Falling Demand in the Great Recession forces Southwest to Raise their Ticket Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2012

Week in Review

Typically prices rise during good economic times.  And fall during bad.  Because demand rises during good economic times and falls during bad times.  And prices typically follow demand.  As businesses can raise prices when the demand for their goods or services rises.  But rising prices don’t always indicate good economic times (see Southwest joins as airlines raise fares on most U.S. routes by Nancy Trejos posted 7/24/2012 on USA Today).

A three-month break from airfare increases has ended, with Southwest Airlines raising fares by $4 to $10 round trip on most routes inside the U.S…

Kevin Schorr of Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, a Virginia consulting firm, says airlines haven’t been able to raise fares in recent months because of the economic uncertainty surrounding the presidential election and Europe.

He says airlines are cutting the number of flights they’re making available. “By doing that, they’re able to raise fares if there’s less supply,” he says…

Paul Flaningan, a spokesman for Southwest, says the airline raised fares on non-sale tickets and excluded routes shorter than 500 miles.

Southwest, on the other hand, is raising prices because of falling demand.  Fewer people are flying because of the bad economy.  Leaving some planes to fly with empty seats.  Of course, a plane flying with empty seats makes it harder for that plane to cover its flying costs.  So they pulled some planes out of service.  Because a plane sitting on the tarmac is not burning jet fuel.  And planes sitting on the tarmac helps them fill the seats on the planes remaining in service.  Allowing those planes to fly profitably.

Then there are overhead costs.  With fewer ticket sales there’s less money coming in to pay their overhead costs.  This is an example of economies of scales in reverse.  With fewer unit sales (i.e., ticket sales) they have to recover their overhead costs on fewer tickets sold by increasing the price of each ticket.

So the airlines are not raising their ticket prices because they are greedy.  They are raising them because the economy is so bad that fewer people are flying.  Forcing them to raise ticket prices on the remaining few who are still flying.  Just another indicator of how long and deep the Great Recession has been.  And continues to be.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Inventories

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Before a Business Earns any Sales Revenue they have to Spend Cash to Build an Inventory

To sell something a business needs to have it on hand first.  Because when it comes to manufactured goods we rarely custom manufacture things.  No.  When businesses sell something it’s something they already have in their inventories.  So how do they get things into inventory?  With cash.  Businesses buy goods and place them in their inventories.  They exchange some of their cash for the goods they hope to sell at a later date.  And the bigger the inventory they maintain the more cash it will take.  Cash they have to spend before they sell these goods.  Which requires financing.  Each large business, in fact, has a finance department.  That works to raise cash.  So the businesses can buy inventory (and pay their operating and overhead expenses) before they start selling anything.

This is how the retail stores work.  For manufacturers it’s a little different.  They make things.  Out of other things.  Things that go through various stages of production before becoming a finished good.  So to make these things requires different types of inventories.  Raw goods.  Work in process.  And finished goods.  When they pull raw goods out of inventory and begin working with them they become work in process inventory.  When finished goods come off the final production line they enter finished goods inventory.  The finance department secures the cash to buy the raw materials.  And for the equipment and labor used through the stages of production to produce a finished good.  Which enters finished goods inventory until they sell and ship these goods.

Before a business earns any sales revenue they have to spend huge amounts of cash first to move material through these inventories.  Cash they can’t use for anything else.  Like paying their overhead expenses.  Or servicing their debt.  So it’s a delicate balancing act.  You need inventory to produce revenue.  But if you run out of cash you can’t produce any inventory.  Or pay your bills.  A large inventory creates a large variety of things for customers to buy.  But if customers aren’t buying that large inventory will consume cash leaving a business struggling to pay its bills.  If they become so cash-strapped they will cut their prices to unload slow moving inventory.  Cut back on production rates.  Even cut back on expenses.  As in cost-cutting.  And lay-offs.

Good Inventory Management is Crucial for the Financial Health of a Business

A business doesn’t start generating cash until they start selling their finished goods.  Sales numbers may sound high but most sales revenue goes to pay for the costs of producing inventory.  A firm’s accounting department records these revenues.  And matches them to the cost of goods sold.  Which in a retailer is what they paid to bring those goods into inventory.  A manufacturer may use a term like cost of sales.  Which would include all the costs they incurred throughout the stages of production from bringing raw material into the plant.  To the labor to process that material.  To the energy consumed.  Etc.  Everything that was an input in the production process to place a finished good into inventory.  So from their sales revenue they subtract their costs of goods sold (or cost of sales).  The number they arrive at is gross profit.  Which has to pay for everything else.  Rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, non-production salaries and benefits, insurances, taxes, etc.  And, of course, interest on the cash their finance department borrowed to start everything off.

