coronavirus delta variant as the biggest risk to the expansion.

Dive Insight:

NABE expectations that inflation will cool next year align with the view of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Both policy-makers have staked record stimulus in part on the premise that the fastest price gains in decades will slow as pandemic-induced kinks in supply chains even out.

The Fed’s preferred inflation measure — the core personal consumption expenditures price index — rose 3.6% in July compared with a year earlier, well above the central bank’s 2% target.

In an estimate released after a two-day meeting on Wednesday, Fed officials forecast that so-called core inflation will rise 2.3% next year, slightly above the 2.2% estimate by the NABE panel.

Confident that inflation will ease, Fed policy-makers indicated after their meeting that they may begin to cut $120 billion in monthly purchases of Treasury and mortgage bonds as early as their next scheduled gathering in November. Powell said that the Fed will gradually taper and may conclude bond buying “around the middle of next year.”

Half of the 18 participants in the Fed’s policy-making committee expect to raise the benchmark interest rate from a record low by the end of 2022.

“I expect inflation to decelerate,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said Monday in a speech to NABE. “But with delta disrupting the rotation from goods to services and prolonging supply bottlenecks, it is uncertain just how fast and how much inflation will decelerate over the remainder of the year and into next year.”

With the delta variant disrupting demand and supply, the employment report for September due out on Oct. 8 “may be weaker and less informative of underlying economic momentum than I had hoped,” she said.

More than half (58%) of the NABE forecasters see downside risks to economic growth for the remainder of 2021, while 16% “expect the balance to be to the upside — a complete reversal from the May survey results,” Wade said.

Sixty-three percent of panelists identify the delta variant as the leading risk to growth, while 5% of respondents said fiscal policy inaction or gridlock as their greatest growth concern, NABE said. Two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents predict that nonfarm payrolls will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022.

Powell and Yellen will have an opportunity to update their views on inflation and the economy, and the outlook for record monetary and fiscal stimulus, in testimony scheduled for Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.

The NABE panel of 47 forecasters spans a range of organizations, including economists from Ford, Grant Thornton, Moody’s Analytics, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, Nationwide Insurance, Morgan Stanley, the National Association of Homebuilders, Visa and Wells Fargo.

If the U.S. economy is in good shape, why is the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/07/31/if-us-economy-is-good-shape-why-is-federal-reserve-cutting-interest-rates/?utm_term=.1346fb3da080&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on July 11.

The Federal Reserve is all but certain Wednesday to do something it hasn’t done in more than a decade: cut interest rates. The question on a lot of people’s minds is why.

Lowering interest rates, the Fed’s main way to boost the economy, is typically used in dire times, which it’s difficult to argue the United States is experiencing right now. Instead, top Fed officials are defending this as an “insurance cut” that’s akin to an immunization shot in the arm. They want to counteract the negative effects of President Trump’s trade war and prevent the United States from catching the same cold that Europe, China and elsewhere seem to have.

The Fed’s big decision comes at 2 p.m. Wednesday and will be followed by a 2:30 p.m. news conference from Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell, a frequent target of Trump’s criticism.

The Fed is widely expected to do a modest cut on Wednesday, probably lowering the benchmark interest rate from about 2.5 percent down to just shy of 2.25 percent. But the Fed seldom does just one cut, which is why Trump, Wall Street and much of the world will be listening closely to Powell for signs of when another cut is likely.

Wall Street is pricing in that the Fed will lower interest rates to about 1.75 by the end of the year, a far more dramatic move. And Trump has been blasting the Fed for months, saying he wants to see a “large” cut.

“The Fed is often wrong,” Trump said this week, reiterating his view that the stock market would be up 10,000 more points if the Fed had not raised interest rates four times last year. “I’m very disappointed in the Fed. I think they acted too quickly, by far. I think I’ve been proven right.”

But there are plenty of economists and prominent investors saying the Fed shouldn’t cut at all because it is not justified and will look as though the Fed is caving in to Trump’s bullying — or Wall Street’s.

