Cash Flow

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2014

Economics 101

New Complex and Confusing Regulatory Policies require Additional Accounting and Legal Fees to Comply

There have been demonstrations  to raise the minimum wage.  President Obama even called for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  He also wants employers to pay salaried people overtime.  There have been demands for paid family leave (paying people for not working).  Unions want to organize businesses.  To get employers to pay union wages.  Provide union health care packages.  And union pensions.  Obamacare has made costly health insurance mandatory for all employees working 30 hours or more a week.

Environmental regulations have increased energy costs for businesses.  Sexual harassment training, safety training, on-the-job training (even people leaving college have to be trained before they are useful to many employers), etc., raise costs for businesses.  New financial reporting requirements require additional accounting fees to sort through.  New complex and confusing regulatory policies require additional legal fees to sort through them and comply.

With each payroll an employer has to pay state unemployment tax.  Federal unemployment tax.  Social Security tax (half of it withheld from each employee’s paycheck and half out of their pocket).  Medicare tax.  And workers’ compensation insurance.  Then there’s health insurance.  Vehicle insurance.  Sales tax.  Use tax.  Real property tax.  Personal property tax.  Licenses.  Fees.  Dues.  Office supplies.  Utilities.  Postage.  High speed Internet.  Tech support to thwart Internet attacks.  Coffee.  Snow removal.  Landscaping.  Etc.  And, of course, the labor, material, equipment and direct expenses used to produce sales.

The Problem with Guaranteed Work Hours is that there is no such thing as Guaranteed Sales

The worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression has created a dearth of full-time jobs.  In large part due to Obamacare.  As some employers struggling in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression can’t afford to offer their full-time employees health insurance.  So they’re not hiring full-time employees.  And are pushing full-time employees to part-time.  Because they can’t afford to add anymore overhead costs.  Which is hurting a lot of people who are having their own problems trying to make ends meet in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Especially part-time workers.

Now there is a new push by those on the left to make employers give a 21-day notice for work schedules for part time and ‘on call’ workers.  And to guarantee them at least 20 hours a week.  Things that are just impossible to do in many small retail businesses.  As anyone who has ever worked in a small retail business can attest to.  You can schedule people to week 3 weeks in advance but what do you do when they don’t show up for work?  Which happens.  A lot.  Especially when the weather is nice.  Or on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  As some people party so much on Friday and Saturday night that they are just too hung over to go to work.  Normally you call someone else to take their shift.  Then reschedule the rest of the week.  So you don’t give too many hours to the person who filled in.  In part to keep them under 30 hours to avoid the Obamacare penalty.  But also because the other workers will get mad if that person gets more hours than they did.

The problem with guaranteed work hours is that there is no such thing as guaranteed sales.  If you schedule 5 workers 3 weeks in advance and a blizzard paralyzes the city you may not have 5 workers worth of sales.  Because people are staying home.  And if no one is coming through your doors you’re not going to want to pay 5 people to stand around and do nothing.  For with no sales where is the money going to come from to pay these workers?  Either out of the business owner’s personal bank account.  Or they will have to borrow money.  It is easy to say we should guarantee workers a minimum number of work hours.  But should a business owner have to lose money so they can?  For contrary to popular belief, business owners are not all billionaires with money to burn.  Instead, they are people losing sleep over something called cash flow.

Cash Flow is everything to a Small Business Owner because it takes Cash to pay all of their Bills

To understand cash flow imagine a large bucket full of holes.  You pour water in it and it leaks right out.  That water leaking out is expenses.  The cost of doing business (see all of those costs above).  A business owner has to keep that bucket from running out of water.  And there is only one way to do it.  By pouring new water into the bucket to replace the water leaking out.  That new water is sales revenue.  What customers pay them for their products and/or services.  For a business to remain in business they must keep water in that bucket.  For if it runs out of water they can’t pay all of their expenses.  They’ll become insolvent.  And may have no choice but to file bankruptcy.  At which point they’ll have to get a job working for someone else.

Cash flow is everything to a small business owner.  Because it takes cash to pay all of their bills.  Payroll, insurance, taxes, etc.  None of which they can NOT pay.  For if they do NOT pay these bills their employees will quit.  Their insurers will cancel their policies.  And the taxman will pay them a visit.  Which will be very, very unpleasant.  So small business owners have to make sure that at least the same amount of water is going into the bucket that is draining out of the bucket to pay their bills.  And they have to make sure more water is entering the bucket than is draining out of the bucket to pay themselves.  And to grow their business.

This is why business owners don’t want to hire full-time people now.  Because full-time people require a lot of cash (wages/salary, payroll taxes, insurances, training, etc.).  They’re nervous.  For they don’t know what next will come out of the Obama administration that will require additional cash.  For every time they want to make life better for the workers (a higher minimum wage, overtime for salaried employees, guaranteed hours, etc.) it takes more cash.  Which comes from sales.  And if sales are down future cash flow into the business will also be down.  Leaving less available for all of those holes in the bucket.  So they guard their cash closely.  And are very wary of incurring any new cash obligations.  Lest they run out of cash.  And have to file bankruptcy.  Which is why they lose sleep over cash flow.  Especially now during the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.

