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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Men tend to get Paid More than Women because of the High Cost of Maternity Leave

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 31st, 2013

Week in Review

There was a movie in 1985 called Head Office.  It lampooned corporate America.  In it there was this one character who was dying from heart disease or something.  But he refused to take time off from work.  Because if he did someone else would get his job.  He’d rather take a chance on dying than risk losing his job.  Because the corporate world was that cutthroat.  There was always someone waiting in the wings to take your job.  Which is why you never wanted to miss work.  Because if someone else did your job for you when you were away and they did it better than you they might just keep your job.  Leaving you to start your corporate career all over again.  And often with less pay and fewer benefits.

That’s the way it used to be.  Today, it’s a bit different.  Especially if you’re a woman (see As a boss, maternity leave is a nightmare for employers by Josephine Fairley posted 8/28/2013 on The Telegraph).

There’s no denying, of course, that for companies – especially really small companies – maternity leave presents challenges. Suddenly, a key team member isn’t there. And even more challengingly, there’s no way to know if she’s coming back – which makes it hard to plan for the future…

Right now, it isn’t legal to ask a pregnant woman whether she’s even thinking of coming back to work. There’s no imperative for her proactively to tell you proactively – never mind before the birth, but right up to the time that the 52 weeks of maternity leave are up. And my observation is that’s partly what makes it so hard to plan, and accommodate, a woman who’s on maternity leave…

I know several women who’ve returned to work after a few months, never mind a year of maternity leave, feeling like they’d landed on Mars because so much had changed while they were away.

52 weeks of maternity leave?  And they don’t have to say whether they’re coming back to work?  The boss can come in one day and find a key employee will leave for an extended absence in 6 months time?  And not know if she will ever return to work?

So they have to hire someone temporarily.  Who they will have to let go if she comes back from maternity leave.  Even if this temporary person turns out to be better in that position.  So a person that they hired and trained so well that they are better than the person they filled in for must lose his or her job.  Someone who may have taken that position because they didn’t expect that person to return from maternity leave.  And because it was the best job available at the time they took that chance.  Only to find the year they invested there was a year out of their life that they could have spent somewhere else.  Building a career where their hard work was rewarded.  Then spend time and resources training the woman returning from maternity leave.  So she can understand all the changes that happened in her absence.

This is why men tend to get paid more when they compare salaries.  First of all, with a lot of women taking maternity leave it does bring down the women’s average income when they take a year or two of income earning years out of their career.  And secondly, who do you think an employer will want to hire?  Someone that they have to accommodate for up to a year in maternity leave?  Or someone that isn’t going to walk in and say “I’m going to have a baby in 6 months”?  If they are working on a 2 year project they don’t want to worry about a key team member leaving in the middle of it.  It may be unfair.  But men can’t get pregnant.  They can do a lot of stupid things to ruin a big project just as women can.  But women have that one other variable.  That a business owner can’t have a contingency for.  What are they going to do?  Have two people doing the job of one in case one of them goes on maternity leave?  What if it’s two women and they go on maternity leave at the same time?  Do you have to make sure that one of the two people doing the job of one person is a man?  So he will always be available if the woman goes on maternity leave?  Of course, you know where that will take you.  Why not just hire a man and have one person do the job of one person?  And remove the need for any contingency in the first place?

Business owners hate uncertainty.  Pregnancy creates uncertainty.  This isn’t a man versus a woman issue.  A battle of the sexes.  For women own businesses, too.  And hate uncertainty just as any other business owner.  Some may make a stand for women in the workplace.  Hire women into key positions then deal with their maternity leave.  But they, too, would probably prefer hiring a man in some key positions.  So they can just worry about the usual things.  Like losing a key employee who leaves for a better paying job.  Of course if they do they at least can immediately start interviewing a replacement.  Without waiting 52 weeks.

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Capital Markets, IPO, Bubbles and Stock Market Crashes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2013

Economics 101

Entrepreneurs turn to Venture Capitalists because they Need a Lot of Money Fast

It takes money to make money.  Anyone who ever started a business knows this only too well.  For starting a money-making business takes money.  A lot of it.  New business owners will use their lifesavings.  Mortgage their home.  Borrow from their parents.  Or if they have a really good business plan and own a house with a lot of equity built up in it they may be able to get a loan from a bank.  Or find a cosigner who is willing to pledge some collateral to secure a loan.

Once the business is up and running they depend on business profits to pay the bills.  And service their debt.  If the business struggles they turn to other sources of financing.  They pay their bills slower.  They use credit cards.  They draw down their line of credit at their bank.  They go back to a parent and borrow more money.  A lot of businesses fail at this point.  But some survive.  And their profits not only pay their bills and service their debt.  But these profits can sustain growth.

This is one path.  Entrepreneurs with a brilliant new invention may need a lot of money fast.  To pay for land, a large building for manufacturing, equipment and tooling, energy, waste disposal, packaging, distribution and sales.  And all the people in production and management.  This is just too much money for someone’s lifesavings or a home mortgage to pay for.  So they turn to venture capital.  Investors who will take a huge risk and pay these costs in return for a share of the profits.  And the huge windfall when taking the company public.  If the company doesn’t fail before going public.

