A lesson learned from 2007 meltdown: Keep some money set aside

July 29, 2012

I’m no economist. I don’t have a crystal ball. And the more I learn about business, the less I know.

So you’ve been warned.

But the other day I had one of those blink moments, when the future didn’t look so foggy.

I was sitting at a luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, nibbling on my carrot cake and listening to a conversation with Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs.

Blankfein was asked what he thought about the regulations that came into being after the meltdown of 2007 and the subsequent Great Recession. I was expecting the typical Wall Street response — what does Washington know about financial markets?

Instead, he offered a more charitable take. The best thing to come out of the reforms is the requirement that financial firms hold more capital.

Never underestimate the value of money in the bank.

When you get killed in the bad part of the cycle because of the way you managed your business, you’ll still be dead when things turn around if you didn’t preserve capital, Blankfein said.

There it was, the simple wisdom of smart money.

Start saving, people.

Plenty of businesses have already begun, apparently. An analyst told CNBC the other day that lots of companies don’t want to be caught with their capital tied up. They are keeping inventories thin, assuming the economy will slow and reduce demand for their products.

You see the same caution in the earnings reports coming out. A lot of the big bellwethers have pulled back on their business forecasts.

It is easy to see why. So much in today’s economy seems beyond our control, whether its the financial turbulence in Europe or the lack of consensus in political circles here.

I take that as a sign of progress after years of bubble-fueled exuberance. The pace of the recovery might be maddeningly slow but at least we seem to recognize we’re in for a long slog.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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