Tag Archives: economic issues

Stock Market

The Dow Reaches 12,000 — Where Will We Go From Here?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly climbed to 12,000 on Jan. 26. Is this a sign of hope for our economic growth? The last time the Dow traded at the 12,000 level was in June 2008, when our economy was just starting to see the effects of job losses, dollar value changes, tax concerns, mortgage defaults, and monetary policy struggles. Although we still face some of these challenges today, we are gradually seeing improvements in some areas of our financial economy.

The most positive are corporate earnings. Reported by Bloomberg, 88 out of the 120 estimates of quarterly earnings exceeded predictions. Corporations with strong business models regained some strength by scaling back and many competitors are no longer in the game to compete. Analysts predict similar expectation earnings for 2011. If analysts are correct, then we expect the equity market to improve and draw strength from our economic growth.

Some economic issues have improved since 2008, but many still persist. In order for the economy to regain its strength, long-term, several key metrics will need to improve.

The value of the U.S. currency must stabilize in comparison to other currencies. As for taxes, once China’s tax reform goes into effect the U.S. will have the highest business tax rates than other developed countries.

Federal spending has exploded in the last few years, but some could argue that it was needed to help avoid a worse recession. Our national debt has reached the $14 trillion marker and will take decades to reduce.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has great responsibility overseeing monetary objectives. The control of our money supply and interest rates either expands our economic growth or contracts it. When we experience a dramatic market change like 2008, it is much more difficult to predict the results of monetary decisions. Now that there is less uncertainty we may see progress in this area.

It’s been nearly 18 months since we exited our recession. Is our economic environment better? Yes, but it is improving very slowly and there are still many issues to work out. Hitting the 12,000 mark on the Dow provided some comfort for investors. We also had positive growth with the U.S. GDP — it expanded by 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter following a 2 percent annual rate in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg. As investors, we must continue to focus on our objectives and refrain from making decisions on emotions.

Medical Marijuana Where Will The Dispensaries Go

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Proposition Passes, But Where Will The Dispensaries Go?

Arizona voters made history again this month, narrowly approving Proposition 203, the ballot initiative allowing one medical marijuana dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in the state (which translates to about 120 statewide). Under Prop. 203, patients suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions will be able to buy small amounts of marijuana from state-approved dispensaries with a doctor’s prescription. Those living more than 25 miles from an outlet will be allowed to grow their own.

Needless to say, residents, cities and landlords are facing some interesting dilemmas before the first outlets potentially open in March 2011 … in a neighborhood near you.

Under the approved Prop. 203, the Arizona Department of Health Services must issue licenses to the so-called “medical marijuana clinics,” but it’s the local municipalities that must adopt zoning restrictions that regulate the size and location of such clinics. Cities are expressly forbidden under Prop. 203 from prohibiting them outright.

So who will ultimately win the “Not In My Back Yard” tug-of-war? Cities such as Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa, are grappling with commercial landlords, their constituents and zoning restrictions to keep the centers away from schools, churches and residential areas.

On the commercial real estate front, with the marketplace hard hit by the recession and Phoenix retail vacancy rates at 13 percent, many landlords are looking to fill empty space. But tenants such as medical marijuana clinics would cause some considerable controversy with residential neighbors and fellow commercial tenants.

“There are some landlords that will definitely have an issue with it,” said Pete Bolton, executive vice president and managing director of the commercial real estate brokerage firm Grubb & Ellis in Phoenix.

He expects dispensary operators to seek retail center locations with public exposure and easy parking. But, he added that some commercial landlords are hesitant to sign a marijuana outlet, especially if they have other tenants that cater to families or conservative customers.

Prior to the ballot passing, a number of nonprofit groups already were eying Phoenix-area shopping centers as possible dispensary locations. Even before the election earlier this month, more than 14 medical marijuana groups had reserved business names with the Arizona Corporation Commission. Some others were incorporating and looking for investors, dispensary locations and even growing sites.

Marketing manager for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona Inc., Allan Sobol, says that like any other business, location is key.

“I want to be at a high-exposure location. I envision them just being like a CVS or Walgreens,” Sobol said.

He expects most marijuana outlets will be located in strip malls and other high-traffic locations near hospitals and medical centers. But with the dispensaries intermingled with other more conservative businesses, there could be some concerns.

So landlords will have some choices to make, and for Arizona cities facing these same dilemmas, the clock is ticking. Mesa, like Phoenix, will likely vote on where to locate the dispensaries by the end of the year.

This is likely the first time in history that a Mesa mayor has ever joked about collecting sales taxes on bongs or marijuana paraphernalia. But then, it’s probably also the first time in history that Mesa has come face-to-face with the prospect of stores legally selling marijuana. Given its size, Mesa could land between eight and 10 of the 120 dispensaries.

“This is not something we can prohibit,” Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said during a city council study session last month.

Under its proposed zoning regulations, Mesa would limit the dispensaries from residential, industrial and employment areas. Also, they could not locate within 2,400 feet of other medicinal marijuana shops and drug/alcohol rehab facilities. They would have to stay 1,200 feet away from churches, parks, open spaces in homeowner associations and libraries. They could be no closer than 500 feet from schools or group homes for the handicapped.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble says cities need to act fast.

