Trend Analysis GM and Toyota 2005—2008

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 29th, 2013

History 101

GM’s Problems were caused by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Ceiling on Wages

The GM bailout is still controversial.  It was part of the 2012 campaign.  It was why we should reelect President Obama.  Because Osama bin Laden was dead.  And General Motors was alive.  But the bailout didn’t fix what was wrong with GM.  Why it went bankrupt in the first place.  The prevailing market price for cars was below their costs.  And what was driving their costs so high?  It was labor.  It was the UAW wage and benefit package that made it impossible for GM to sell a car profitably.

GM’s problems go back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The country was suffering in the Great Depression with double-digit unemployment.  He wanted to get businesses to hire people.  To reduce unemployment.  And pull us out of the Great Depression.  So how do you get businesses to hire more people?  Hmmm, he thought.  Pay people less so businesses have more money to hire more people.  It was brilliant.  So FDR imposed a ceiling on wages.  Why did FDR do this?  Because he was from a rich family who didn’t understand business or basic economics.

Of course there was one major drawback to this.  How do you get the best talent to work for you if you can’t pay top dollar?  Normally the best talent can go to whoever pays the most.  But if everyone pays the same by law you might as well work at the place closest to your house.  Or across from the best bars.  No, if a business wanted the best workers they had to figure out how to get them to drive across town in rush hour traffic and sit in that traffic on the way home.  A real pain in the you-know-what.  So how to get workers to do that if you can’t pay them more?  You give them benefits.

Toyota doesn’t have the Legacy Costs that Bankrupted an Uncompetitive GM

And this was, is, the root of GM’s problems.  Those generous pension and health care benefits.  Things we once took care of ourselves.  Before our employers started providing these.  And the UAW really put the screws to GM.  Getting great pay, benefits and workplace rules.  For both active workers.  And retirees.  Even laid-off workers.  Such as the job bank.  Where GM paid workers who had no work to do.  It’s benefits like this that have bankrupted GM.  Especially the pensions and health care costs for retired workers.  Who outnumbered active workers.  Those people actually assembling the cars they sell.

It’s these legacy costs that have made GM uncompetitive.  Toyota, for example, didn’t suffer the FDR problem.  So their costs for retired workers don’t exceed their costs for active workers.  In fact let’s compare GM and Toyota for the four years just before GM’s government bailout (2005-2008).  We pulled financial numbers from their annual reports (see GM 2005 & 2006, GM 2007 & 2008, Toyota 2005 & 2006 and Toyota 2007 & 2008).  We’ve used some standard ratios and plotted some resulting trends.  Note that this is a crude analysis that provides a general overview of the information in their annual reports.  A proper analysis is far more involved and you should not construe that the following is an appropriate way to analyze financial statements.  We believe these results show general trends.  But we offer no investment advice or endorsements.

GM Toyota Current Ratio

We get the current ration by dividing current assets by current liabilities.  These are the assets/liabilities that will become cash or will have to be paid with cash within 12 months.  If this ratio is 1 it means current assets equals current liabilities.  Meaning that a business will have just enough cash to meet their cash needs in the next 12 months.  If the number is greater than 1 a business will have even a little extra cash.  If the number is less than 1 a business is in trouble.  As they won’t have the cash to meet their cash needs in the next 12 months.  Unless they borrow cash.  Toyota’s current ratio fell slightly during these 4 years but always remained above 1.  Falling as low as 1.01.  Whereas GM’s current ratio was never above 1 during these 4 years.  And only got worse after 2006.  Showing GM’s financial crash in 2008.

The GM Bailout did not address the Cause of their Bankruptcy—UAW Pensions and Health Care Benefits

There are two basic ways to finance a business.  With debt.  And equity.  Equity comes from outside investors (when a business issues new stock).  Or from profitable business operations.  Which typically accounts for the majority of equity.  Profitable business operations are the whole point of running a business.  And it’s what raises stock prices.  To see which is providing the financing of a business (debt or equity) we calculate the debt ratio.  We do this by dividing total liabilities by total assets.  If this number equals 1 then total assets equal total liabilities.  Meaning that 100% of a business’ assets are financed with debt.  And 0% with equity.  Lenders do not like seeing this.  And will be very reluctant to loan money to you if your business operations cannot generate enough profits to build up some equity.  And that was the problem GM had.  Their business operations could not generate any profits.  So GM had to keep borrowing.

GM Toyota Debt Ratio

GM went from bad to worse after 2005.  Their debt ratio went from 1.02 in 2006.  To 1.24 in 2007.  And to 1.94 in 2008.  Indicating massive borrowings to offset massive operating losses.   And how big were those losses?  They lost $17.806 billion in 2005.  $5.823 billion in 2006.  $4.309 billion in 2007.  And in the year of their crash (2008) they lost $21.284 billion.  Meanwhile Toyota kept their debt ratio fluctuating between 0.61 and 0.62.  Very respectable.  And where lenders like to see it.  As they will be more willing to loan money to a company that can generate almost half of their financing needs from profitable business operations.  So why can’t GM?  Because of those legacy costs.  Which increases their cost of sales.

GM Toyota Cost of Sales

GM’s cost of sales was close to 100% of automotive sales revenue these 4 years.  Even exceeding 100% in 2008.  And it’s this cost of sales that sent GM into bankruptcy.  Toyota’s was close to 80% through these 4 years.  Leaving about 20% of sales to pay their other costs.  Like selling, general and administrative (S,G&A).  Whereas GM was already losing money before they started paying these expenses.  Thanks to generous UAW pay and benefit packages.  The job bank.  And the even greater costs of pensions and health care for their retirees.  It’s not CEO compensation that bankrupted GM.  It was the UAW.  As CEO compensation comes out of S,G&A.  Which was less than 10% of sales in 2007 and 2008.  Which was even less than Toyota’s.

GM Toyota S G and A

GM’s costs kept rising.  But they couldn’t pass it on to the consumer.  For if they did the people would just buy a less expensive Toyota.  So GM kept building cars even though they couldn’t sell them competitively.  And sold them at steep discounts.  Just to make room for more new cars.  So the UAW could keep building cars.  Incurring massive losses.  Hoping they could make it up in volume.  But that volume never came.

GM Toyota Automotive Sales as percent of 2005

Toyota continued to increase sales revenue year after year.  But GM’s sales grew at a flatter rate.  Even falling in 2008.  It was just too much.  GM was such a train wreck that it would have required a massive reorganization in a bankruptcy.  Specifically dealing with the uncompetitive UAW labor.  Especially those pensions and health care benefits for retirees.  Which the government bailout did not address.  At all.  The white collar workforce lost their pensions.  But not the UAW.  In fact, the government bailout went to bolster those pension and health care plans.  So the underlying problems are still there.  And another bankruptcy is likely around the corner.

