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Managing Hospital Credit Relationships

Understanding the Capital Formation Process

By Calvin W. Wiese; CPA MBA

www.HealthcareFinancials.com

Every hospital needs to manage their credit relationships. Rating agencies and credit providers need to be targeted by hospitals for development and maintenance of credit relationships. Credit relationships are an ongoing process. They need to be fed and nurtured. Hospitals should make sure that they cultivate their relationships with credit analysts even during times when they are not seeking credit.

Capital Financing

Too often, hospitals work on credit relationships only when they need capital financing. That’s the wrong time. Relationships need to be in place before they need financing. Credit relationships should not be transaction based; rather formed and nurtured on an ongoing basis, resulting in better, more optimal transaction results. Credit relationships are fed and nurtured through communication. Communication strategies need to be multi-faceted: quarterly reporting, annual face-to-face reviews, and ad-hoc telephone conversations. Reporting needs to go beyond just what is required by the covenants. Covenanted reporting should be viewed as the minimum.

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Annual Meetings

Perhaps the most important component of nurturing credit relationships is the annual meeting. Annual meetings should be set up and conducted at the offices of the credit analysts. The meeting should review the past year and describe the plans for the future. An important component of the annual review is the financial forecast. Credibility is established by presenting a three- to five-year financial forecast each year. Variances from the forecast should be discussed and whether they are favorable or unfavorable should be explained. Candor about the good and especially the bad creates understanding and trust, which are critical components in credibility.

Uncertain Forecasts

Financial forecasts are inherently uncertain. The future is unknown, and in most cases unknowable. A financial forecast is not so much a prediction of the future, but a description of a management team’s view of the future. That view encompasses both external factors that are largely out of the control of management, and internal factors that are controllable. The forecast describes management’s strategies of dealing with that environment. As such, the financial forecast creates the context for a very profitable discussion between management and analysts. The view of the external environment can be compared and contrasted and challenged by the analysts. It is important for them to develop a comfort level with management’s view of the external environment. Given that environment, analysts can then evaluate management’s strategies for successfully leading the hospital through that environment.

Assessment

Presenting updated forecasts each year provides additional dimensions for useful dialogue. Changes in environmental views can be highlighted and discussed. Implications to hospital strategy can then be usefully identified and debated. Failures and successes in meeting the assumptions presented in prior forecasts highlight strengths and weaknesses of management in dealing with the uncertainties of its environment.

Conclusion

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Capital Formation for Hospitals

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Understanding Strategic Expenditures

[By Calvin W. Wiese; MBA, CMA, CPA]


Some of the most important strategic decisions hospital executives make are related to capital expenditures. Almost every hospital has capital investment opportunities that are far in excess of their capital capacity. Capital investments are bets on the future. How these capital bets are placed has long-lasting implications. It is of utmost importance that hospitals bet right.

Strategic Importance of Capital Investing

Hospitals are capital intensive businesses. Hospital buildings are unique structures that require large amounts of capital to construct and maintain. Inside these buildings are pieces of expensive equipment that have fairly short lives. Technological innovations continually drive demand for new and more expensive equipment and facilities. The ability to continually generate capital is the lifeblood of hospitals. In order to compete and succeed, it’s imperative for hospitals to continually invest in large amounts of capital equipment and expensive facilities.

Profit Driven

Capital investment is fueled by profit. In order to continually make the necessary capital investments, hospitals must be profitable. Hospitals unable to generate sufficient profit will fail to make important capital investments, weakening their ability to compete and survive.

Capital Opportunity Selection

Hospital managers bear important responsibility in choosing which capital investments to make. There are always more capital opportunities than capital capacity. In many cases, capital opportunities not taken by hospitals create openings for others with capital capacity to fill the vacuum. By not taking such opportunities, hospitals are weakened, and their operating risk increases.

Stewardship

Stewardship is a term that aptly describes the responsibility borne by hospital managers in making capital investments. The New Testament parable of the talents describes this kind of stewardship. In this story, a merchant entrusted three managers with money to invest. One manager was given five units, another two, and a third one. At the end of the investment period, the two managers given five units and two units reported a 100% return. The manager given one unit reported zero return — he was fired and his unit was given to the first manager.

