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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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #27: “Yes, it’s the economy, but the economy is not JUST monetary policy, stupid.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 17th, 2010

DURING UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC times, people act differently.  If business is down where you work, your company may start laying off people.  Your friends and co-workers.  Even you.  If there is a round of layoffs and you survive, you should feel good but don’t.  Because it could have been you.  And very well can be you.  Next time.  Within a year.  In the next few months.  Any time.  You just don’t know.  And it isn’t a good feeling.

So, should this be you, what do you do?  Run up those credit cards?  By a new car?  Go on a vacation?  Take out a home equity loan to pay for new windows?  To remodel the kitchen?  Buy a hot tub?  Or do you cut back on your spending and start hoarding cash?  Just in case.  Because those unemployment payments may not be enough to pay for your house payment, your property taxes, your car payment, your insurances, your utilities, your groceries, your cable bill, etc.  And another loan payment won’t help.  So, no.  You don’t run up those credit cards.  Buy that car.  You don’t go on vacation.  And you don’t take that home equity loan.  Instead, you hunker down.  Sacrifice.  Ride it out.  Prepare for the worse.  Hoard your cash.  Enough to carry you through a few months of unemployment.  And shred those pre-approved credit card offers.  Even at those ridiculously low, introductory interest rates.

To help hammer home this point, you think of your friends who lost their jobs.  Who are behind on their mortgages.  Who are in foreclosure.  Whose financial hardships are stressing them out to no ends.  Suffering depression.  Harassed by collection agencies.  Feeling helpless.  Not knowing what to do because their financial problems are just so great.  About to lose everything they’ve worked for.  No.  You will not be in their position.  If you can help it.  If it’s not already too late.

AND SO IT is with businesses.  People who run businesses are, after all, people.  Just like you.  During uncertain economic times, they, too, hunker down.  When sales go down, they have less cash to pay for the cost of those sales.  As well as the overhead.  And their customers are having the same problems.  So they pay their bills slower.  Trying to hoard cash.  Receivables grow from 30 to 45 to 90 days.  So you delay paying as many of your bills as possible.  Trying to hoard cash.  But try as you might, your working capital is rapidly disappearing.  Manufacturers see their inventories swell.  And storing and protecting these inventories costs money.  Soon they must cut back on production.  Lay off people.  Idle machinery.  Most of which was financed by debt.  Which you still have to service.  Or you sell some of those now nonproductive assets.  So you can retire some of that debt.  But cost cutting can only take you so far.  And if you cut too much, what are you going to do when the economy turns around?  If it turns around?

You can borrow money.  But what good is that going to do?  Add debt, for one.  Which won’t help much.  You might be able to pay some bills, but you still have to pay back that borrowed money.  And you need sales revenue for that.  If you think this is only a momentary downturn and sales will return, you could borrow and feel somewhat confidant that you’ll be able to repay your loan.  But you don’t have the sales now.  And the future doesn’t look bright.  Your customers are all going through what you’re going through.  Not a confidence builder.  So you’re reluctant to borrow.  Unless you really, really have to.  And if you really, really have to, it’s probably because you’re in some really, really bad financial trouble.  Just what a banker wants to see in a prospective borrower.

Well, not really.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite.  A banker will want to avoid you as if you had the plague.  Besides, the banks are in the same economy as you are.  They have their finger on the pulse of the economy.  They know how bad things really are.  Some of their customers are paying slowly.  A bad omen of things to come.  Which is making them really, really nervous.  And really, really reluctant to make new loans.  They, too, want to hoard cash.  Because in bad economic times, people default on loans.  Enough of them default and the bank will have to scramble to sell securities, recall loans and/or borrow money themselves to meet the demands of their depositors.  And if their timing is off, if the depositors demand more of their money then they have on hand, the bank will fail.  And all the money they created via fractional reserve banking will disappear.  Making money even scarcer and harder to borrow.  You see, banking people are, after all, just people.  And like you, and the business people they serve, they, too, hunker down during bad economic times.  Hoping to ride out the bad times.  And to survive.  With a minimum of carnage. 

For these reasons, businesses and bankers hoard cash during uncertain economic times.  For if there is one thing that spooks businesses and banks more than too much debt it’s uncertainty.  Uncertainty about when a recession will end.  Uncertainty about the cost of healthcare.  Uncertainty about changes to the tax code.  Uncertainty about new government regulations.  Uncertainty about new government mandates.  Uncertainty about retroactive tax changes.  Uncertainty about previous tax cuts that they may repeal.  Uncertainty about monetary policy.  Uncertainty about fiscal policy.  All these uncertainties can result with large, unexpected cash expenditures at some time in the not so distant future.  Or severely reduce the purchasing power of their customers.  When this uncertainty is high during bad economic times, businesses typically circle the wagons.  Hoard more cash.  Go into survival mode.  Hold the line.  And one thing they do NOT do is add additional debt.