There is a unique relationship between inventories and sales.  There are countless things that happen in a business but what happens between inventories and sales receives particular attention.  A business’ greatest cost is the cost of goods sold.  Or cost of sales.  Everything that falls above gross profit on their income statement (the financial statement that shows a firm’s profitability).  This cost is a function of inventory.  The bigger the inventory the bigger the cost.  The smaller the inventory the smaller the cost.  This is a direct relationship.  You move one the other follows.  Whereas the relationship between sales and inventory is a little different.  The higher the sales revenue the bigger the inventory cost.  Because you have to have inventory to sell inventory.  However, there is no such corresponding relationship for falling sales.  As sales can fall for a variety of reasons.  And they can fall with a falling inventory level.  They can fall with a steady inventory level.  And they can fall with a rising inventory level.

In business sales are everything.  There are few problems healthy sales can’t solve.  It can even overcome some of the worst cost management.  So rising sales revenue is good.  While falling sales revenue is not.  There are many reasons why sales fall.  But the reason that most affects inventories is typically a bad economy.  When people scale back their purchases in response to a bad economy a firm’s sales fall.  And when their sales fall their inventories, of course, rise.  Until management scales back production to reflect the weaker demand.  Because there is no point building things when people aren’t buying.  Those who don’t scale back production will see their sales fall and their inventories rise.  Creating cash problems.  Because sales aren’t creating cash.  And a growing inventory consumes cash.  Making it difficult to meet their daily expenses.  Such as payroll and benefits.  As well as paying interest on their debt.  Which can lead to insolvency.  And bankruptcy.  So good inventory management is crucial for the financial health of a business.

If Retail Sales are Falling and Inventories are Rising Bad Times are Coming

Businesses target specific inventory levels.  During good economic times they increase inventory levels because people are buying more.  During bad economic times they decrease inventory levels because people are buying less.  And they monitor changes in the actual sales and inventory levels continuously.  Adjusting inventory levels to match changes in sales.  To balance the need to have an inventory flush with goods to sell.  While keeping the cost of that inventory to the lowest level possible.  All businesses do this.  And if you track the aggregate of the inventory levels of all businesses you can get a good idea about what’s happening in the economy.

John Maynard Keynes used inventory levels in his macroeconomics formulas.  The ‘big picture’ of the economy.  Looking at inventories tied right into jobs.  If sales are outpacing inventory levels then businesses hire new workers to increase inventory levels.  So sales growing at a greater rate than inventory levels suggest that businesses will be creating new jobs and hiring new workers.  A good thing.  If inventory levels are growing greater than sales it’s a sign of an economic slowdown.  Suggesting businesses will be reducing production and laying off workers.  Not a good thing.

Because of the stages of production changes in finished goods inventories can create or destroy a lot of jobs.  For if the major retailers are cutting back on inventory levels due to weak demand that will ripple all the way through the stages of production back to the extraction of raw materials out of the ground.  Which makes inventory levels a key economic indicator.  And when we combine it with sales you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about the economy.  For if retail sales are falling and inventories are rising bad times are coming.  And a lot of people will probably soon be losing their jobs.  As the economy falls into a recession.  Which won’t end until these economic indicators turn around.  And sales grow faster than inventories.  Which indicates a recovery.  And jobs.  As they ramp up production to increase inventory levels to meet the new growing demand.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bernanke can’t Help this Bad Economy and Washington only Exasperates our Problems with their Regulatory Zeal

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 26th, 2011

Congressional Action thus far has Scared the Bejesus out of Households and Businesses

All eyes were on Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Ben Bernanke was giving a much anticipated speech.  And the markets waited with bated breath.  They’re not bated anymore (see Bernanke pledges Fed support, but notes limits by Chris Isidore posted 8/26/2011 on CNNMoney).

“Most of the economic policies that support robust economic growth in the long run are outside the province of the central bank,” he said.

And he warned that when Congress weighs future deficit reduction plans, it should be careful to not hurt the economy in the short-term. They “should not…disregard the fragility of the current economic recovery.”

He said there needs to be a better way of Congress making decisions on taxes and spending. And he said a repeat of the this summer’s contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling would likely hurt the economy.

“It is difficult to judge by how much these developments have affected economic activity thus far,” he said about the threat of default and the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. “But there seems little doubt that they have hurt household and business confidence and that they pose ongoing risks to growth.”