“Cities can’t wait,” he said. “If they don’t get it done in time, I’ve got no choice but to approve a dispensary if they don’t have a zoning restriction in place.”

In other words, the state bureaucrats will act if the mayors and councils haven’t.

So, while a razor thin majority celebrates the approval of Prop. 203, mayors and city councils around the state not only must act fast, but also wrestle with moral, political and economic issues before the first medical marijuana clinic opens on a corner — possibly in your neighborhood.

Financial Institutions Receive Bailout

Financial Institutions In Arizona Are Expected To Receive Bailout Money

While most of Arizona’s state-chartered banks were mulling over their options for federal assistance late last year, Uncle Sam was injecting billions of dollars of new capital into national banking companies with Arizona subsidiaries. The question is whether any of that money from the Department of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will find its way here.

Although there were a couple of exceptions, nationally chartered banks with Arizona operations didn’t know whether portions of their capital infusions would be earmarked for deployment in Arizona, and they may not know until sometime during the first quarter. The capital comes in the form of federal purchases of senior preferred shares. The Treasury set aside $250 billion for the program.

The Treasury purchased $200 million of shares in Seattle-based Washington Federal Inc., the parent company of Washington Federal Savings. John Pirtle, senior vice president and Phoenix division manager for Washington Federal, estimates the thrift’s Arizona operations will receive about $20 million and use it for mortgage lending.

Western Alliance Bancorporation in Las Vegas, owner of Alliance Bank of Arizona, received $140 million from the Treasury. James Lundy, chief executive officer of the Arizona bank, expects his parent company to share the new capital.

“I would expect we’ll get somewhere between $8 million and $12 million,” Lundy says. “That would be a good estimate. We are well capitalized now, but we do have plans to continue our growth trajectory, which has been pretty strong.”

Alliance Bank would use the capital to “support a bigger balance sheet, so we can gather more deposits to make more loans,” Lundy says. “Banks like ours are the ones making loans to small and mid-size businesses. Despite the economic issues Arizona is facing, we have strong loan demand from borrowers we think are very creditworthy.”

Ten million dollars in new capital can be leveraged to generate $100 million in new loans, Lundy says.

The Treasury purchased $1.715 billion of stock in Milwaukee-based Marshall & Illsley Corporation.

“All the funds are going to be used throughout the franchise,” says Dennis Jones, chairman and president of M&I’s Arizona region. “It’s not a matter of allocating a certain amount of it for Arizona.”

Chicago-based Northern Trust Corporation, parent company of Northern Trust Bank, received a $1.576 billion capital infusion. David Highmark, chairman and chief executive officer of the Arizona subsidiary, says he expects enough of the capital will flow to his bank to allow it to keep growing. Northern Trust Bank’s loan volume is two to three times its normal level.

“If our loan volume continues to grow as it has, we will get a portion of that money allocated to us,” Highmark says.

The parent company is classified as well capitalized, “but we knew, based on our growth, that we would ultimately need more capital. This was a timely opportunity for us,” Highmark notes.

Zions Bancorporation in Salt Lake City, owner of National Bank of Arizona, received $1.4 billion from the Treasury. Keith Maio, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona bank, says he expects his bank will receive some of the capital, but the amount has not been determined. Maio says the funds will be used to bolster the bank’s capital ratios to keep it actively lending, targeting small to medium-size businesses.

Other Treasury stock purchases of nationally chartered banks with Arizona subsidiaries break down as follows:
JPMorgan Chase & Co., New York — $25 billion.
Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C. — $25 billion.
Wells Fargo & Company, San Francisco — $25 billion.
U.S. Bancorp, Minneapolis, owner of U.S. Bank — $6.599 billion.
Comerica Incorporated, Dallas, owner of Comerica Bank — $2.25 billion.
Mutual of Omaha in Omaha, Neb., which acquired First National Bank of Arizona, did not apply for TARP funding.

The Treasury gave publicly traded banks the first opportunity to receive capital infusions, with a Nov. 14 deadline to apply for stock purchases. It issued capital-infusion guidelines later for privately held banks, which had until Dec. 8 to apply. According to the Arizona Bankers Association, most of Arizona’s 33 state-chartered banks are privately held and had not applied to the Treasury while they weighed their options as their deadline neared. Jack Hudock with the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions said eight state-chartered banks or bank holding companies had applied, but he could not identify them and did not know the status of their applications.

Meridian Bank of Arizona, a privately held, nationally chartered bank owned by Marquette Financial Companies in Minneapolis, applied for a federal stock purchase and was awaiting a decision from the Treasury concerning how much capital it might receive. Doug Hile, president and CEO of Meridian, is not happy that publicly traded banks had first shot at a capital infusion. He does not mince his words in his displeasure over how the government treated privately held banks.

“From a public policy perspective, it’s not fair to small banks that have opted not to go public with their stock,” Hile says. “We are up in arms about it. This is harming Main Street banking by not allowing them to participate on an equal basis.”