Occupy Wall Street May Fade Just As Quickly As It Rose
Written by Peter Leeds
The faster anything rises, generally the faster it falls. Occupy Wall Street may be another example of this, as media coverage, social media activity, and activist numbers have all started dropping off. This is only expected to continue, especially with the onset of winter.
According to Google Trends, searches for Occupy Wall Street have fallen by 60% from their October 15th peak to October 30th. This is reinforced further by the Factiva news database, which cites media mentions of "Occupy Wall Street" declining by 19% in a week, ending on October 23rd.
With several other major events arising, such as the death of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the end of the NATO mission there, and European debt struggles, Occupy Wall Street may be facing an increasingly crowded media coverage environment. According to the Pew Research Center's weekly news index, Occupy Wall Street enjoyed 10% of the total coverage across their dozens of outlets at their October 1st peak. That same index now has Occupy Wall Street sitting at 4%.
Trendistic, which tracks total Twitter activity, showed tweets peaking at 0.3% on October 1st. Since then, the same metric has fallen to one third of that peak, to levels of 0.1% on October 31st.
Even a casual observer passing the protest sites would note that the presence of media crews has fallen off significantly, while the number of protesters also seems to be waning. Now, the toughest test of their will is about to arrive. That test is the winter, and it chases away all but the most resolute.
This is not to imply that the protesters have lost any of their resolve, or the issues have gotten any less serious. Rather, Occupy Wall Street could use these obstacles as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment, and separate the die hards from the "tourists."
Keep in mind that any large-scale movement will have a lot of marginal players among its masses, people who are boosting the numbers by being involved, but who aren't adamant enough to remain for the long haul. This type of supporter will be the first to fade away, able to say they were part of the movement, but eventually being pulled back into their former life.
Remember that all peaceful uprisings end in one of two ways - either they disperse and are forgotten (even by their activists in some cases), or they stop once they achieved their goal(s).
The problem with this, however, is that Occupy Wall Street's goals may not ever be accomplished. The targets of much of the activism are not being hurt or in any significant way affected by the protests. Until that happens, Manhattan and global bankers are more than happy to watch the crowds from a safe distance, with a mildly curious eye, while they close their latest ultra-risky $20 million credit default swap deal with the European Union (taking home another massive commission in the process).
I think that just about everyone would agree - a CEO being fired, but walking away with $10 million (as did Hewlett-Packard's Leo Apotheker) is nearly preposterous. This is especially true considering that during his time at the helm, the company's share price fell over 40%. Perhaps that's why he got fired.
The scope and activities of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in their current form, will almost certainly not be enough to change the way Hewlett-Packard competes for top CEO talent. They won't impact what contractual decisions the corporation must make to get the contract signed by the leader they want.
Perhaps they should protest for change on the steps of Washington? It's also difficult for the government to regulate how a company decides to spend its money in the course of doing business, and how it pays out salaries, bonuses, and severance pay.
This would be a different situation if there were two dozen protesters in each corporate board room as deals were closed, but to the members of the board of the major corporations, the activists are a world away. Even if they are just a few floors down, on the other side of the glass.
The lack of clear goals has plagued Occupy Wall Street from an early point. One protester whom I spoke with, Brian (his real name withheld by request), admitted that the movement needed to clarify some realistic and actionable goals. This process took place slowly, and by group decision, but has done little to clarify anything to most observers.
A clear mission with a rock-solid result could do a lot for the change that Occupy Wall Street is trying to bring about. This is evidenced by all the great movements that came before, and enjoyed tremendous success: No War, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Racial Equality.
Without a clear end result that can be understood by even a disinterested party, Occupy Wall Street is coming across to some observers as being about "complaining" rather than offering solutions. I certainly do not agree that the activists are complaining, and I do think they are offering solutions, but as it stands you may get six different answers from six different activists about what specific outcomes they are working towards.
Being a leaderless organization has served them well up to this point. However, they may really benefit in the future by having a spokesperson at least, if not a central leadership group. A leader could clarify goals, generate endless media coverage, and stand as a representation of the movement. He or she could also rally and organize the supporters, and help maintain morale for what's about to come. Specifically, a further drop off in media coverage, third-party interest, and activist numbers. And, of course, winter.
While the world is currently being "Occupied," it remains to be seen how much longer this will play out. The trends are going against the movement. However, if Occupy Wall Street does endure throughout the toughest months to come, perhaps with a strong leader, or refined goals, it will be very hard to ignore their plight.
Investment analyst Peter Leeds is the owner and founder of Peter Leeds Penny Stocks, one of the most popular financial newsletters in North America and the author of the new book Invest in Penny Stocks: A Guide to Profitable Trading. Leeds has been a guest speaker at American Stock Exchange, and has led panels at the prestigious Arch Investment Conferences.