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Nanny States emasculate the People and Screw and Frighten Retirees

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 22nd, 2013

Week in Review

This world isn’t what it used to be.  Everywhere people are looking for others to pay their way.  Or are so emasculated that living frightens them so that they run to government to parent them.  Forever.  What happened to those rugged men that entered the wilderness and built civilizations?  Who asked not for help.  All they wanted was to be left the hell alone.  Because they were men.  Rugged and fiercely independent.  Who filled their speech with obscenities whenever they talked about any form of government or nobility.  Because the government and noble classes were nothing but freeloaders looking for the good life they could force others to give them.

Today people have been so brainwashed by their government that they are incapable of doing anything without government helping them.  It’s a wonder that they can wipe their bottoms after a poop these days.  The growth of the nanny state has brought advanced economies to their knees around the world as the costs of their nanny states push them to the brink of bankruptcy.  And still the privileged/frightened people ask for more (see Business groups oppose ‘made in Ontario’ pension plan by Dana Flavelle Economy and Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew posted 12/17/2013 on The Star).

Ontario’s plans to introduce its own mandatory pension plan could put the province at a competitive disadvantage, business groups warn

“It will add a huge competitive disadvantage to the businesses in the provinces that opt to go down that road,” said Dan Kelly, president of Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

But labour groups and retirees are applauding the province’s move to fill the void left by Ottawa’s decision not to enhance the Canada Pension Plan at this time…

Federal finance minister Jim Flaherty and junior minister of state for finance Kevin Sorenson rejected growing calls to expand CPP [Canada Pension Plan]contributions and benefits, saying now is not the right time to hit employers with higher payroll taxes…

Business groups said they welcomed Ottawa’s decision, noting CPP contributions are one of the two biggest payroll taxes they pay. The other is employment insurance premiums…

Few dispute that Canada’s pension system is no longer adequate to meet the needs of an aging population. People are living longer and saving less, while fewer private-sector employers offer pension coverage at work, a trend that plagues many industrialized nations.

Why are people saving less?  Two reasons.  First, the more the government taxes away the less they can save.  Second, with the government making promises they can’t keep (we will take care of you in your retirement so instead of saving your money spend it) why should anyone save anything for their own retirement?

Of course labor groups (the privileged) and retirees (the frightened) applaud this.  Labor wants to give their members a better life than those outside their union.  And retirees are living so long into retirement they’re living beyond their contributions into the CPP.  And are all for a little generational theft to make up the shortfall.

The defined-benefit pension is a relic of another era.  It doesn’t work anymore.  If we would have kept having babies like we once did the Ponzi scheme may have kept working.  But we didn’t.  So the Ponzi scheme is collapsing.  As they all eventually do.  The rest of the private sector has gone to 401(k)s and other such retirement vehicles.  Where we put OUR money away for OUR retirement.  Where the government can’t get their dirty little fingers on it.  This is the future of retirement savings.  Because unlike defined-benefit pensions they are sustainable.

All government pension plans need to make such a change.  Because once they do the age of the population will not matter.  Because you are saving YOUR money for YOUR retirement.  Those retired and those within a decade or so of retirement need to be protected from the folly of government in their retirement.  But younger generations coming up need to provide for their own retirement.  Because we can’t keep raising taxes.  For all that does is send jobs from the First World to the Third World.  Good for the Third World.  But bad for the First World.  And retirees.

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Democrats and Unions are impoverishing American Cities

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 21st, 2013

Week in Review

Detroit had a massive public sector.  Lots of union government jobs.  With very generous benefits.  Then the city began losing population.  As the city shrank the public sector did not.  As the city could no longer support the public sector on tax revenue they turned to borrowing.  At her bankruptcy her pension obligations were in the billions.  And were just unsustainable.  With a lot of those retirees going to see huge cuts in their retirement benefits.  A first for a public sector union.  And one that may set a precedent for other impoverished cities (see Cities where poverty is soaring by Michael B. Sauter and Thomas C. Frohlich, 24WallSt.com, posted 12/16/2013 on Yahoo! Homes).

Many of these cities show a symptom of the regions hit hardest by the recession — a significant decline in real estate value. Nationally, the average home value during the three-year period of 2010-2012 was down by 9% compared to the previous three-year period. In eight of the 10 cities with soaring poverty rates, property values fell by at least 10%. Homes in Eastpointe lost nearly half of their value. In Inkster, Michigan, another city where poverty grew substantially, an average of 43.3% of homes were worth less than $50,000 between 2010 and 2012, compared to just 11.8% of homes during the 2007-2009 period…

Several of these cities were already struggling prior to the recession, in part because of their reliance on manufacturing. The industry had been declining for years, and the recession only made matters worse. In Salisbury, North Carolina, employment in manufacturing fell from 15.5% of all jobs to 8.3%. Goshen, Indiana, another city with a major increase in poverty, is heavily dependent on the auto industry — more than a third of the working population was employed in manufacturing between 2010 and 2012. According to Joe Frank at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, this dependence had particularly dire consequences during the recession.

