Why the Deficit and the Debt Matter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 25th, 2013

Economics 101

Keynesian Economists say there is Nothing Wrong with Running a Deficit or a Growing National Debt

We had the sequester.  Before that it was the fiscal cliff.  Before that it was the debt ceiling debate.  We hear these things.  But it’s like water off a duck’s back.  It doesn’t sink in.  We hear but we don’t understand it.  In one ear and out the other.  In fact people are tired of hearing of how we go from one financial crisis to another.  Enough already the people say.  Enough.  Pity, really.  As there are some serious consequences to the decisions our politicians are poorly making.

Part of the problem is that these economic issues are difficult to relate to for average Americans just trying to take care of their families.  A trillion dollar deficit?  A debt reaching $16 trillion?  A lot of people don’t know the difference between the deficit and the debt.  Including many of our television news talking heads.  And then the sheer magnitude of the word ‘trillion’ is just difficult to fathom.  We know it’s big.  But no one uses it in their personal lives.  We know a $200 utility bill is expensive.  An $8,000 property tax bill is expensive.  A $40,000 car is expensive.  But a trillion dollar deficit?  It is hard to make a connection to the size of a trillion dollars.

Compounding the problem are all these Keynesian economists who say there is nothing wrong with running a deficit.  Or the growing national debt.  Despite the financial debt crisis in the Eurozone.  Where running a deficit and growing national debt have caused great problems.  But the Keynesians say that can never happen here.  Because our economy is so much larger.  And the U.S. can still print money.  So people don’t know what to believe.  The government and their economists sound like they understand this stuff.  While a lot of people don’t.  So the people who don’t are more inclined to believe those who sound like they understand this stuff.  Which makes it easier for the politicians who are making all of these horrible decisions to make even more of them.

Over time Interest Charges run up the Outstanding Balance on our Credit Cards

So to understand deficits and debt it would be better to bring it down to our level.  And once we understand it at our level then we can understand better what’s happening at the national level.  So let’s do that.  Let’s imagine a person earning $30,000 a year.  Or $2,500 monthly.  Let’s further assume this person’s earnings are not enough to support their lifestyle.  So they turn to their credit card each month for an additional $100 in spending.  Which is this person’s deficit.  The amount they spend over what they earn.  Or money they spend that they don’t have.  So they charge it.  For this example we’ll assume a credit card with a 24% annual percentage rate.  In the following table we crunch these numbers for 120 months.  Or ten years.

Personal Deficit Spending and Cummulative Debt R2

The columns in the table are fairly self explanatory.  Each month we start with $2,500.  We start borrowing money in month 1 so there is no interest in the first month.  We subtract the interest from the monthly income to arrive at income less the interest charge on the credit card.  Our spending budget each month is $2,600.  Requiring $100 in credit card purchases in the first month.  Each month this increases by the amount of interest charged each month.  The last column is a running total of the credit card balance.

Over time the interest charges run up the outstanding balance on the credit card.  Because we are paying interest on both our purchases and our interest.  So as time goes by this increases our credit card balance at an increasing rate. Soon the interest charges take a larger percentage of our monthly income.  So much so that we need to borrow more and more to maintain our current level of spending.  The interest charge on the 120th month equals 38% of our monthly income.  Chances are that it would never get this bad as we would be unable to make our monthly payment long before the 120th month.  And with an outstanding debt approaching our annual income we probably would have filed for bankruptcy protection long ago.  For at these interest rates it wouldn’t take long before that debt grew beyond our ability ever to pay it back.

Deficit and the Debt Matter because Income is Limited

We can see this better if we graph these numbers.  We can see the cumulative debt growing at a greater rate over time.  Just as does the percentage of our personal income going solely to paying the interest on our debt.  Truly wasted money.  Spending money for things we purchased long ago.  And if we spent it on restaurants and vacations we have nothing tangible to show for this.  Nothing we can sell to get our money back.  Just interest payments that seem to go on forever and ever.  For something that gave us a few hours or days of pleasure.  Which is the worst kind of debt to have.  As there is no way to pay it down other than with current earnings.  Meaning we have to make sacrifices today and tomorrow for spending we did long, long ago.

