Why the Stock Market is so Good when the Economy is so Bad

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2014

Economics 101

No One is going to get Rich by Buying and Selling only one Share of Stock

It takes money to make money.  I’m sure we all heard that before.  If you want to ‘flip’ a house you need money for a down payment to get a mortgage first.  If you want to start a business you need to save up some money first.  Or borrow it from a family member.  And if you want to get rich by playing the stock market you need money.  A lot of money.  Because you only make money by selling stocks.  And before you can sell them you have to buy them.

Stock prices may go up and down a lot.  But over a period of time the average stock price may only increase a little bit.  So if you bought one share of stock at, say, $35 and sold it later at, say, $37.50 that’s a gain of 7.14%.  Which is pretty impressive.  Just try to earn that with a savings account at a bank.  Of course, you only made a whopping $2.50.  So no one is going to get rich by buying and selling only one share of stock.

However, if you bought 10,000 shares of a stock at $35/share and then sold it later at $37.50 that’s a whole other story.  Your initial stock purchase will cost you $350,000.  And that stock will sell for $375,000 at $37.50/share.  Giving you a gain of $25,000.  Let’s say you make 6 buys and sells in a year like this with the same money.  You buy some stock, hold it a month or so and then sell it.  Then you use that money to buy some more stock, hold it for a month or so and then sell it.  Assuming you replicate the same 7.14% stock gain through all of these transactions the total gain will come to $150,000.  And if you used no more than your original investment of $350,000 during that year that $350,000 will have given you a return on investment of 42.9%.  This is why the rich get richer.  Because they have the money to make money.  Of course, if stock prices move the other way investors can have losses as big as these gains.

Rich Investors benefit most from the Fed’s Quantitative Easing that gives us Near-Zero Interest Rates

Rich investors can make an even higher return on investment by borrowing from a brokerage house.  He or she can open a margin account.  Deposit something of value in it (money, stocks, option, etc.) and use that value as collateral.  This isn’t exactly how it works but it will serve as an illustration.  In our example an investor could open a margin account with a value of $175,000.  So instead of spending $350,000 the investor can borrow $175,000 from the broker and add it to his or her $175,000.  Bringing the total stock investment to $350,000.  Earning that $25,000 by risking half of the previous amount.  Bringing the return on investment to 116.7%.  But these big returns come with even bigger risks.  For if your stock loses value it can make your losses as big as those gains.

Some investors borrow money entirely to make money.  Such as carry trades.  Where an investor will borrow a currency from a low-interest rate country to invest in the currency of a higher-interest rate country.  For example, they could borrow a foreign currency at a near zero interest rate (like the Japanese yen).  Convert that money into U.S. dollars.  And then use that money to buy an American treasury bond paying, say, 2%.  So they basically borrow money for free to invest.  Making a return on investment without using any of his or her money.  However, these carry trades can be very risky.  For if the yen gains value against the U.S. dollar the investor will have to pay back more yen than they borrowed.  Wiping out any gain they made.  Perhaps even turning that gain into a loss.  And a small swing in the exchange rate can create a huge loss.

So there is big money to make in the stock market.  Making money with money.  And investors can make even more money when they borrow money.  Making money with other people’s money.  Something rich investors like doing.  Something rich investors can do because they are rich.  For having money means you don’t have to use your money to make money.  Because having money gives you collateral.  The ability to use other people’s money.  At very attractive interest rates.  In fact, it’s these rich investors that benefit most from the Fed’s quantitative easing that is giving us near-zero interest rates.

People on Wall Street are having the Time of their Lives during the Obama Administration

We are in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Yet the stock market is doing very well.  Investors are making a lot of money.  At a time when businesses are not hiring.  The labor force participation rate has fallen to levels not seen since the Seventies.  People can’t find full-time jobs.  Some are working a part-time job because that’s all they can find.  Some are working 2 part-time jobs.  Or more.  Others have just given up trying to find a full-time job.  People the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) no longer counts when calculating the unemployment rate.

This is the only reason why the unemployment rate has fallen.  If you add the number of people who have left the labor force since President Obama took office to the number the BLS reports as unemployed it would bring the unemployment rate up to 13.7% ((10,459,000 + 10,854,000)/155,724,000) at the end of February.  So the economy is still horrible.  No secret to those struggling in it.  And the median family who has seen their income fall.  So why is the stock market doing so well when businesses are not?  When profitable businesses operations typically drive the stock market?  For when businesses do well they grow and hire more people.  But businesses aren’t growing and hiring more people.  So if it’s not profitable businesses operations raising stock prices what is?  Just how are the rich getting richer when the economy as a whole is stuck in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression?

Because of near zero interest rates.  The Fed has lowered interest rates to near zero to purportedly stimulate the economy.  Which it hasn’t.  When they could lower interest rates no more they started their quantitative easing.  Printing money to buy bonds on the open market.  Flooding the economy with cheap money.  But people aren’t borrowing it.  Because the employment picture is so poor that they just aren’t spending money.  Either because they don’t have a job.  Only have a part time job.  Or are terrified they may lose their job.  And if they do lose their job the last thing they want when unemployed is a lot of debt they can’t service.  And then there’s Obamacare.  Forcing people to buy costly insurance.  Leaving them less to spend on other things.  And increasing the cost of doing business.  Another reason not to hire people.

So the economy is going nowhere.  And because of the bad economy businesses have no intentions of spending or expanding.  So they don’t need any of that cheap money.  So where is it going?  Wall Street.  The only people who are borrowing and spending money.  They’re taking that super cheap money and they’re using it to buy and sell stocks.  They’re buying and selling like never before.  Making huge profits.  Thanks to other people’s money.  This is what is raising stock prices.  Not profitable businesses operations.  But investors bidding up stock prices with borrowed money.  The people on Wall Street are having the time of their lives during the Obama administration.  Because the Obama administration’s policies favor the rich on Wall Street.  Whose only worry these days is if the Fed stops printing money.  Which will raise interest rates.  And end the drunken orgy on Wall Street.  Which is why whenever it appears the Fed will taper (i.e., print less money each month) their quantitative easing because the economy is ‘showing signs of improvement’ investors panic and start selling.  In a rush to lock in their earnings before the stock prices they inflated come crashing down to reality.  For without that ‘free’ money from the Fed the orgy of buying will come to an end.  And no one wants to be the one holding on to those inflated stocks when the bubble bursts.  When there will be no more buyers.  At least, when there will be no more buyers willing to buy at those inflated stock prices.  Which is why investors today hate good economic news.  For there is nothing worse for an investor in the Obama economy than a good economy.