The Democrats are all Keynesians.  Who believe in government spending.  And keeping interest rates artificially low to stimulate the economy.  To encourage people to buy big expensive houses.  Just because interest rates are low.  So people did.  With mortgages so cheap everyone was getting them.  And as these buyers flooded the market housing prices soared.  Creating a great housing bubble.  Which collapsed when interest rates rose.  Resetting the rates on those subprime adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  Raising monthly payments.  Beyond what some people could afford.  Forcing them into bankruptcy.  Creating the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the collapse of housing prices.

The UAW made American cars so expensive people started buying the less expensive imports.  As most people don’t have UAW contracts giving them a fat paycheck and generous benefits.  Leaving them to get by on less than UAW workers.  Which meant they turned to the less costly imports.  Built by companies that didn’t have those great legacy costs of years of overly generous contracts that became unsustainable.  Pension costs and health care for retirees (which outnumbered active workers) forced GM and Chrysler to ask for a government bailout to avoid bankruptcy.  Asking the taxpayer to help them pay the generous pensions and health care costs of others.  Instead of bringing these benefits into line with the rest of America.

Democrats are Keynesians.  They believe in government intervention into the private sector economy.  And they protect their friends in unions to get their votes.  Raising costs for everyone else.  These policies, though, are just impoverishing American cities.  At least the ones dominated by unions and/or Democrats.

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Alberta Health Services privatizes some Pensions to Cut Health Care Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

Public sector pensions are pushing cities and states to bankruptcy.  The Detroit bankruptcy was due in large part to the staggering debt the city took on to meet current pension obligations (and health care cost for retirees).  While the pension fund remained woefully underfunded.  The Detroit bankruptcy may set a precedent for other debt-laden cities.  Who are drowning under the costs of their bloated public sectors.  As they’ve run out of room to raise taxes any further.  Which wasn’t a problem during the initial surge of public sector growth.  But now that those retirement rolls have grown so large cities and states have found those generous pensions to be just unsustainable.  Even in Canada (see Alberta Health Services privatizing Edmonton labs posted 12/11/2013 on CBC News).

Alberta Health Services is going ahead with its plan to privatize all of its diagnostic lab services in Edmonton…

The new lab will replace hospital labs operated by AHS and Covenant Health as well as the services provided by DynaLIFE…

No jobs will be lost and all staff positions will be protected by the new employer, AHS says.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta represents about 75% of the 2,000 workers affected by the changeover.

Even though AHS claims wages won’t change, the union believes pensions will take a hit.

“This is going to a private provider,” said HSAA president Elisabeth Ballermann.

“The private provider by definition cannot participate in the pension plan that our public sector members are currently part of and that’s an enormous loss for those workers.”

A loss perhaps for 2000 workers.  But a win for the health care system in Alberta and the people who use it.  As the cost savings from privatizing these pension obligations will free up money to spend on health care.  Something to think about as Obamacare continues to rollout and destroy the private health insurance industry on its way to establishing national health care.  Nationalizing one-sixth of the U.S. economy.  Creating a windfall of new public sector workers to vote Democrat.  And unsustainable pension costs that will increase the cost of health care.  Which will lead to longer wait times and rationing.  As well as adding to the deficit and debt.  Which will, in time, lead to the same cost-cutting actions like Alberta is taking.  Or something a little more painful like they did in Detroit.

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A ‘Living’ Wage would probably push Quiznos into Bankruptcy Court

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2013

Week in Review

Minimum wage workers just picketed for a ‘living’ wage.  Wanting $15/ hour.  About twice what many are making now.  For they believe that the fast food restaurants they work at are getting rich off of their unskilled labor.  And they want a piece of the profits they’re making.  And they’ll cite the profits of, say, McDonald’s and say they can afford to pay their workers more.  But the thing is, most of those McDonald’s stores are independent franchises.  And the fact that McDonald’s may be making the big bucks it doesn’t mean their franchisees are.

Owning a franchise is a way to own a restaurant without having to spend money on marketing.  And you don’t have to create a menu.  In fact, when you buy a franchise it pretty much comes with an operating manual.  Something most other restaurants don’t come with.  Which is why restaurants are the number one business to fail.  Because running a restaurant is hard.  Even a franchise (see Crisis Quickens at Quiznos by Julie Jargon, The Wall Street Journal, posted 12/6/2013 on Yahoo! Finance).

The once-booming sandwich chain Quiznos is stumbling two years into a major turnaround effort, prompting the company to seek concessions from creditors owed nearly $600 million.

The Denver-based chain, known formally as QIP Holder LLC, has struggled with store closures and tension with franchisees. It recently missed a payment on a loan, and has been negotiating to restructure some or all of its debt load with creditors, who have hired bankers and lawyers, people familiar with the matter said…

Quiznos…shrank to about 3,000 stores world-wide two years ago, and to around 2,100 today, including roughly 1,500 stores in the U.S., people familiar with the matter said. Hundreds of the U.S. stores are underperforming and could close in the next year, some of these people said…

Franchisees long have complained that Quiznos requires them to buy food and other supplies from a Quiznos subsidiary, which they allege charges more than what they would pay to purchase those goods themselves.