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Trend Analysis—Long-Term Debt-Paying Ability

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2013

Economics 101

To Help with the Decision Making Process Small Business Owners look at Past Results and Trends

A small business owner has a lot on his or her mind.  Most of which have something to do with cash.  If they will have enough for their short-term needs.  And their long-term needs.  Because if they don’t there’s a good chance he or she will be a small business owner no more.  So with every decision a small business owner makes he or she asks this question.  What will be the cash-impact of this decision?  Both short-term.  And long-term.

To help with this decision making process small business owners look at past results.  And the trend between accounting periods.  Either quarterly.  Or monthly.  For there is a lot more to a business’ health than net profit.  Or cash in the bank.  You can have neither and still be a healthy business.  And you can have both and be in a lot of danger.  Because these are only parts of the bigger picture.  It’s how they fit together with the other pieces that give small business owners useful information.  So let’s take a look at 4 quarters of fictitious data.  And what the data trends tell us.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt

Looking at these numbers you can arrive at different conclusions.  Sales were 1.7 million or higher for all 4 quarters.  That seems good.  But sales fell the last two quarters.  That seems bad.  But it’s hard to get a full grasp of what these numbers can tell us on their own.  But if we look at some ratios we can glean a lot more information.  And can graph these ratios and look at trends.

If the Debt Ratio is less than 1 it means the Business is Insolvent

If you divide current assets (Cash through Inventory) by current liabilities (Accounts Payable through Current Portion of L/T Debt) you get the current ratio.  A liquidity ratio.  Telling a small business owner his or her short-term (in the next 12 months) cash health.  If this ratio is greater than one than you have more current assets than current liabilities.  Meaning you should be able to meet your cash needs in the next 12 months.  Which is good.  If it’s less than 1 it means you may not be able to meet your cash needs in the next 12 months.  Which is bad.  But is there a ‘correct’ number for a small business?  No.  It could vary greatly depending on the nature of your business.  But the trend of the current ratio can provide valuable information.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Current Ratio

This business became more liquid from Q1 to Q2.  Meaning they should have been able to meet their short-term cash needs even easier in Q2 than Q1.  A good thing.  But they became less liquid from Q2 to Q3.  With their current ratio falling below 1.  Meaning they may not have had enough cash to meet their short-term cash needs.  Their short-term cash position improved in Q4.  But it was still below one.  So the current ratio trend for these 4 quarters shows a cause for concern.  Is it a problem?  It depends on the big picture.  So let’s look at more parts that make up the big picture.

Plotted on the same graph is a long-term debt-paying ability ratio.  The debt ratio.  Which we get by dividing Total Assets by Total Liabilities.  If this number is less than 1 it means Total Assets are greater than Total Liabilities.  Which is good.  If it’s greater than 1 it means the business is insolvent.  Which is bad.  As insolvency leads to bankruptcy.  The trend from Q1 to Q2 was good.  Their debt ratio fell.  But it rose between Q2 and Q3.  Rising above 1.  Which is a great cause for concern.  It fell between Q3 and Q4 but it was still below one.  Is this a problem?  It’s starting to look like it is.

There is no such thing as a Sure Thing for a Small Business Owner

Are they going to have trouble servicing their debt?  There are ratios for this, too.  Such as the Times Interest Earned (TIE).  Which shows how many times your recurring earnings can pay your interest costs.  In this example we have normal interest expense such as that paid on the business line of credit.  And the capitalized interest such as the interest portion on a car payment.  We calculate TIE by dividing recurring earnings by total interest expenses.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Times Interest Earned

In Q1 their recurring earnings had no trouble covering their interest expenses.  In Q2 recurring earnings grew as did their ability to pay their interest expenses.  But the trend following Q2 has been downward.  Either indicating a surge in debt.  And interest due on that debt.  Or a fall in recurring earnings.  In this case it was a fall in earnings.  Which plummeted following Q2.  Looking at another ratio we can see the extent of these poor earnings on their long-term debt-paying ability.  If we divide Total Liabilities by Owner’s Equity we get the debt to equity ratio.  If this number is 1 then the business is financed equally by debt and equity.  If it’s less than 1 more equity (typically produced by recurring earnings) than debt financed the business.  Which is preferable as equity financing doesn’t incur any costs or risk.  If it’s greater than 1 it means more debt than equity financed the business.  Which is not as preferable.  Because debt-financing incurs costs.  As in interest expense.  And risk.  The greater the debt the greater the interest.  And the greater risk that they may not be able to repay their debt.  Which could lead to bankruptcy.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Debt to Equity Ratio

This business was highly leveraged in Q1.  With virtually all financing coming from debt.  Probably because the owner drew a lot of money out during some profitable years.  Something banks don’t like seeing.  They like to see the owner sharing the risk with the bank.  If they don’t it can be a problem if the business owner wants to borrow money.  Which this one did in Q3.  Because business was doing so well this owner wanted to expand the business by adding another piece of production equipment.  But being so highly leveraged the owner had to put up a sizeable down-payment to get a loan for this new piece of production equipment.  As can be seen by the $20,000 owner contribution in Q3.  There was also a large decline in Owner’s Equity in Q3.  Indicating a one-time charge or correction.  With the loan the owner increased production.  And was looking forward to making a lot of money.  Which was not to happen.  For the economy fell into recession in Q3.

Sales fell just as they increased production.  Which led to a swelling inventory of unsold goods.  Worse, the recession was hurting everyone.  As can be seen by the growth in accounts receivable.  Because people were paying them slower they were paying their suppliers slower.  As is evident by the growth in their accounts payable.  Then a piece of equipment broke down.  They had no choice but to replace it.  Requiring another equity infusion of $10,000.  While some write-downs of bad debt reduced Owner’s Equity further.  (Or something similar.  With such low recurring profits by the time you add in other one-time and non-recurring costs this can lead to a net loss.  And a decline in Owner’s Equity.)  Despite this $30,000 equity infusion into the business the debt to equity ratio soared between Q3 and Q4.  Showing how poorly recurring operations were able to generate cash after that expansion in Q3.  Which explains their insolvency.  And as leveraged as they are it is very unlikely that they are going to be able to borrow money to help with their pressing cash needs.  Meaning that the decision to expand in Q3 may very well lead to bankruptcy.

This is just an example of the myriad concerns a small business owner has to consider before making a decision.  And a successful small business owner always has to factor in the possibility of a recession.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Being a small business owner.  For it’s a lot like gambling.  There is just no such thing as a sure thing.

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Subprime Lending, Housing Bubble, Dot-Com Bubble, Enron, WorldCom and Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 14th, 2012

History 101

Dot-Com Companies used Venture Capital and Proceeds from their IPOs to pay their Expenses as they had no Revenue

The economy in the Nineties boomed.  President Bill Clinton and the Democrats say it was their policies of higher taxes on the rich that made it all happen.  At least that’s the argument you hear today in their arguments for returning to the Clinton era taxes on the wealthy.  Because it gave us the incredible economic explosion of the Nineties.  And balanced the federal budget.  But was the economy really that good?  No.  It wasn’t.  A lot of bad things happened in the Nineties.  Including something we’re still suffering from today.  The Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  Which gave us the Great Recession.

