With the Bear Stearns collapse underscoring the vulnerability of the nation’s financial institutions, leaders of African American-owned companies are facing their own challenges. The tumultuous market and economy continue to impact black-owned organizations. The subprime mortgage crisis, financial downturn, and current credit crunch still weigh heavily on their portfolios and business operations. The action the Fed took earlier this week to stimulate the economy is likely to offer some relief to black asset management firms and investment banks, but it won’t be immediate financial experts say. Some even wonder whether the Fed’s action might be too little, too late, especially when it comes to smaller institutions.
“This economic downturn and this recession and the problems on Wall Street are impacting black entrepreneurs in a dramatic way,” says John W. Rogers Jr., chairman and chief investment officer of Chicago-based Ariel Capital Management L.L.C. (No. 2 on the 2007 BE Asset Managers list with $16.1 billion in assets under management). “We’re less capitalized, we have more debt on the balance sheet, and we don’t have the depths of resources that the big guys do—so if the big guys are hurting, we smaller entrepreneurs are getting devastated.”
For New York-based Toussaint Capital Partners L.L.C. (No. 8 on the 2007 BE Investment Banks list with $17.6 billion in total managed issues) the subprime meltdown is hurting the company indirectly since many of its clients are being affected. “Anyone with exposure to the subprime and the mortgage mess is in a preservation-of-capital mode,” says James Goodloe, vice president of institutional sales and trading. “That’s going to trickle down to us. [Clients are] not spending as much. They’re not doing as many trades, and obviously that affects our bottom line at the end of the day.”
Raised credit standards have also made it more difficult for Silver Spring, Maryland-based SYNCOM (No. 4 on the 2007 BE Private Equity list with $430 million in capital under management) to liquidate some of the assets in its portfolio. “We had one company that we were looking to sell. There were about four or five buyers interested in it and one dropped out because of the credit market,” says Duane McKnight, general partner with the firm.
However, there is room for cautious optimism that investors will begin to regain confidence in the market, thanks to the recent actions taken by the Federal Reserve. On Tuesday, the Fed cut the federal funds rate—the rate banks charge each other—three-fourths of a percentage point to 2¼%. On Sunday, the Fed lowered the discount rate—what it charges to lend to banks—from 3½%to 3¼%
“[The rate cuts] were definitely a step in the right direction,” says Goodloe. Though investors had expected the Fed to lower the funds rate a full point, the fact that it lowered it three-fourths of a point was “brilliant” Goodloe adds, because “they could go next month and cut it another quarter if need be.”