Greater Miami Chamber summit: Economic outlook positive, cautious

Swings in China stock market: For middle market, impact is more about perception than reality

By: James Cassel
September 21, 2015

For South Florida’s middle-market businesses, the greatest threat from China’s recent stock market swings and economic slowdown is the negative perceptions — more so than any possible bottom-line impacts. Although the recent news of China’s unstable market and slowing economy has given rise to institutional panic, the continued direct volume of business between U.S. middle-market companies and Chinese companies — in China, as well as the current state of Sino-American trade relations — confirm that the situation is not as grim as some folks would have us believe.

One of the key complications of America’s economic relationship with China is a lack of transparency. It is difficult to say with any certainty whether the data is authentic or manufactured by the Chinese government. Either way, the impact of China’s stock market fluctuations is more about perception than reality. If people begin blaming any U.S. stock market drops on China’s stock market or the slowing Chinese economy, they will begin to clam up and buy fewer luxury products and focus more on necessities. Indeed, we have to be careful that perception does not become reality. If your middle-market business sells to Chinese companies or consumers, you may have a problem. Most Chinese consumers are not wealthy, but members of the middle class and even the wealthy who love Western luxury products are significantly cutting back on their purchases. We have seen this evidenced by major brands like Burberry, Chanel and Cartier, whose sales in China have taken a major nosedive. For Burberry in particular, China drives approximately 25 percent of total sales, which is indicative of how much luxury retailers have leaned on China for growth in recent years. It also has an effect on U.S. multinational corporations that rely on China for their growth.

Furthermore, the recent devaluation of the Chinese currency, the Renminbi, may also adversely affect middle-market businesses with ties to Greater China, as Chinese products are likely to become less expensive and thus more competitive on a global market.

In addition, the currency devaluation also may affect the number of middle-market companies that have been reaping the rewards of on-shoring: lower labor costs due to mechanizing and robotics, faster release to market, and reduced shipping costs. Despite China’s increasing labor costs, its lower currency value and production costs today may be beneficial in making it more attractive again to manufacture products in China, or at least stay in China. As China’s economy slows, it will be important to consider that its expected use of fewer natural resources may have a global ripple effect in terms of lowering the costs of natural resources as well as shipping and transportation, which may also negate some of the fiscal benefits of on-shoring.

Beyond this, there are some opportunities for middle-market businesses to reap benefits. Consider: Chinese companies have made a lot of money in recent years, posting an average 9.5 percent year-over-year growth since the 1990s. Wealthy Chinese nationals, eager for an exit strategy, are trying to get as many assets as they can out of the country, so there is a strong opportunity to sell to companies or partner with Chinese nationals who come to the U.S.

Another benefit: Since many U.S. manufacturers buy from Chinese manufacturers, lower prices will give those businesses greater margins, assuming that their sales numbers don’t otherwise dip. Lower costs of natural resources will also help increase margins.

So, what are the likely bottom-line impacts to South Florida’s middle-market businesses? Unless you have direct sales ties to China or have material customers who sell or supply a great deal to Chinese companies, it is not clear whether there will be any impacts. Since the economic fundamentals in the U.S. remain generally solid, the greatest threats will not come from the Chinese market swings but rather from any negative perceptions and concerns about possible impacts. So let us all relax, take a deep breath and keep our perceptions in check — it is in our best interest.

Ripples from China’s woes swaying Miami

By: Carla Vianna
August 25, 2015

Although Greece’s debt crisis and China’s volatile stock market are phenomena occurring thousands of miles away, Miami’s increasingly global business and financial communities feel the ripple effects of issues toying with the global economy.

While the contagion effect by Greece may be minimal, China’s ups and downs are felt worldwide.

“It’s not what happens in Greece, it’s what happens after,” said Tom Balcom, founder of 1650 Wealth Management, a private wealth management firm. “Are other countries going to leave also? Who absorbs the loss, and how will that affect the markets?”

Mr. Balcom spoke of fears surrounding a Grexit, or a Greek withdrawal from the eurozone. However, since Greece is such a tiny part of the currency union, direct impact would be minimal, local economists postulated.

The Greece economy is actually as big as that of the Miami metropolitan area. The European country’s gross domestic product was about $282 billion in 2013, while the Miami metro area had a GDP of $281 billion, fact-checking site Politifact reported.