The Clinton administration told lenders to approve more mortgages for poor and minority applicants or face action from his justice department.  Lenders were not approving these applicants for reasons like lack of income and a poor credit history.  Common of people who lived in poorer sections of town because they didn’t have the income and credit history to move to a less poor section of town.  To avoid action from Clinton’s justice department lenders turned to subprime lending to qualify the unqualified.  To help these lenders unload these toxic mortgages off of their balance sheets the federal government’s GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought them and resold them to unsuspecting investors.  And we all know how well that turned out.  A great housing bubble blowing up.  Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  And the Great Recession.

The Nineties also gave us the dot-com bubble.  A lot of Internet start-up companies with soaring stock prices for products they never sold.  They had no revenues.  But speculators were so anxious to get in on the next Microsoft that they ran up these stock prices into the stratosphere.  And with nothing to sell these dot-coms used venture capital and proceeds from their initial public offerings (IPOs) to pay their expenses.  Giving away what they had for free.  Hoping to build brand awareness.  And to figure out a way to actually make money on the Internet.  Even cities joined in the speculation.  Spending tax dollars to build high-tech infrastructure to attract the dot-coms to their cities.  And businesses came to their cities.  Built buildings.  Filled them with employees earning good money.  It was the dawn of the new high-tech, Internet-based world.  But when all of the investor money ran out they still didn’t have anything to sell to pay their bills.  The bubble burst.  People lost their jobs en masse.  And all those new buildings sat empty in cities burdened with debt and a shrunken tax base.  While students who went to college to get degrees to let them join the dot-com world found no one was hiring when they graduated.  As few were hiring during the ‘dot-com’ stock market crash and recession of 2000-2002.

Enron Cooked their Books to Overstate Sales and Assets and Underreport Liabilities

Enron came of age in the Nineties.  They were in the electricity and natural gas business.  In both distribution and generation.  They were also into other businesses.  Too many to list.  But the energy business took off in the Nineties thanks to deregulation.  And Enron became a darling of the stock market.  With its stock price rising about 300% during the Nineties.  The value of its stock was worth about 70 times earnings.  Meaning that investors saw nothing but further growth in Enron.  Why?  Because the Clinton administration was taxing the rich at higher tax rates?  Not quite.  It’s because they cooked their books.

Investors like to see strong earnings.  Lots of assets on the balance sheet.  With not so much debt (i.e., liabilities).  So Enron strived to give investors what they wanted.  By the aforementioned cooking of their books.  Using mark-to-market accounting.  As opposed to historical cost accounting.  Where you buy an asset.  You post it to the balance sheet for the value you paid for it.  Then forget about it.  Mark-to-market, on the other hand, notes the ‘fair value’ of those assets.  If an asset grows in value a company adjusts it books to reflect the current, higher value.  Making their books more attractive to investors.  To look better on the liability side they created a lot of shell companies and special purpose entities.  Posting liabilities on these off-balance-sheet companies instead of their own books.  The combination of higher asset values and underreporting of liabilities made Enron look very strong financially.  And strong revenue growth just made investors drool.

Enron traded.  They bought and sold products and services.  Providing risk management for its clients.  Think of an airline buying a contract for jet fuel for one year to lock in low prices.  How you record this transaction on your books depends on what you’re buying and selling.  If you’re a stock broker you record only your fees as revenue.  Not the value of the stock.  If you’re a retailer you record the value of what you sell as revenue.  Enron recorded their trading like a retailer would.  Which greatly increased their revenues from these trades.  They also used mark-to-market accounting on future revenue streams.  Instead of using the retailer method of recording sales and costs for a period they would calculate the value of a contract for future sales and record them as current revenue.  Pulling future revenues into the current accounting period.  This sent revenues soaring.  Increasing some 700-800% during the Nineties.  Much of which was a house of cards built upon shady accounting practices.  Long story short, they couldn’t keep cooking the books.  And the house of cards collapsed.  The stock price fell back to earth.  And landed with a thud.  Becoming worthless.  People went to prison.  Workers lost their jobs.  And their pensions.  Valued at some $2 billion (though they got a little of that back).  Shareholders lost some $74 billion.  Their accountant, Arthur Andersen, went out of business for their involvement.  And Enron went bankrupt.  The biggest bankruptcy ever.  Until WorldCom.

The Obama Administration borrowed Accounting Practices from Enron and WorldCom to Score Obamacare

WorldCom became a telecommunications titan by buying other companies.  And then with the largest merger in U.S. history when it merged with MCI Communications in 1997.  It was huge.  And it posted huge sales.  Accordingly, its stock price rose.  As the dot-com bubble burst WorldCom’s stock price fell.  As did a lot of telecoms.  To prop up their falling stock price they, too, turned to shady accounting practices.  Inflating both revenues and assets.  And like Enron they couldn’t keep up the scam.  And the fallout was similar to Enron.  Only bigger.  Interestingly, they even had the same accountant.

But it’s just not corporations playing with their accounting practices.  Even the government gets into the action.  Case in point Obamacare.  The magic number for the cost of Obamacare over 10 years was a trillion dollars.  The same cost of the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.  As the wars end Obamacare takes over that spending.  Making it ‘revenue neutral’.  Well, health care for everyone without adding any new government spending would be hard to say ‘no’ to.  So how do you keep it below the cost of these wars?  You borrow accounting practices from Enron and WorldCom.

The original CBO scoring of Obamacare came in at $940 billion.  They based this on the data the Obama administration gave them.  Which included 10 years of new taxes (or spending transferred from war spending to Obamacare spending).  But only 6 years of benefits.  So that $940 billion only covered 6 years of Obamacare in that 10 year period.  Greatly underreporting the costs of the program.  No one knew it at the time.  Because they fast-tracked this bill through Congress before anyone had a chance to read its two thousand pages.  So they had their CBO scoring below a trillion.  And with some shady backroom deals, voila.  Obamacare became law.  CBO has since revised their number to $1.76 trillion that includes 9 years of benefits.  Bringing it to about $2 trillion if you cover all ten years.  And closer to $3 trillion if you put back the $741 billion or so taken from Medicare.  So the government cooked the books to conceal the true costs of Obamacare.  With the true cost being approximately 300% more than they promised the American people it would cost.  This $2 trillion scam is greater than the Enron and WorldCom scams.  But the government suffers no fallout for their gross misrepresentation like Enron and WorldCom did.  Because when they do it it’s just politics.