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Public Sector Costs are Bankrupting Detroit and Illinois

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2013

Week in Review

Public sector pay and benefits are crushing state governments and cities.  The City of Detroit is probably going to file bankruptcy.  And the State of Illinois just saw its bond rating cut (see Illinois Bond Grade Cut as Lawmakers Can’t Fix Pensions by Tim Jones & Brian Chappatta posted 6/3/2013 on Bloomberg).

Illinois had its credit rating cut one level after lawmakers failed to restructure state pensions saddled with almost $100 billion in unfunded liabilities…

The retirement systems cover state workers, teachers, university employees, judges and lawmakers…

“It is disgraceful that this year’s legislative session ended without a new pension plan,” Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a 58-year-old Republican who is running for governor in 2014, said in a statement. The failure “costs the state millions of dollars each day, plus these downgrades could continue to make borrowing additional funds even more expensive…”

Illinois’s growing pension deficit is “unsustainable,” Fitch analysts led by Karen Krop, a senior director in New York, said in a statement. The inaction by lawmakers raises questions about the state’s ability to deal with “numerous fiscal challenges.” They also cited a growing backlog of unpaid bills and borrowing to cover operational costs, indicating another cut may be forthcoming.

These public sector workers have pay and benefit packages unlike those in the private sector.  Which has to pay for the pay and benefits of both the private and public sectors.  So they keep raising taxes on individuals and businesses.  And our politicians never worry about the long-term consequences.  But they can only tax so much.  People can only pay so much in taxes before they can no longer pay their own bills.  So they start borrowing.  And the more they borrow the more risky they are to loan money to.  The more in debt they go and the greater their spending obligations the higher the interest rates they have to pay to get investors to take a chance on buying their bonds.  Because there’s a very good chance something like this will happen (see Detroit to offer creditors less than 10 percent of what city owes -report by Steve Neavling posted 6/7/2013 on Reuters).

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to deliver grim news to the city’s creditors next week: Take less than 10 percent of what the city owes or risk losing it all in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Detroit Free Press reported on Friday…

In his report, Orr stated that the city has run annual deficits of $100 million and more since 2008. Detroit is believed to owe about $17 billion in debts and liabilities.

So on the one hand they beg and plead for investors to loan them money.  So they can pay the overwhelming costs of their public sector in the face of a shrinking tax base.  And then when their finances get so bad that they can’t even service their debt any more they say, “Thank you for your money when we could not raise any ourselves.  And because you took that great risk for us we will reward you by screwing you out of 90 cents of every dollar you loaned us.  But stick around after the bankruptcy.  For once we shed this debt we will need to borrow more to pay for the overwhelming costs of our public sector.”

Detroit had annual deficits of $100 million.  Illinois has $100 billion in unfunded liabilities.  Is it any wonder Fitch lowered their bond rating?  For the state of Illinois has a greater financial problem than the City of Detroit has.  The State of Michigan gave Detroit an emergency manager to fix their problems.  They even offered to buy a city park.  Belle Isle.  To help Detroit get out of the mess they put themselves into.  But Illinois cannot help Illinois.  Only the federal government can.  But will they?  If they do you know California will demand a bailout, too.  As will every other state and city with a crushing public sector cost will.  But the federal government can’t bail out everyone.  Not when they have their own trillion dollar deficit problem to fix.

No.  There is only one way to fix the problems these cities and states are having.  They have to cut their public sector costs.  Which means someone else besides the bondholders will have to take a haircut to put these states and cities back into the black.  Meaning the public sector can no longer enjoy the kind of benefits people in the private sector haven’t enjoyed in decades.

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Keynesian Multiplier

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 3rd, 2012

Economics 101

At the Heart of Keynesian Stimulus Spending is the Keynesian Multiplier

Key to Keynesian economics is spending.  That’s the reason why governments everywhere embrace it.  Because Keynesian economics say government MUST spend money.  And that’s the kind of economics politicians like.  “I must spend?  Well, okay.  If you say so.  Forgive me, my constituents, for spending money I don’t have.  But it’s not me.  It’s our Keynesian economists saying we must spend.  And they’re smart.  Real smart.  They even have Ivy League degrees.  So who are we to question them?”

And it’s not just any kind of spending.  Well, actually, it is.  There’s nothing special about it.  You could pass a trillion dollar stimulus bill to pay people to dig holes with a shovel.  Fill them back in with the dirt they just shoveled out.  And then repeat.  Again and again.  Accomplishing nothing beneficial with these efforts.  But a Keynesian economist will approve of this spending and call it a good thing.  Why?  Because of trickle-down economics.  But of the Keynesian kind.

At the heart of Keynesian stimulus spending is the Keynesian multiplier.  That’s the ‘trickle down’ part.  But before we get to that we must discuss one other thing.  Savings.  Keynesians hate it.  They call money that leaks out of the economy into savings accounts wasted money.  Just as if you flushed it down the toilet.  This brings up another Keynesian concept.  The marginal propensity to consume (MPC).  Note the word ‘consume’.  This is what all that government spending is about.  Consumption.  Consumer spending.  Which is why Keynesians hate savings.  Because if people save their money they’re not spending it.  And not creating economic activity.

Politicians prefer Government Spending over Tax Cuts because People may Save Part of a Tax Cut

Now back to the multiplier.  When people receive money they do two things.  They save some of it.  And spend what they don’t save.  This is where the MPC comes in.  An MPC 0f 80% means that people will spend 80% of an amount of money they receive (paycheck, government benefit, etc.) and save 20% of it.  So they use 80% of that money to generate economic activity.  By spending it.  But it doesn’t end there.  Because what they spend other people receive as money.  And these people then save some of it.  And spend what they don’t save.  And so on.  At a MPC of 80% if a person receives $100 they will spend $80 and save $20.  Those who receive that $80 will spend $64 and save $16.  Those who receive $64 will spend $51.20 and save $12.80.  And on and on until people are only spending pennies.  In the end that original $100 will create a total of $500 in new economic activity.  Or five times the original amount.  So the Keynesian multiplier is five.  Or, mathematically, 1/(1-MPC) where MPC = 0.80.