To address franchisees’ concerns, current management decreased costs for food and supplies this summer, a person close to the company said. Quiznos reviews food and supply purchases annually to compare market prices, and shares results with franchisees, this person added.

Current and former franchisees said high costs ate into stores’ profitability, causing many to close. With fewer stores contributing to an advertising fund, the chain had fewer resources to promote new products, hurting sales, which resulted in more store closures, they said.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Brian Peticolas, who owns a Quiznos in Alton, Ill. “I almost closed my store five months ago, but I didn’t have any other prospects so I kept the doors open.”

Mr. Peticolas said his store averages $5,000 a week in sales, down from $7,000 a week three years ago. He estimates the restaurant is losing up to $300 a week.

Owning a franchise is a lot easier than trying to open and run your own restaurant.  Because it comes with the menu, the restaurant layout, a list of the equipment you’ll need, an ‘operating manual’ that tells you everything you need to do, etc.  New items are researched and developed.  Then marketed.  And everything you need to sell is shipped to your store.  But this comes at a price.  The franchise fee.  And in the case of Quiznos, owning a costly supply chain.

Pizzerias and sub shops are some of the most competitive businesses.  Most are forced to sell ‘a low price’ because of the great competition.  But when you lower your price you hurt your ability to introduce and market new items.  To get an advantage over your competition.  But if you raise your franchise fee or your food/supply costs to your franchisees you will make it impossible for them to operate at a profit.  Causing store closures.  Which makes it even harder to introduce and market new items.  As the one store owner said, it is a vicious cycle.  That usually ends in bankruptcy court.  Or in an out of court settlement with your creditors.

There is only one thing that can make all of this worse.  Higher wages.  Which will only accelerate franchise closings.  And the trip to bankruptcy court.  Of course the people picketing won’t believe this.  Until the store they work at closes.  Which will most likely happen if they raise the minimum wage to a ‘living’ wage.  Especially at these Quiznos franchises.  Which are struggling to stay out of bankruptcy court.  And will probably lose that struggle.  Even if the minimum wage isn’t raised to a ‘living’ wage.

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The Government Subsidized Fisker Hybrid Manufacturer is Liquidating its Assets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 24th, 2013

Week in Review

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has had some problems with its lithium-ion batteries.  And now there is an icing problem with its engines.  Which is a bug to fix in their radical new design that eliminated the bleed-air system from its engines.  Reducing weight and increasing the efficiencies of the engines.  Which translates into lower fuel/operating costs.  Making the Boeing 787 Dreamliner a winning economic model.  And why airlines are waiting anxiously to add it to their fleets.  Now contrast this to a losing economic model.  The electric/hybrid car (see Fisker sells its assets to Hong Kong tycoon, files for bankruptcy by Jerry Hirsch posted 11/22/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

An investor group headed by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li purchased the federal loan made to Karma plug-in hybrid sports car maker Fisker Automotive and acquired the assets of the nearly defunct automaker.

Fisker has voluntarily filed petitions to liquidate under the U.S. Bankruptcy code, and Li’s Hybrid Technology has committed up to $8 million in financing to fund the sale and Chapter 11 process.

The federal government, which had lent money to the Anaheim auto company under a Department of Energy clean vehicles program, will lose about $139 million on the deal.

“Because of these actions, along with the sale announced today, the Energy Department has protected nearly three-quarters of our original commitment to Fisker,” said Bill Gibbons, a department spokesman.

The all-electric car suffers from range anxiety.  The dread a person feels as they are far from home and their battery looks like it won’t have enough charge to get them home.  Hybrids are expensive.  But carrying around that extra internal combustion engine in addition the electric system makes the car heavier.  And reduces its battery range.  Meaning that if you drive more than, say, a 45-mile round-trip you’ll be using that internal combustion engine most of the time.  Which will burn more fuel than in a gasoline-only powered car.  Because they don’t have the extra weight of the electric system to drag around.

This is why there isn’t a long list of orders for these electric/hybrid cars like there is for the Dreamliner.  For the Dreamliner is what most airlines are looking for in a jetliner for solid economic reasons.  While the electric/hybrid car is more of a novelty.  Few people are buying them.  And because of this they need government subsidies to remain in business.  Whereas Boeing’s strong sales are one of the few things driving the nation’s GDP into positive territory.

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FT187: “It’s odd how we can never afford a tax cut but we can always afford new spending.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

The Democrats’ idea of Bipartisanship is Republican Capitulation

It’s that time of the year again.  Summer is winding down.  The weather is starting to cool.  The harvest is coming in.  The stores are already stocking their shelves with Halloween decorations.  Yes, it’s the end of the government’s fiscal year.  The time the government will run out of money unless Congress passes a new budget.  Or what passes for budgets these days.  Continuing resolutions.