For more information about Leeds and his weekly newsletter, please visit http://www.pennystocks.com/. Invest in Penny Stocks is available for purchase at www.wiley.com or www.amazon.com
Six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda
New Deloitte research reveals that tax leaders are under increasing pressure to add strategic value as companies accelerate business model transformation, from undergoing digital transformations to rethinking their supply chains or investing in green initiatives.
According to Phil Mills, Deloitte Global Tax & Legal Leader, to “truly deliver value to the business, the tax function needs to rethink its resourcing model and transform its technology infrastructure to create capacity and control costs”.
And the good news, according to Mills, is that tax and business leaders have more options at their disposal to achieve this.
Reflecting the insights of global tax and finance executives at global companies, Deloitte’s Tax Operations in Focus study reveals the six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda.
Trend 1: Businesses seek more strategic counsel from tax
Companies are being pushed to develop new digital products and distribution channels and accelerate sustainable transformation and this is taking them into uncharted tax territory. Tax leaders say their teams must have the resources and skills to give deeper advisory support on digital business models (65%), supply chain restructuring (49%) and sustainability (48%) over the next two years. This means redrawing the boundaries of what tax professionals focus on, and accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and lower-cost resourcing models to meet compliance requirements and free up time.
According to Joanne Walker, Group Tax Director, BT Group PLC, "There’s still a heavy compliance load today, but the vision for the future would be that much of that falls away, and tax people become subject matter experts who help program the machine, ensure quality control, and redirect their time to advisory activity.”
Trend 2: Tipping point for resourcing models
Business partnering demands in the tax department are on the rise, but 93% of tax leaders say their department’s budget is remaining flat or falling. To ensure that the tax function can redefine itself as a strategic function at the pace that is required, leaders are choosing to move increasing amounts of compliance and reporting to a combination of shared service centers, finance departments, and outsourcing providers that have invested in best-in-class technology.
Trend 3: Digital tax administration is moving faster than expected
in addition to the rising focus of the corporate tax department partnering with their business counterparts, transformative changes to the way companies share tax information with revenue authorities is also creating an imperative to modernize operations at a faster pace. Nine in 10 (92%) respondents say that shifting revenue authority demands on digital tax administration will have a moderate or high impact on tax operations and resources over the next five years—and several heads of tax said the trend is moving faster than expected.
"It’s really stepped up in the last couple of years," says Anna Elphick, VP Tax, Unilever. "Tax authorities don't just want a faster turnaround for compliance but access into a company’s systems. It's not unreasonable to think that in a much shorter time than we expect, compliance will be about companies reviewing a return that's been drafted by the tax authorities."
Trend 4: Data simplification and lower-cost resourcing are top priorities
Tax leaders said that simplifying data management (53%) and moving to lower-cost resourcing models (51%) must be prioritized if tax is to become more proactive at delivering strategic insights to the business. Many tax teams are ensuring that they have a seat at the table as ERP systems are overhauled, which is paying dividends: 56% of those that have introduced NextGen ERP systems are now highly effective at supporting the business with scenario-modeling insights. Only 35% of those with moderate to low use of NextGen ERP systems said the same.
At Stryker, “we automated the source P&L process for transfer pricing which took a huge burden off of the divisions," says David Furgason, Vice President Tax. "Then we created a transfer price database to deposit and retrieve data so we have limited impact on the divisions. We are moving to a single ERP platform which will help us make take the next step with robotics.”
Trend 5: Skillsets are shifting
Embedding a new data infrastructure and redesigning processes are critical for the future tax vision. Tax leaders are aligned — data skills (45%) and technology process experience (43%) are ‘must have’ skills in a tax department of the future, but more traditional tax specialist knowledge also remains key (40%). The trick to success will be in tax leaders facilitating the way these professionals, with their different backgrounds, can work together collectively to unlock lasting value.
Take Infineon Technologies, which formed a VAT technology and governance group "that has the right knowledge about how to change the system to ensure it generates the right reports", according to Matthias Schubert, Global Head of Tax. "Involving them early was key as we took a greenfield approach, so we could think about what the optimal processes would look like and how more intelligent systems could make an impact
Trend 6: 2020 brought productivity improvements
Improved productivity (50%) and accelerating shifts to remote working (48%) were cited as the biggest operational benefits to emerge from COVID-19-driven disruption. But, as 78% of leaders now plan to embed either hybrid or fully remote models in the tax function long term, 34% say maintaining productivity benefits is a top concern. And, as leaders think about building their talent pipeline and strengthening advisory skill sets, 47% say they must prioritize new approaches to talent recognition and career development over the next two years, while 36% say new processes for involving tax in business strategy decisions must be established.