Think of the multiplier as a pyramid of champagne glasses at a wedding.  As you pour champagne in the top glass it overflows into the next layer of glasses down.  When these glasses fill they overflow into the next layer of glasses below them.  The multiplier is kind of like that.  Starting by pouring into one glass.  By the time the champagne bottle is empty champagne fills many glasses.  And spilt champagne represents savings.  Or leakage.  That’s how the multiplier works.  Trickle down.  And the less champagne spilled the more champagne fills glasses.  As shown by the multiplier formula.  The larger the MPC is (as in the more people spend) the larger the multiplier.  In fact if they spent all of their money (an MPC = 1) the formula reduces to 1/0.  And what happens when you divide by zero?  You get infinity.  That’s right, according to the Keynesian multiplier equation if everybody spent all of their money and saved none there would be an infinite amount of economic activity.

In the Keynesian world it doesn’t matter what the money is spent on as long as it’s spent.  Even digging worthless holes is good enough to make this miracle of economic activity out of nothing work.  That’s why their advice is always for the government to tax, borrow or print money to spend.  Because spending is good.  And they prefer government spending over tax cuts to stimulate private spending.  Why?  When the government spends money that top champagne glass will have an MPC of 1.  The government will spend it all.  Less the administrative costs, of course.  Whereas an equivalent amount of money given to the people via a tax cut (letting them keep more of their earnings to spend) will not have an MPC of 1.  Because these people may do something foolish like save their money.  Or pay down debt.  Which is leakage.  Leakage reduces the multiplier.  And a lower multiplier reduces economic activity.

Governments Embrace Keynesian economics because it tells them to Always Spend More Money

It all seems too good to be true.  And there’s a reason for that.  Because it IS too good to be true.  And the proof is in the pudding.  The Seventies was the decade of unrestrained Keynesian economics.  And it didn’t work.  They spent like there was no tomorrow in the Seventies.  But all that Keynesian spending failed to pull the economy out of recession.  All it did was create high inflation.  So there was high unemployment AND high inflation.  Something that was impossible in the Keynesian universe.  But it happened.  Why?  Because they make a lot of assumptions to make their formulas work.  Like that MPC.  And their war on savings.  Their thinking is flawed.  Because savings ARE spending.  Someone’s savings is someone else’s investment.  And investments are spending.  Ever see It’s a Wonderful Life when the people were asking for their deposits back?  The savings and loans had some money.  But they didn’t have everyone’s money.  Then George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) told his depositors where their money was.  And he ran down a list of all the new houses their savings built.  Thanks to their loans to those new homeowners.  Building those houses generated a lot of economic activity.  So savings are good.  They’re not leakage.  They cause real economic activity.

Let’s return to that pyramid of champagne glasses.  Let’s say it takes 3 bottles of champagne to fill all the glasses in the pyramid.  If you pour the champagne back from the glasses into the bottles you will not have three full bottles of champagne.  Because of all that spillage.  Or leakage.  This is the same with Keynesian stimulus spending.  Stimulus money has to come from somewhere.  Whether government raises it with taxes, borrows it or prints it.  And like that champagne it just moves from one place in the economy to another.  With no net change in economic activity.  Higher taxes mean we have less money to spend.  If they borrow money they reduce private investment.  Because investors are buying government bonds instead if investing in businesses or entrepreneurs.  If they print money they cause inflation.  Which makes our money worth less and prices higher.  Which buys us less after the inflation than before it.  So whatever government spends there is a corresponding reduction in economic activity elsewhere in the economy.  Worse, when the government redistributes this money there is leakage.  Like the spillage of champagne.  For administrative costs.  Because politicians and government bureaucrats don’t work for free.

Printing money is especially harmful to the economy.  For it can cause a short-term boom in economic activity.  But by the time that new money works its way through the economy prices begin to rise.  Raising the cost of businesses.  Who have to raise their prices.  As they do their sales fall.  And they have to lay people off.  So the Keynesian stimulus spending to end a recession results in a new recession.  Which tends to be more painful than the first one.  So eventually a recessionary bust follows the artificial boom in economic activity.  Which brings those artificially high prices back down to normal market prices.  The greater the stimulus spending the higher those prices go.  The farther they have to fall.  And the more painful the recession.  Making the multiplier nothing but smoke and mirrors.  But governments still embrace Keynesian economics.  Because it is the only economic system that tells them to spend more money.  And they are always looking for something to justify more spending.

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JFK, Tax Cuts, Vietnam, LBJ, Great Society, Hippies, Race Riots, Keynesian Spending, Nixon, Carter and Ronald Reagan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 21st, 2012

History 101

Ronald Reagan would follow the Kennedy Example of Cutting Taxes to Grow the Economy

In 1961 West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard gave John F. Kennedy (JFK) some good advice.  During JFK’s visit he told him not to make the same mistake the British had.  He told Kennedy NOT to follow their policy of high taxation.  Because it killed economic activity.  And economic growth.  England was suffering from her bad tax policy.  He urged the American president not to make the same mistake.

JFK heeded Erhard’s advice.  And cut tax rates.  This did not please liberals in his Democrat Party.  Who were all Keynesians.  And believed in large government interventions into the private sector.  Funded by large government expenditures.  Which in the Keynesian world you got in one of three ways.  Tax, borrow or print money.  You did not cut tax rates.  Which was blasphemous in Keynesian doctrine.  You never, ever, cut tax rates.  But Kennedy did.  Arguing that “an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget—just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits.”

A message Ronald Reagan would give time and again some 20 years later.  And would follow the Kennedy example of cutting taxes to grow the economy.  Generating more tax revenue without having to cut spending.  The result of JFK’s ‘trickle-down’ economics were impressive.  He cut the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70%.  And cut the 20% rate to 14% at the other end of the scale.  What did people do with these tax savings?  They saved.  And invested.  Savings rose from an annual growth rate of 2% to 9%.  Business investment from 2% to 8%.  New jobs grew at a rate of 100%.  And unemployment fell by one third.  With GDP rising some 40% in two years.  And despite cutting tax rates tax revenue rose.  The booming economy generating more tax revenue even at the lower rates.  Even more than the Keynesians said Kennedy was going to cost the government with his tax cuts.