Personal Income Debt and Interest as Percent of Income R1

On the chart we have a horizontal line for monthly income.  And one for annual income.  We can see that it only takes 21 months for our credit card balance to exceed our monthly income.  Not even two years.  But only 1.9% of our monthly income is going to pay for interest on the debt.  Which doesn’t sound that bad.  So we keep charging.  Just after three years of doing this we break $100 in interest expense.  Requiring 4.2% of our earnings to go to pay the interest on the debt.  It only takes another 2 years to break $200 in interest expense (8.4% of earnings).  It only takes another year to bring the interest charge to $300 (12.3% of earnings).  In 99 months the interest charge breaks $600 (24% of earnings).  And the total outstanding credit card debt is now greater than our annual earnings. Making it very unlikely that we’ll ever be able to pay this balance down.

Anyone who charged a little too much on their credit cards knows what this feels like.  And what those phone calls from collection agencies are like.  Not good.  Anyone who charged anywhere near this example no doubt brought great stress into their lives.  They might have lost their house.  Their retirement savings.  Their kids’ college funds.  Or had no choice but to file a personal bankruptcy.  But when we run our debt up this high there comes a point where we cut up the credit cards.  Making a serious cut in our spending.  Because that’s all we can do.  We can’t just earn a lot more money.  And we can’t print money.  If we could do either we would not have a debt problem in the first place.

This is where average Americans and the federal government differ.  Average people have no choice but to be responsible.  While the federal government can allow the problem to grow and grow.  For they can arbitrarily raise their income.  By raising taxes.  And they can print money.  Unfortunately for average Americans both of these options make life worse for them.  Raising taxes makes us cut our personal spending as if we ran up our credit cards.  Forcing us to get by on less.  And printing money causes inflation.  Raising prices.  Which, of course, forces us to get by on less.  This is why the deficit and the debt matter.  For income is limited.  Whether it’s ours.  Or the federal government’s.  And when you spend more than you have more money goes to paying interest on the debt.  Which is money pulled out of the economy and thrown away.  The ultimate cost of spending money you don’t have.  Money thrown away.  And, of course, potential bankruptcy.

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Two Consecutive Negative Quarterly Growth Rates in Business Earnings say we’re in a Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2013

Week in Review

Business earnings drive everything in the economy.  Every dollar a person spends in the economy came from a business.  From someone spending their paycheck.  To someone spending their government assistance.  Because business provides every tax dollar the government collects.  Whether from the business directly.  Or from their employees.  So business earnings are everything.  If they’re not earning profits they’re not creating jobs.  And the fewer people that are working the less tax revenue there is.

Lakshman Achuthan with the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) looks at business earnings and has found a direct correlation between the growth rate of business earnings and recessionary periods.  Finding that whenever there were 2 or more consecutive quarters of a falling growth rate in business earnings we were in a recession.  Business Insider has reproduced his chart showing this correlation as well as quoting from his report (see CHART OF THE DAY: A Stock Market Trend Has Developed That Coincided With The Last 3 Recessions by Sam Ro posted 3/6/2013 on Business Insider).

This is a bar chart of S&P 500 operating earnings growth going back a quarter of a century on a consistent basis, as we understand from S&P. Others can choose their own definitions of operating earnings, but this is the data from S&P. In this chart, the height of the red bar indicates the number of consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth.

It is interesting that, historically, there have never been two or more quarters of negative earnings growth outside of a recessionary context. On this chart, showing the complete history of the data, the only times we see two or more quarters of negative growth are in 1990-91, 2000-01, 2007-09 and, incidentally, in 2012. This data is not susceptible to the kind of revisions one sees with government data. The point is that this type of earnings recession is not surprising when nominal GDP growth falls below 3.7%. So, even though the level of corporate profits is high, this evidence is also consistent with recession.