“The effect is psychological,” said James Cassel, chairman and co-founder of Cassel Salpeter & Co., an investment banking firm. “The Greece economy doesn’t have a direct relationship with South Florida.”

China on the other hand is the world’s second-largest economy, and its increasingly volatile stock market coupled with the recent devaluation of the Chinese yuan has shocked markets across the globe. Fears that China’s economy is slowing have sparked heavy selling in all markets, the Wall Street Journal reported. It’s been a tumultuous week for the US stock market, which plunged Monday and felt a spot of relief Tuesday.

“Some of these currencies have an effect on the real estate market,” Mr. Cassel continued. “The weak Euro might mean less Europeans buying in South Florida.”

There’s a push from developers in Miami hoping to attract Chinese investors, perhaps to cushion an expected European and South American slowdown. Miami – often referred to as a safe haven for international money – may attract flight capital from those in China uncomfortable with the long-term prospect of the economy and Chinese government’s reactions to it, Mr. Cassel said.

As the Chinese currency is adjusted or manipulated, he said, it will affect both the purchasing power in the US and its export potential. When the dollar is strong against the yuan, the US can buy more Chinese products but it also stunts US exports, he explained.

On the flip side, he said, the US economy is strengthening, so more product will be absorbed domestically.

“To be overly concerned about a market that was up 150% and is now down 50%, to me, is a little bit naive,” said senior investment strategist Jonathan Hill with Gibraltar Bank about the Chinese market.

“The recent turmoil is unwelcome, but we have been consistent in anticipating this hike in volatility,” read an email Mr. Hill sent to his investors and clients last week. The email calls the situation a “short-term disruption” and points out that traditionally light summer-trading volumes can leave markets vulnerable to “outsized swings,” which is common in July and August.

Ultimately, the Chinese slowdown can affect the growth of international trade and investments with South Florida’s three major partners: Central America, South America and Europe, said Miami economist Manuel Lasaga. Repercussions will further spill over to the local economy if China’s instability affects global growth, he said.

Mr. Lasaga points to the lack of transparency in how the Chinese economy is faring in the midst of its apparent slowdown as a reason for increased volatility in the market.

“I do think China should continue to grow 6% to 7% this year,” he said. “It’s still going to add momentum to the global economy,” but the momentum will be slower than anticipated.

Succession plans are key to protecting your business when the unthinkable happens

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By James S. Cassel
August 17, 2015

Cassel picture

Although there are probably many things you would rather discuss with your CEO than how to proceed if he or she unexpectedly dies or falls victim to some other tragedy, the fact is that you must. Companies without crisis-succession plans are at significant risk.

History has proved that the way companies handle these crisis situations can make or break them. A 2014 survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors reveals that two-thirds of publicly and privately held companies in America had no succession plan. This is for planned or unplanned succession.

Public companies are more likely and may be required to have succession plans in place, but very few private companies do, particularly those that are family-owned.

Losing a CEO to an unforeseen circumstance such as a tragedy, termination or resignation can create more turmoil than losing a leader to a situation you can see coming, such as a terminal illness or an orderly, planned change. Sudden losses can leave employees and other key stakeholders devastated and bewildered. Without a designated leader or clear path to the future, the business can suffer. This can be particularly disastrous for smaller companies.

While it is not uncommon for people to think their company could never survive the death of the CEO, the fact is that more often than not, it could survive with proper planning. Well strategized, efficiently executed succession plans bring benefits on multiple levels. In addition to providing a roadmap to help your company deal with the crisis, they put investors and shareholders at ease.

Of course, the core of your succession plan should be more than processes — you also must identify who will assume your CEO’s responsibilities. You should build a bench of candidates. In some family businesses, a family member with little history with the company might step in, so it is critical to have a succession plan to ensure the successor has adequate background and knowledge.

You also will have to address training: What kind of knowledge will the ascending CEO or interim leader need? Was there sufficient knowledge transfer prior to the need for it? Appointed successors, like an understudy in a Broadway production, must be well informed and ready to hit the ground running. This preparatory training should be an ongoing process.

Some businesses may need outside help on an interim basis, and there are companies that provide interim leadership assistance.

Succession planning should not only apply to your CEO; it should also include other senior positions such as President, CFO, CTO and CMO. Passwords, systems and processes should all be documented so your business can continue operating as usual.