This that magical time of year when Republicans and Democrats come together to negotiate the government’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.  The give and take process where they sit down and work with each other.  Civilly.  Saying things like, “Yes, that is too costly.  We need to spend less there.”  And, “You’re right, that is important to the people and we should spend more there.”  And the occasional, “I agree.  That program is no longer needed and we can remove it from the budget entirely.”

I am, of course, lying.  These are things that are rarely, if ever, said to each other.  For when it comes to these budget battles it is always the same.  The Republicans try to be responsible and cut spending.  The Democrats then call them greedy corporate toady Nazis.  The Republicans will then suffer a general emasculation and give the Democrats their spending hikes.  And perhaps a tax hike or two.  While asking them to please like them and invite them to the cool parties.  And the Democrats will then commend the Republicans’ bipartisanship.  What others would call capitulation.  Happy that things are once again right in the world.  With the Republicans once again the Democrats’ bitch.

Entitlement Spending creates a Permanent Underclass that keeps the Privileged Class in Power

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, known more simply as Lord Acton, said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men.”  And boy was he on to something there.  For something happens when some good conservatives go to Washington.  They enter a world like no other.  Nothing they could ever have dreamed of.  A world that once belonged only to the nobility and the aristocracy.  Those things Americans fought for their independence from.  And here they are.  After winning an election to rein in the kind of government spending that makes this living possible.  And they say, “What, end all of this?  Are you mad?”

So many cross over to the dark side.  Sell their souls.  Forsake their constituents.   Do great dishonor to our Founding Fathers.  All because they like the money and the power.  Especially the power.  Some resist.  Those from the Tea Party seem more immune than most when it comes to the corrupting influences of Washington.  But these people who stand on principle?  Those who serve their constituents honorably?  The left will fling every invective upon them.  A figuratively flinging of excrement.  To try to beat them down and break them.  To get them, too, to forsake their constituents.  And to join them as they drop trou and defecate on the Constitution.  Figuratively, too, of course.  At least I hope so.

So this is what makes the budget process so adversarial.  You have those who are trying to do the right thing for the people.  And those on the other side who want to corrupt these people.  To get them to quit fighting against them and to join them.  So they can maintain their privileged class.  This is what all that entitlement spending is all about.  It’s nothing but alms.  To keep the people content enough so they don’t rise up.  But not too content that they don’t fear that those greedy corporate toady Nazis may take away their meager alms.  And once they get someone to think like that they have a voter for life.

There comes a Point when Raises in Tax Rates actually Reduce Tax Revenue

The key, then, is keeping people poor.  For the whole privileged class thing those in Washington have doesn’t work unless they have poor people who need them.  Which is why they spend so much time reminding the poor how much they need them.  The Democrats in Congress.  Who are always there fighting for them.  Keeping their alms flowing.  But also keeping them poor.  Which a welfare state does well.  Because if you have enough to subsist lethargy will do the rest and destroy the spirit.  Getting the poor to accept their place as a permanent underclass.  That needs a permanent privileged class taking care of them.

There is only one problem.  This destroys lives.  People in this permanent underclass may have gone on and done great things.  They may have been doctors.  They may have been engineers.  They may have been entrepreneurs.  But they will never be those things because the left sacrificed them to maintain their privileged class.  Forever consigning them to the underclass.  So the privileged class has someone to take care of.  No matter how costly it gets to maintain this entitlement culture.  No matter how great the deficits get.  Or how great the national debt grows.

So there is another problem. As you convert taxpayers into tax-consumers you have to keep raising taxes on those remaining in the tax base.  But as you raise tax rates you put the brakes on economic expansion.  And with reduced economic activity there is reduced tax revenue.  There comes a point when raises in tax rates actually reduce tax revenue.  And we’ve passed that point.  Which is why we have record deficits.  A record national debt.  And the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Because we are spending, taxing and regulating too much.  Which is why uncorrupted conservatives want to cut taxes, defund Obamacare, roll back other costly regulations and reduce spending.  Things the left bitterly opposes.  For doing so means we don’t need them as much as they need us to need them.

So as the budget battle commences you will hear the usual refrain from the left.  We can’t afford tax cuts.  As they equate tax cuts with government spending.  But we can always afford new government spending.  So the left will call for bipartisanship.  That is, capitulation.  And eventually make the Republicans their bitch.  Again.  And increase the national debt.  Again.  Putting the nation on the path to bankruptcy.  What the left considers a small price to pay to maintain their privileged class.  As long as that bankruptcy comes after they’re dead and buried.  After they enjoyed their time in the privileged class.  Which is why the left is also less likely to believe in God and life after death.  For it is easier to be bad when there is nothing to fear after a bad life.