Follow the above link to see this chart.

The stock market is doing well now thanks to the Federal Reserve flooding the market with cheap dollars.  Investors are borrowing money to invest because of artificially low interest rates.  So the rich are getting richer in the Obama recovery.  But only the rich.  For an administration that is so concerned about ‘leveling the playing field’ their economic policies continually tip it in favor of the rich.  Who can make money even if the economy is not creating new jobs.  Which it isn’t.

All of these recessions can be traced back to John Maynard Keynes.  And Keynesian economics.  Playing with interest rates to stimulate economic activity.  The 1990-91 recession was made so bad because of the savings and loan (S&L) crisis.  Which itself is the result of government interventions into the private economy.  First they set a maximum limit on interest rates S&Ls (and banks) could offer.  Then the Keynesians (in particular President Nixon) decoupled the dollar from gold.  Unleashing inflation.  Causing S&Ls to lose business as people were withdrawing their money to save it in a higher-interest money market account.  Then they deregulated the S&Ls to try and save them from being devastated by rising inflation rates.  Which the S&Ls used to good advantage by borrowing money and loaning it at a higher rate.  Then Paul Volcker and President Reagan brought that destructive high inflation rate down. Leaving these S&Ls with a lot of high-cost debt on their books that they couldn’t service.  And while this was happening the real estate bubble burst.  Reducing what limited business they had.  Making that high-cost debt even more difficult to service.  Ultimately ending in the S&L crisis.  And the 1990-91 recession.

Fast forward to the subprime mortgage crisis and it was pretty much the same thing.  Bad government policy (artificially low interest rates and federal pressure to qualify the unqualified) created another massive real estate bubble.  This one built on toxic subprime mortgages.  Which banks sold to get them off of their books as fast as possible because they knew the mortgage holders couldn’t pay their mortgage payment if interest rates rose.  Increasing the rate, and the monthly payment, on their adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought and/or guaranteed these toxic mortgages and sold them to their friends on Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).  Sold them as high-yield low-risk investments to unsuspecting investors.  And when interest rates rose and those ARMs reset at higher interest rates, and higher monthly payments, the subprime borrowers couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  Causing a slew of foreclosures.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

In between these two government-caused disasters was another.  The dot-com bubble.  Where artificially low interest rates and irrational exuberance gave us the great dot-com bubble.  As venture capitalists poured money into the dot-coms who had nothing to sell, had no revenue and no profits.  But they could just as well be the next Microsoft.  And investors wanted to be in on the next Microsoft from the ground floor.  So they poured start-up capital into these start-ups.  Helped by those low interest rates.  And these start-ups created a high-tech boom.  Colleges couldn’t graduate people with computer science degrees fast enough to build the stuff that was going to make bazillions off of that new fangled thing.  The Internet.  Even cities got into the action.  Offering incentives for these dot-coms to open up shop in their cities.  Building expansive and expensive high-tech corridors for them.  Everyone was making money working for these companies.  Staffed with an army of new computer programmers.  Who were living well.  The brightest in their field earning some serious money.  So they and their bosses were getting rich.  Only one problem.  The companies weren’t.  For they had nothing to sell.  And when the start-up capital finally ran out the dot-com boom turned into the dot-com bust.  As the dot-com bubble burst.  And when it did the NASDAQ crashed in 2000.  When it became clear that all of President Clinton’s prosperity in the Nineties was nothing more than an illusion.  There would be 4 consecutive quarters of negative growth in business earnings before the dust finally settled.  One quarter worse than both the S&L crisis and the subprime mortgage crisis recessions.