A sound succession plan will contemplate how you will communicate with clients, customers, vendors, employees, investors and partners. Your key audiences should not learn about the death of your CEO from the news media, so you will need a public-relations and crisis-communications strategy that outlines how to best notify all your key internal and external audiences. It is interesting to observe the upfront, open manner in which Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) is dealing with his succession. Buffet’s approach is much more well received than the way former U. S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that he would be in charge after former President Ronald Reagan was shot (especially given the fact that the transition plan in the Constitution calls for the vice president to assume the leadership role).

If your business is family-run or family-owned with one family member playing a key role such as CEO, part of the succession plan should include not only a replacement CEO, but should also ensure there is an appropriate family member designated to maintain communication between the business and the family.

Consider “key person” insurance policies that can be owned by the company. The liquidity of these policies can offer the company the breathing room to survive a crisis. Some bank loans provide for calling the loan due if a certain person passes away, and that can be strategically insured around with a key person policy.

Another key consideration: bereavement services for grieving employees. In Miami, the Children’s Bereavement Center, which provides assistance to people of all ages, offers varied support groups and other services for bereaved adults, and resources for professional organizations and businesses dealing with trauma or crises. They are available on short notice.

Although the days and weeks following a tragic loss will certainly not feel like business as usual, they should be guided by a sound succession plan to keep the company on track with as few disruptions as possible. Investing a little time now to put the necessary plans and infrastructure in place can make all the difference when the unthinkable happens.

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment-banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. He may be reached via email at jcassel@casselsalpeter.com. His website is www.casselsalpeter.com

Attracting and retaining top talent: a growing obstacle for South Florida businesses

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By James S. Cassel
July 12, 2015

Cassel pictureMaintaining a strong workforce is becoming an increasingly significant barrier to growth for South Florida’s middle-market businesses. Finding, attracting, and retaining quality talent is a tricky proposition in a region with a limited labor pool and low unemployment rates.

Deloitte’s newly published “Mid-Market Perspectives: 2015 Report on America’s Economic Engine” identifies employee turnover as a major concern for middle-market companies.

Clearly, there is more value in cultivating existing talent than having a revolving door of employees. So, how can you build a strong, loyal team in South Florida?

First, have the right perspective. Do not feel overwhelmed and assume that sweeping corporate changes will be required. Often, we can achieve a great deal by making a series of small adjustments, and continuing to make other adjustments as we build on our success. Develop a practical plan and identify realistic, attainable goals and objectives.

At all times, keep a close pulse on your employees. It can be easy for business owners to get so consumed by day-to-day operations that they lose touch with their teams, a costly mistake. Are your employees engaged, motivated and happy? How can you maximize engagement? If you have good employees who are unhappy in their current positions, can you find other opportunities within the company so you can keep them around? If not, outplacement may be best for all parties.

Your compensation packages, including cash and benefits, should be competitive. While many companies in recent years have tended to avoid raises, increased competition and poaching of employees is making it critical for employers to become more generous. Competitive compensation packages can reduce your exposure to turnover too. Even Walmart is having to address the need for wage increases.

Usually, employees will reject job offers for lateral moves unless they perceive significant disparities in working conditions and compensation. Keep your eyes and ears open so you know what other businesses in your industry are doing. Websites like PayScale and Glassdoor can help you assess average compensation data about different industries and job roles.

Working conditions, benefits and flexibility also are important. While it is important to offer 401(k) programs (ideally with matching contributions), these benefits will not support retention if your employees do not use them. This is often the case with younger employees who opt not to contribute to their 401(k) plans (although they should). Ensure that your employees are educated on the importance of contributing, no matter how entry-level their salaries.

It also helps if your office has a “cool factor.” Every generation of employees has different needs and wants. Trendy-looking, modern offices in desirable neighborhoods and touches such as free gourmet coffee and snacks in break rooms appeal to millennials and Gen X-ers.

When recruiting and hiring, conduct as much due diligence as possible. Personality tests can help, as well as meticulously following up with references. Your current employees can be great resources for recruiting. Leverage them when appropriate, as they probably know your company better than outsiders and would be more engaged to stay at companies where they are surrounded by colleagues they helped recruit.

Routine evaluations can also boost employee loyalty and performance. Embrace the opportunity to let your team members know how they are performing, praise their strengths and achievements, and provide guidance on how to reach their career objectives. At the same time, use the opportunity to solicit their thoughts and feedback, take good notes, and follow through on their comments.