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Restaurants and Franchises

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2013

Economics 101

Changing a Restaurant Name can be Costly and hurt the Marketing of your Brand

What is the number one business most likely to fail?  Restaurants.  About half of all new restaurants fail within the first 5 years.  Why?  Because people who can cook typically open up restaurants.  And that’s all they know.  Cooking.  Sadly, cooking is the smallest part of owning a restaurant.  And it’s these other areas that people who can cook fail miserably.  Because when they open up a restaurant there’s no operating manual that comes with the building they buy or lease that clearly tells them everything they need to know or do.

Chefs in the finest restaurants are masters of their craft.  Because they study how to master the art of cooking.  They didn’t go to business school.  They went to culinary school.  But running a restaurant is more than cooking.  It’s a business.  A business that must produce revenue to cover all of its expenses.  Which is kind of hard to do when you don’t know how to market your restaurant to get people to walk through the doors.  Without which there is no revenue.  Or when you don’t know all of your expenses.  Which starts with the restaurant’s name.

A good name will not guarantee success.  But a bad name can hurt business.  It should not confuse people.  Such as ’57 Chevy, for example.  Which may be your favorite car.  But people will think cars instead of food when they hear it or see it.  And it shouldn’t discourage them from eating there.  Like Average Joe’s, for example.  Because people rarely go out to restaurants that have just received an average review.  So a name is important.  And if you start with a bad one it can be very costly to change.  There’s building signage.  There could be a pylon sign near the road.  Signage inside the restaurant.  Not to mention replacing all of your menus.  These things cost.  And cause confusion with the identity of the restaurant.  Which could hurt the marketing of your brand.

Getting Menu Prices just Right is often the Difference between Success and Bankruptcy

Choosing a good restaurant location is critical, too.  A nice building you may be able to easily afford will do you no good if it isn’t near people.  As people aren’t going to travel great distances to dine at an unknown restaurant.  Which means choosing a good location may require choosing a costly location.  The purchase price/lease price may be much higher than anticipated.  Property taxes may be higher.  Both real (the land) and personal (the equipment inside).  And may be a cost item that a person who can cook didn’t even know was required.  Like the additional expenses to get all the permits and licenses to open for business.

Once opened there’s payroll.  Which you have to pay even when you’re not doing much business.  And a sit-down restaurant requires a lot of people.  Kitchen help to cook, clean and prep food.  Someone to bus tables and wash dishes.  A hostess to seat customers.  And cash them out.  A wait staff to wait on customers.  A bartender (if you have a bar).  A restaurant needs a general manager, a front of house manager and a back of house manager.  And an executive chef.  If the owner is the executive chef he or she will have to hire others to manage those other areas.  Have a spouse split all management duties with the executive chef.  Stressing the marriage.  Or risk poor service that will prevent customers from returning.

Then there are the utility expenses.  Electric, gas, water and telephone.  A point-of-sale system to track sales and manage inventory.  Or longer hours to allow manual bookkeeping and inventory control.  Dishes, cutlery, napkins, toilet paper, light bulbs, dish soap, filters, grease disposal, etc.  And a pleasing interior design.  As people want to enjoy a good meal in a pleasant environment.  Things that cost.  And things revenue must pay.  Which brings us to the menu.  The thing that will make or break your restaurant.  If you have a 10-page menu to appeal to as many people as possible you will have too much of your money in your food inventory.  And you’ll end up throwing away a lot of slow moving product.  If it’s not unique enough people will have little reason to come into your restaurant.  As will menu prices that are too high will, too.  But if those prices are too low you won’t have enough money to pay for all of these expenses.  Getting these menu prices just right is often the difference between success and bankruptcy.

Buying a Franchise is like Buying a Restaurant that comes with a Complete and Detailed Operating Manual

A big reason why restaurants fail is because owners don’t understand their costs.  And because they don’t understand their costs they don’t know how to size their food portions.  Or how to price their menu items.  Portion sizes that are too large require a bigger inventory.  Which costs more.  Leads to more waste.  And that waste leads to more costs.  While prices too low won’t generate enough revenue to cover those portion sizes.  As well as labor and overhead costs.

In a restaurant the menu is everything.  A person highly skilled in cooking can populate a menu with some delicious dishes.  But a menu too large can confuse customers who don’t want to read a book before ordering.  It could expand the inventory to include a lot of frozen and canned items because they will last longer.  But are more costly than buying fresh.  Whereas a large inventory of fresh items will not last as long.  Leading to a lot of waste.  So a shorter menu allows a smaller inventory of fresh product.  Which increases the quality of the food served.  And keeps costs down.

The restaurant owner can get all of this right but if they can’t get people to walk through that door it’s all for naught.  And getting people to walk through your door can be the hardest part.  There are many options but they all require more time and more money.  And these are things a restaurant owner has little left to spare.  Which is why so few restaurants succeed.  But there is another way to own a restaurant.  One that has a much better chance of succeeding.  And you don’t even need culinary training to succeed.  You can do this by buying a restaurant franchise.