The Social Upheavals of the Sixties, the Race Riots and his Unpopular Vietnam War all took their Toll on LBJ

Liberals love JFK.  But for none of these reasons.  They prefer to wax poetically about his fight to end economic and racial injustice.  Which were in reality low on his priority list.  Addressing civil rights only after trouble was escalating in the south.  But that’s the Left’s cherished memory of him.  And of Camelot.  The American royal family.  They don’t talk about JFK’s trickle-down economics.  His Bay of Pigs fiasco (the plan to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba that he withdrew support from after it met difficulty on the beaches).  His Cuban missile crisis (near nuclear war with the Soviet Union) which his indecision at the Bay of Pigs may have invited.   Or his war in Vietnam.  No.  They stay silent on the best part of his presidency.  As well as the worst parts.  And focus instead on the fairy tale that was Camelot.  Ignoring completely his excellent economic policies and the strong economy they gave us.  And all that tax revenue that poured into the treasury.  Yes, they may have liked having that money.  But they didn’t have to like how it got there.

Following JFK’s assassination Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) ascended to the presidency.  An old school politician that knew how to make deals to advance legislation.  And boy did he.  He declared unconditional war on poverty.  And unleashed the Great Society to spend America out of poverty.  Keynesian to the core.  Pure demand-side economics.  Give poor people money which they will use to buy consumer goods.  That Keynesian consumption that was so crucial to a healthy economy.  So Johnson made good use of all that tax revenue JFK created with his tax cuts.  And LBJ’s Great Society consumed enormous amounts of that tax revenue.  As did JFK’s Vietnam War.  Now LBJ’s war.  Which LBJ escalated.  Government expenditures exploded during the Johnson administration.  And the spending obligations he put into place were only going to escalate future expenditures.  Oh, and we were also trying to land a man on the moon during this time.  All during a time when the world was changing.  When a bunch of filthy hippies began to protest anything that didn’t somehow gratify them (their rallying cry was sex, drugs and rock & roll).  And racial tensions simmered to the boiling point in our crowded cities.

The social upheavals of the Sixties.  The race riots.  The unpopular war on our living room televisions.  They all took their toll on LBJ.  The race riots especially hurt him as he had spent so much money on ending economic and racial injustice.  On a televised address he told the nation that he was through being the president.  He wasn’t going to run for another term.  And he wouldn’t accept a nomination for a second term.  He basically thanked an ungrateful nation.  And planned for his retirement.  Leaving a fiscal mess for the next president.  As well as a mess in Vietnam.  And the job for cleaning up these messes fell to Richard Milhous Nixon.

When Nixon entered the Presidency all those Spending Obligations of the Great Society were Coming Due

Nixon had a lot of liberal tendencies.  He was actually a member of the NAACP since 1950.  Long before JFK or LBJ talked of civil rights.  He believed in New Deal economics.  Of the good government could do.  He was also an environmentalist.  Giving us the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  And giving us emissions standards for our cars.  He gave us the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA).  And a flurry of other regulations.  Not what you would expect from a Republican these days.  Of course, few probably know this.  But they probably do know about Watergate.  At least the word ‘Watergate’.  Which was pretty tame by today’s standards.  Spying on the political opposition.  Then lying about it.

When Nixon entered the presidency all those spending obligations of the Great Society were coming due.  The cost of LBJ’s Great Society really hit the Nixon administration hard.  Enormous amounts of money were flowing out to poor people (so they could spend it and buy consumer goods).  To the war in Vietnam.  To the Cold War.  To the space program.  To the enlarged federal government.  Government spending was going off the chart.  But it wasn’t having the affect on the economy the Keynesians said it would.  They were taxing, borrowing and printing money like good little Keynesians.  But they were devaluing the dollar in the process.  And igniting inflation.  Worse, the U.S. dollar was the reserve currency of the world.  Foreign nations pegged their currency to the U.S. dollar.  The U.S. pegged the dollar to gold.  As the Americans devalued the dollar, though, the foreign countries traded their dollars for gold.  Gold began to fly out of the country.  So Nixon did what any responsible Keynesian would do.  Instead of playing by the rules of the game he changed the rules.  And decoupled the dollar from gold.  The Nixon Shock.  Ushering in the era of unfettered Keynesian economics.  Deficit spending.  Growing debt.  High inflation.  High unemployment.  Stagflation.  And malaise.

Jimmy Carter would see the worse of LBJ’s Great Society.  As it left his economy in a mess.  Despite all of that government spending.  And Carter suffered because he, too, was a Keynesian.  He believed in that GDP formula where GDP equaled the sum of consumption, investment, government expenditures and net exports (exports – Imports).  And the formula clearly states that the way to increase GDP (and increase the number of jobs) was to increase government spending to give money to people so they could buy consumer goods (increasing government spending and consumption in the formula).  It was simple arithmetic.  But the formula left out about half of all economic activity.  The intermediate business spending that takes place before any consumer goods enter our stores.  Think of things consumers don’t buy.  Like railroad track, blast furnaces, construction front-end loaders, etc.  Economic activity that JFK encouraged with his tax cuts.  As Ronald Reagan did so, too, some 20 years later.  Which is why the JFK and the Reagan economies were far better than any Keynesian administration.

Even after more than a decade of unfettered Keynesian spending consumption was only 34% of all economic activity in 1982.  Even though official GDP figures reported it at 65%.  Why the discrepancy?  Intermediate business spending.  The stages of production before consumer goods.  Coming in at 54% of real economic activity in 1982.  Which is why the tax-cut policies of JFK and Ronald Reagan worked.  And the spending policies of JBJ, Nixon and Carter didn’t.  Trickle-down works.  Because it creates jobs.  And those lower tax rates generate higher tax revenues because more people are working and paying taxes.  All things a Keynesian wants.  But they will reject them because they resulted from the ‘wrong’ policies.  Because Keynesians want to tax, borrow and print.  Regardless of their effect on the economy.