“I have to conclude the Fed has lost some independence here,” said Blu Putnam, chief economist at CME Group.

The last time the Fed cut rates was in December 2008, when unemployment was over 7 percent (and rising quickly), the stock market had lost a third of its value, and a major financial institution, Lehman Brothers, had just declared bankruptcy, rocking the financial system.

Today unemployment is at a half-century low (3.7 percent), the economy is growing at a healthy pace (over 2 percent) and the stock market is sitting at record highs.

Congress gave the Fed two mandates: to keep unemployment low and prices stable. By about any measure one can look at, the Fed has achieved those goals. The job market is strong, and inflation remains surprisingly low.

The world will be listening closely for Powell’s rationale for lowering rates during fairly good economic times — and for his signal about whether another cut is coming in the fall.

It’s a tricky calculus. The one thing nearly everyone agrees on is this would be the biggest gamble yet for Powell, who took over as the central bank’s chair in early 2018.

The likely cut on Wednesday should make loans a little cheaper for businesses and Americans looking to buy homes and cars or start a company. But realistically, one cut won’t do much. The reason the stock market has rallied sharply in recent weeks is an expectation that this is the first of several cuts.

If the Fed does not do three cuts this year, the market could pull back, making financial conditions “tight” again, even though the Fed is cutting rates to try to loosen conditions.

Top Federal Reserve leaders see three key reasons to cut now.

1. Trump’s trade war. There is concern about the trade war, as well as weakness overseas, dragging down the U.S. economy. A closer look at the U.S. economy reveals there are already a few yellow, if not red, flags. Manufacturing was in a “technical recession” the first half of the year, the housing market remains sluggish, and business investment tanked in the spring as corporate leaders grow more wary of the ongoing trade tensions.

Powell and Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida refer to these as “head winds” and “downside risks” that are picking up, and they prefer to address them before they grow into deeper problems. Clarida often points to 1995, when the Fed did three modest rate cuts (starting in July 1995 and ending in January 1996) that helped keep the economy growing for years to come.

2. The Fed needs to act sooner rater than later. New York Fed President John Williams, among others, has made the case that the Fed has limited medicine in the medicine cabinet to aid the economy and that it’s better to administer the pills at the first signs of trouble rather than waiting for full-blown illness when there might not be enough medicine left to make a difference. “When you only have so much stimulus at your disposal, it pays to act quickly to lower rates at the first sign of economic distress,” Williams said in a speech earlier this month.

Interest rates are very low by historical standards. For example, the benchmark rate was over 5 percent before the Fed started reducing it in 2007. Now the benchmark rate is half that amount, meaning there will be less stimulus this time around from cutting rates.

3. Inflation is too low. The Fed wants to see inflation of about 2 percent a year. For the past several years, it’s been running below that threshold and is currently sitting around 1.6 percent. Some Fed leaders, such as St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, say the Fed should cut rates to try to run the economy a bit hotter to boost inflation. They see little risk in doing this since inflation is so low, but they see great risk in not getting inflation back to target because business leaders will stop believing that 2 percent is the true target if it is never achieved.

While there are reasons to cut, some Fed leaders, including Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Esther George, have raised doubts about whether it makes sense to cut now, before there are clear signs of trouble in the United States.

Rosengren has warned in recent speeches that insurance cuts do not come without a cost. Keeping rates low tends to spur bubbles that can come back to harm the economy later on. Already there are concerns about too much risky corporate lending, and lower rates are only likely to encourage more of those loans. He and others have also pointed out that using up the medicine now doesn’t leave much left to fight worse problems later on.

There are 10 members on the Fed’s committee that decides interest rate policy, and they do not appear to be in unison on this decision, let alone what to do in the fall, a reminder of just how much debate there is about the right course of action.

The U.S. economy is in the midst of a record-breaking expansion that has been growing for more than a decade, the longest expansion in U.S. history. Powell says keeping it going is his top goal.