And now here we are.  With 2 consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth under our belt.  Based on this chart this has happened only three times in the past 3 decades.  The 1990-91 recession.  The 2000-01 recession.  And the 2007-09 recession.  Which if his theory holds we are in store for another very nasty and very long recession.  No matter what the government economic data tells us.

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Trend Analysis—Long-Term Debt-Paying Ability

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2013

Economics 101

To Help with the Decision Making Process Small Business Owners look at Past Results and Trends

A small business owner has a lot on his or her mind.  Most of which have something to do with cash.  If they will have enough for their short-term needs.  And their long-term needs.  Because if they don’t there’s a good chance he or she will be a small business owner no more.  So with every decision a small business owner makes he or she asks this question.  What will be the cash-impact of this decision?  Both short-term.  And long-term.

To help with this decision making process small business owners look at past results.  And the trend between accounting periods.  Either quarterly.  Or monthly.  For there is a lot more to a business’ health than net profit.  Or cash in the bank.  You can have neither and still be a healthy business.  And you can have both and be in a lot of danger.  Because these are only parts of the bigger picture.  It’s how they fit together with the other pieces that give small business owners useful information.  So let’s take a look at 4 quarters of fictitious data.  And what the data trends tell us.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt

Looking at these numbers you can arrive at different conclusions.  Sales were 1.7 million or higher for all 4 quarters.  That seems good.  But sales fell the last two quarters.  That seems bad.  But it’s hard to get a full grasp of what these numbers can tell us on their own.  But if we look at some ratios we can glean a lot more information.  And can graph these ratios and look at trends.

If the Debt Ratio is less than 1 it means the Business is Insolvent

If you divide current assets (Cash through Inventory) by current liabilities (Accounts Payable through Current Portion of L/T Debt) you get the current ratio.  A liquidity ratio.  Telling a small business owner his or her short-term (in the next 12 months) cash health.  If this ratio is greater than one than you have more current assets than current liabilities.  Meaning you should be able to meet your cash needs in the next 12 months.  Which is good.  If it’s less than 1 it means you may not be able to meet your cash needs in the next 12 months.  Which is bad.  But is there a ‘correct’ number for a small business?  No.  It could vary greatly depending on the nature of your business.  But the trend of the current ratio can provide valuable information.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Current Ratio

This business became more liquid from Q1 to Q2.  Meaning they should have been able to meet their short-term cash needs even easier in Q2 than Q1.  A good thing.  But they became less liquid from Q2 to Q3.  With their current ratio falling below 1.  Meaning they may not have had enough cash to meet their short-term cash needs.  Their short-term cash position improved in Q4.  But it was still below one.  So the current ratio trend for these 4 quarters shows a cause for concern.  Is it a problem?  It depends on the big picture.  So let’s look at more parts that make up the big picture.

Plotted on the same graph is a long-term debt-paying ability ratio.  The debt ratio.  Which we get by dividing Total Assets by Total Liabilities.  If this number is less than 1 it means Total Assets are greater than Total Liabilities.  Which is good.  If it’s greater than 1 it means the business is insolvent.  Which is bad.  As insolvency leads to bankruptcy.  The trend from Q1 to Q2 was good.  Their debt ratio fell.  But it rose between Q2 and Q3.  Rising above 1.  Which is a great cause for concern.  It fell between Q3 and Q4 but it was still below one.  Is this a problem?  It’s starting to look like it is.

There is no such thing as a Sure Thing for a Small Business Owner

Are they going to have trouble servicing their debt?  There are ratios for this, too.  Such as the Times Interest Earned (TIE).  Which shows how many times your recurring earnings can pay your interest costs.  In this example we have normal interest expense such as that paid on the business line of credit.  And the capitalized interest such as the interest portion on a car payment.  We calculate TIE by dividing recurring earnings by total interest expenses.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Times Interest Earned

