Tuesday 23 January 2018

TH€ PUNT: US love affair with army goes on

The Punt was intrigued to see that venture-capital fund KKR has hired four-star general and former CIA director David Petraeus to lead a new unit.

The $73bn (€56bn) New York private equity firm, which has been sniffing around many deals in Dublin recently, is making General Petraeus chairman of a newly created unit called KKR Global Institute. The idea is not as daft as it sounds; he has a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University.

Some readers will remember that General Petraeus, right, resigned as CIA boss late last year after he had an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, a married army reserve intelligence officer. Other readers will remember that a lot of rather nasty things happened in Afghanistan and Iraq under his watch.

On balance, the general was probably a force for good in the US military but his appointment is another reminder that America's generals play an increasingly important role in almost every aspect of US life, including business.

Like America's corporate chieftains, these army officers live a life that is increasingly cut off from the rest of the world, flying in private jets with large staffs and chauffeur driven cars. Whether this trend will continue is anybody's guess but it is safe to say that it is not a particularly healthy one.

Cuts add to funny-farm stats

THERE has been much scratching of statistician heads over the slumps and surges in agricultural employment, as reflected in CSO figures.

Funny things go on down on the farm, but there is some concern that cost-cutting reductions in the size of the surveys may be adding to the margin of error.

Scaling back already modest statistical coverage in these conditions is a bit like throwing the ship's compass overboard to reduce weight when navigating heavy seas.

Whatever about farm jobs, there is concern about the difficulty in measuring the actual size of the economy, thanks to the tax-avoidance tactics of foreign companies – in this case UK service companies rather than US computer ones.

As highlighted by John FitzGerald in the recent ESRI quarterly, fiscal policy, including the bailout, is based on published figures, which are anything but reliable.

A plausible revision would cost money and make things look worse.

But higher-than-necessary EU contributions have already cost more than the savings at the CSO, while the costs could be even higher if markets and credit rating agencies were to throw a wobbly over the uncertainties.

ISME's rebranding hits Mark

ISME bosses were in surprisingly subdued form at the small business body's annual shindig in Dublin yesterday.

We have come to expect, and even enjoy, the combative war cry repeated at every opportunity by chief executive Mark Fielding and company which basically boils down to a request for government to do more for small and medium enterprises.

But rather than opening with an impassioned speech, the organisation launched its luncheon yesterday with something a little more sedate – a rather long presentation of its logo rebranding and website.

The Punt is not sure why a logo and website upgrade was the centre of attention at a time of crisis for small business, but we have to admit that we do quite like the new colour scheme.

Still, Mr Fielding has never been a man for whom the description "subdued" applies. After a rousing speech from ex-UCD professor and multi-millionaire John Teeling got the crowd going, Fielding spoke with passion to the Punt about government's mistakes when it comes to SMEs.

The National Competitiveness Council, he said, doesn't include even one SME manager.

And the retail sector, he said, is the most neglected of all, enjoying only a page and a half in the Government's beloved Action Plan for Jobs.

And while big businesses can side-step expensive leases by going into examinership, he said, this route is closed to SMEs because the process costs about €250,000.

That's more like it. The Punt is always impressed by Mr Fielding's unyielding determination to fight tooth and nail for the interests of his members.


Irish Independent

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