Cyprus and the Eurozone Crisis shows why we’d be better off with a Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 30th, 2013

Week in Review

Debtors love inflation.  They love to borrow cheap dollars.  And love even more to repay their loans with even cheaper dollars.  Creditors, on the other hand, hate inflation.  Because they are on the other side of that borrowing equation from the debtor.  And when a debtor repays a loan with depreciated dollars the creditor who loaned that money loses purchasing power.  Causing the creditor to lose money.  Just because they had the kindness to loan money to someone who needed it.  Which is a strong disincentive for making future loans.

This has long been at the heart of all banking wars.  And banking crises.  The fight between paper money and hard money.  Printed dollars versus specie (gold and silver).  People who want to borrow money love paper.  Because banks could make a lot of it to lend.  Something they can’t do with gold and silver.  Because it takes a lot more effort and costs to bring new gold into the economy.  Those who want to borrow money argue that hard money hinders economic activity.  Because there is a shortage of money.  And because governments are always interested in boosting economic activity they are always in favor of expanding the paper money supply.  This generous expansion of credit is currently miring the Eurozone in a sovereign debt crisis.  And launched a confiscation of wealth in Cyprus.  Greatly threatening the banking system there.  As few depositors trust their money will be safe in their bank.  Causing people to return to specie (see Cypriot bank crisis boosts demand for gold by Ian Cowie posted 3/27/2013 on The Telegraph).

The Cypriot banking crisis reminds even the most trusting savers that not all banks or jurisdictions are safe – and is boosting demand for gold, bullion dealers claim.

As if to prove the old adage that it’s an ill wind that blows no good, enthusiasts for the precious metal argue that financial shocks in the eurozone are reminding savers of gold’s attractions…

[Daniel Marburger, a director of Jewellers Trade Services Partners (JTS)] said: “The situation in Cyprus has reignited the wider Eurozone sovereign-debt crisis. At a time like this, people are attracted to gold because it is the ultimate crisis commodity.

“The proposed levy on deposits of Cyprus’s savers has not only shaken confidence in the single-currency Eurozone, it illustrates the fragility of savings held within the banking system. In our experience, clients are attracted to gold because it offers insurance against extreme movements in the value of other assets. Unlike paper currency, it will never lose its intrinsic value…”

“The events in Cyprus prove once again that bank customers do face risks as creditors who are owed money…”

When you deposit your money into a bank you become a creditor.  You are loaning your money to the bank.  Who pays you interest to loan your money to others.  If the inflation rate is greater than the interest you earn your money actually shrinks in value.  And the more they print money the more it shrinks in value.  That’s why as a creditor you won’t like the harmful effects of inflation.  Even if it makes the people happy who borrow your money from the bank.  Because they get a real cheap loan at your expense.

Which is why people are drawn to gold.  Because they can’t print gold.  So it holds value better than paper.  And the government can’t just confiscate a percentage of your savings if it isn’t in the bank.  Another reason why people are drawn to gold.  If the banking system collapses, or if the government seizes people’s retirement savings to ward off a banking system collapse, people can take their gold and move somewhere else that isn’t having a financial meltdown.  And not lose any of their wealth.

Which is, of course, the last thing you want to happen in a country.  For a sound banking system is essential for a prospering middle class (if it weren’t for banks only rich people would own homes, cars, go to college, etc.).  Which is why a responsible monetary policy, and responsible people in government, is a prerequisite for a sound banking system.  Which few nations in the Eurozone have.  As few nations throughout the world have.  For they all want to buy votes by giving away free stuff.  And having the power to print money allows them to give away a lot of free stuff.  Pensions.  Health care.  College educations.  Lots and lots of government jobs.  Etc.  But there comes a point when you give away too much.  And you have sovereign debt crises.  As well as confiscations of wealth.

This was the advantage of a gold standard.  Like when we coupled the value of our world’s currencies to the price of gold.  It did not allow any nation to inflate their currency.  For if they did people would exchange that devalued currency for the fully-valued gold.  A strong incentive not to devalue your currency.  Which was nothing more than a promise to pay in gold.  The gold standard kept governments responsible.  But because it made it so difficult to buy votes everyone cheered when President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Putting an end to the last vestiges of a gold standard.  Allowing governments everywhere to be irresponsible.  Bringing on financial crises.  And the confiscation of wealth.  As we see happening in Cyprus.  And will no doubt see elsewhere.