The Common Stockholders take the Biggest Risk of All who Finance a Business

As a company grows they need more financing.  And they turn to the capital markets.  To issue bonds.  A large loan broken up into smaller pieces that many bond purchasers can buy.  Each bond paying a fixed interest rate in return for these buyers (i.e., creditors) taking a risk.  Businesses have to redeem their bonds one day (i.e., repay this loan).  Which they don’t have to do with stocks.  The other way businesses raise money in the capital markets.   When owners take their business public they are selling it to investors.  This initial public offering (IPO) of stock brings in money to the business that they don’t have to pay back.  What they give up for this wealth of funding is some control of their business.  The investors who buy this stock get dividends (similar to interest) and voting rights in exchange for taking this risk.  And the chance to reap huge capital gains.

The common stockholders take the biggest risk in financing a business.  (Preferred stockholders fall between bondholders and common stockholders in terms of risk, get a fixed dividend but no voting rights.)  In exchange for that risk they get voting rights.  They elect the board of directors.  Who hire the company’s officers.  So they have the largest say in how the business does its business.  Because they have the largest stake in the company.  After all, they own it.  Which is why businesses work hard to please their common stockholders.  For if they don’t they can lose their job.

During profitable times the board of directors may vote to increase the dividend on the common stock.  But if the business is not doing well they may vote to reduce the dividend.  Or suspend it entirely.  What will worry stockholders, though, more than a reduced dividend is a falling stock price.  For stockholders make a lot of money by buying and selling their shares of stock.  And if the price of their stock falls while they’re holding it they will not be able to sell it without taking a loss on their investment.  So a reduced dividend may be the least of their worries.  As they are far more concerned about what is causing the value of their stock to fall.

Investors make Money by Buying and Selling Stocks based on this Simple Adage, “Buy Low, Sell High.”

A business only gets money from investors from the IPO.  Once investors buy this stock they can sell it in the secondary market.  This is what drives the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  This buying and selling of stocks between investors on the secondary market.  A business gets no additional funding from these transactions.  But they watch the price of their stock very closely.  For it can affect their ability to get new financing.  Creditors don’t want to take all of the risk.  Neither do investors. They want to see a mix of debt (bonds) and equity (stocks).  And if the stock price falls it will be difficult for them to raise money by issuing more stock.  Forcing them to issue more bonds.  Increasing the risk of the creditors.  Which raises the bond interest rate they must pay to attract creditors.  Which makes it hard for the business to raise money to finance operations when their stock price falls.  Not to mention putting the jobs of executive management at risk.

Why?  Because this is not why venture capitalists risk their money.  It is not why investors buy stock in an IPO.  They take these great risks to make money.  Not to lose money.  And the way they expect to get rich is with a rising stock price.  Business owners and their early financers get a share of the stock at the IPO.  For their risk-taking.  And the higher the stock trades for after the IPO the richer they get.  When the stock price settles down after a meteoric rise following the IPO the entrepreneurs and their venture capitalists can sell their stock at the prevailing market price and become incredibly rich.  Thanks to a huge capital gain in the price of the stock.  At least, that is the plan.

But what causes this huge capital gain?  The expectations of future profitability of the new public company.  It’s not about what it is doing today.  But what investors think they will be doing tomorrow.  If they believe that their new product will be the next thing everyone must have investors will want to own that stock before everyone starts buying those things.  So they can take that meteoric rise along with the stock price.  As this new product produces record profits for this business.  So everyone will bid up the price because the investors must have this stock.  Just as they are sure consumers will feel they must have what this business sells.  When there are a lot of companies competing in the same technology market all of these tech stock prices can rise to great heights.  As everyone is taking a big bet that the company they’re buying into will make that next big thing everyone must have.  Causing these stocks to become overvalued.  As these investors’ enthusiasm gets the better of them.  And when reality sets in it can be devastating.

Investors make money by buying and selling stocks.  The key to making wealth is this simple adage, “Buy low, sell high.”  Which means you don’t want to be holding a stock when its price is falling.  So what is an investor to do?  Sell when it could only be a momentary correction before continuing its meteoric rise?  Missing out on a huge capital gain?  Or hold on to it waiting for it to continue its meteoric rise?  Only to see the bottom fall out causing a great financial loss?  The kind of loss that has made investors jump out of a window?  Tough decision.  With painful consequences if an investor decides wrong.  Sometimes it’s just not one individual investor.  If a group of stocks are overvalued.  If there is a bubble in the stock market.  And it bursts.  Look out.  The losses will be huge as many overvalued stocks come crashing down.  Causing a stock market crash.  A recession.  A Great Recession.  Even a Great Depression.

