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Rick Telberg

Post-Meltdown: CPAs on the Front Lines

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October 6, 2008
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Like many Americans, CPAs are shocked and appalled by the seemingly sudden meltdown of the nation’s financial system and ensuing scramble to assemble a rescue plan. But CPA executives in finance and in real estate are on the front lines like few others in the profession.

These front-line CPAs are talking in terms of unprecedented challenge, fear and risk. But they are also calling on their training and experience to steer their businesses as safely as possible through the storm.

“I have never seen anything like this,” says Grant Smothers, treasurer of a Nashville, Tenn., real estate investment and management firm, echoing many CPAs today.

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“Obviously I am very concerned about the developments in the financial markets,” says Bill Lewis, chief accounting officer at Faulkner Real Estate in Louisville, Ky. “We were surprised by the magnitude of the problems and the effect on our capital sources.”

“We in the real estate industry,” Lewis says, “are already seeing a squeeze on available capital — not rates, but simply availability. This will have a significant impact on our cash management, human-resource planning for the next few months, leasing projections and timing of development.”

What next? “Going forward,” Lewis says, “I expect closer oversight for the lending institutions which will trickle down to the borrowers. Uncertainty best describes the future of our relationships.”

Don Kluthe, president of Optimus Corp., a home-equity lender based in Omaha, Neb., predicts “Banks will tighten covenants and restrict credit exposure going forward. It will take longer and cost more to renew or renegotiate credit facilities.”

For CPAs, Kluthe says, “It will be more important for the CPA to work with small business owners to understand and manage cash flow. Tight management of cash flow will be increasingly important to strong banking relationships in the future. There will be less opportunity for companies without sound balance sheets and income statements when this market strengthens. Well-managed companies will see outsized opportunities as we come out of this market.”

“Financing is dead today,” says Michael Patrick Chaffey, CFO at Allegra Ltd., a real estate company in Seattle, Wash. “Rates are fine, but access to those funds and rates is close to nil. Leasing of prime real estate space in the Puget Sound has decreased in a dreadful way. Cash is king — as always.”

“In this economic tide change,” Chaffey continues, “many firms need to shore up their balance sheets as best they can BEFORE getting their loans extended, renewed or taken out. CPAs are in a key spot to help make the legitimate decisions with business owners that will, in fact, shore up balance sheets and allow negotiations to take place from a position of strength.”

How will it impact CPAs? “For those in industry, it may impact their ability to get funding for their companies,” according to Craig S. Swenson, CFO at Mission Bancorp, Bakersfield, Calif. “Liquidity is tightening, some from fear and some from the huge losses being absorbed by the lenders that lend to the lenders.”

“Going forward,” says Michael Denton, controller at Performance Bankers Inc. in Pierre, S.D. “I see a whole new set of regulations coming, even though the current regulations would be sufficient if only the regulators would do their jobs. So, billions will be poured out and things will be tough for awhile, but then it'll be business as usual.”

“The recent developments are reminiscent of the thrift meltdown of the late ’80s,” according to Richard A.M. Lyon, managing director and chief operating officer at TFC Financial Management, personal financial planners in Boston.

“The major differences seem to be the speed of the meltdown and the worldwide impact,” Lyon continues. “Once again we are seeing the proliferation of new products outpacing the ability of the markets to understand or assimilate. The mortgage lenders have once again thrown out reasonable underwriting procedures and lent to borrowers that could not possibly qualify at other than the teaser rate. It is impossible to tell what the impact will be until there is restored confidence in our financial systems.”

“In the meantime,” Lyon says, “we face real business paralysis.”

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Copyright © 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.