The economy has big problems.  Problems, though, that will take more than monetary policy to fix.  But when Congress addresses these fiscal issues they should be very careful not to damage the fragile economic recovery.  Because thus far their words and actions have only been scaring the bejesus out of households and businesses.

Businesses Prefer Stability and Responsible Government that doesn’t Govern Against their Interests

Households and businesses are so frightened of what the future holds that they are sitting on their money (see Key Passages From Bernanke’s Jackson Hole Remark by David Wessel posted 8/26/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

“Financial stress has been and continues to be a significant drag on the recovery, both here and abroad. Bouts of sharp volatility and risk aversion in markets have recently re-emerged in reaction to concerns about both European sovereign debts and developments related to the U.S. fiscal situation…. It is difficult to judge by how much these developments have affected economic activity thus far, but there seems little doubt that they have hurt household and business confidence and that they pose ongoing risks to growth.”

Uncertainty.  The greatest fear of business.  Because you can’t plan uncertainty.  Because it is uncertain.  Businesses prefer stability.  Households, too.  That, and responsible government.  One that doesn’t govern against their interests.

The Department of Energy is going to raise our Electric Bills by 35%  

And so far government hasn’t been delivering what the households and businesses want (see US breaks ground on first industrial-scale carbon capture project by staff of Business Green, part of the Guardian Environment Network guardian.co.uk, posted 8/26/2011 on the Guardian).

The US government’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) efforts stepped up a gear this week, with the start of construction on the government’s first industrial-scale scheme and funds worth $41m set aside for another 16 research projects.

Work on the plant in Decatur, Illinois, which received $141m of public money and another $66.5m from private sector sources, started just a few weeks after American Electric Power abandoned plans to build its $668m CCS facility.

Is this responsible government?  After record deficits caused the first downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt ever should the government still be spending money on bad green investments?  How do I know this is a bad green investment?  Simple.  The private sector will only invest 32% of its total costs.  The taxpayers are picking up the other 68%.

The DoE said its selection yesterday of 16 projects across 13 states to share $41m funding over three years would further the aim.

Each project will focus on developing technologies capable of capturing at least 90% of CO2 produced, as well as reducing the added costs at power plants to no more than a 35% increase in the cost of electricity produced.

Oh, and the Department of Energy is only going to raise our electric bills by 35%.  So not only do the taxpayers have to pay for the construction of this plant, our electric bills will increase afterwards.  For both households.  And businesses.  Which will be a further drag on the economy.  Which won’t make Ben Bernanke happy.

Killing Businesses with Regulatory Compliance Costs

But it gets worse.  The EPA is causing uncertainty for American businesses.  And killing them with compliance costs.  So much so that John Boehner wrote a letter to President Obama demanding a tally of his punishing regulations (see Five EPA rules that will cost more than $1 billion by Conn Carroll posted 8/26/2011 on The Washington Examiner).

Boehner specifically mentions one regulation that “will cost our economy as much as $90 billion per year. That rule, titled “Reconsideration of the 2008 Ozone Primary and Secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards” (aka “The Ozone Rule), is the biggest drag on growth that the EPA has formally proposed so far. The EPA is also working on global warming regulations that are sure to cost much more, but those proposals have not been published yet.

The EPA has published at least four other proposed regulations, however, that would inflict costs on the U.S. economy over or near $1 billion a year. These cost estimates are all from the EPA’s own numbers…

Here’s a chart summarizing the 5 regulations in this article:

 

And this is only 5 of them.  Imagine if you add them up in total.  Could it be holding back businesses?  Perhaps.  I mean, would you invest in anything new knowing billions of dollars of compliance costs were coming your way?  I wouldn’t.

Perhaps the Problem with the Bad Economy is the People trying to Fix It

Bernanke is right.  You can’t fix this stuff with monetary policy.  When you’re attacking American households and businesses like this, no one is going to borrow any money to invest.  No matter how cheap it is.

Furthermore, all of these costs are going to be passed onto the American consumer.  They always are.  So this means consumers will have less disposable income.  Which means this will be a further drag on the economy.  And less economic activity means less tax revenue.  Which takes us back to those growing deficits.  They ain’t going away.

Perhaps the problem with the bad economy isn’t due to a lack of demand as the Keynesians say.  Perhaps the problem is with the people trying to fix it.  And there is no quick solution to that problem.  As the 2012 election is still more than a year away.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,