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Obamacare is Raising Health Care Costs and Causing People to Lose their Health Insurance

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 13th, 2013

Week in Review

Members of Congress think they’re smarter than the average business owner.  But they’re not.  In fact, when it comes to running a business most Congress people don’t have a clue.  Yet they continuously pass new legislation.  Discounting any concerns business owners may have.  With a certain measure of disdain.  For business owners are, after all, the enemy.  Because they object to paying higher taxes.  And they object to higher regulatory costs.  Just so they can keep their earnings.  And that’s just being greedy.

When the Democrats rammed Obamacare through Congress on a straight party vote the business community said this legislation was going to hurt them.  But Congress didn’t care.  Their basic attitude was ‘screw them’.  They’re just greedy.  But they weren’t being greedy.  They were just worried how they were going to stay in business under Obamacare (see Some Small Businesses Opt for the Health-Care Penalty by EMILY MALTBY and SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN posted 4/8/2013 on The Wall Street Journal).

Mr. Levi currently spends about $140,000 a year on insurance premiums to cover 25 managerial staff at his business, Consolidated Management, which runs cafeterias at schools, offices and jails.

Under the new law, he will have to offer insurance to all of his 102 full-time employees starting in January. Assuming all of them take the coverage, Mr. Levi says the cost of premiums could exceed $500,000.

“I’ve never made a profit in any year of the company that has surpassed that amount,” says Mr. Levi, 62 years old. “I don’t make enough money.”

He says it makes more sense to drop insurance entirely and pay a penalty of about $144,000…

Mr. Levi…is worried that failing to offer insurance could entice employees to seek employment at competing businesses that do offer benefits.

“If we don’t offer coverage, will it be harder to hire people?” he asks. “That’s the unknown.”

Meeting the new health care mandate will turn an operating profit into an operating loss.  Now as much as the Democrats may hate the very idea of profits a business just can’t remain in business if it doesn’t make a profit.  So his choices are go out of business or cut health care.  But if he cuts health care he may lose employees.  And have trouble hiring new employees.  For even though the majority of his employees were happy to work without health insurance those positions that had it may be very hard to fill without it.  Which may leave the only option available is the going out of business option.  Putting 102 people out of a full-time job.  And he’s not alone.

Mr. Epstein, 52, employs about 250 workers and currently provides health insurance to his 20 office personnel. If he were to start covering the 100 or so nurses and nursing assistants that work full time, his annual health-insurance costs would jump to roughly $600,000 from the current $100,000, he says.

Even if he takes the penalty option, he estimates he would have to pay about $240,000—a cost he doesn’t think his business could absorb. To compensate, he plans to cut the number of hours his nurses and nursing assistants work so they will be considered part-time under the law. He says he will hire more part-timers to ensure patients receive the same level of care.

Few business can just absorb another $500,000 in costs.  Even absorbing an additional $140,000 is not that easy.  Unless you have a monopoly and can just increase your prices.  But few have the privilege of just increasing their prices to absorb additional costs.  Most have to figure out how to cut costs elsewhere.  Such as dropping insurance coverage.  Forcing full-time workers to part-time.  Or deducting more out of their paychecks for the higher insurance cost.

To avoid the employer mandate, some small firms are considering other strategies, such as increasing employees’ share of the premiums, so they don’t have to shoulder the entire cost of offering benefits. Others say they will stay under the 50 full-time employee threshold or deliberately turn full-time workers into part-timers.

This is the reality of Obamacare.  And when it hits our businesses with higher regulatory costs it is ultimately the employees of the business that pay.  If you have ever wondered why the current economic recovery is one of the worst in history this a big reason why.  Obamacare.  It has frozen hiring.  And even pushed full-time workers to part-time.  All in the name of trying to pay the costs of Obamacare.  Which, according to the geniuses in Congress, was going to make everything better.  Giving everyone high-quality health care.  While cutting health care costs.  So far it appears to be doing the exact opposite.  And they’re still rolling it out.  So the worst is, no doubt, yet to come.

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Nikola Tesla, Sheldon Cooper, Inventors & Entrepreneurs, Compromise & Tradeoff, Theoretical & the Practical, GM and Hostess

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2012

History 101

Geniuses strive for Theoretical Perfection which often doesn’t work in the Market Place

There have been a lot of brilliant inventors that gave the world incredible things.  Nikola Tesla gave us the modern world thanks to his work in electromagnetic fields.  Giving us the AC power we take for granted today.  Electric motors.  The wireless radio.  Etc.  But as brilliant as Tesla was he was not brilliant in making money from his inventions.  He died broke and in debt.  And, some say, insane.  Though he was probably more like Sheldon Cooper on The Big bang Theory.  As one character on the show called him, “The skinny weirdo.”  Tesla had an eidetic memory (often called a photographic memory).  And probably suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Which when added to genius can be mistaken for crazy genius.

So Tesla and the fictional Sheldon Cooper have some things in common.  Genius.  And some odd behavioral traits.  As well as something else.  Neither was rich.  Their genius did not make them rich.  Which is a common trait of all brilliant inventors.  Their genius gets in the way of practicality.  They strive for theoretical perfection.  Which often doesn’t work in the market place.  Because perfection is costly.  And this is what separates the theoretical geniuses from practical engineers.  And entrepreneurs.