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Production vs. Consumption

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 20th, 2012

Economics 101

To Prevent another Great Depression Keynes said the Key was Government Spending

John Maynard Keynes was a noted economist who analyzed the Great Depression.  And came to the opinion the problem was that there wasn’t enough consumption.  Consumers weren’t buying enough stuff.  That is, they weren’t spending enough money.  Which is key to consumption.  And a healthy economy.  According to Keynes.  And the people who embraced his economic theories.  What we now call Keynesian economics.

It was a whole new way to look at economics.  Consumption.  Or demand-side economics.  Which said demand created supply.  Contrary to Say’s law.  Which basically stated supply creates demand.  Tomáto.  Tomàto.  To most people.  All they understood was that it was better to have a job than to be unemployed.  Because if you had a job you could buy food for your family.  Pay for heat in the winter.  And pay a doctor if your child was sick.

To prevent another Great Depression Keynes said the key was government spending.  To make up for any decline in consumption.  The government could tax, borrow or print money as necessary to get money to spend.  Putting people to work on government projects.  Building things.  Like roads and bridges.  Or digging ditches.  So when businesses lay off people the government can put them back to work.  And pay them with the money they taxed, borrowed or printed.  These people would then take that money and spend it.  A priming of the economic pump as it were.  That, in theory, will provide consumption until the private sector begins hiring again.  Therefore eliminating recessions once and for all.

Economists attribute about 90% of GDP to Consumer Spending and Government Expenditures

There have been about 12 recessions since Keynes figured out how to end them once and for all.  The recent one being the worst since the Great Depression.  Even surpassing the misery of the Jimmy Carter economy.  A time when the impossible happened.  In the world of Keynesian economics, at least.  Government spending designed to decrease unemployment actually increased unemployment.  It turns out there was a downside to printing money.  Massive inflation.  And rational expectations that printing money will lead to massive inflation.  So while the Keynesian way worked in theory it failed in practice.  And not just once.  But a lot.  Yet it is still the model of most governments.  And it’s what colleges teach their students.  Why?  After it’s been so thoroughly debunked?  The answer to that question brings us back to consumption.  And Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

GDP is a measure of a country’s goods and services during a period of time.  That is, it is a measure of economic activity.  The bigger it is the better the economy.  And the more people that have jobs.  The formula for GDP is the sum of consumption, investments, government expenditures and net exports (exports – imports).  It’s this formula that keeps Keynesian economics alive.  Because of consumption.  And government expenditures.  This formula sanctions government spending because, according to the formula, it increases economic activity.  It is the driver of all stimulus spending.  And the welfare state.  Because government spending puts money ultimately into the pockets of consumers who spend it.  That is, government spending creates private consumption.  And consumption creates jobs (demand creates supply).  In the Keynesian world, that it.  There is only one problem.  The formula leaves out a lot of economic activity.

Using this formula economists report that consumption makes up about 70% of GDP.  And government spending about 20%.  These numbers are huge.  That’s about 90% of GDP attributed to consumer spending and government expenditures.  Which is why Keynesians love this formula.   Because it empowers them to tax, borrow and print so they can spend.  All in the name of creating jobs.  And GDP.  But what about the things people make or do that consumers don’t buy?  Like engineering and design services.  Printing presses and ink.  The extraction of raw materials?  Coal mining.  Blast furnaces making steel for use in manufacturing?  Heavy construction equipment?  Machine tools and production equipment?  Assembly lines?  Robots on the assembly line?  Locomotive engines and rolling stock?  Airplanes?  All the people and equipment in the transportation industry?  Etc.  There is a lot of economic activity that makes things or does things that consumers don’t buy.  So where is it in the GDP formula?  Don’t look for it.  Because it’s just not there.

Intermediate Business Spending accounts for about Half of all Economic Activity

Before Keynes the focus was on production.  Not consumption.  Before Keynes we looked at the stages of production.  All of that economic activity that happens before you can buy anything in a store.  Everything between the extraction of raw materials to the final finished good.  Where millions of workers are engaged in economic activity that a consumer knows nothing about when they buy a consumer good.  If you factor in this economic activity into the GDP equation it changes things.  And it changes it in a way that Keynesians and government officials don’t like.

Consumption is the last stage in the stages of production.  The final step in a flurry of economic activity that preceded it.  If you count up this intermediate business spending it comes to about half of all economic activity.  It’s about twice consumer spending.  And about four times government expenditures.  Greatly reducing the roles of consumption and government expenditures in the GDP equation.  And in the economy.  As well as providing the answer to why Keynes didn’t end recessions once and for all with his new economic theory.  Because his new economic theory was wrong.  You don’t create jobs by giving money to people to spend.  You create jobs by making it easy for businesses to hire people.

So demand does NOT create supply like Keynes said.  Supply creates demand.  Like Say said.  And what’s the conclusion we can draw?  Big activist governments do not help a country’s economy.  They just pull money out of the stages of productions.  Where it can create jobs.  And puts it into government.  Where it creates unemployment and inflation.  As demonstrated by all the big Keynesian governments of Europe.  Those social democracies struggling under the weight of their government spending.  Who borrowed money to sustain that spending.  Bringing on the European sovereign debt crisis.  Because of that GDP equation that said they could tax, borrow and print to spend to their heart’s content.  Thanks to a man named Keynes.

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Stages of Production

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2012

Economics 101

People used their Human Capital to Transform Raw Materials into Something Valuable

As we unleashed our human capital civilization advanced.  Our food needs taken care of thanks to advances in agriculture we used our new free time to think.  To think about transforming the world around us.  By exploring our world.  And the stuff that made it.  Great civilizations rose and fell throughout history.  But the ones that really advanced the world were those in northern Europe.  The people who conquered the oceans.  The Portuguese.  The Spanish.  The Dutch.  The French.  And the British.

As these great European powers set out to explore the world they established colonies in faraway lands.  To gather the raw materials available.  And to ship them back to their mother countries.  Where their advanced civilizations would transform those raw materials into higher value finished goods.  And then export them throughout the world.  Including their colonies.  This was mercantilism.  Establish colonies.  Ship raw materials to the mother country.  Export finished goods.  And Import bullion accepted in payment for those finished goods.