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Balance Sheet, Financial Ratios, Private Equity, Toys “R” Us, Bain Capital, Leveraged Buyout and Initial Public Offering

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 29th, 2012

History 101

Private Equity guides a Business foundering in Rough Seas into a Safe Harbor to Refit it for Profitability

The balance sheet is the one of the two most important financial statements of a business.  It’s a snapshot in time of the financial position of a company.  In the classical format all assets are on the left side.  And all liabilities and equity are on the right.  And the total value of all assets equals the total value of all liabilities and equity.  In other words the business bought all of their assets with money raised by borrowing (liabilities), with money raised by selling stock (equity) or with money generated by the business (retained earnings/profits). 

Everything you ever wanted to know about a business you can find on the balance sheet.  Through numerous financial ratios you can determine if the business is using their assets efficiently.  Or have too many assets that cost more to maintain for the revenue they produce.  You can tell if a business has too much debt.  Or has so little debt that new debt can finance growth and expansion.  Which could attract new equity investors for further growth.  You can see if they’re matching the terms of their debt with the life of their assets.  Or if they’re taking on long-term debt obligations to provide short-term working capital.  A review of a firm’s balance sheet can also tell how well the management team is doing.  Or how poorly.

The financial picture the balance sheet provides of a business is an objective picture.  It gives an outsider a different view of the company than an insider.  Who may have a more subjective view.  They may not want to shutter a poorly utilized factory because of pride, sympathy for the employees or unfounded hope that business will improve soon.  So they will risk losing everything by not accepting that they must let some things go.  Like a cargo ship foundering in rough seas.  To save the ship and most of its cargo a captain may have to jettison some cargo.  If he or she doesn’t the captain can lose the ship.  The cargo.  And the lives of everyone on board.  Perhaps having a life or death decision in the balance makes it easier to make those hard decisions.  Perhaps that’s why some CEOs can’t let some things go.  Because they never accept the seriousness of their situation.  Perhaps this is why an outsider can read a balance sheet and see what the CEO can’t.  And act.  Like the captain of a ship foundering in rough seas.  And this is what private equity does.  Guides a foundering business into a safe harbor.  Refits it.  And then re-launches it on a course of profitability.

Toys “R” Us

Toys “R” Us was hitting its stride in the Eighties.  They were dominating the retail toy business.  Even expanding internationally.  And into other lines.  Children’s clothing.  Kids “R” Us.  And baby products.  Babies “R” Us.  There was no stopping them.  The secret to their success?  Sell every hot new toy kids wanted.  And sell it cheap.  At or below cost.  Using these loss leaders to get people into their stores.  Where they could sell them more expensive goods in addition to the most popular ‘must have’ toys. 

Then came the Nineties.  And serious competition.  From the big department stores, discount chains and warehouse clubs.  Target.  Wal-Mart.  Costco.  And then the Internet.  Who could use the Toys “R” Us strategy just as well.  And do them one better.  Toys “R” Us focused on selling the ‘must have’ toys at the lowest price.  Where customers came in knowing what they were looking for.  Finding it.  And heading to the checkout.  With a plan like that you don’t need customer service.  So when the competition matched them on selection and price they also threw in better customer service.  Wal-Mart surpassed Toys “R” Us.  Which was by then losing both profitability and market share. 

In 2004 a consortium of private equity (KKR and Bain Capital) and Vornado Realty Trust bought Toys “R” Us for $6.6 billion in a leveraged buyout.  And they turned the corporation around.  With a new management team.  Made the corporation more efficient.  In the brick and mortar stores as well as online.  The company is better and stronger today.  But it has delayed its Initial Public Offering (IPO) for about 2 years now due to a couple of lackluster Christmas seasons during the Great Recession.  They will use the capital raised from the IPO to pay down the debt from the leveraged buyout now sitting on Toys “R” Us’ balance sheet.  Making the turnaround complete.  Allowing the private equity firms to exit while leaving behind a healthier and more profitable company.

The Goal of the Leveraged Buyout was to make Toys “R” Us a Stronger Company

Private equity was successful at Toys “R” Us because Toys “R” Us was a good company.  From 1948 it consistently did the smart thing and grew into the giant it is.  But then it matured.  And the market changed.  Like a ship foundering in rough seas they just needed a little help to captain them through those rough seas.  And that’s what private equity did. 

Many will criticize the sizable debt they’ve left on their balance sheet.  But the plan was always to take the company public again.  Using the proceeds from the IPO to clean up the balance sheet.  Yes, the equity partners will also make a fortune.  But Toys “R” will emerge from this process a stronger company.  Which was the goal of the leveraged buyout.  They did not chop up the company and liquidate the pieces.  They purchased it in 2005.  And the company is still around today in 2012.  What have they been doing all this time?  Trying to make the company the best it can be.  So they can profit greatly from the IPO. 

No doubt the balance sheet of Toys “R” Us has never looked better.  Other than the debt added for the leveraged buyout.  Which they have been able to service since 2005.  So clearly the company is doing something right.  And just imagine how well they will do after they clean that debt off of their balance sheet.  After the IPO.  Suffice it to say that our grandchildren will be shopping there for their own children one day.

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Capital and Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 7th, 2012

Economics 101

Entrepreneurs have an Insatiable Desire to Think and Create

It takes money to make money.  For it is money that buys the means of production.  The land, manufacturing plants, small shops, office space, machines, equipment and infrastructure that make things.  The trucks, barges, container ships, locomotives and rolling stock that transport raw material, work-in-progress and finished goods.  These physical assets are capital.  From assembly lines to inventory control systems to accounting software.  Things that let businesses conduct business.  And make profits.

This is the key to capitalism.  Profits.  It’s what allows businesses to make the things we need and enjoy.  Profits are what make an entrepreneur take a risk.  To spend their life savings.  To mortgage their home.  To borrow from a bank.  They do these things because they believe they will be able to earn enough profits to replenish their life savings.  To make their mortgage payments.  To repay their loans.  AND to earn a living in the process.  It is a risky endeavor.  And far more risky than working for someone and earning a steady paycheck.  But if entrepreneurs didn’t take these risks we wouldn’t have things like the iPhone or the automobile or the airplane.  All of which were brought to us because one person had an idea.  And then invested in the capital to bring that idea to market.

Some business ideas succeed.  Many more fail.  But people keep trying.  Because of that insatiable desire to think and create.  And the ability to earn profits to pay for their ideas.  To build on their ideas.  To expand their ideas.  From the first thoughts of it they kicked around in their head.  To the multinational corporations their ideas grew into.  All made possible by the profits they earned.  The more they earned the more they could do.  As they reinvested those earnings into their businesses.  To buy more capital.  That allowed them to build more things.  And use even more capital to bring these things to market.  Creating jobs all along the way.  Jobs that only came into being because of those profits that started as a single thought in someone’s head.

If you can’t Service your Debt your Creditors can and will Force you into Bankruptcy

This is where corporations come from.  From a single thought.  Profitable business operations grow that thought into the corporations they become.  For corporations are not the evil spawn of the damned.  Corporations come from people having a great idea.  Like Starbucks.  And Ben and Jerry’s.  Who are now everywhere so we can enjoy their products wherever we are.  All made possible by the profits of capitalism.