The internal combustion engine is a technological marvel.  It has changed the world.  Modernized the world.  It gave us inexpensive modes of transportation like cars, trucks, ships, trains and airplanes.  But the engine is not theoretically perfect.  It is a study of compromise and tradeoff.  Providing a final product that isn’t perfect.  But one that is economically viable.  For example, pistons need to compress an air-fuel mixture for combustion.  However, the piston can’t make such a tight seal that it can’t move up and down in the cylinder.  So the piston is smaller than the cylinder opening.  This allows it to move.  But it doesn’t contain the air-fuel mixture for compression and combustion.  So they add a piston ring.  Which contains the air-fuel mixture but restricts the movement of the piston.  So they add another piston ring that takes oil that splashes up from crank case and passes it through the ring to the cylinder wall.  The heat of combustion, though, can leave deposits from the oil on the cylinder wall.  So they add another piston ring to scrape the cylinder wall.

Selling a ‘Low Price’ is a Dangerous Game to Play Especially if you don’t Know your Costs

Every part of the internal combustion engine is a compromise and tradeoff.  Each part by itself is not the best it can be.  But the assembled whole is.  A theoretical genius may look at the assembled whole and want to add improvements to make it better.  Adding great costs to take it from 97% good to 99% good.  While that 2% improvement may result with a better product no one driving the car would notice any difference.  Other than the much higher price the car carried for that additional 2% improvement.

This is the difference between the theoretical and the practical.  Between brilliant inventor and entrepreneur.  Between successful business owner and someone with a great idea but who can’t bring it to market.  The entrepreneur sees both the little picture (the brilliant idea) and the big picture (bringing it to market).  Something that a lot of people can’t see when they go into business.  The number one and number two business that fail are restaurants and construction.  Why?  Because these are often little picture people.  They may be a great chef or a great carpenter but they often haven’t a clue about business.

They don’t understand their costs.  And because they don’t they often don’t charge enough.  A lot of new business owners often think they need to charge less to lure business away from their competition.  And sometimes that’s true.  But selling a ‘low price’ instead of quality or value is a dangerous game to play.  Especially if you don’t know your costs.  Because as you sell you incur costs.  And have bills to pay.  Bills you need to pay with your sales revenue.  Which you won’t be able to do if you’re not charging enough.

If Business Operations can’t Produce Cash a Business Owner will have to Borrow Money to Pay the Bills

The successful small business owners understand both their long-term financing needs.  And their short-term financing needs.  They incur long-term debt to establish their business.  Debt they need to service.  And pay back.  To do that they need a source of money.  This must come from profitable business operations.  Which means that their sales revenue must make their current assets greater than their current liabilities.  The sum total of cash, accounts receivables and other current assets must be greater than their accounts payable, accrued payroll, accrued taxes, current portion of long-term debt, etc.  And there is only one thing that will do that.  Having sales revenue that covers all a business’s costs.

The successful business owner knows how much to charge.  They know how much their revenue can buy.  And what it can’t buy. They make the tough decisions.  These business owners stay in business.  They see the big picture.  How all the pieces of business fit together.  And how it is imperative to keep their current assets greater than their current liabilities.  For the difference between the two gives a business its working capital.  Which must be positive if they have any hope of servicing their debt.  And repaying it.  As well as growing their business.  Whereas if their working capital is negative the future is bleak.  For they won’t be able to pay their bills.  Grow their business.  Or service their debt.  Worse, because they can’t pay their bills they incur more debt.  As they will have to borrow more money to pay their bills.  Because their business isn’t producing the necessary cash.

Those restaurants and construction companies fail because their owners didn’t know any better.  Others fail despite knowing better.  Like GM, Chrysler, Hostess, just about any airline, Bethlehem Steel, most print newspapers, etc.  Who all entered costly union contracts during good economic times.  Costs their revenues couldn’t pay for in bad economic times.  Which was most of the time.  As they struggled to pay union labor and benefits they run out of money before they could pay their other bills.  As their current liabilities exceeded their current assets.  So instead of producing working capital they ran a deficit.  Forcing them to incur more debt to finance this shortfall.  Again and again.  Until their debt grew so great that it required an interest payment they couldn’t pay.  And now they are no longer with us today.  Having had no choice but to file bankruptcy.

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Working Capital

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2012

Economics 101

A Business Owner uses Start-Up Capital to Pay the Bills until the Business starts Making Money to Pay the Bills

Few people understand how business works.  Some think it’s a mystical entity that has an endless supply of money for the taking.  To be taken by the government.  The unions.  And their employees.  While some believe business is some evil entity that acquired its wealth by taking it from poor people.  Poor people that had no wealth to give.  Because they’re poor.  Who we define as being poor because they have no wealth.