In Q1 their recurring earnings had no trouble covering their interest expenses.  In Q2 recurring earnings grew as did their ability to pay their interest expenses.  But the trend following Q2 has been downward.  Either indicating a surge in debt.  And interest due on that debt.  Or a fall in recurring earnings.  In this case it was a fall in earnings.  Which plummeted following Q2.  Looking at another ratio we can see the extent of these poor earnings on their long-term debt-paying ability.  If we divide Total Liabilities by Owner’s Equity we get the debt to equity ratio.  If this number is 1 then the business is financed equally by debt and equity.  If it’s less than 1 more equity (typically produced by recurring earnings) than debt financed the business.  Which is preferable as equity financing doesn’t incur any costs or risk.  If it’s greater than 1 it means more debt than equity financed the business.  Which is not as preferable.  Because debt-financing incurs costs.  As in interest expense.  And risk.  The greater the debt the greater the interest.  And the greater risk that they may not be able to repay their debt.  Which could lead to bankruptcy.

Trend Analysis Long-Term Debt Debt to Equity Ratio

This business was highly leveraged in Q1.  With virtually all financing coming from debt.  Probably because the owner drew a lot of money out during some profitable years.  Something banks don’t like seeing.  They like to see the owner sharing the risk with the bank.  If they don’t it can be a problem if the business owner wants to borrow money.  Which this one did in Q3.  Because business was doing so well this owner wanted to expand the business by adding another piece of production equipment.  But being so highly leveraged the owner had to put up a sizeable down-payment to get a loan for this new piece of production equipment.  As can be seen by the $20,000 owner contribution in Q3.  There was also a large decline in Owner’s Equity in Q3.  Indicating a one-time charge or correction.  With the loan the owner increased production.  And was looking forward to making a lot of money.  Which was not to happen.  For the economy fell into recession in Q3.

Sales fell just as they increased production.  Which led to a swelling inventory of unsold goods.  Worse, the recession was hurting everyone.  As can be seen by the growth in accounts receivable.  Because people were paying them slower they were paying their suppliers slower.  As is evident by the growth in their accounts payable.  Then a piece of equipment broke down.  They had no choice but to replace it.  Requiring another equity infusion of $10,000.  While some write-downs of bad debt reduced Owner’s Equity further.  (Or something similar.  With such low recurring profits by the time you add in other one-time and non-recurring costs this can lead to a net loss.  And a decline in Owner’s Equity.)  Despite this $30,000 equity infusion into the business the debt to equity ratio soared between Q3 and Q4.  Showing how poorly recurring operations were able to generate cash after that expansion in Q3.  Which explains their insolvency.  And as leveraged as they are it is very unlikely that they are going to be able to borrow money to help with their pressing cash needs.  Meaning that the decision to expand in Q3 may very well lead to bankruptcy.

This is just an example of the myriad concerns a small business owner has to consider before making a decision.  And a successful small business owner always has to factor in the possibility of a recession.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Being a small business owner.  For it’s a lot like gambling.  There is just no such thing as a sure thing.

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FT150: “The Left wants to extend tax hikes down to those earning $250,000 because there are just too few rich people to tax.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

If you Confiscated ALL Income from those Earning a Million+ it would be Less than HALF of the Average Obama Deficit

The fiscal cliff yadda yadda yadda the Democrats want to raise taxes and the Republicans’ mothers are whores.  That about summarizes the fiscal cliff negotiations.  The Democrats want to raise taxes.  The Republicans don’t because there is nothing that will kill off an economic recovery quicker than raising taxes.  And the Democrats are mean.  Calling the Republicans a lot of names.  And saying things about them that aren’t very nice.  So once again let’s look at the numbers to see what they say about federal income taxes.  The following numbers come from the IRS (see Table 3.  Number of Individual Income Tax Returns, Income, Exemptions and Deductions, Tax, and Average Tax, by Size of Adjusted Gross Income, Tax Years 2001-2010).

