Initial Coin Offerings – Risks and Rewards

A friend of mine, a big fan of the Harry Potter series, recently planned to launch an initial coin offering (ICO) to fund a new Quidditch sports league. His new “Quidcoins,” valued at 0.009 bitcoins (BTC), would be exchangeable for discounted admission and food at select National Quidditch games around the country. He hoped to raise a maximum of 2,000 BTC ($11,000,000) over a 28-day offering period.
Unfortunately, before my friend could organize his company and raise money, he discovered that a group in Britain was in the midst of offering their own QuidCoins, named after the slang word for the British pound. While my friend was disappointed to find the name taken, perhaps it was for the best; despite sponsors’ hopes, QuidCoins traded for less than three months in 2014, according to CoinMarketCap.
ICOs promise big profits to investors, but with a failure like QuidCoin’s possible at any time, are they worth the risk? If you’ve been considering participating in an ICO, here’s what you need to know.

What Is an ICO Financing?

Entrepreneurs have historically financed their ideas by offering equity interests — or investment securities — in their ventures to external investors. Due to the abuses and corruption of financiers in the 1920s, Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933 and created the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) the following year to enforce the Act.
In the decades since, the process of raising money from the public through an initial public offering, or IPO, has become well-established. Regulations dictate how the offering process must proceed, who is eligible to participate, when an offeror must provide information to potential investors, and what information they must provide. Failure to follow regulations can result in severe financial liability for the sponsors of an offering, including civil and criminal penalties.
An ICO is a similar fundraising tool in which an offeror sells futures in a cryptocurrency that does not yet exist. ICOs are designed to avoid the regulations that protect investors when buying or selling traditional investment securities. While an IPO must include an extensive prospectus, there are no regulations outlining what information must be provided to prospective investors in an ICO. Each offeror determines what, if any, details will be delivered and when.
Most ICOs have a website or white paper justifying the benefits of the investment, but they do not have an existing product. Offerers are startup operations, and the funds raised through the ICO will finance the development of the product — in this case, the cryptocurrency.
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Everything You Wanted to Know About Preferred Stock

preferred-stock-business-918x516Once upon a time, preferred stocks were a popular investment with companies and investors. Combining elements of debt and equity, preferred stock was an ideal issue for businesses that lacked the physical assets to collateralize debt or could not attract common stock buyers.
In order to appeal to new investors, companies sweetened the pot by issuing a new security – preferred stock – that had less risk and a greater certainty of income than common stock. If a company falters and requires liquidation, the debt holders are paid in full first, followed by payment to the preferred stock holders in an amount equal to the liquidation value of the preferred stock (established at the time of the initial offering). Common stock shareholders then receive any cash remaining. Preferred shareholders receive full payment of their investment before common shareholders receive any payment. Similarly, preferred shareholders receive dividends before any common stock dividends are paid.
The first preferred stocks were issued by railroad companies and canals in the mid-1800s. Today, preferred stocks are more often issued by entrepreneurial startup companies, organizations in dire financial circumstances that are precluded from traditional debt and equity, or financial companies and utilities. In recent years, preferred stocks have fallen out of favor as investors have turned to common stocks or bonds – but there are a few notable exceptions.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is especially active in preferred stocks, usually in combination with attached stock warrants – a legal right to purchase common stock from the company for a defined price. In other words, a share of preferred stock might have a warrant giving the preferred shareholder the right to purchase a share of common stock for a fixed price for a specific term of time. In 2008, Buffett publicly invested $5 billion in a private Goldman Sachs preferred issue with a 10% dividend and warrants to buy $5 billion of stock at $115 per share (43.4 million shares). Other notable preferred stock purchases by Buffett include the holding company that owns H.J.Heinz, Bank of America, General Electric, and Burger King.
Investment grade preferred stocks with current yields between 5.2% and 6.5% have particular appeal to investors seeking high income, especially with current rates from high-quality bonds averaging yields between 1.7% and 3.0%. However, preferred stocks can be complicated, depending upon their composition, and are not for everyone.