It’s not a good economic system.  Mercantilism.  But it did create the United States.  Which started out as a British colony.  But as a colony of a mercantilist country the Americans had to follow the rules of the mother country.  First of all they had to understand their place.  And purpose.  They were subordinate to the mother country.  And their only purpose was to procure raw materials and ship them to the mother country.  They couldn’t open trade with other countries.  Everything that left the colonies had to go on a British ship to a British port.  Where British manufacturers would transform those raw materials into finished goods for export.  The British did this because finished goods were more valuable than raw goods.  And sold for much higher prices than the raw materials sold for.  So Britain did the manufacturing.  While their colonies fed their manufacturers with raw material.

The Stages of Production is the Economic Activity that happens to bring Finished Goods to Market

The British eventually abandoned mercantilism and adopted free market capitalism and free trade.  And the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  This after losing the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, losing about half of their empire.  So free market capitalism is clearly superior to mercantilism.  But for a couple of centuries mercantilism built empires.  And provided an excellent example of the stages of production.

Raw materials mean little to consumers.  What we like are the things that people with human capital transform them into.  The things we go to the store to buy.  Such as a smartphone, for example.  Whenever a new model comes out we flock to our favorite retail store to buy it.  The retail store has it to sell because they bought a shipment from their wholesaler.  The wholesaler had it to sell because they bought it from the assembly plants that assembled them.  The assembly plants could build them because they bought the components (displays, hard cases, antennas, keys, circuit boards, etc.) from various manufacturers.  And the various manufactures bought raw materials from those who extracted them from the ground.  Interconnecting all of these is ship, rail and truck transportation.  Even planes.  Not to mention an extensive cellular network to make these smartphones work.  As well as all the software applications they run.  Adding value at every stage along the way.

There is much economic activity that happens to bring that smartphone to your favorite retail store.  Throughout these stages of production.  Note how everything else has to happen before you buy that smartphone.  Going all the way back to the extraction of raw materials from the ground.  All of these stages have to happen before you buy that phone.  So the payment for the phone follows much later than all of these other stages.  Introducing a very important element in the stages of production.  Time.  It takes time to bring things to market.  And because it takes time it also takes money.  Everyone working from raw material extraction to the salesperson selling you the phone earns an income.  And their employers pay them before you buy your phone.  Some a lot earlier than others.  Also, all of these people either work in a building.  Or in the field with equipment.  Things that others have to build first before we can even begin our raw material extraction.  Requiring an enormous capital investment before anyone earns a dime of revenue on the sale of a smartphone.

The British Empire went on to Rule the World for a Century or More because they let the Market Manage their Economy

To bring a smartphone to a retailer near you requires people to risk their money by investing in something that may earn a profit.  Investors.  And bankers.  As people saved their money they created large pools of capital for businesses to borrow.  Venture capitalists bankrolled promising entrepreneurs.  And the big corporations turned to the equity and bond markets to raise their capital.  Individuals worked hard and saved money to put in their savings account.  Or to buy stocks and bonds.  Because they did there was money to borrow.  Or to invest.  And because there was money to borrow and invest the stages of production could begin.

In the days of mercantilism the government controlled much of this.  Even providing some of that early capital.  But as the economy grew more complex it was too complex for government to manage.  Which is why the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or more.  Because they let the market manage their economy.  A myriad of people in the market place pursuing their own interests.  Pursuing profits.  Which is why free market capitalism works.  For no one person could know enough to manage all of the stages of productions to bring a smartphone to market.  And the beautiful thing is in free market capitalism no one person has to.  For when people throughout the stages of production pursue profits smartphones arrive at a retailer near you.  At reasonable prices to boot.

So the next time you pick up a smartphone at a retailer think of everything it took to bring it to your hands.  And everything it takes to operate it as you wish.  Hundreds of thousands of people pursuing profits.  Most of which have no idea what they’re doing will allow you to hold a smartphone at your favorite retailer.  Because in the stages of production everyone does their part.  Without any consideration of what their part is in the big picture.  Which is why it works so well.  Thanks to people thinking.  And unleashing their human capital to create great things throughout the stages of production.

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Government Spending

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 18th, 2012

Economics 101

Money is a Temporary Storage of Wealth used to Reduce the Search Costs in the Barter System

What came first?  Money?  Or the things we buy with money?  Here’s a hint.  Once upon a time there was no money.  Yet we still had things.  We bought things without money, you ask?  Yes.  We did.  And we bought things the only way we could before there was money.  We traded.  We bartered.  We traded things.  Things we built.  Things we grew.  Things we dug out of the ground.  Things.

These things had value.  Value we created with our labors.  Either by digging something valuable out of the ground.  Growing something of value.  Or making something useful that people valued.  And something people were willing to trade something they produced that had value.  These people created value.  They created wealth.  They were wealth creators.  And when they come together to trade the valuable products of their labors they were trading wealth.  After their bartered trade all parties in that trade walked away believing they came out ahead in that trade.  For each walked away with something they valued more.

But the barter system proved to be inefficient.  As the economy became more complex there were so many things to trade for.  And people valued some things more than they valued others.  Which sometimes made it difficult to find someone to trade with.  Search costs increased.  People spent more time looking for people to trade with than they did producing wealth.  Which is why people created money.  A temporary storage of wealth.  Using money greatly reduced search costs.  Instead of finding someone to trade with that also wanted what you had to trade all you had to do was find what you wanted.  Then trade your money for it.  Then the seller could take that money and trade it for something he wanted.  Regardless if the person was interested in anything he produced.

Ultimately People don’t want Money, they want the Things they can Trade Money For

No one likes paying taxes.  They’re one of those necessary evils to live in a civilization.  Because they are the only way to pay for public goods.  Early public goods may have consisted of a granary to store food.  And an army.  To protect your civilization from the hostile environment around it.  Government could tax the grain producers by taking a portion of their crops for the public granary.  And to feed the army.  They could tax the shoemakers and take some shoes for the army to wear.  And so on.  The government would tax the producers by taking a small percentage of what they produced to provide the public goods.   

Money changed this a little.  Instead of shipping a portion of grain from all the grain producers to the public granary the grain producers paid their taxes in money.  For it was easier to collect money from all the grain producers than it was collecting grain.  Then the government would use that tax money to purchase grain to fill the public granary.  Even having the local grain producers compete with each other to fill that large public purchase of grain at the lowest price.  Just like buyers and sellers used money to make their trades easier so did government use money to make public spending easier.  But one thing didn’t change.  Money was only a temporary storage of wealth.  The buyers and sellers created wealth.  And the government took a portion of the wealth they created.