But businesses aren’t mystical or evil.  They’re run by ordinary people.  Often doing extraordinary things.  In a constant battle to survive.  They start off by risking everything they’ve ever earned and saved.  Perhaps persuading family to invest in them and their idea.  Or mortgaging their house to the hilt.  Just to get the money to start their business.  Short term financing to pay the bills until the business starts making money to pay the bills.  If the business ever starts making money to pay the bills.

One of the most misunderstood things about business is that their prices are pure profit.  When you buy a $4.50 cup of coffee from Starbucks people think that’s $4.50 of profit.  But it’s not.  That price has to pay for the coffee beans.  The water.  The regular milk.  The low-fat milk.  The flavored syrup.  The cup.  The cup sleeve so you can hold it without burning you hand.  The lid.  The plastic stick that plugs the drinking hole in the lid.  The baristas working there.  The equipment to grind the coffee beans.  To make coffee.  To make espresso.  To make steam to heat the milk.  The point-of-sale cash registers.  The lights.  The heat.  The air conditioning.  The Internet access provided free to their customers.  The soap and toilet paper in the restrooms.  Garbage bags.  Cream.  Sugar.  Sugar substitute.  Coffee stirrers.  The rent.  The telephone bill.  Marketing.  Etc.  They have to recover all of these costs in the sales price of their coffee.  With enough left over to pay for growth.

For a Business to be able to Pay their Bills their Current Assets must be Greater than their Current Liabilities

Bills.  Everyone has them.  And business owners have more than most.  Because it takes money to make money.  A business owner has to spend a lot of money to make something to sell.  Like a cup of coffee.  So they incur a lot of costs.  Costs that their revenues have to pay.  For a business like Starbucks that’s mostly cash and credit card sales.  For other businesses that could be sales on account.  Or accounts receivable.  Sales that don’t result in cash.  But a promise to pay cash later.  Like a lot of those bills Starbucks has to pay.  Things they bought on account.  With the promise to pay cash later.

Businesses have current liabilities.  Which include the bills they owe.  Accrued payroll.  Accrued payroll taxes.  And everything else that they have to pay within one year.  All of which they have to pay with current assets.  Such as cash.  Or short-term assets they can convert into cash within one year.  Like accounts receivable.  Or things that conserve cash.  Like prepaid expenses.  For a business to be able to pay their bills their current assets must be greater than their current liabilities.  If their current liabilities are greater than their current assets, though, they will have some problems paying their bills.

The relationship between current assets and current liabilities is important.  If we divide current assets by current liabilities we get the current ratio.  If this is greater than one then a business will find it easier to pay their bills.  If it’s less than one then a business will struggle to pay their bills.  And may not be able to pay their bills.  If they can’t they are insolvent.  Meaning that they are not selling at high enough prices.  They’re not selling enough.  Or their costs are just too great at the prevailing market prices.  And if any of the above is true they may have no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection.  Because they simply cannot pay their bills.

If a Business can’t Generate Cash (Working Capital) Borrowing Money will only Delay the Inevitable—Bankruptcy

Cash is king.  A business has to have it.  And if they’re business can’t generate it they have to get it someplace else.  Either by borrowing it from the bank.  From family.  Or taking out another mortgage on their home.  All of which are short-term solutions to a much bigger problem.  For if their business can’t generate cash borrowing money will only delay the inevitable.  Bankruptcy.  Which means they either have to raise their sales volume.  Raise their prices.  Or cut their costs.  To get their current ratio above one.  Making them solvent again.

When you subtract current liabilities from current assets you get a business’ working capital.  The greater a business’ working capital is the easier it is for them to pay their bills.  And the easier it is to grow their business.  Or to offer raises, bonuses, more generous benefits, etc.  For to do any of these things a business first has to be able to pay their bills.  If they can keep paying their bills and maintain a current ratio above one for a few consecutive accounting periods they will find themselves with a surplus of cash.  Or working capital.  Useable cash to expand business operations.  Or to better pay their employees.

Of course if a business is too generous with their employees it will dry up that working capital and make it harder to pay their other bills.  For example, when generous union contracts impose heavy costs on a business while the prevailing market prices prevents them from charging enough to be able to afford those generous union contracts a business will soon find itself in financial difficulties.  Leading to a possible bankruptcy.  Where a bankruptcy court allows them to renegotiate their union contracts.  So their sales at prevailing market prices can afford them.  As well as their other bills.  While leaving enough working capital left over to grow their business.  Replace some worn out equipment.  Or repay a loan.

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Planters, Money, Factors, Risk, Interest, Discounting, Accounts Receivable and Accounts Receivable Factoring

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 27th, 2012

History 101

When a Factor advanced their Money to a Planter it could take up to 9 Months or more to Get it Back

It takes money to make money.  And in the early days before big banks there were few places to get big amounts of money.  Which you needed in the New World to grow large crops like tobacco.  You needed big amounts of money because it took a long time from planting a crop to getting it to market in Europe.  Planters needed money to plant, grow, harvest, bale, ship to a seaport where it then shipped by sail to a European market.  Then money from the eventual sale of that tobacco would take a couple of months to make it back to the planter.