This is stewardship — and hospital managers are stewards of their organizations’ assets. Too often, not-for-profit hospital managers hold an erroneous view of the returns expected of them. Like the third manager in the parable, they think zero return on equity is acceptable. They understand capital investment funded by debt needs to cover the interest on the debt, but they view capital investments funded by equity as having no cost associated with the equity. From an accounting perspective, they are right. From a stewardship perspective they are dead wrong — just like the third manager in the parable.

Here’s why: as stewards, they are responsible for managing the entrusted assets. They can either put these assets at risk themselves, or they can put those assets in the market and let other managers put them at risk. If they choose to put them at risk themselves, and then they have the mandate of creating as much value from putting them at risk as they would realize if they put them in the market for other managers to put at risk. They have the duty to realize returns that are equivalent to the returns they could realize in the market; otherwise, they should just put them in the market. They can either invest in hospital assets or work the assets themselves, or they can invest in financial market assets so others can work the assets. When they choose to invest in hospital assets, the required return is not zero. That’s the return they get fired for. The required return is equivalent to market returns.

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Assessment

Thus, when evaluating performance of hospital management teams, the minimum acceptable performance level is return on equity that is equivalent to the return that could be realized by investing the hospital assets in the market. And when evaluating a capital investment opportunity, it is important to apply a capital charge equivalent to the hospital’s weighted cost of capital — a measure that imputes an appropriate cost to the equity portion of the capital along with the stated interest rate for the debt portion of the capital structure.

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Conclusion

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Understanding Hospital Community Essentiality

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Views Differ on this Important Concept

[By Calvin W. Wiese; CPA, CMA, MBA]

An important component of hospital financial analysis is essentiality. Hospitals are unusual businesses that many times possess some form of essentiality to their communities. Healthcare is important to the economic vitality of every community. Many hospitals have served their communities for many years; it is not uncommon to find hospitals that have been continuously operating for more than 100 years in the same community.

Many Hospital Types

As we have discussed here and elsewhere, most hospitals are not-for-profit. In not-for-profit hospitals, no private party actually “owns” the hospital; control is vested in various boards, but no one explicitly “owns” a not-for-profit hospital. In a broad sense, communities own not-for-profit hospitals. They are considered “charities” with a “charitable purpose.” Though a not-for profit hospital may not have owners, it has many” stakeholders,” parties that have vested interests in the continuing success of the hospital.

Many Diverse Stakeholders

Many hospitals have broad and vast webs of stakeholders. Stakeholders are why hospitals rarely close or are shut down. Too many stakeholders have interests in the continuing successful operation of hospitals.

Hospital stakeholder relationships need to be considered in the analysis of essentiality. How strong are these relations? How many are there? How important is the continuing success of this hospital to these stakeholders?

Health Services Analysis

Another dimension of the essentiality is medical service analysis. For examples, how significant are the hospital’s services? If the hospital shuts down, what population segments would suffer? How significant is the population that would suffer? How much would they suffer?

Assessment

Analysis of hospital’s stakeholders and services should provide a credible view of the degree of essentiality associated with a hospital. Higher degrees of essentiality suggest higher likelihoods that hospitals, one way or another, will meet their commitments, particularly their payment commitments.

Conclusion

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Understanding the Cost of Not-for-Profit Hospital Capital

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A “Must-Know” Economic Concept for Not-for-Profit Hospital Executives

Hospital[By Calvin W. Wiese; MBA, CPA]

It is critical to understand and to measure the total cost of capital for any hospital or healthcare organization. Lack of understanding and appreciation of the total cost of capital is widespread, particularly among not-for-profit hospital executives.

The capital structure includes long-term debt and equity; total capital is the sum of these two. Each of these components has cost associated with it. For the long-term debt portion, this cost is explicit: it is the interest rate plus associated costs of placement and servicing.

Equity Cost

For the equity portion, the cost is not explicit and is widely misunderstood. In many cases, hospital capital structures include significant amounts of equity that has accumulated over many years of favorable operations. Too many physician executives wrongly attribute zero cost to the equity portion of their capital structure. Although it is correct that generally accepted accounting principles continue to assign a zero cost to equity, there is opportunity cost associated with equity that needs to be considered. This cost is the opportunity available to utilize that capital in alternative ways.

