FT135: “If corporations aren’t people than neither is government.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 14th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Corporations get Wealthy by either Pleasing their Customers or Pleasing Government

Mitt Romney said during the Republican primary campaign that corporations are people.  And the Left castigated him.  While late-night comedy made jokes with that snarky, all-knowing condescension.  Because everyone on the Left knows that corporations aren’t people.  They’re evil, soulless entities.  Unfeeling and cruel.  Who care only about profits.  While poisoning our environment.  Everyone on the Left will agree with this.  And those CEOs?  They’re the worst.  A bunch of greedy, old, white men.  Except those women who shattered the glass ceiling.  Who the Left celebrates.  Even though they run evil, soulless entities.

So what is a corporation?  Other than something that comes from the bowels of hell?  Well, perhaps the simplest explanation is this.  A corporation is a business structure that lowers consumer prices.  Which reduces the cost of living for poor and middle class families everywhere.  Huh?!?  No.  That can’t be right, you say.  Because corporations are evil and soulless.  On top of that they’re not people.  So why would some evil, soulless non-humans do something that is very beneficial to humans?  In a word, greed.

There are two ways corporations can get wealthy.  Either by pleasing their customers.  With high quality, great selection and low prices.  Or by pleasing government.  Allowing them to give their customers lower quality, poorer selection and higher prices.  Because their friends in government limit competition.  So they don’t have to please their customers.  Wal-Mart is an example of a company getting rich by pleasing customers with high quality, great selection and low prices.  Wal-Mart shoppers enjoy going to Wal-Mart.  The American auto industry is an example of companies getting rich because of government.  Which restricted free market competition as much as possible in the auto industry.  Raising prices and lowering quality.  Because of this auto shoppers don’t enjoy buying American cars as much as foreign imports.  Which has made Toyota the number one car company.

The more Corporations Pursue Profits the more Choice, Quality, Variety and Lower Prices Consumers Have

Selling a large variety of high quality goods at low prices will attract customers.  And increase sales volume.  That leads to profits.  Which is what those greedy corporations want.  And one of the best ways to do this is through economies of scale.  Growing larger to have greater purchasing power.  And selling so many units that you can charge less per unit to recover overhead costs.  Thus allowing you to sell at lower prices.  And the bigger you get the more you can lower your prices.

But to get big you need to take a lot of risks.  And the biggest risk is borrowing enormous sums of money.  Because it takes money to make money.  The kind of money one person typically doesn’t have.  So how to get it?  By incorporating.  Becoming one of those evil, soulless entities.  So you can give your customers a large variety of high quality goods at low prices.  When a business incorporates a few things happen.  First of all the business becomes a legal entity.  Which protects the people running the business.  By diversifying risk to its numerous shareholders.  Who assume that risk in exchange for ownership.  Incorporating also opens the capital markets for them.  Where they can sell bonds to finance growth.  Or sell stock.  Allowing them to raise the large sums of money to open more stores/plants.  Hire more people.  And achieve economies of scale.

The more corporations that do this the more choice consumers have.  The better quality.  And the lower prices fall.  Just think of something you’ve bought recently.  And the choices you had.  The stores you visited.  The websites you visited.  How you found exactly what you were looking for and paid what you thought was a fair price.  And how you enjoyed the whole process.  Now compare that experience with, say, renewing your driver’s license.  Where you have no choice in quality or price.  Compare the friendly faces at your favorite store with the joy of waiting for them to call your number at the DMV.  When the number being served is 76.  And you have number 12.  Worse, when you make the “I have places to go look” to the civil servants behind the counter working at a snail’s pace you don’t get a friendly smile in return.  You get a look of contempt.

People in Corporations put on a more Human Face than Government Workers because they Want to Please You

When you get poor service at a store you will complain.  You will talk to management.  You will threaten to take your business elsewhere.  Or you will just take your business elsewhere without telling anyone at that business.  Giving them no chance to correct a problem that will discourage customers shopping with them.  Which is the worst thing that can happen to a business.  Because they can’t fix a problem they don’t know about.  But if they know about it they will fix it.  Because if they don’t you will take your business elsewhere.  The last thing they want you to do.  So they will strive to make your experience a good experience.

If you get poor service at the DMV, though, you don’t want to get the people who can make you wait forever angry.  Instead you smile and tell them what a great job they’re doing.  Because you can’t go anywhere else.  Which is par for the course whenever you have to deal with the government.  Where customer service is not in the employee handbook.  Which is why people usually feel fear and/or dread whenever they have to deal with a government bureaucrat.  Especially the IRS.  Which is why the dark world George Orwell wrote about in Nineteen Eighty-Four was about the oppressive world of socialism.  Not an oppressive world where corporations take over.  Because they could never do that in a free market economy.  They could only do that in a world where government chooses winners and losers in the private sector.  Which would be a world without competition.  Where there was no large variety of high quality goods at low prices.  But the grey world that Orwell wrote about in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

So what’s the difference between corporations and the government?  The people.  The people in corporations put on a more human face because they want to please you.  Because they have to please you to stay in business.  The people in government, though, don’t.  Because government doesn’t have to please you.  And don’t try to.  For where else are you going to go?

