Throughout 2013, companies expanded and took calculated risks, but the government’s actions — and its gridlock — continue to impact business leaders.
“There’s a lot going on within our midmarket client base that’s allowed them to expand their businesses, but the vast majority of our clients aren’t taking big financial risks because of the continued uncertainties,” says Tullus Miller, partner in charge of the San Francisco office of the accounting and business consulting firm Moss Adams LLP. “I hear a number of businesses talk about these issues.”
Smart Business spoke with Miller about the continuing concerns of companies, and how to be ready for 2014.
What are the top business concerns you’re hearing from CEOs and COOs?
Generally, there’s uncertainty about the economy and increased regulations, as well as concerns about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and health care costs. Many companies are facing higher health insurance premiums and co-pays. If health insurance costs continue to rise, or the tax burden is too great because the ACA may have unintended consequences, some might consider options like health insurance captives.
Despite concerns surrounding tax and potential interest rate increases, the continued rancor between Congress and the White House, and a sluggish economy, there has been growth. Mergers and acquisitions, new operations opening in China and South America, capital market deals, initial public offerings, debt restructuring and private equity deals all have transpired in 2013. Businesses are taking financial risks, but on a smaller scale.
Looking ahead, what actions should business leaders consider?
Business leaders should look for more efficient tax solutions or structuring, such as tax deferral options. Arranging the deferral doesn’t avoid the tax — it just defers it to a different period or amortizes it. Another example is a better use of tax credits such as the California enterprise zone program, which has been revamped for 2014 and beyond.
Taxes have motivated some companies to open operations in more efficient tax states, such as Nevada or Texas, although workforce and client proximity factor in.
Organizations also are working on profitability improvement during slow growth periods, which relies primarily on being as efficient as possible — for example, by increasing accounts receivable terms to improve cash flow or initiating technology enhancements.
As the baby boomer generation ages, there are wealth transfer solutions and succession scenarios to consider for 2014 and beyond, which can create more efficient tax positions for wealthy families. High net worth individuals are limited in the amount of money they can transfer without being taxed. Wealth transfer strategies need to be considered well in advance of an individual’s retirement or transition out of the business.
What will higher interest rates mean, and how can businesses prepare?
The Federal Reserve has been buying $85 billion in bonds per month in an effort to keep rates low. Once the Fed decides to slow and then cease the buying program, interest rates could increase quickly. Putting inflation aside, as rates go up, so does the cost of borrowing, increasing the cost of doing business and the cost of goods and services. Consumers may have less discretionary income because they’re paying more interest on credit cards, student loans or home loans, if those have a variable rate.
Recent economic reports suggest that rates should stay down for 2014, possibly going up in 2015. Many companies have or are working on fixing debt, terming it out over a long period. Then, when rates rise, it won’t adversely affect their cost of borrowing.
Planning is very industry specific, but those who are ready will be much better off. ●