This is a crucial point in understanding government spending.  Money isn’t what’s important.  It’s those things of value the wealth producers create that is important.  Because ultimately people don’t want money.  They want the things they can trade that money for.  Those wonderful things creative wealth producers bring to market.  Things government does NOT produce.  Even though they can print money they cannot produce these things of value.  Other people do.  Other people who incur costs.  Who pay for supplies.  And provide pay and benefits to their employees.  Which is why they don’t like paying taxes.  Because it leaves them less to spend on their business.  Or on themselves.  And they don’t like the government printing money.  Because money is a temporary storage of wealth.  And when you arbitrarily increase the amount of money in circulation for the same amount of wealth in the economy you cause inflation.  More dollars chasing the same amount of goods.  So the dollar is worth less than it was before the inflation.  And because the dollar is worth less it takes more of them to buy what they once did.  Meaning prices increase.  Which is why people don’t like inflation.

A Country never went Bankrupt by Spending too Little

So even though the government has the power to print money responsible governments don’t.  Because inflation causes a lot of economic damage.  So governments rely on taxes to fund their public goods.  But excessive taxation also causes economic damage.  By pulling wealth out of the private sector.  Leaving business owners with less.  And increasing the cost of business.  Making it difficult to hire more people.  Which lowers economic activity.  For the more people who work and earn a paycheck the more people are in the market place buying things.  So it’s important for governments not to tax too much.  Which means they shouldn’t spend too much.

Of course that’s easier said than done.  Because people tend to vote for politicians that give them free stuff.  Which is why politicians love to spend.  And to tax.  Tax and spend.  And during good economic times when government coffers are flush with cash they tend to spend more.  And tax more.  Because they can.  But they all run into the same problem.  Government raises revenue on economic activity.  By applying tax rates on income, sales, value added, property, etc.  The government collects a small percentage on these items based on the tax rate.  When income, sales, value, etc., are large that tax rate generates a lot of revenue.  When income, sales, value, etc., are low that tax rate generates a lower amount of revenue.  And when governments spend too much during the good times they raise their spending obligations.  Based on that robust economic activity.  But when the economic activity becomes less robust there is a problem.  Tax revenues fall.  Because those tax rates are taking a percentage of a smaller income, sales, value, etc.  So tax revenue falls while those spending obligations remain the same.  Leading to a budget shortfall.  Which leaves them with two choices.  Cut spending.  Or borrow money.

Well, people rarely vote for people that take stuff away from them.  So the politicians borrow money.  And they keep borrowing money.  Because their spending obligations were based on the rosiest of projections of economic activity.  Which rarely happens in real life.  So they borrow.  And they borrow more.  Soon they have to borrow to pay the interest on what they’ve borrowed previously.  Soon the debt grows so great that the credit rating agencies lower their credit rating.  Making future borrowing more expensive as they have to pay a higher interest rate.  Some may turn to higher tax rates.  But that also lowers economic activity.  Which reduces overall tax revenue.  Some may turn to printing money. Which also lowers economic activity.  And overall tax revenues.  By causing inflation.  And raising prices.  Which eventually leads a country down the road to bankruptcy.  And on their knees begging for a bailout.  Which is the ultimate destination for all nations with excessive government spending.  To throw themselves on the mercy of those countries who have lived within their means.  Which rarely ends well.  Because they expect the bankrupt country to start living within their means.  Meaning austerity.  Which the people accustomed to generous government spending are not too keen on in the least.  And often reply to austerity demands with a little rioting in the streets.

There is one simple way to avoid all of these troubles, though.  All a nation has to do is NOT spend so much.  If they do then they will never have a financial crisis.  For a country never went bankrupt by spending too little.

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Venture Capital and Private Equity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 28th, 2012

Economics 101

An Idea is only an Idea unless there’s Capital to Develop it and a Business Plan

People put money in the bank to save it.  And to earn interest.  To make their savings grow.  So they can afford a down payment on a house one day.  Or start up a business.  To start a college fund.  Or a variety of other things.  They put their money into a bank because they have confidence that the bank will repay that money whenever they want to withdraw it.   And confident that the bank will earn a profit.  By prudently loaning out their deposits in business loans, mortgages, equity loans, etc.  So the bank can pay interest on their savings.  And make it grow.  While not risking the solvency of the bank by making risky loans that people won’t be able to repay.  With responsible saving and responsible lending both parties achieve what they want.  And the economy grows.

A high savings rate means banks can make more loans.  And businesses can borrow more to expand their businesses.  This is a very critical element in capitalism.  Getting capital to the people who need it.  Who can do incredible things with it.  Create new jobs.  Develop a new technology.  Find a better way to use our limited resources.  Bringing consumer prices down and increasing our standard of living.  Because when prices go down we can buy more things.  So we don’t have to sacrifice and go without.  We have a higher standards of living thanks to capitalism.  And the efficient use of capital.

As technology advanced individuals had more and more brilliant ideas.  But an idea is only an idea unless there’s capital to develop it.  And a business plan.  Something a lot of brilliant entrepreneurs are not good at.  They may think of a great new use of technology that will change the world.  Their mind can be that creative.  But they don’t know how to put a business plan together.  Or convince a banker that this idea is gold.  That this innovation is so new that no one had ever thought of it before.  That it’s cutting edge.  Paradigm shifting.  And it may be that and more.  But a banker won’t care.  Because bankers are conservative with other people’s money.  They don’t want to loan their deposits on something risky and risk losing it.  They want to bet on sure things.  Loan money to people that are 99% certain to repay it.  Not take chances with new technology that they haven’t a clue about.

Venture Capitalists make sure their Seed Capital is Used Wisely so it can Bloom into its Full Potential

Enter the venture capitalists.  Who are the polar opposite of bankers.  They are willing to take big risks.  Especially in technology.  Because new technologies have changed the world.  And made a lot of people very wealthy.  Especially those willing to gamble and invest in an unknown.  Those who provide the seed money for these ventures in the beginning.  That’s their incentive.  And why they are willing to risk such large sums of money on an unknown.  Something a banker never would do.  Who say ‘no’ to these struggling entrepreneurs.  And tell them to come back when they are more established and less risky. 