It could take up to 9 months or more before they actually got the proceeds from the crops they grew.  And there were no large banks to provide financing for the planters.  So what did they do?  Enter rich people.  And merchant banks.  Factors.  Who advanced planters money to plant, grow, harvest, bale and ship their crops to a European market.  And when they sold those crops and the money worked its way back across the ocean it went to the factors.

But why would rich people do this?  Why would they take a risk with their money?  When they advanced their money it could take up to 9 months or more before they got it back.  A lot could happen in 9 months.  A drought could have wiped out their crop.  Insect infestation could have eaten their crop.  Fire could have destroyed the crop as it made its way to an ocean going sailing ship.  And that sailing ship could have suffered damage in a storm and sank.  So there was a lot of risk these rich people took.  So why did they?

Factors bought a Future Crop at a Discount from what they Expected it would Sell For

Well, they could mitigate some of this risk by purchasing marine insurance.  To cover the cost of their cargo in the event it was lost at sea.  But insurance policies aren’t free.  They cost money, too.  Not to mention the shipping costs to get these crops to market.  Costs that had to come out of those crops.  So there are costs.  And some work.  Back then you didn’t buy insurance or pay for transportation electronically.  People went to places and negotiated these things with other people.  People who earned wages and didn’t work for free.

Today when someone borrows large sums of money they pay interest.  Which helps to offset any costs incurred.  And let’s people earn money by loaning money.  Which provides an incentive to loan money.  Which is the only way people can borrow money.  When people are willing to loan it.  And people only loan money when it’s worth their while.  People save their money in the bank to earn interest.  They don’t put it there so others can borrow it for free.  But before large banks they needed another way to get money to people who needed it.  Which brings us back to those factors.

Factors made their money by discounting.  Which is a way of earning interest without charging interest.  When you buy a Treasury bill you are acting like a factor.  You may pay $970 dollars for a Treasury bill with a face value of $1,000.  When you redeem this Treasury bill the government pays you $1,000.  Giving you a $30 financial gain.  Which works out to an effective interest rate of 3%.  People like buying treasury securities because they are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.  So there is little risk.  Whereas factors took a huge risk.  So they didn’t do it on any promise to pay.  They got collateral.  They bought a future crop at a discount from what they expected it would sell for.  Which became theirs.  And when that crop sold they got all the proceeds from that sale.  Hopefully they got as much as they thought it would sell for.  Or more.  But, of course, they took the risk that it might have sold for less.

Accounts Receivable Factoring is a Quick and Easy Way for a Business Owner to Raise Cash

Many small businesses will struggle to grow if they don’t offer credit.  Allowing their customers to buy things on account.  And then paying for all of their monthly purchases at one time at the end of the month.  This convenience encourages repeat customers to buy more.  And it allows them to buy things that they can sell later.  Like a restaurant owner who buys food from a restaurant supplier.  After selling prepared meals in his or her restaurant customers pay them.  Which allows the restaurant owner to pay his or her restaurant supplier at the end of the month.  A system that works well.  And benefits both supplier and customer.  That is, as long as people are dining at that restaurant.

But sometimes people stop going to restaurants.  And stop buying from other businesses.  Making it difficult for these businesses to pay their bills.  So they start paying their bills slower.  Instead of paying them in full at the end of the month they may take an extra month.  Or two.  So businesses who sold things on account have a growing list of outstanding invoices.  Or accounts receivable (A/R).  They print out their A/R aging report and they slowly see their open invoices go from 30 days to 60 days to 90 days.  Leaving them short of cash to pay their own bills.  And if they already maxed out their credit line they may be unable to borrow money.  So what other option do they have?  Here’s a hint.  Most of their outstanding accounts receivable will eventually become cash.  In time.  All they need is a way to get someone else to wait for that time to pass.

What they need is a factor.  Someone to buy their accounts receivable.  Giving them the cash they need.  While the factor will then pursue the collection of those outstanding invoices.  Most of which the customers will pay.  And it’s these invoices a factor will buy at a discount.  The small business owner loses some profit but they make up for that by getting the cash they need to pay their bills.  Accounts receivable factoring is a quick and easy way for a business owner to raise cash.  For unlike a loan there is no review of a company’s assets and liabilities.  No collateral to pledge.  No financial statement analysis.  For the owner is selling an asset.  His or her accounts receivable.  Which is the only thing a factor looks at.  The quality of those receivables.  Which they converted into cash.  Giving business owners the money they need to get back to the business of making money.  Much like those planters did in colonial America.

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Continued Bad Economic Data sends Investors to Safe Harbors

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2011

Times are Good when the Junk Market is Good

Junk bonds were big in the Eighties.  During the great economic boom courtesy of Ronal Reagan.  Lower tax rates.  Fewer regulations.  It was a time for entrepreneurs to take chances.  And they did.  Some took some really big chances.  They were thinking way outside the box.  In new technologies.  So there weren’t a lot of people lining up to finance their risky ideas.  Because they were too risky for most.  That’s where junk comes in.  A junk bond is a high yield bond.  It pays a high interest rate.  Because there is a very good chance the bond issuer may fail.  Making those bonds worthless.  So to attract capital to fund these risky ideas required a larger return on investment.  And the junk bond market was the place to go.