Encourage employees to interact in structured social environments, such as barbeques, movie nights or whatever tickles their fancy. While many companies have stopped providing annual company picnics, it may be time to resurrect them. The more your employees enjoy each other’s company, the more apt they are to work well together. Consider employee recognition initiatives too, and perhaps pair them with these social activities. Corporate community involvement projects can help increase job satisfaction and engagement. Identify organizations your employees would be most inclined to support.

Career development is critical. Employees who feel challenged and believe they are learning are more likely to stick around. A current issue with the millennial generation, for example, is that most recent college grads will have four or five jobs in their first decade of employment. Bearing that in mind, many companies are offering less training and investing fewer resources to advance employees out of fear of wasting time and money. This can be a mistake: Bored employees are more likely to begin looking elsewhere for stimulation.

Attracting and retaining quality employees is no easy task. By taking the right steps to build a strong team, you can gain a competitive edge and position your business for maximum growth and success.

Middle-market businesses should help growth industries

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By James S. Cassel
June 14, 2015

Cassel pictureWhile the technology and healthcare/biotech industries in South Florida continue to gain strength and momentum, the region’s middle-market businesses are not properly positioning themselves to serve these industries and benefit from their growth.

There can be significant revenue opportunities for those that make the financial and other commitments necessary to position themselves to fulfill the needs of these growth businesses for highly qualified suppliers, subcontractors, and service providers. Too often, these growth businesses feel a need to look beyond South Florida for support because they do not believe their needs can be handled locally — a void that must be addressed. Right or wrong, this is the perception in the marketplace.

Based on our experience advising middle-market businesses seeking growth opportunities, the following is practical guidance for businesses that cater or want to begin catering to these growth industries:

Create a business-development strategy. Identify the key businesses you want to serve and pinpoint the ones you are best-suited to begin serving in the near or long term. Develop a plan for getting in front of these businesses to assess their needs and offer your services.

Identify the areas of your business, including products or services that you provide, which you may need to trim or expand in order to serve growth industries. Some of this may require partnering with or outsourcing work to other companies, locally, or in other parts of the United States, or internationally.

Consider investing in your team by providing educational or training opportunities and/or by adding head count. Hiring the best talent can be an expensive commitment, especially for business owners who are not sure if they will ultimately have enough business to support the additional head count. Thus, it may be wise to consider hiring temporary personnel or independent contractors who can eventually become permanent team members after you have gotten to know them and confirmed that they are a good fit, and when you are sure you have enough business to justify their compensation.

Consider acquiring or merging with competitors in the market. This is a great way to acquire quality talent. It is not uncommon in some industries, such as technology, for companies needing talent to buy younger, smaller companies to gain a competitive advantage.

Evaluate your client roster and eliminate the bottom 10 percent of your clients that may be too problematic, unprofitable or a disproportionate drain on your resources. One of the main obstacles for South Florida’s middle-market businesses is that many of them are running at or near capacity and lack the necessary talent and infrastructure to effectively handle the higher level of work required by companies in these growth industries. While parting with paying clients can often be a difficult decision, it is critical for long-term success. Part of the trouble with keeping clients that are cumbersome or not profitable is that they can drain your business in terms of time, energy and other resources. They can diminish your ability to provide quality service to other customers. Just as important, they can hurt your company’s employee morale and job satisfaction. For these reasons, bottom-tier clients might not be sustainable over the long term. Simply put, these clients are not good business and should be let go in order to make room for clients that will better support your growth.

Consider increasing your capacity by incorporating advanced solutions. Manufacturers, for example, may consider using robotics to reduce costs and increase capacity and productivity. 3D printing is another great way to increase efficiency. For example, manufacturers can use 3D printing to put together product prototypes that are quicker, less expensive, and easier to produce, and are thereby speeding up the manufacturing process and using technology to enhance their productivity and competiveness.

Develop a marketing-communications strategy. In order to hire you, companies need to know you exist and that you are able to serve them. When you have completed your business plan and implemented the necessary changes within your company to execute on those goals, you should work with experienced marketers to determine how to best position yourself to your target audiences, differentiate yourself from competitors, elevate visibility of your company among these audiences, and motivate them to want to hire you or buy your products. Your marketing strategy also should include a plan for building direct relationships with key decision-makers by attending key events, providing seminars and workshops, distributing e-newsletters, etc.