The Democrats keep saying that the Republicans want tax cuts for the rich paid for by the poor.  But according to these numbers that’s just not happening.  People who earned $15,000 or less paid 0.0% of all federal income taxes.  People who earned $30,000 or less paid less than 1% of all federal income taxes.  It’s the meaty center that paid the taxes.  Those who earned from $75,000 to $1 million submitted approximately 20.5% of all federal tax returns while they paid approximately 62.9% of all federal income taxes.

Now how about those rich people?  Those earning $1 million or more submitted approximately 0.19% of all tax returns.  Less than a quarter of one percent.  And yet they paid approximately 21.9% of all income taxes.  Is that fair?  At these high levels of income people pay basically the top marginal tax rate as only a very small fraction of their earnings falls outside this top rate.  So if we divide the total taxes paid by this 0.18% ($207 billion) by 0.35 (the 2010 top marginal tax rate) you get a total income of $590 billion.  So if you confiscated ALL of their earnings it would be less than HALF of the average Obama deficit ($1.324 trillion).  Meaning that it is IMPOSSIBLE to reduce the deficit with any tax rate on those earning $1 million or more.

The Rich may be paying Lower Tax Rates but they’re paying Far More Tax Dollars than most of Us

All right, so it won’t reduce the deficit.  But the Democrats say we must do this to be fair.  Meaning those earning more should pay more even if it’s only symbolic.  To punish success.  As if they’re not being punished already for their success.  We’ve all heard about Warren Buffet’s secretary paying a larger tax rate than he pays.  But talking percentages isn’t the same as talking dollars.  Because a small percentage on a much larger earnings amount will produce more tax revenue than a higher tax rate on a smaller earnings amount.  So let’s look at dollar amounts to see if the rich are paying their fair share.  Or whether we’re punishing them enough for their success.

The rich paid a smaller percentage of their earnings in taxes but paid far more in actual dollar amounts.  Which is the only thing that allows government to pay for things.  Dollars.  Let’s assume Warren Buffet’s secretary falls into the income range $50,000 to $75,000.  Who paid on average $4,310.92 in federal income taxes.  Now compare this to what rich people paid in income taxes.  Those earning from $1 million to $1.5 million paid on average $306,779 in federal income taxes.  Or more than 71 times what someone earning $50,000 to $75,000 paid.  Those earning $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 paid 102 times more than that lower income earner.  Those earning $2,000,000 to $5,000,000 paid 179 times more than that lower income earner.  Those earning $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 paid 407 times more than that lower income earner.  Those earning $10 million or more paid 1,389 times more than that lower income earner.

The rich may be paying lower tax rates but they’re paying far more tax dollars than most of us.  An inordinate amount.  If you look at it in terms of government services people consume (which is what taxes pay for) are those earning $10 million or more consuming 1,389 times the government services those earning $50,000 to $75,000 consume?  No.  If anything, they consume far less government services than most people.  Because they live the good life.  The good life their high earnings provide.  Being that the rich are paying far more than their fair share you can only conclude then that these excessive taxes are punitive.  To punish their success.

The only way to Achieve Real Deficit Reduction is to Increase Taxes on the Middle Class or Cut Spending

So what can we conclude?  The rich are paying more than their fair share of taxes.  The amount of tax dollars they’re paying could even qualify as being punitive.  As they are so great any further increase in rates on the rich is not likely to increase tax revenue.  First of all as they are already paying so much they will take every tax shelter advantage they can to minimize the further confiscation of their earnings.  But more important than that is that there are just so few rich people.  Even though the rich pay on average hundreds of times more in federal income taxes than that meaty center it’s the meaty center where most of the tax revenue comes from.  Because there are so many more people in the meaty center.  And by graphing the number of tax returns from each income bracket and the amount of tax revenue they pay we can understand why the Democrats are so adamant to raise taxes on those earning as little as $250,000.