Equity Greater than Cost of Debt

In general, the cost attributed to equity is the return expected by the equity markets on hospital equity. This can be observed by evaluating the equity prices of hospital companies whose equity is traded on public stock exchanges. Usually the equity prices will imply cost of equity in the range of 10% to 14%; or lower recently. Almost always, the cost of equity implied by hospital equity prices traded on public stock exchanges will substantially exceed the cost of long-term debt.

Thus, while many hospital executives will view the cost of equity to be substantially less than the cost of debt (i.e., to be zero), in nearly all cases, the appropriate cost of equity will be substantially greater than the cost of debt.

The Weighted Average Cost of Capital

Hospitals need to measure their weighted average cost of capital (WACC). WACC is the cost of long-term debt multiplied by the ratio of long-term debt to total capital plus the cost of equity multiplied by the ratio of equity to total capital (where total capital is the sum of long-term debt and equity).

Assessment

WACC is then used as the basis for capital charges associated with all capital investments. Capital investments should be expected to generate positive returns after applying this capital charge based on the WACC. Capital investments that don’t generate returns exceeding the WACC consume enterprise value; those that generate returns exceeding WACC increase enterprise value. Hospital executives need to be rewarded for increasing enterprise value.

Conclusion

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Strategic Modern Portfolio Theory Considerations in Hospital Capital Formation

Understanding Risk for Doctors and Financial Advisors

By Calvin W. Wiese; MBA, CPA

www.HealthcareFinancials.com

Hospital capital investments financial create risk. Risk is the uncertainty of future events. When hospitals make capital investments, they commit to costs that affect future periods. Those costs are known and relatively fixed. What are unknown are the benefits to be realized by those capital investments. For capital investments, risk is the certainty of future costs coupled with the uncertainty of future benefits. In some cases, while the future benefits are uncertain, there is a high degree of certainty that the benefits will exceed the costs. In these cases, risk can be very low.

Risk Re-Defined

Risk may be better defined as the degree to which the uncertainty of unknown benefits will exceed the known and committed costs. For example, when capital assets are purchased, both the burdens and the benefits of ownership are transferred to the owner. The burdens are primarily the costs associated with acquisition and installation. The benefits are primarily the revenues generated by operating the capital assets. Risk of ownership is created to the degree that the benefits are uncertain.

Managing Risk

Hospital managers and physician executives need to be skilled at putting hospital assets at risk. Without clear knowledge and understanding of the benefits and the burdens, hospitals can quickly find themselves at unacceptably high levels of risk. Risk must be continually assessed and evaluated in order to successfully put hospital assets at risk. Hospitals require many varied capital investments; their capital investments represent a risk portfolio. An effective combination of risky assets can often create risk that is less than the sum of the risk of each asset.

About MPT

Of course, financial managers have know this for years as a basic principle of Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), first introduced by Harry Markowitz, PhD, with the paper “Portfolio Selection,” which appeared in the 1952 Journal of Finance. Thirty-eight years later, he shared a Nobel Prize with Merton Miller, PhD, and William Sharpe, PhD, for what has become a broad theory for securities asset selection; and hospital assets may be viewed as little different. Prior to Markowitz’s work, investors focused on assessing the rewards and risks of individual securities in constructing a portfolio. Standard advice was to identify those that offered the best opportunities for gain with the least risk and then construct a portfolio from them.

Following this advice, a hospital administrator might conclude that a positron emission tomography (PET) scanning machine offered good risk-reward characteristics, and pursue a strategy to compile a network of them in a given geographic area. Intuitively, this would be foolish. Markowitz formalized this intuition. Detailing the mathematics of diversity, he proposed that investors focus on selecting portfolios based on their overall risk-reward characteristics instead of merely compiling portfolios of securities, or capital assets that each individually has attractive risk-reward characteristics. In a nutshell, just as investors should select portfolios not individual securities, so hospital administrators should select a wide spectrum of radiology services, not merely machines.

Assessment

Savvy hospital managers will mitigate ownership risk by constructing their portfolio of risky assets in a manner that lowers overall risk.

Conclusion

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