Without a doubt, South Florida’s middle market is missing opportunities to serve local companies in industries that are growing right in our own backyards. Serving these growth industries is not only important to our local middle-market businesses — it will also bring significant benefits to our local economy by creating more local jobs, financial opportunities and economic growth.

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC. He may be reached via email at jcassel@casselsalpeter.com or via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel. His website is: www.casselsalpeter.com

YOUR MONEY-Graduating Into the Family Business

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By Beth Pinsker
June 2, 2015

There is one big advantage 23-year-old Clint Morrison has found joining his family’s business fresh upon graduating from Rider University: he has a job, while most of his friends do not.

“They’re all still sort of scrambling,” Morrison says.

The Morrison family business, Benefit Design Specialists Inc, administers employee benefit plans for small businesses and is based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Dad Tim employs not only his youngest son, Clint, but also two older sons, ages 27 and 29, as well as his own sister, a sister-in-law, a cousin and about 10 other non-related employees.

The key to a harmonious office with so many family members? “You have to find a spot for them to be productive or they won’t make it in the family business,” the patriarch says.

Here are some tips on joining the workforce – with your relatives, according to family business experts:

START ELSEWHERE

There is no official tally of how many “& Sons” or “& Daughters” are among the 28 million small businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Association.

Yet one of Clint Morrison’s business professors advised him not to start in the family business. The advice: go elsewhere and garner some knowledge of the industry first. Given the state of the job market and his family’s specialty niche, Morrison decided that was not feasible.

The strategy worked well for Laura Salpeter, who got a law degree and then worked for a few years at a law firm before joining her father Scott Salpeter’s Miami-based investment banking firm, Cassel Salpeter. Also working there, after a few years of getting experience with other companies, is Philip Cassel, son of Scott Salpeter’s partner. Both offspring are now 30.

“Working with my father was something I’ve always contemplated. So I dived into the business world and found out more about what it is,” said Cassel.

WORK YOUR WAY UP

Even if you spent your childhood playing in the family factory, that does not mean you are going to walk into a corner office once you get your diploma.

Robert Spielman, a partner in the tax and business services unit at Marcum LLP, advises clients that it is their job to make sure their kids are exposed to all aspects of the business, especially if they expect to hand it over to them one day.

For example, one of his clients, a fish distributor, hired several family members for its sales force. “But none learned how to manage the business, and eventually, they had financial troubles,” Spielman said.

The best way is to start at the bottom and experience all areas of the enterprise. If the family business is a trucking company, start out in maintenance, then drive for six months, go into sales and then assist in the financing side before managing the fleet and employees, Spielman says.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

The family business dream – that someday, all of this will be yours – can be a great motivator, but it can also instill an unwieldy sense of entitlement.

This happened to one family business owner client of Steve Faulkner, head of private business advisory for J.P. Morgan Private Bank’s Advice Lab. The son was lording his status over his coworkers and superiors, saying “Someday, I’m going to own all of this, and fire everyone I don’t like.”

When the son’s manager finally had the courage to tattle to the boss, he fired his own son. However, two months later, when the son could not find another job, the boss asked another manager to hire him back.

“That’s a horrible succession plan,” said Faulkner.

It is better, he says, for business owners to get their relatives to work harder than they ever have to be worthy to take over the reins.

Another of Faulkner’s clients does exactly this, down to a formalized training program for the fourth generation that is now joining the business. Newcomers spend up to six years training at international subsidiaries before being brought back to headquarters for management jobs.

The process drills respect into the employees, something Laura Salpeter says she has learned on the job.

Her top advice for those joining the family business? Understand you are working for your parent, not with your parent.

Giving back to the community is smart business

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By James S. Cassel
May 17, 2015

James S. Cassel

Giving back can be great for the community and your business.

Companies and their people who support a healthy mix of charitable, community and business organizations tend to reap significant rewards. In addition to helping the community, this helps companies foster employee satisfaction, strengthen bonds with potential clients and referral sources, develop brand awareness, and position their brands in a more positive light. The relationships cultivated throughout this process also can create business and social opportunities that last a lifetime.