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Balance Sheet, Financial Ratios, Private Equity, Toys “R” Us, Bain Capital, Leveraged Buyout and Initial Public Offering

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 29th, 2012

History 101

Private Equity guides a Business foundering in Rough Seas into a Safe Harbor to Refit it for Profitability

The balance sheet is the one of the two most important financial statements of a business.  It’s a snapshot in time of the financial position of a company.  In the classical format all assets are on the left side.  And all liabilities and equity are on the right.  And the total value of all assets equals the total value of all liabilities and equity.  In other words the business bought all of their assets with money raised by borrowing (liabilities), with money raised by selling stock (equity) or with money generated by the business (retained earnings/profits). 

Everything you ever wanted to know about a business you can find on the balance sheet.  Through numerous financial ratios you can determine if the business is using their assets efficiently.  Or have too many assets that cost more to maintain for the revenue they produce.  You can tell if a business has too much debt.  Or has so little debt that new debt can finance growth and expansion.  Which could attract new equity investors for further growth.  You can see if they’re matching the terms of their debt with the life of their assets.  Or if they’re taking on long-term debt obligations to provide short-term working capital.  A review of a firm’s balance sheet can also tell how well the management team is doing.  Or how poorly.

The financial picture the balance sheet provides of a business is an objective picture.  It gives an outsider a different view of the company than an insider.  Who may have a more subjective view.  They may not want to shutter a poorly utilized factory because of pride, sympathy for the employees or unfounded hope that business will improve soon.  So they will risk losing everything by not accepting that they must let some things go.  Like a cargo ship foundering in rough seas.  To save the ship and most of its cargo a captain may have to jettison some cargo.  If he or she doesn’t the captain can lose the ship.  The cargo.  And the lives of everyone on board.  Perhaps having a life or death decision in the balance makes it easier to make those hard decisions.  Perhaps that’s why some CEOs can’t let some things go.  Because they never accept the seriousness of their situation.  Perhaps this is why an outsider can read a balance sheet and see what the CEO can’t.  And act.  Like the captain of a ship foundering in rough seas.  And this is what private equity does.  Guides a foundering business into a safe harbor.  Refits it.  And then re-launches it on a course of profitability.

Toys “R” Us

Toys “R” Us was hitting its stride in the Eighties.  They were dominating the retail toy business.  Even expanding internationally.  And into other lines.  Children’s clothing.  Kids “R” Us.  And baby products.  Babies “R” Us.  There was no stopping them.  The secret to their success?  Sell every hot new toy kids wanted.  And sell it cheap.  At or below cost.  Using these loss leaders to get people into their stores.  Where they could sell them more expensive goods in addition to the most popular ‘must have’ toys. 

Then came the Nineties.  And serious competition.  From the big department stores, discount chains and warehouse clubs.  Target.  Wal-Mart.  Costco.  And then the Internet.  Who could use the Toys “R” Us strategy just as well.  And do them one better.  Toys “R” Us focused on selling the ‘must have’ toys at the lowest price.  Where customers came in knowing what they were looking for.  Finding it.  And heading to the checkout.  With a plan like that you don’t need customer service.  So when the competition matched them on selection and price they also threw in better customer service.  Wal-Mart surpassed Toys “R” Us.  Which was by then losing both profitability and market share. 

In 2004 a consortium of private equity (KKR and Bain Capital) and Vornado Realty Trust bought Toys “R” Us for $6.6 billion in a leveraged buyout.  And they turned the corporation around.  With a new management team.  Made the corporation more efficient.  In the brick and mortar stores as well as online.  The company is better and stronger today.  But it has delayed its Initial Public Offering (IPO) for about 2 years now due to a couple of lackluster Christmas seasons during the Great Recession.  They will use the capital raised from the IPO to pay down the debt from the leveraged buyout now sitting on Toys “R” Us’ balance sheet.  Making the turnaround complete.  Allowing the private equity firms to exit while leaving behind a healthier and more profitable company.

The Goal of the Leveraged Buyout was to make Toys “R” Us a Stronger Company

Private equity was successful at Toys “R” Us because Toys “R” Us was a good company.  From 1948 it consistently did the smart thing and grew into the giant it is.  But then it matured.  And the market changed.  Like a ship foundering in rough seas they just needed a little help to captain them through those rough seas.  And that’s what private equity did. 

Many will criticize the sizable debt they’ve left on their balance sheet.  But the plan was always to take the company public again.  Using the proceeds from the IPO to clean up the balance sheet.  Yes, the equity partners will also make a fortune.  But Toys “R” will emerge from this process a stronger company.  Which was the goal of the leveraged buyout.  They did not chop up the company and liquidate the pieces.  They purchased it in 2005.  And the company is still around today in 2012.  What have they been doing all this time?  Trying to make the company the best it can be.  So they can profit greatly from the IPO. 

No doubt the balance sheet of Toys “R” Us has never looked better.  Other than the debt added for the leveraged buyout.  Which they have been able to service since 2005.  So clearly the company is doing something right.  And just imagine how well they will do after they clean that debt off of their balance sheet.  After the IPO.  Suffice it to say that our grandchildren will be shopping there for their own children one day.

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