DEBT IS A funny thing.  You can lay off people.  You can cut benefits.  You can sell assets for cash.  You can sell assets and lease them back (to get rid of the debt while keeping the use of the asset).  You can factor your receivables (sell your receivables at a discount to a 3rd party to collect).  You can do a lot of things with your assets and costs.  But that debt is still there.  As are those interest payments.  Until you pay it off.  Or file bankruptcy.  And if you default on that debt, good luck.  Because you’ll need it.  You may be dependent on profitable operations for the indefinite future as few will want to loan to a debt defaulter.

Profitable operations.  Yes, that’s the key to success.  So how do you get it?  Profitable operations?  From sales revenue.  Sales are everything.  Have enough of them and there’s no problem you can’t solve.  Cash may be king, but sales are the life blood pumping through the king’s body.  Sales give business life.  Cash is important but it is finite.  You spend it and it’s gone.  If you don’t replenish it, you can’t spend anymore.  And that’s what sales do.  It gets you profitable operations.  Which replenishes your cash.  Which lets you pay your bills.  And service your debt.

And this is what government doesn’t understand.  When it comes to business and the economy, they think it’s all about the cash.  That it doesn’t have anything to do with the horrible things they’re doing with fiscal policy.  The tax and spend stuff.  When they kill an economy with their oppressive tax and regulatory policies, they think “Hmmm.  Interest rates must be too high.”  Because their tax and spending sure couldn’t have crashed the economy.  That stuff is stimulative.  Because their god said so.  And that god is, of course, John Maynard Keynes.  And his demand-side Keynesian economic policies.  If it were possible, those in government would have sex with these economic policies.  Why?   Because they empower government.  It gives government control over the economy.  And us.

And that control extends to monetary policy.  Control of the money supply and interest rates.  The theory goes that you stimulate economic activity by making money easier to borrow.  So businesses borrow more.  Create more jobs.  Which creates more tax receipts.  Which the government can spend.  It’s like a magical elixir.  Interest rates.  Cheap money.  Just keep interest rates low and money cheap and plentiful and business will do what it is that they do.  They don’t understand that part.  And they don’t care.  They just know that it brings in more tax money for them to spend.  And they really like that part.  The spending.  Sure, it can be inflationary, but what’s a little inflation in the quest for ‘full employment’?  Especially when it gives you money and power?  And a permanent underclass who is now dependent on your spending.  Whose vote you can always count on.  And when the economy tanks a little, all you need is a little more of that magical elixir.  And it will make everything all better.  So you can spend some more.

But it doesn’t work in practice.  At least, it hasn’t yet.  Because the economy is more than monetary policy.  Yes, cash is important.  But making money cheaper to borrow doesn’t mean people will borrow money.  Homeowners may borrow ‘cheap’ money to refinance higher-interest mortgages, but they aren’t going to take on additional debt to spend more.  Not until they feel secure in their jobs.  Likewise, businesses may borrow ‘cheap’ money to refinance higher-interest debt.  But they are not going to add additional debt to expand production.  Not until they see some stability in the market and stronger sales.  A more favorable tax and regulatory environment.  That is, a favorable business climate.  And until they do, they won’t create new jobs.  No matter how cheap money is to borrow.  They’ll dig in.  Hold the line.  And try to survive until better times.

NOT ONLY WILL people and businesses be reluctant to borrow, so will banks be reluctant to lend.  Especially with a lot of businesses out there looking a little ‘iffy’ who may still default on their loans.  Instead, they’ll beef up their reserves.  Instead of lending, they’ll buy liquid financial assets.  Sit on cash.  Earn less.  Just in case.  Dig in.  Hold the line.  And try to survive until better times.

Of course, the Keynesians don’t factor these things into their little formulae and models.  They just stamp their feet and pout.  They’ve done their part.  Now it’s up to the greedy bankers and businessmen to do theirs.  To engage in lending.  To create jobs.  To build things.  That no one is buying.  Because no one is confident in keeping their job.  Because the business climate is still poor.  Despite there being cheap money to borrow.

The problem with Keynesians, of course, is that they don’t understand business.  They’re macroeconomists.  They trade in theory.  Not reality.  When their theory fails, it’s not the theory.  It’s the application of the theory.  Or a greedy businessman.  Or banker.  It’s never their own stupidity.  No matter how many times they get it wrong.

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