While many business owners recognize this potential, some struggle with implementing the right programs. They wish they had a crystal ball to know which organizations will bring the greatest personal satisfaction and business growth. Until we find that crystal ball, I can share some practical guidance I have found helpful for business owners navigating these issues.

First, identify and focus on your goals. Where do you see the future of your business and its growth? Then, determine what audiences you must reach to help you get there, and identify the community, charitable or business organizations with which these audiences are most involved.

Based on these considerations, examine your personal interests that align with these organizations. Are you more interested in organizations that mentor children or support technology growth? Focus on organizations that reach your target audiences while engaging you and your employees. This CANNOT be just for business. There must be a genuine interest in getting involved or it will not benefit anyone.

This is particularly true for board involvement. If you join a board but seem disengaged and rarely attend meetings, everyone will recognize that your heart is not in the cause. Conversely, serving actively on a board where you can roll up your sleeves, support the organization’s mission and demonstrate your skills is a powerful way to build relationships and therefore business.

Generally, organizations can be divided into three categories:

▪ Charitable organizations support philanthropic goals and social or public interests, such as the National Parkinson Foundation or World Wildlife Fund.

▪ Community organizations serve specific communities and may address specific interest or needs. Examples include United Way of Miami-Dade, Children’s Bereavement Center and Lotus House.

▪ Business organizations are nonprofit entities supporting commercial goals. They service civic needs and are a good place for networking as it plays a central role in chambers of commerce and other business organizations.

There are many ways to get involved. While writing checks is important, it is not enough for relationship-building. Depending on your company size, you may limit the involvement on company time, or you may offer your employees paid time to volunteer. You may provide a donation-matching program, schedule charitable group activities and encourage employees to find causes they’re passionate about. You can also support involvement after business hours.

The most basic involvement is attending events. This is a good way to meet new people and become more familiar with organizations and their people and confirm whether the organizations will be a good fit.

If you seek to build relationships, you should get involved with the committees or boards. Make sure you are comfortable with the organizations and their operations, and at that point, consider how you can get more involved. Again, follow your passions so it will be easier for you to stay committed long-term.

To build the right relationships, you must have a plan. Set realistic, quantifiable goals and specific steps to achieve them. For example: “I want to build a relationship with John Smith and Jane Doe.” So pay it forward and help them out. John is a fan of the Miami Heat, so invite him to a game. Jane wants to get more business from real-estate developers, so introduce her to some of your contacts.

When the time is right, however, you must ask for the business. Some people never get business because they don’t ask.

As the saying goes, “fish bite when they’re hungry,” so it’s important to keep your bait in the water. Stay top of mind with people after you have met them, such as a company newsletter or an occasional email to touch base, so that they will think of you when a business opportunity arises. Don’t make the mistake of meeting people and never following up.

Without a doubt, you can actively give back and support worthy causes while growing your business. The key is to develop a plan that will best support your goals and objectives in terms of personal satisfaction and business growth.

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., an investment-banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. www.casselsalpeter.com

Florida Banks Cash In on New Tide of Miami Money

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By Jackie Stewart
May 15, 2015

Miami is making a comeback, and Florida’s banks are angling for a piece of the action.

South Florida’s economy is diversifying beyond tourism, industry experts said. A flood of foreign investors and nondepository financial firms, like hedge and private-equity funds, have moved to the area, opening up opportunities for local banks.

“Miami is booming,” said Carl Fornaris, co-chair of the financial regulatory and compliance practice at Greenberg Traurig. “We’re becoming a true global city and global financial market. It all has a trickle-down effect into the depository institutions.”

Tourism remains an important part of the economy, but other industries are starting to take root, industry experts said.

“South Florida is a very healthy market right now,” said Daniel Sheehan, chairman of Professional Bank in Coral Gables, Fla. “The economy is getting more diverse … and the job prospects for young people are improving.”

South Florida is now the home of nearly 40 private-equity firms, a 9% increase from a year earlier and up 37% from 2010, based on a report from the investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter.

A number of factors are luring investment firms. Florida has no personal income tax, distinguishing it from states such as New York, Illinois and Connecticut. Recent changes to the federal tax code, such as limiting the amount of state and local taxes that high net worth individuals can itemize on their federal returns, have also made Florida a more attractive option, said Bowman Brown, who chairs the financial services practice group at Shutts & Bowen.