This is responsible banking.  And this is why people put their money into the bank.  Because bankers are conservative.  But there is a price for this.  Lost innovation.  If no one was willing to risk large sums of money on unknowns with brilliant ideas the world wouldn’t be the same place it is today.  This is what the venture capitalists give us.  Innovation.  And a world full of new technology.  And creature comforts we couldn’t have imagined a decade earlier.  Because they will risk a lot of money on an unknown with a good idea.

Most venture capitalists have been there before.  They were once that entrepreneur with an idea that turned it into great success.  That’s part of the reason they do this.  To recapture the thrill.  While mentoring an entrepreneur into the ways of business.  Like someone once did for them.  But it’s also the money.  They expect to make a serious return on their risky investment.  So much so that they often take over some control of the business.  They do what has to be done.  Make some hard decisions.  And make sure they use their investment capital wisely.  Sometimes pushing aside the entrepreneur if necessary.  To make sure that seed capital can bloom into its full potential.  Perhaps all the way to an initial public offering of stock.  And when it does everyone gets rich.  The entrepreneur with the good idea.  And the venture capitalist.  Who now has more seed capital available for other start-ups with promise.

The Goal of the Private Equity Firm is to Get In, Fix the Problems and Get Out

Venture capital belongs to the larger world of private equity.  Where private equity investment firms operate sort of like a bank.  But with a few minor differences.  Instead of depositors they have investors.  Instead of safe investments they have risky investments.  Instead of low returns on investment they have high returns on investment.  And instead of a passive review of a firm’s financial statements by a bank’s loan officer they actively intervene with business management.  Because private equity does more than just loan money.  They fix problems.  Especially in underperforming businesses.

A mature business that has seen better days is the ideal candidate for private equity.  The business is struggling.  They’re losing money.  And they’ve run out of ideas.  Management is either blind to their problems or unable (or unwilling) to take the necessary corrective action.  They can’t sell because business is too bad.  They don’t want to go out of business because they’ve invested their life savings to try and keep the business afloat.  Only to see continued losses.  Their only hope to recover their losses is to fix the business.  To make it profitable again.  And selling their business to a private equity firm solves a couple of their problems fast.  First of all, they get their prior investments back.  But more importantly they get hope. 

The private equity firm uses some of their investment capital to secure a large loan.  The infamous leveraged buyout which has a lot of negative connotations.  But to a business owner about to go under and lose everything the leveraged buyout is a blessing.  And it’s so simple.  A private equity firm buys a business by taking on massive amounts of debt.  They put that debt on the business’ books.  Debt that future profits of the business will service.  Once the equity firm does its magic to restore the business to profitability.  Starting with a new management team.  Which is necessary.  As the current one was leading the firm to bankruptcy.  They may interview people.  Identify problems.  Find untapped potential to promote.  They may close factories and lay off people.  They may expand production to increase revenue.  Whatever restructuring is necessary to return the firm to profitability they will do.  Their goal is to get in, fix the problems and get out.  Selling the now profitable business for a greater sum than the sum of debt and equity they used to buy it.

But with great risk comes the chance for great failure.  When it works it works well.  Producing a huge return on investment.  But sometimes they can’t save the business.  And the firm can’t avoid bankruptcy.  The business then will be liquidated to repay the banks who loaned the money.  While the equity the firm invested is lost.  Which is why they need to make big profits.  Because they suffer some big losses.  But they typically save more businesses than they fail to save.  And the businesses they do save would have gone out of business otherwise.  So in the grand scheme of things the world is a better place with private equity.

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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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Spain is Taking Center Stage in the Eurozone Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 5th, 2012

Week in Review

To be a generous welfare state requires one of two things.  Either a population making babies like bunnies.  To keep the base of the pyramid of the welfare state expanding greater than the top.  Or a booming economy that showers money onto the treasury.  If you have neither than you better have good credit (see Spanish borrowing costs to jump at auction, bank buying eyed by Paul Day posted 5/3/2012 on Reuters).

Spain has jumped to the forefront of the euro zone debt crisis due to concern over its public deficit and shrinking economy and pressure is growing for a plan to recapitalize its banks, which are burdened with bad debts from a property market crash…

Spanish banks, virtually cut out of wholesale debt markets after losing billions since a decade-long property bubble burst in 2008, snapped up cash the European Central Bank pumped into the euro zone banking system in December and February, in operations totaling more than a trillion euros.

Recent data from the Bank of Spain suggests that they used a portion of the ECB’s ultra-cheap three-year money to buy up high-yielding sovereign debt.

According to the central bank, Spanish lenders held just over 13 percent of domestic debt in November 2011, but that total soared to almost 30 percent by March. Non-residents held almost 56 percent of all Spanish debt in November, but by March, that proportion had fallen to 38.8 percent.

Spain has neither a population boom nor an economic boom.  Nor is her credit looking all that good.  Which does not bode well for the Eurozone. 

Too many countries look to the housing market as the panacea for all that ills an economy.  Keep money cheap to borrow.  To encourage people to borrow.  So they can borrow.  And buy overvalued houses.  This is the kind of government Keynesian tinkering that never ends well.  And there are so many examples in history you’d think we’d have learned this lesson by now.  Japan, Ireland, Spain and the United States.  And now even China is growing a little housing bubble of their own.  Bubbles are not good.  They are artificial economic growth.  And they always pop.  Just ask our good friends in Japan, Ireland, Spain and the United States.

And when those bubbles pop recessions set in.  To correct all of those overvalued prices.  There’s deflation.  Old debt that becomes impossible to repay.  So banks fail.  Just because government Keynesians had to tinker.  Playing with interest rates.  To keep them below what the market would have them.  It was good on the upside.  Great new government spending and benefits.  Which have to go away on the downside.  Because there isn’t the robust economic activity to pay for it.  Even the interest on the debt becomes difficult to pay.  And because all of this is in play no one wants to buy their sovereign debt anymore.  Which raises the interest they must pay on new debt to retire old debt.  And the vicious cycle just continues.

Trying to fix the debt problem is looking at a system and not the disease.  The disease is the welfare state.  And until they cut that spending the debt problem will never go away.

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