Buying a franchise is like buying a restaurant that comes with a complete and detailed operating manual.  That tells you everything you need to know and do.  It gives you your menu.  Your portion sizes.  Your menu pricing (or at least a starting point that can be adjusted for your geographic location).  And something even more valuable.  A built-in, extensive marketing program.  So that you can have a flow of people coming through your door the day you open for business.  Because people already know everything about your restaurant because it’s part of a great national (or international) chain.  And they may have just been waiting for one to open near them.  Something a chef opening his or own restaurant can only dream about.  But that franchisee can’t have the satisfaction of bringing their dream to life like that chef can.  As long as he or she is not in that half that fails in the first 5 years.

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Unfunded Pension and Retire Health Care Liabilities are a Problem for more Cities than just Detroit

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

The problem all our big cities are having is the cost of pension and retiree health care for their public sectors.  These cities made ridiculous promises during their contract negotiations with their public sector unions.  Promising them generous pension and health care benefits for life for retirees.  Benefits a later generation would have to pay for.  Which is why these cities are imploding under these costs.  And why Detroit filed bankruptcy.  These cities never put away the money for these future benefits because they were just too costly.  Besides, they no doubt thought, when the bill comes due it will be someone else’s problem.  And that’s where we are today.

How bad is it?  Really bad.  Especially in Detroit.  A city that has about half the population it had when it entered into those agreements.  And nowhere near the automotive industry it had back then.  A race riot in 1967 caused a white flight.  And the black middle class would follow years later.  As the jobs left Detroit for the suburbs.  And the people followed those jobs out of the city.  Just decimating the tax base that has to pay those unfunded benefits (see The Retirement Surprise In Detroit’s Bankruptcy by Robert C. Pozen posted 7/25/2013 on Brookings).

When Detroit recently filed for bankruptcy, one number surprised a lot of observers–$6.4 billion in other post-employment benefits (OPEB). OPEB is primarily comprised of unfunded obligations to pay health care costs for municipal employees.

By contrast, the unfunded pension obligations of Detroit were $3 billion–less than half the size of its OPEB…

The Pew Charitable Trust did a study in 2013 of both pension and OPEB shortfalls in the 30 largest cities in the United States. The three cities other than Detroit with the largest pension shortfalls were:

$14,302 per city household in New York City;
$12,170 per city household in Philadelphia; and
$11,389 per city household in Portland, Oregon.

But the shortfalls for OPEB, primarily healthcare obligations, were significantly larger. According to Pew, the three cities other than Detroit with the largest OPEB shortfalls were:

$22,857 per city household in New York City,
$18,962 per city household in Boston
$13,487 per city household in San Francisco.

These numbers are staggering.  Based on the U.S. Census, there are about 264,209 households in Detroit.  If you divide the total unfunded pension and health care costs by the number of households you get $35,578.  That is, to pay this outstanding debt it will cost each household in the city of Detroit $35,578.  Which will be very difficult to do when the median household income in Detroit is $27, 862.

Those in the union say these people are owed their retirement and health care benefits.  Because they made a deal.  But they didn’t make a deal with the people currently paying the taxes.  What this amounts to is generational theft.  Like all those municipal pensions and health care benefits.  For when they made those generous agreements the people who ultimately had to pay them weren’t in the room when they signed those contracts.  In fact they weren’t even born yet.  The people demanding their benefits now and their union representation apparently had no problem sticking it to future generations.  They were the ones in the room when they signed those contracts.  And didn’t give the people stuck paying for their benefits a second thought.

All big cities with big public sectors have the same problem.  They may not be ‘Detroit’ bad but they have bills that they won’t be able to pay.  There are about 100 U.S. cities with a population of a quarter million or more.  If each one of them had this problem that’s about $1 trillion in unfunded benefits just in these cities alone.  With trillion dollar deficits already, Obamacare coming on line and Social Security and Medicare projected to go broke the federal government just won’t be able to bail these cities out.  Perhaps bringing the days of generational theft to an end.  Which may be the only good thing to come from a wave of municipal bankruptcies.

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The City of Detroit Bankruptcy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 22nd, 2013

Economics 101

There is nothing more Dangerous to a City’s Finances than a Shrinking Tax Base

The federal debt is at record levels.  Because federal spending is at record levels.  But those on the left say there’s nothing to worry about.  And try to expand federal spending further.  With more government benefits to hand out to the people.  And an ever growing federal bureaucracy.  Full of new jobs with generous pay and benefits.  All funded by the taxpayer.

Businesses in the private sector cannot operate like this.  Because businesses have to pay their costs with the things and/or services they sell.  That people willingly buy.  So there is a limit on the costs a business can incur.  But not so with government.  For the government has the power to tax.  To forcibly take more money from the people against their will.  Something businesses just can’t do.  And when that fails they can borrow money by issuing bonds.  Which are generally easy to sell.  Because governments have the power to tax.  All but guaranteeing that they will repay those bonds.  And when that’s not enough the federal government has one other benefit businesses don’t have.  They can print money.  Further guaranteeing that they will be able to redeem their bonds.  Making them that much easier to sell.