Who’s up for a little accounting?  You are?  Well, then, you came to the right place.  For we’re going to learn a little accounting.  Right here.  Right now.  Corporations determine their profits by closing their books at the end of an accounting period.  A series of accounting steps culminate in the trial balance.  Where the sum of all debits equal the sum of all credits.  Or eventually do after various adjusting entries.  Once they do the books are balanced.  And business at last can see if they were profitable.  By producing an income statement.  Which lists revenue at the top.  Then sums all costs (materials, production wages, payroll taxes & health insurance for that labor, etc.) that produced that revenue.  Subtracting these costs from revenue gives you gross profit.  Then comes overhead costs.  Fixed costs.  Like rent and utilities.  And overhead labor (corporate officers, management, accounting, human resources, etc.).  They sum these and subtract them from gross profit.  Which brings us to earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT).  A very important profitability number.  For if there is any money left by the time you reach EBIT your business operations were profitable.  Your business was able to pay all the due bills to produce your revenue.  Which leaves just two numbers.  Interest they owe on their loans.  And income taxes.

EBIT is a very important number.  For if it’s not large enough to service your debt everything above EBIT is for naught.  Because if you can’t service your debt your creditors can and will force you into bankruptcy.  Never a good thing.  And what follows is usually the opposite of growing your business.  Shrinking your business.  By seriously cutting costs (i.e., massive layoffs).  And eliminating unprofitable lines of revenue.  Downsizing and reorganizing as necessary so your cost structure can produce a profit at the given market price for your goods and/or services.  A price determined by your competition in the market.  If you cannot downsize and reorganize sufficiently to become profitable then you go out of business.  Or you sell the business to someone who can make a profit.  Because unless you can turn a profit your business will consume money.  And that money has to come from somewhere.  Typically it is the business owner until they run out of life savings and home to mortgage.  Because a bank can’t give you money to lose in your business.  For their depositors put their money into the bank to grow their savings.  Not to shrink them.  So a bank has to be profitable to please their depositors.  And if the bank is using their money to make bad loans they will remove their money.  As will other depositors.  Perhaps creating a run on the bank.  And causing the bank to fail.  So while operating at a loss will save employees jobs in the short term it will cause far greater harm in the long term.  Which isn’t good for anyone.

Capitalism works because with Risk there’s Reward

As you can see getting those accounting reports to fairly state the profitability of a business is crucial.  For it’s the only way a business knows if it can pay its bills.  And the way they pay their bills complicate matters.  Revenue and costs come in at different times.  To bring order to this chaos businesses use accrual accounting.  Which includes two very important rules.  To record accurately when revenue is revenue (for example, a down payment is not revenue.  It’s a liability a business owes the customer until the sale transaction is complete).  And to match costs to revenue.  Meaning that every cost a business incurred producing a sale is matched to that sale.  Even long-term fixed assets like buildings and machinery.  Which they depreciate over the life of the asset.  Charging a depreciation expense each accounting period until the asset is fully depreciated.

Because of these accounting reports that fairly state business operations a business knows if they are profitable.  That they can pay all of their bills.  Their suppliers AND their employees.  Their health insurance AND their payroll taxes.  The interest on their debt AND their income taxes.  They can pay all of these when they come due.  And not run out of money when other bills come due.  Which is why they can have confidence when they read their income statement.  Knowing that they paid all their costs due in that accounting period.  Including the interest on their debt.  And their income taxes.  Which takes them to the bottom line.  Net profit.  And if it’s positive they have money to reinvest into their business.  To expand operations.  To increase sales revenue.  Create more jobs.  And they can grow.  But not too much that they lose control.  So they can always pay their bills.  So they can keep doing what they love.  Thinking.  And bringing new ideas to market.

This is capitalism.  Where people take risks.  In hopes of making profits.  They invest in capital to make those profits.  And then use those profits to invest in capital.  It works because there is a direct relationship between risk and profits.  It’s why people take risks.  Create jobs.  And provide the things we need and enjoy.  Because with risk there’s reward.  And accounting reports that fairly state business operations give a business’ management the tools to be profitable.  By matching costs to revenue.  Telling them when they are not using their capital efficiently.  Helping them to stay profitable.  (Unlike anything the government runs.  Because there is no matching of costs to revenue.  Taxes come into the treasury and the treasury pays for a multitude of things.  With no way to know if they are using those taxes efficiently).  And this is capitalism.  Risk and reward.  And accountability.  For when you’re risking your money you become very accountable.  Which is why capitalism works .  And government-run entities don’t.

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China’s Mighty Export Juggernaut declined for Third Year in a Row

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 14th, 2012

Week in Review

Once upon a time there were those in the United States who said we should do what the Japanese were doing during the Eighties.  The government was partnering with business.  Interfering with market forces.  To keep the economic good times rolling.  If you remember this time this was when the Japanese were buying up U.S. assets.  And it was joked that soon America would be a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan Inc.  But, alas, the good times did not continue to roll.

All that government interference into market forces created asset bubbles.  Artificially high prices for artificially high demand.  But then the bubble popped.  And the market corrected those prices.  To match them to real demand.  And Japan Inc. went into a deflationary spiral that lasted a decade or more.  Which we call Japan’s Lost Decade.  The Nineties.  A long deflation is a painful thing to go through.  This was the lesson of Japan Inc.  Apparently a lesson few learned.  Especially in China (see Export growth in China declines posted 1/10/2012 on BBC News Business).

Growth in China’s exports slowed in December because of sluggish demand from the US and Europe…

The latest figures could fuel worries that the world’s second largest economy is losing steam…

…the trade surplus for 2011 as a whole narrowed to $155.1bn, compared with $183bn in 2010, said customs officials.

This means the trade surplus, which is politically sensitive and has caused tension between China and the US, shrank for the third straight year.

China partnered with business.  Created an economic boom the likes few have ever seen.  Manufacturing output took off to the stratosphere.  Thanks to what once appeared as an inexhaustible supply of cheap labor.  And government policies that favored Chinese exports and hindered foreign imports.  They flooded the world with inexpensive goods.  But that cheap labor may be more exhaustible than they once thought.  And it’s looking like that this increasing amount of inexpensive exports simply can’t be absorbed by countries with struggling economies.  You put all of this together and the Chinese have got themselves a bit of a problem.

To attract labor to their growing manufacturing plants they had to increase their minimum wage.  So their workers are earning more.  Which has increased local prices.  Higher labor costs means higher costs for businesses.  Which they recover through higher prices.  All supported by that growing export market.  Which is starting to shrink.  So they have been increasing supply to meet an artificial demand that is in reality a falling demand.  Which has created a surplus of highly priced goods that won’t be selling any time soon.  There is another name for this.  An asset bubble.  Kind of like what Japan Inc. had on their hands.  And the chances are this bubble will pop like Japan Inc.’s bubble popped.  Sending the Chinese into a deflationary spiral that could lose them a decade.  Like the Japanese lost.