A lot of things happened that wouldn’t have had it not been for junk.  MCI Communications is a junk bond success story.  The Chrysler bailout in the Eighties was another.  Even Ted Turner owes the success of Turner Broadcasting to junk.  Yes, there were a lot of failures.  But that’s what makes junk so enticing.  You get a high return for that high risk.  A lot of entrepreneurs became millionaires.  And a lot of rich investors got richer.  So when the junk market is doing well, people are taking chances.  Taking risks.  Creating things.  New technologies.  And jobs.  Growing the economy.  But when the junk market isn’t doing well, few are taking risks.  Few are creating jobs.  And the economy isn’t growing.  Or won’t be growing.  For if the economic outlook is bleak, investors look for safe harbors for their cash.  Until a more favorable business/investing climate returns (see Junk bonds hit a speed bump by Ben Rooney posted 6/10/2011 on CNNMoney).

Investors had been flocking to corporate “junk” bonds since the early months of 2009 amid a broad flight to risky assets because of the high yields that come along with that risk. But demand for those bonds has tapered off in the last few weeks following a spate of lousy economic news.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in market,” said Jody Lurie, corporate credit analyst at Janney Capital Markets. “We’ve had a lot of bad news in the last few weeks and that’s making people hesitant.”

Business owners as well as investors hate uncertainty.  And there’s a lot of that these days.  Suffice it to say the Obama administration is not the most business-friendly administration.  Unless you’re a crony of the administration.  But few small business owners and entrepreneurs can afford what it takes to be a crony capitalist.  Because special favors don’t come cheap.  And there’s that ugly recession that just won’t end.  Few want to invest and create jobs when so many are unemployed and are unable to buy things.

“This market is extremely expensive,” [William Larkin, a bond portfolio manager at Cabot Money Management] said. “I’m afraid that we could get some hot inflation data on top of the prices,” he added. And that could leave bondholders with a negative return.

Inflation is another reason why the junk bond market is losing its appeal.  The value of a bond lies in the difference between your bond interest rate and the prevailing interest rate on the street.  Inflation increases interest rates.  So as inflation increases, that premium you had over the interest rates of ‘safe’ investments decreases.  Making the return on your junk more similar to ‘safe’ investments.  Only you still carry that high risk of your bonds becoming worthless.  If inflation pushes interest rates over your bond interest rate, you lose money.  Because your high-risk bonds pay less than safer investments like government treasury bonds.  So a bad economic outlook and/or inflation worries will make people run away from junk bonds to something safer.

A Six Week Losing Streak

In fact, when bad economic news comes out that says we’ll have more recession before we have any economic recovery, junk bond holders aren’t the only ones looking for safer investments.  Investors also flee the stock market.  Especially when the stock market is setting near-record losing streaks (see At noon: Dow surrenders 12,000 by David Berman posted 6/10/2011 The Globe and Mail).

The Dow was recently spotted at 11,980.78, down about 144 points or 1.2 per cent, marking its lowest level since March amid ongoing concerns about the health of the U.S. economy…

With Friday’s decline, U.S. indexes are well on their way to posting their sixth consecutive losing week – a losing streak noted by Bloomberg as the worst string of down weeks since 2002…

Meanwhile, investors have been diving into the safety of bonds. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond recently dipped below 3 per cent as bond prices (which move in the opposite direction to yields) have risen to their highest levels since early December.

And this despite the possibility of a U.S. default after reaching their legal debt limit.  Everyone in the administration is predicting doom and gloom about a U.S. default.  Apparently the investors are more frightened by the horrible economy, high unemployment numbers and a recession that never ends.

Time to call the Recession a Depression?

Of course, this recession will end.  There hasn’t been one that hasn’t yet.  They’re usually over anywhere from 6 months to a year or so.  That’s usually sufficient for the market to correct.  But it may take a little longer this time (see U.S. Will Trail Global Growth for Decade: Fink by Sree Vidya Bhaktavatsalam and Charles Stein posted 6/10/2011 on Bloomberg).

BlackRock Inc. (BLK)’s Laurence D. Fink, chief executive officer of the world’s biggest asset manager, said the U.S. will trail the global economy for much of the next decade.

The U.S. economy will grow 2 percent to 3 percent for the next five to 10 years, lagging behind global growth of 3 percent to 5 percent, Fink said today in a Bloomberg Television interview with Erik Schatzker from the Morningstar conference in Chicago. ..

A series of reports suggests the world’s largest economy is decelerating. Manufacturing grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in May, consumer spending rose less than forecast in April, and the unemployment rate unexpectedly climbed to 9.1 percent in May.

You know, after 10 years I don’t think you call it a recession anymore.  I think you start calling it a depression.