Key Features of Preferred Stock

A Hybrid Security

Preferred stocks combine features of equity and debt:
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Understanding Economic Subsidies & Incentives for Relocation

walmart1-ken-wolterThe taxpayers of America are unknowing victims of corporate extortion, effectively subsidizing big companies at the rate of billions of dollars each year for corporate relocations. The subsidies are often in the form of tax benefits, but may even be cash payments to companies threatening to move from their existing location—or to companies willing to move if the bribe is sufficient.
Consider moves from California and Texas alone. According to an April 2014 editorial in the Dallas Morning News, more than 250 companies have relocated from California to Texas in recent years. Corporate and Texas officials claim that the moves are motivated by Texas’ almost nonexistent regulatory environment, low wage costs, and lack of a state personal income tax. Not surprisingly, officials rarely mention what the news refers to as “a handsome dowry”, including outright cash payments, subsidization of relocation costs, and years of property tax abatements.
It is not just Texas and California where a battle for incentives occur, and the companies with their hands out include the largest, most profitable corporations in the world. Since the 1970s, there have been more than 240 mega-deals across the continental United States, each with subsidies of $75 million or more. According to the Walmart Subsidy Watch, Walmart – the largest company in America, with earnings in excess of $16.5 billion in 2014 – has benefited from more than $1.2 billion in “tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing, and outright grants from state and local governments.”
In an era of state and local government budget shortfalls, requiring cut-backs in education and infrastructure spending, academic studies report that state and local governments offer more than $50 billion annually in incentives either trying to keep businesses or to lure them from other U.S. locations. According to University of Iowa Professors Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, after decades of policy experimentation and hundreds of scholarly studies, there is little evidence that incentives work.
Thomas Peterson of the Goldwater Institute is more blunt, saying, “They just don’t work…You have average citizens and taxpayers subsidizing wealthy corporations.” Some critics note that relocations are a zero-sum game since, according to CityLab, few new jobs are created, but are simply moved from one locale to another.
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The Responsibilities & Duties of a Modern CFO

cfo lettersOver the past couple of decades, the role of the modern CFO has been, and continues to be, redefined. The advent of new technology allowing for enhanced data collection and analysis tools—as well as operating management’s demands for reliable real-time information—has extended the CFO’s responsibility to all aspects of the company.
International commerce and expanded regulatory oversight in culturally diverse customer and employee bases complicates decisions and increases risk. As a result, the CFO’s authority and responsibilities over traditional finance, accounting, and treasury functions has intensified and expanded to satisfy an exhaustive list of internal, external, and regulatory stakeholders, many of whom have conflicting interests.
Just as businesses have become more complex, diffused, and subject to greater risks—many of which are unidentified—the CFO function has evolved into a multi-focused position with unprecedented requirements for responsiveness and accuracy. Yesterday’s bean counters are as passé in a modern public corporation as Ford’s Model T on the highway.

Best Practices of the Modern CFO

In a 2013 report coauthored by the Association of Chartered Certified Financial Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), Jeff Thomson, president and CEO of IMA, detailed various factors that have changed the CFO function. In addition to traditional finance duties, modern CFOs are expected to work in collaboration with others throughout the organization, direct integration of key business processes, stimulate change and business transformation, and be trusted business advisors to CEOs and boards of directors.
The report identifies several priorities modern CFOs have that their predecessors did not. These are the consequence of increased regulations, globalization, industry and business transformations, aggressive stakeholders, and the adoption of complicated financial and operating reporting requirements. While the actual duties of a CFO vary according to industry, company dynamics, and historical precedents, an effective CFO in the 21st century must excel in each of the following practices.

1. Communications

Whether talking to the board of directors, delivering financial data to stock analysts, investment managers, and regulators, or detailing performance metrics to fellow officers and employees, the importance of clear, crisp, and relevant information delivered in an understandable format cannot be overstated. Knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to present it has become a critical component of a CFO’s responsibility.
As Robert Hoglund, CFO of Consolidated Edison, recognizes, “Communication is essential in every aspect of the business…ultimately I need to persuade people to my point of view.” While CEOs can expound upon such nebulous subjects as mission, vision, goals, and culture, CFOs are expected to bring real data to the table, to put the “meat on the bones” for gimlet-eyed regulators and anxious money managers.
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