“There are powerful tax reasons for hedge, private-equity and venture capital funds to move to Miami,” Brown said. “Florida is clearly a business-friendly tax jurisdiction and will remain a low-tax jurisdiction.”

Foreign investment continues to give the area a lift, said Thomas Rudkin, a principal in investment banking at FIG Partners. He said that investors from Latin America are interested in South Florida because of its proximity to their home countries and sizable populations of immigrants from Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.

For instance, the Venezuelan Benacerraf Group announced in May that it would buy Espirito Santo Bank, a unit of the now-defunct Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo.

“There’s a lot of foreign money coming in,” said Rudkin, who was an adviser to Espirito Santo during its sale. “They consider an investment in the U.S. to be solid.”

South Florida also has good infrastructure, including the closest U.S. seaport to the Panama Canal. Miami also has a renewed focus on cultural activities, including a new arts district that is rapidly expanding, industry experts said.

And if all of that was not enough to attract investment, the “weather is great, too,” Fornaris said.

“Clearly, it has become more diverse in the last five years,” Brown said. “The real estate development business has been a powerful engine in South Florida. The business of culture has really taken off, and the airport and seaport are major East Coast world-class operations.”

Banks can benefit from these developments, industry experts said. The area is enjoying a boom in property development. Banks can provide mortgages to people looking to buy homes and commercial loans to developers and businesses that support the construction industry.

Banks could also have an opportunity to work with the nondepository institutions that are relocating to the area, along with their employees, Fornaris said. Such firms, in addition to foreign investors, need a place to park their deposits. They may need other services, such as wealth management or private banking, though they are more likely to turn to bigger financial institutions for those products and services.

Community banks, nonetheless, are looking for ways to capitalize on the area’s transformation.

The $241 million-asset Professional Bank recently raised $15 million in a private offering to “take advantage of opportunities” in the area that could include acquisitions or hiring talent, Sheehan said.

“Business school graduates are considering Miami as an institutional market, not just New York, Boston, D.C., Los Angeles or Chicago anymore,” Sheehan said. The overall trends that are helping South Florida “are not going away anytime soon. There’s an awful lot of capital flowing in from other parts of the country.”

Still, banks must be aware that risks abound in South Florida.

Real estate development has “always been up and down” across the state, said Fernando Margarit, a partner at Hunton & Williams. South Florida is likely to go through another down cycle, but industry experts are hopeful that developers and lenders learned from the financial crisis. Current growth also seems more measured compared with past booms.

South Florida is “already highly competitive,” and banks are generally at a disadvantage because of the tough regulatory environment, Margarit said. As a result, potential customers could turn to nonbanks for capital and other services.

Regardless, Margarit said the area’s transformation should be viewed as a positive one for local banks. “As Miami becomes more sophisticated, it is like a snowball effect,” he said.

“All of this is leading to more people with money coming down and all of that helps the banks,” Margarit added. “There are a lot of synergies that will help the city and the banking industry.”

Private equity deals poised for takeoff in Florida

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By Margie Manning
April 1, 2015

A private equity company that recently relocated to Tampa is among a growing number of investment firms making their home in the Sunshine State.

Florida is the headquarters for 37 private equity firms, up from 27 firms in 2010, according to research by Cassel Salpeter & Co., a Miami-based investment banking company. Three firms set up shop in the state during 2014 – Supply Chain Equity Partners in Tampa, Brinkmere Capital Partners in Jacksonville and Innovative Capital Partners in Naples, a spokesman for Cassel Salpeter said.

The expanded presence of private equity investors in the state is a positive sign, because funders often prefer to be close to the companies in which they invest. That could mean more Florida businesses will be in line for capital and expertise they need to add jobs and grow, and that Florida firms sold to private equity investors likely will remain in the state.

There were 162 private equity deals in Florida in 2014, down 2.3 percent from the 166 deals in 2013, but a drop of a couple of deals does not make a huge difference, said Jim Cassel, co-founder. He’s more focused on a three-year trend that shows private equity deal flow remains strong. He expects that trend to continue, as Florida’s relatively young companies mature.

“There’s been a sea change among private businesses. Years ago, people used to sell businesses in their 50s and then retire,” Cassel said. “Now owners are holding them longer. Ten years from now, I think the number of private equity deals will be up by 25 percent, because those business owners who are 58 now will be 68 then and ready to retire.”

Casselsalpeter Deal Report Winter 2015 by JoLynn Brown