Where’s a Good World War when you Need One?

The last time we had a depression as bad as this there was a Big Government president in the White House.  He spent money like there was no tomorrow.  And none of it helped.  Every New Deal program was a failure.  They didn’t put people back to work in the private sector.  You know what did?  World War II.  It wasn’t FDR that ended the Great Depression.  It was Adolf Hitler.  Because someone had to build all that war material to defeat him.  And that someone was us. 

Things are different today, though.  There is no villain to come to Obama’s rescue.  It will be up to him alone to make his policies more business friendly.  Or his successor in 2012.

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Obama to Small Business: Take the Money. Please.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 27th, 2010

Smart Dumb People

Imagine you’re a business owner.  Let’s say you manufacture and sell fancy, high-end, architectural lighting for high-end homes.  Business was good during the housing bubble.  So good you expanded production.  Built a new factory.  Then, with the subprime mortgage crisis, sales took a nosedive.  You had to shutter the new plant you built during the bubble.  And you had to cut a shift at your other factory.  Because with the new home market in the crapper, high unemployment and a general lack of optimism in the future, few people are buying fancy, high-end, architectural lighting.  So what do you do?  Borrow money so you can expand production and hire more people?  If you’re an idiot, perhaps.  But you’re not.  So you won’t.

Business people are smart.  They understand business.  The people in the Obama administration, on the other hand, are a bunch of idiots.  When it comes to business.  They may have their Ivy degrees and their smug condescending arrogance, but they are some of the dumbest smart people that ever were.  To them all business owners are thieves who exploit their employees.  They don’t like them but they understand they need them.  To provide the jobs.  Because everyone can’t work in government.  Someone has to work in the private sector so the government has someone to tax.

With their simplistic understanding of business, they believe business just needs more money.  That’s their answer to everything.  More money.  A business owner can hire more people if only he or she had more money.  Ergo, get them more money.  Hire the people.  Create jobs.  Build stuff.  Just do it already.  What’s the problem?

“Ah, Mr. President, what am I going to do with all this stuff if no one buys it?”

“Huh?  What?”

“That’s what I thought.”

Spend Baby Spend

The economy is a complex thing.  But it’s simple to operate.  All you have to do is get the hell out of the way.  But there are those who just can’t.  They need to tinker.  Because they are smarter than you.  And every other consumer.

Economists are like weather forecasters.  They’re wrong more than they’re right.  Let’s face it; if these people could figure out the economy, they wouldn’t need a day job.  But they do.  They need to offer ‘expert’ commentary.  And advise presidents.  To feel important.  To feel better about themselves.  For being such abject failures that they need a day job.

And, of course, the ones who find favor with those in power are the ones who favor the use of that power.  Keynesians.  Unemployment, Mr. President?  Why you fix that by spending money.  Inflation, Mr. President?  That’s just too much money chasing too few goods.  So you need to spend more.  To stimulate the economy to build more goods.  Inflation is good.  It stimulates.  And it helps to pay off the debt you’re building with your deficit spending.  A trillion dollars today may only be a few hundred billion, say, 10 years from now.  Billions are easier to repay than trillions.  And the more we inflate, the easier it will be to pay off that debt.  See?  Deficit spending and inflation are good things.  So keep spending.

It’s a load of crap.  But it’s doesn’t take much to sell it to a president.  Especially if they want to spend.  As the current president does.  And, boy, does he.

Failed Policies of the Past

Easy money and irrational exuberance created the housing bubble.  People borrowed money and bought over-priced houses.  Then the bubble burst.  The huge inventory of unsold homes corrected the market.  Prices plummeted.  Interest rates went up.  Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) reset at higher rates.  Subprime mortgages defaulted.  Foreclosures.  More houses thrown on the market, pushing prices down further.  People still paying their mortgages found they owed more than their houses were worth.  Some walked away.  More houses thrown on the market, further depressing housing prices.  That’s what easy money and excess capacity gives you.  A bubble.  Then a deflationary spiral.

And now the Obama administration wants to return to these failed policies of the past.  Obama wants business to borrow money to increase capacity to build stuff no one will buy.  (See AP article Small biz, banks may spurn Obama’s $30B program by Pallavi Gogoi on My Way.)  It’s not housing.  But it’s still the same.  Irrational exuberance.

It’s the Government, Stupid

It’s not a tight credit market that’s hurting this economy.  It’s the Obama administration.  Just like it was the FDR administration.  There’s just too much uncertainty.  Too many anti-business policies.  When you see government dissolve a legal obligation (screwing the bond holders) in favor of helping a political constituency (the UAW), business owners take notice.  And get nervous. 

If you want to help the economy, you got to stop scaring business owners.  You got to stop running roughshod over the rule of law.  If people enter into legal contracts, they need to have some assurance that the government will honor those contracts.  And, to date, the Obama administration’s actions don’t give much assurance.

Until they stop scaring business, what idiot is going to expand and hire people?  That doesn’t work for the government?

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