The market will always adjust prices so supply meets real demand.  Sooner or later.  The sooner it does the less painful the correction.  The later it does the more painful the correction.  And China’s mighty export juggernaut has been going on for a long time.  So their inevitable correction will probably be a painful one.

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LESSONS LEARNED #28: “Politicians love failure because no one ever asked government to fix something that was working.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 26th, 2010

THE TELEVISION SHOW Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. aired from 1964-1969.  It was a spinoff from the Andy Griffith Show.  Gomer, a naive country bumpkin who worked at Wally’s filling station, joined the Marines Corps.  And there was much mirth and merriment.  To the chagrin of Sergeant Carter, Pyle’s drill instructor (DI).  Think of Gunny Sergeant R. Lee Ermey’s Sergeant Hartman in the movie Full Metal Jacket only with no profanity or mature subject matter.  Sergeant Carter was a tough DI like Sergeant Hartman.  But more suitable for the family hour on prime time television.

Gunny sergeants are tough as nails.  And good leaders.  They take pride in this.  But sometimes a gunny starts to feel that he’s not himself anymore.  This was the subject of an episode.  And Gomer, seeing that Sergeant Carter was feeling down, wanted to help.  So he stuffed Sergeant Carter’s backpack with hay before a long march.  While the platoon was worn and tired, Sergeant Carter was not.  He was feeling good.  Like his old self.  Until he found out he was not carrying the same load his men were.  He asked Pyle, “why hay?”  He could understand rocks, but hay?  Because if he outlasted his men while carrying a heavier load, he would feel strong.  But knowing he had carried a lighter load only made him feel weak.

This is human nature.  People take pride in their achievements.  They don’t take pride in any achievement attained by an unfair advantage.  Self-esteem matters.  And you can’t feel good about yourself if you need help to do what others can do without help. 

AN OLD CHINESE proverb goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  Let’s say I am a fisherman in a small village.  I catch fish to feed my family and sell/trade for other family needs.  There’s a man in my village who asks me for a fish each day so he can eat.  I’m a caring person.  So I give him a fish each day.  So a pattern develops.  Each day he shows up when I come in from my fishing.  He takes the fish and goes away.  It works out well for him.  He doesn’t have to work.  He can live off of my kind charity.  Then I move.  Without me being there to give him a fish each day, he no longer can eat.  And dies.  If I only had taught that man to fish. 

Kindness can lead to dependency.  And once dependent, you become lazy.  Why develop marketable skills to provide for yourself when someone else will provide for you?  The problem is, of course, what happens when that charity ends?  If you’re unable to provide for yourself and there is no longer someone providing for you, what do you do?  Steal?

Dependency and a lack of self-esteem are a dangerous combination.  And they feed off of each other.  This combination can lead to depression.  Behavioral problems.  Resentment.  Bitterness.  Envy.  Or a defeatist attitude.

These are often unintended consequences of government programs.  A failed program, then, has far reaching consequences beyond the initial economic costs of a program.

LIQUIDITY CRISES CAUSE a lot of economic damage.  If capital is not available for businesses to borrow, businesses can’t grow.  Or create jobs.  And we need jobs.  People have to work.  To support themselves.  And to pay taxes to fund the government.  So everyone is in favor of businesses growing to create jobs.  We all would like to see money being easy and cheap to borrow if it creates jobs.

But there is a downside to easy money.  Inflation.  Too much borrowing can create inflation.  By increasing the money supply (via fractional reserve banking).  More money means higher prices.  Because each additional dollar is worth a little less. This can lead to overvalued assets as prices are ‘bid’ up with less valuable dollars.  And higher prices can inflate business profits.  Looks good on paper.  But too much of this creates a bubble.  Because those high asset values and business profits are not real.  They’re inflated.  Like a bubble.  And just as fragile.  When bubbles burst, asset values and business profits drop.  To real values.  People are no longer ‘bidding’ up prices.  They stop buying until they think prices have sunk to their lowest.  We call this deflation.  A little bit of inflation or deflation is normal.  Too much can be painful economically.  Like in the Panic of 1907.

Without going into details, there was a speculative bubble that burst in 1907.  This led to a liquidity crisis as banks failed.  Defaults on loans left banks owing more money than they had (i.e., they became illiquid).  They tried to borrow money and recall loans to restore their liquidity.  Borrowers grew concerned that their bank may fail.  So they withdrew their money.  This compounded the banks problems.  This caused deflation.  Money was unavailable.  Causing bank runs.  And bank failures.  Business failures.  And unemployment grew. So government passed the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.  The government gave the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) great powers to tweak the monetary system.  The smartest people at the time had figured out what had gone wrong in 1907.  And they created a system that made it impossible for it to happen again.

The worst liquidity crisis of all time happened from 1929-1933.  It’s part of what we call the Great Depression.  The 1920s had a booming economy.  Real income was rising.  Until the Fed took action.  Concerned that people were borrowing money for speculative purposes (in paper investments instead of labor, plant and material), they put on the brakes.  Made it harder and more expensive to borrow money.  Then a whole series of things happened along the way that turned a recession into a depression.  When people needed money, they made it harder to get it, causing a deflationary spiral.  The Great Depression was the result of bad decisions made by too few men with too much power.  It made a crisis far worse than the one in 1907.  And the Roosevelt administration made good use of this new crisis.  FDR exploded the size of government to respond to the unprecedented crisis they found themselves in.  The New Deal changed America from a nation of limited government to a country where Big Government reigns supreme.

ONE PROGRAM OF the New Deal was Social Security.  Unemployment in the 1930s ran at or above 14%.  This is for one whole decade.  Never before nor since has this happened.  Older workers generally earn more than younger ones.  Their experience commands a higher pay rate.  Which allows them to buy more things.  Resulting in more bills.  Therefore, the Great Depression hit older workers especially hard.  A decade of unemployment would have eaten through any life savings of even the most prudent savers.  And what does this get you?  A great crisis.

The government took a very atypical moment of history and changed the life of every American.  The government forced people to save for retirement.  In a very poor savings plan.  That paid poorly by comparison to private pensions or annuities.  And gave the government control over vast amounts of money.  It was a pervasive program.  They say FDR quipped, “Let them try to undo this.” 

With government taking care of you in retirement, more people stopped providing for themselves.  When they retired, they scrimped by on their ‘fixed’ incomes.  And because Social Security became law before widespread use of birth control and abortion, the actuaries of the day were very optimistic.  They used the birth rate then throughout their projections.  But with birth control and abortion came a huge baby bust.  The bottom fell out of the birth rate.  A baby bust generation followed a baby boom generation.  Actually, all succeeding generations were of the bust kind.  The trend is growing where fewer and fewer people pay for more and more people collecting benefits.  And these people were living longer.  To stay solvent, the system has to raise taxes on those working and reduce benefits on those who are not.  Or raise the retirement age.  All these factors have made it more difficult on our aged population.  Making them working longer than they planned.  Or by making that fixed income grow smaller.