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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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Stocks and Bonds

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 9th, 2012

Economics 101

When Companies grow their Capital Requirements grow beyond a Bank’s Lending Ability

We note a civilization as being modern when it has vigorous economic activity.  Advanced economies around the world all have the same things.  Grocery stores.  Clothing stores.  Electronic stores.  Appliance stores.  Coffee shops and restaurants.  Factories and manufacturing plants.  And lots and lots of jobs.  Where people are trading their human capital for a paycheck.  So they can take their earnings and engage in economic activity at these stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

To buy things off of shelves in these stores things have to be on those shelves first.  Which means selling things requires spending money before you earn money.  Businesses use trade credit.  Such as accounts payable.  Where a supplier will give them supplies and send them an invoice typically payable in 30-90 days.  They will establish a credit line at their bank.  Where they will borrow from when they need cash.  And will repay as they collect cash (such as when their customers pay their accounts payable).  And take out loans to finance specific things such as a delivery van or restaurant equipment.

Businesses depend on their bank for most of their credit needs.  But when companies grow so do their capital requirements.  Where capital is large amounts of money pooled together to purchase property, buildings, machinery, etc.  Amounts so great that it exceeds a bank’s ability to loan.  So these businesses have to turn to other types of financing.  To the equity and debt markets.

Investors Invest in Corporations by Buying their Stocks and Bonds

Equity and debt markets mean stocks and bonds.  Where we use stocks for equity financing.  And bonds for debt financing.  Stocks and bonds allow a corporation to spread their large financing needs over numerous people.  Investors.  Who invest in corporations by buying their stocks and bonds.

When a business ‘goes public’ they are selling stock in their company for the first time.  We call this the initial public offering (IPO).  If the company has a very promising future this will bring in a windfall of capital.  As investors are anxious to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing.  To be a part of the next Microsoft.  Or Apple.  This is when a lot of entrepreneurs get rich.  When they are in fact the next big thing.  And if they are, then people who bought stock in their IPO can sell it on the secondary market.  Where investors trade stocks with other investors.  By buying low and selling high.  Hopefully.  If they do they get rich.  Because the greater a company’s profits the greater its value and the higher its stock price.  And when a company takes off they can sell their stock at a much higher price than they paid for it in the IPO.

When a corporation needs to borrow more than their bank can loan and doesn’t want to issue new stock they can sell bonds.  Which breaks up a very large amount into smaller amounts that investors can buy.  Typically each individual corporate bond has a face value of $1000.  (So a ten million dollar ‘loan’ would consist of selling ten thousand $1,000 bonds).  Like a loan a corporation pays interest on their bonds.  But not to a bank.  They pay interest to the investors who purchased their bonds.  Who can hold the bonds to maturity and collect interest.  Or they can trade them like stock shares.  (Changes in the interest rates and/or corporate financial strength can change the market value of these bonds.)  When a bond reaches maturity (say in 20 years) the company redeems their bonds from the current bondholders.  Hopefully with the new profits the bond issue helped to bring into the corporation.  Or they just issue new bonds to raise the money to redeem the older bonds.

A Company Usually has a Mix of Equity and Debt Financing that Balances all the Pros and Cons of Each

There are pros and cons to both equity and debt financing.  Selling stock transfers ownership of the company.  Sell enough so that someone can own more than 50% and that someone can replace the board of directors.  Who in turn can replace the CEO and the other corporate officers.  Even the business founder.  This is the big drawback of going public.  Founders can lose control of their company.

Stocks don’t pay interest.  So they are less threatening during bad economic times.  As business owners, stock shareholders are there for the long haul.  During the good times they may expect to collect dividends (like an interest payment).  During bad times they will wait it out while the company suspends dividend payments.  Or, if they lose confidence, they’ll try and sell their stock.  Even at a loss.  To prevent a future greater loss.  Especially if the corporation goes bankrupt.  Because stockholders are last in line during any bankruptcy proceedings.  And usually by the time they pay off creditors there is nothing left for the shareholders.  This is the price for the chance to earn big profits.  The possibility to lose everything they’ve invested.

Bonds are different.  First of all, there is no transfer of ownership.  But there is a contractual obligation to make scheduled interest payments.  And if they fail to make these payments the bondholders can force the company into bankruptcy proceedings.  Where a corporation’s assets can be liquidated to pay their creditors.  Including their bondholders.  Which, of course, often means the end of the corporation.  Or a major restructuring that few in management enjoy.

Stockholders don’t like seeing their share value diluted from issuing too many shares.  Bondholders don’t like to see excessive debt that threatens the corporation’s ability to service their debt.  So a company usually has a mix of equity and debt financing that balances the pros and cons of each.  A financing strategy that has been working for centuries.  That allows the advanced civilized world we take all too much for granted today.  From jetliners.  To smartphones.  To that new car smell.  For none of these would be possible without the capital that only the equity and debt markets can raise.

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