Government below the federal level, though, doesn’t have that last option.  So when they want to spend more money than they have they have no choice but to borrow.  And hope that their tax base doesn’t erode over time.  For there is nothing more dangerous to a city’s finances than a shrinking tax base.  Especially when the city has a huge and growing public sector.  Enjoying generous pay and benefits.  Especially pension and health care benefits for retirees.  Where promises made must be kept decades into the future.  During which time a lot of things can happen.  Such as that tax base shrinking.

Detroit’s Tax Base plummeted while the Size of the Public Sector did not for Government Never grows Smaller

This is the problem the City of Detroit has.  And it is why they filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.  Thanks to the automotive industry and World War II destroying most of the industrial economies of the world, Detroit became an economic power house.  And one of America’s grandest cities in the 1950s.  Paris of the Midwest they called Detroit.  Automotive capital of the world.  The Motor City.  The mecca of American manufacturing.  Having one of the richest middle class.  And one of the largest black middle classes.  Everyone was doing well in Detroit.  So the City of Detroit did the only rational thing a city could do with a swelling tax base.  They exploded the public sector.  All paid for with higher taxes.  Including a new city income tax.

But that growing public sector soon turned Detroit into a business unfriendly city.  With more red tape, regulatory costs and a corporate income tax.  And rising union demands during contract negotiations made it even less business friendly.  So businesses started leaving the city.  Taking their jobs with them.  And people followed.  Then the race riots hit in 1967.  Five days of unprecedented violence.  Thus beginning the great white flight from the city.  And the great population decline of the City of Detroit.  Culminating in the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in history.

At Detroit’s peak her population topped out at about 1.8 million people.  Today there are but 680,000 people remaining.  A loss of 1.12 million people.  About 62% of her peak population.  So Detroit’s tax base plummeted.  But the size of the public sector didn’t.  For government never grows smaller.  So Detroit continued on with the overhead expenses of a city with a population of 1.8 million people.  With the tax revenue of a city with a population of 680,000 people.  Making bankruptcy inevitable.

The Problems of the City of Detroit are the Problems of the Nation Writ Large

At the height of Detroit’s industrial might there were approximately 300,000 automotive or manufacturing jobs in the city.  Today there are a mere 27,000.  That’s a loss of 273,000 jobs.  That’s 273,000 breadwinners whose families are no longer in the city.  If each of them had on average 2.5 children who remained in the city with their parents that would have added about 1.2 million to the city’s population.  Which corresponds pretty closely to the 1.12 million the city actually lost.  So we can see how the loss of the jobs devastated the population.  But we can also see what it did to the city’s finances.

Let’s assume these breadwinners had their children when they were in their 20s.  So the breadwinner was still in the workforce when their children were 20 and had entered the workforce.  Let’s say this happened over a 40-year period.  So, on average during that 40-year period, there were an additional 136,500 jobs per year.  Let’s say they each owned a house and paid property tax of $750.  Over 40 years that’s about $4.1 billion in lost property tax revenue.  If each of these workers earned $35,000 on average over those 40 years and paid a 3% city income tax that’s about $9.8 billion in lost personal income tax revenue.  Finally, if we figure a 50-50 split between labor and material, a 15% overhead and a 2% net profit we can extrapolate that $35,000 average personal income into approximately $448 billion in lost corporate revenue over those 40 years.  At a city corporate income tax rate of 2% that’s about $9 billion in lost corporate income tax revenue.  Adding these all together we see a total loss of tax revenue to the city of approximately $18.8 billion due to the loss of 273,000 jobs.  Plus or minus.

This is a crude guesstimate with an emphasis on crude but it could be close enough to explain what happened in Detroit.  For with the falling tax base Detroit turned to borrowing more and more money to pay for an oversized public sector.  To service a disappearing population.  With those pension and retiree health care benefits being especially burdensome.  Which forced the city to borrow so much it left them with a debt of $18.5 billion (very close to the $18.8 billion in our little exercise above) that they don’t have a chance in hell of ever repaying.  Leaving bankruptcy as the only option.  Unless the federal government steps in.  Which probably won’t happen.  And shouldn’t happen.  For Detroit is not the only government suffering under the weight of unfunded pension obligations and retiree health care benefits.  If they bail out Detroit then they’ll have to bail out all other states and municipalities.  Which they can’t afford to do.  For the federal government has its own problems with pensions (Social Security) and retiree health care benefits (Medicare).  And they’ve just added a new government benefit that will dwarf the costs of Social Security and Medicare.  Obamacare.  All while burdening the economy with a slew of anti-business regulations that has chased jobs out of the economy.  And out of the country.

So the federal government can’t step in to save Detroit.  For the federal government is working to ‘out Detroit’ Detroit.  As the problems of Detroit are the problems of the nation writ large.  What’s happening in Detroit will happen in other states and cities across the country.  That are spending more money than they have to support an oversized public sector.  And in time what’s happening in Detroit will happen to the federal government.  Bailing out these states and cities will only hasten the downfall of the federal government.  Which the federal government will do whatever it can to prevent.  For while the nation can survive a city like Detroit going bankrupt the nation cannot survive a federal bankruptcy.  Because the numbers are just too big at the federal level.

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