FDR used a crisis to create Social Security.  Now our elderly people are dependent on that system.  It may suck when they compare it to private pensions or annuities, but it may be all they have.  If so, they’ll quake in their shoes anytime anyone mentions reforming Social Security.  Because of this it has become the 3rd rail of politics.  A politician does not touch it lest he or she wishes to die politically.  But it’s not all bad.  For the politician.  Because government forced the elderly to rely on them for their retirement, it has made the Social Security recipient dependent on government.  In particular, the party of government who favors Big Government.  The Democrats.  And with a declining birth rate and growing aged population, this has turned into a large and loyal voting bloc indeed.  Out of fear.

A PROGRAM THAT straddled the New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society was Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).  Its original New Deal purpose was to help widows take care of their children.  When program outlays peaked in the 1970s, the majority of recipients were unmarried women and divorced women.  Because this was a program based on need, the more need you had the more you got.  Hence more children meant more money.  It also reduced the importance of marriage as the government could replace the support typically provided by a husband/father.  Noted economist Dr. Thomas Sowell blames AFDC as greatly contributing to the breakdown of the black family (which has the highest incidence of single-parent households).

With the women’s liberation movement, women have come to depend less on men.  Some affluent women conceive and raise children without a husband.  Or they adopt.  And the affluent no doubt can provide all the material needs their children will ever need.  Without a husband.  Or a father for their children.  But is that enough?

The existence of ‘big brother’ programs would appear to prove otherwise.  Troubled children are often the products of broken families.  Mothers search for big brothers to mentor these fatherless sons.  To be role models.  To show an interest in these children’s lives.  To care.  When no such role models are available, some of these troubled children turn to other sources of acceptance and guidance.  Like gangs.

AFDC has compounded this problem by providing the environment that fosters fatherless children.  And another government program compounds that problem.  Public housing.

POOR HOUSING CONDITIONS hurt families.  They especially hurt broken families.  Without a working husband, these families are destined to live in the cheapest housing available.  These are often in the worst of neighborhoods.  This is an unfair advantage to the children raised in those families.  For it wasn’t their fault they were born into those conditions.  So, to solve that problem, government would build good public housing for these poorest of the poor to move into.  Problem solved.

Well, not exactly.  Public housing concentrates these broken families together.  Usually in large apartment buildings.  This, then, concentrates large numbers of troubled children together.  So, instead of having these children dispersed in a community, public housing gathers them together.  Where bad behavior reinforces bad behavior.  It becomes the rule, not the exception.  Making a mother’s job that much more difficult.  And because these children live together, they also go to school together.  And this extends the bad behavior problem to the school.  Is it any wonder that public housing (i.e., the projects) have the worst living conditions?  And some of the highest gang activity? 

Government didn’t plan it this way.  It’s just the unintended consequences of their actions.  And those consequences are devastating.  To the poor in general.  To the black family in particular.  AFDC and public housing enabled irresponsible/bad behavior.  That behavior destroyed families.  As well as a generation or two.  But it wasn’t all bad.  For the politicians.  It made a very large constituency dependent on government.

THERE ARE SO many more examples.  But the story is almost always the same.  Dependency and a lack of self-esteem will beat down a person’s will.  Like an addict, it will make the dependent accept poorer and poorer living standards in exchange for their fix of dependency.  Eventually, the dependency will reach the point where they will not know how to provide for themselves.  The dependency will become permanent.  As will the lack of self-esteem.  Conscious or not of their actions, Big Government benefits from the wretched state they give these constituencies.  With no choice but continued dependence, they vote for the party that promises to give the most.  Which is typically the Democrat Party.

But how can you fault these politicians?  They acted with the best of intentions.  And they can fix these new problems.  They’ll gather the brightest minds.  They’ll study these problems.  And they will produce the best programs to solve these problems.  All it will take is more government spending.  And how can you refuse?  When people are hungry.  Or homeless.  Or have children that they can’t care for.  How can anyone not want to help the children?  How can anyone not have compassion?

Well, compassion is one thing.  When the innocent suffer.  But when government manufactures that suffering, it’s a different story.  Planned or not the result is the same whenever government tries to fix things.  The cost is high.  The solution is typically worse than the original problem.  And the poorest of the poor are pawns.  To be used by Big Government in the name of compassion. 

Of course, if Big Government were successful in fixing these problems, they would fix themselves right out of existence.  So as long as they want to run Big Government programs, they’ll need a stock of wretched, suffering masses that need their help.  And, of course, lots of crises.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #27: “Yes, it’s the economy, but the economy is not JUST monetary policy, stupid.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 17th, 2010

DURING UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC times, people act differently.  If business is down where you work, your company may start laying off people.  Your friends and co-workers.  Even you.  If there is a round of layoffs and you survive, you should feel good but don’t.  Because it could have been you.  And very well can be you.  Next time.  Within a year.  In the next few months.  Any time.  You just don’t know.  And it isn’t a good feeling.

So, should this be you, what do you do?  Run up those credit cards?  By a new car?  Go on a vacation?  Take out a home equity loan to pay for new windows?  To remodel the kitchen?  Buy a hot tub?  Or do you cut back on your spending and start hoarding cash?  Just in case.  Because those unemployment payments may not be enough to pay for your house payment, your property taxes, your car payment, your insurances, your utilities, your groceries, your cable bill, etc.  And another loan payment won’t help.  So, no.  You don’t run up those credit cards.  Buy that car.  You don’t go on vacation.  And you don’t take that home equity loan.  Instead, you hunker down.  Sacrifice.  Ride it out.  Prepare for the worse.  Hoard your cash.  Enough to carry you through a few months of unemployment.  And shred those pre-approved credit card offers.  Even at those ridiculously low, introductory interest rates.

To help hammer home this point, you think of your friends who lost their jobs.  Who are behind on their mortgages.  Who are in foreclosure.  Whose financial hardships are stressing them out to no ends.  Suffering depression.  Harassed by collection agencies.  Feeling helpless.  Not knowing what to do because their financial problems are just so great.  About to lose everything they’ve worked for.  No.  You will not be in their position.  If you can help it.  If it’s not already too late.

AND SO IT is with businesses.  People who run businesses are, after all, people.  Just like you.  During uncertain economic times, they, too, hunker down.  When sales go down, they have less cash to pay for the cost of those sales.  As well as the overhead.  And their customers are having the same problems.  So they pay their bills slower.  Trying to hoard cash.  Receivables grow from 30 to 45 to 90 days.  So you delay paying as many of your bills as possible.  Trying to hoard cash.  But try as you might, your working capital is rapidly disappearing.  Manufacturers see their inventories swell.  And storing and protecting these inventories costs money.  Soon they must cut back on production.  Lay off people.  Idle machinery.  Most of which was financed by debt.  Which you still have to service.  Or you sell some of those now nonproductive assets.  So you can retire some of that debt.  But cost cutting can only take you so far.  And if you cut too much, what are you going to do when the economy turns around?  If it turns around?

You can borrow money.  But what good is that going to do?  Add debt, for one.  Which won’t help much.  You might be able to pay some bills, but you still have to pay back that borrowed money.  And you need sales revenue for that.  If you think this is only a momentary downturn and sales will return, you could borrow and feel somewhat confidant that you’ll be able to repay your loan.  But you don’t have the sales now.  And the future doesn’t look bright.  Your customers are all going through what you’re going through.  Not a confidence builder.  So you’re reluctant to borrow.  Unless you really, really have to.  And if you really, really have to, it’s probably because you’re in some really, really bad financial trouble.  Just what a banker wants to see in a prospective borrower.

Well, not really.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite.  A banker will want to avoid you as if you had the plague.  Besides, the banks are in the same economy as you are.  They have their finger on the pulse of the economy.  They know how bad things really are.  Some of their customers are paying slowly.  A bad omen of things to come.  Which is making them really, really nervous.  And really, really reluctant to make new loans.  They, too, want to hoard cash.  Because in bad economic times, people default on loans.  Enough of them default and the bank will have to scramble to sell securities, recall loans and/or borrow money themselves to meet the demands of their depositors.  And if their timing is off, if the depositors demand more of their money then they have on hand, the bank will fail.  And all the money they created via fractional reserve banking will disappear.  Making money even scarcer and harder to borrow.  You see, banking people are, after all, just people.  And like you, and the business people they serve, they, too, hunker down during bad economic times.  Hoping to ride out the bad times.  And to survive.  With a minimum of carnage. 

For these reasons, businesses and bankers hoard cash during uncertain economic times.  For if there is one thing that spooks businesses and banks more than too much debt it’s uncertainty.  Uncertainty about when a recession will end.  Uncertainty about the cost of healthcare.  Uncertainty about changes to the tax code.  Uncertainty about new government regulations.  Uncertainty about new government mandates.  Uncertainty about retroactive tax changes.  Uncertainty about previous tax cuts that they may repeal.  Uncertainty about monetary policy.  Uncertainty about fiscal policy.  All these uncertainties can result with large, unexpected cash expenditures at some time in the not so distant future.  Or severely reduce the purchasing power of their customers.  When this uncertainty is high during bad economic times, businesses typically circle the wagons.  Hoard more cash.  Go into survival mode.  Hold the line.  And one thing they do NOT do is add additional debt.

DEBT IS A funny thing.  You can lay off people.  You can cut benefits.  You can sell assets for cash.  You can sell assets and lease them back (to get rid of the debt while keeping the use of the asset).  You can factor your receivables (sell your receivables at a discount to a 3rd party to collect).  You can do a lot of things with your assets and costs.  But that debt is still there.  As are those interest payments.  Until you pay it off.  Or file bankruptcy.  And if you default on that debt, good luck.  Because you’ll need it.  You may be dependent on profitable operations for the indefinite future as few will want to loan to a debt defaulter.

Profitable operations.  Yes, that’s the key to success.  So how do you get it?  Profitable operations?  From sales revenue.  Sales are everything.  Have enough of them and there’s no problem you can’t solve.  Cash may be king, but sales are the life blood pumping through the king’s body.  Sales give business life.  Cash is important but it is finite.  You spend it and it’s gone.  If you don’t replenish it, you can’t spend anymore.  And that’s what sales do.  It gets you profitable operations.  Which replenishes your cash.  Which lets you pay your bills.  And service your debt.

And this is what government doesn’t understand.  When it comes to business and the economy, they think it’s all about the cash.  That it doesn’t have anything to do with the horrible things they’re doing with fiscal policy.  The tax and spend stuff.  When they kill an economy with their oppressive tax and regulatory policies, they think “Hmmm.  Interest rates must be too high.”  Because their tax and spending sure couldn’t have crashed the economy.  That stuff is stimulative.  Because their god said so.  And that god is, of course, John Maynard Keynes.  And his demand-side Keynesian economic policies.  If it were possible, those in government would have sex with these economic policies.  Why?   Because they empower government.  It gives government control over the economy.  And us.

And that control extends to monetary policy.  Control of the money supply and interest rates.  The theory goes that you stimulate economic activity by making money easier to borrow.  So businesses borrow more.  Create more jobs.  Which creates more tax receipts.  Which the government can spend.  It’s like a magical elixir.  Interest rates.  Cheap money.  Just keep interest rates low and money cheap and plentiful and business will do what it is that they do.  They don’t understand that part.  And they don’t care.  They just know that it brings in more tax money for them to spend.  And they really like that part.  The spending.  Sure, it can be inflationary, but what’s a little inflation in the quest for ‘full employment’?  Especially when it gives you money and power?  And a permanent underclass who is now dependent on your spending.  Whose vote you can always count on.  And when the economy tanks a little, all you need is a little more of that magical elixir.  And it will make everything all better.  So you can spend some more.

But it doesn’t work in practice.  At least, it hasn’t yet.  Because the economy is more than monetary policy.  Yes, cash is important.  But making money cheaper to borrow doesn’t mean people will borrow money.  Homeowners may borrow ‘cheap’ money to refinance higher-interest mortgages, but they aren’t going to take on additional debt to spend more.  Not until they feel secure in their jobs.  Likewise, businesses may borrow ‘cheap’ money to refinance higher-interest debt.  But they are not going to add additional debt to expand production.  Not until they see some stability in the market and stronger sales.  A more favorable tax and regulatory environment.  That is, a favorable business climate.  And until they do, they won’t create new jobs.  No matter how cheap money is to borrow.  They’ll dig in.  Hold the line.  And try to survive until better times.

NOT ONLY WILL people and businesses be reluctant to borrow, so will banks be reluctant to lend.  Especially with a lot of businesses out there looking a little ‘iffy’ who may still default on their loans.  Instead, they’ll beef up their reserves.  Instead of lending, they’ll buy liquid financial assets.  Sit on cash.  Earn less.  Just in case.  Dig in.  Hold the line.  And try to survive until better times.

Of course, the Keynesians don’t factor these things into their little formulae and models.  They just stamp their feet and pout.  They’ve done their part.  Now it’s up to the greedy bankers and businessmen to do theirs.  To engage in lending.  To create jobs.  To build things.  That no one is buying.  Because no one is confident in keeping their job.  Because the business climate is still poor.  Despite there being cheap money to borrow.

The problem with Keynesians, of course, is that they don’t understand business.  They’re macroeconomists.  They trade in theory.  Not reality.  When their theory fails, it’s not the theory.  It’s the application of the theory.  Or a greedy businessman.  Or banker.  It’s never their own stupidity.  No matter how many times they get it wrong.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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