The blue line (Series 1) is the number of tax returns filed in thousands of people for each income bracket (the left vertical axis).  The red line (Series 2) is the total tax revenue in millions of dollars each income bracket produces (the right vertical axis).  You can see the meaty center of tax revenue (from those earning $75,000 to $1 million).  And you can see the meaty center of those filing tax returns (form those earning $30,000 to $200,000).  As you can see the meaty center of tax filers and tax payers are not the same.  As the tax code shifts the tax burden onto the higher income earners.  And in this chart we can see why the Democrats want to increase tax rates on those earning $250,000 and more.

The drawback to progressive tax rates is that it shifts the tax burden onto fewer people.  Who must pay more in taxes than is their fair share.  And that worked for awhile until government grew so large.  But as our aging population has increased the costs of Medicare and Social Security (and soon Obamacare) there just aren’t enough rich people to tax to pay these soaring costs.  And they will have no choice but to shift the tax revenue graph to lower income people.  So they can capture more people (and incomes) under this graph.  Yes, they want to tax the rich more.  But only for the symbolism.  For once they’ve punished them by forcing them to pay their ‘fair’ share then they can raise tax rates on everyone else.  Which is the only way they have a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving real deficit reduction.  Increasing taxes on the middle class.  Well, that, or cutting spending.  Which could provide serious deficit reduction.  By shrinking the size of government. The very cause of those massive deficits.  And accumulated debt.  But shrinking government is, of course, crazy talk for those on the Left.  Who would rather let the country sink into insolvency before agreeing to that.

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Retained Earnings

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 12th, 2012

Economics 101

Small Business Owners often Reinvest Everything they Earn back into their Businesses

It takes money to make money.  Before a business can make any money it has to produce something that can create revenue.  That is, they have to create something of value that people will pay money for.  To do that they have to buy land, buildings, equipment, etc., first.  They have to hire people and pay wages, salaries, benefits and payroll taxes first.  They have to spend this money before they can sell anything of value.  Because there is a time delay before the money they spend can produce anything to sell they have to get money elsewhere.  To pay all the bills.  Before they can start paying their bills from their revenue.

Small business owners often use their life savings.  They may mortgage their homes.  They may borrow money from their parents.  Or from other family.  If their capital needs are small they may use their credit cards.  And work out of their homes.  But one thing is for sure.  A small business is a cash hungry beast.  And it has a voracious appetite when it’s growing.  For those who make it to this level may be able to convince a bank to loan them money.  That can fund that growth.  Others may turn to venture capital.  If they can convince a venture capitalist that they have a great idea than can really make some money.  More advanced businesses may require even greater sums of money to fund growth and turn to the capital markets.  Using stocks and bonds to fund that growth.

Of course, it takes awhile to get to that level.  Unless you have one of those great and unique ideas.  Which can accelerate a business through this growth process.  But for most it’s a longer journey to get there.  Involving a life of sacrifice.  Skipping vacations.  Eating more hamburger than steak.  And putting off the things you want (new television, smartphone, tablet, car, etc.) until you can afford them.  Which often doesn’t come for a very long time.  Instead, small business owners often reinvest everything they earn back into the business.  To help get it to the next level.  Many small business owners don’t even pay themselves.  Because their business needs that cash elsewhere.

A lot of Small Business Owners don’t pay themselves as they Establish their Businesses

So why do they do it?  It’s not for the money.  For small business owners could make more money working for someone else without all of the headaches.  No.  They don’t do it for the money.  They do it because they’re entrepreneurs.  Filled with a passion to do something better.  Or new.  Just look at what drove Steve Jobs.  It wasn’t the money.  It was all about creating great things.  Things he couldn’t stop thinking about.  Driving some of his people crazy with his relentless push for perfection.  But he couldn’t help himself.  For he felt no inner peace until he realized his vision.  Even when his engineers and designers said what he wanted couldn’t be done.  And they kept saying that until they did what they said couldn’t be done.

This is why some entrepreneurs go ‘Albert Einstein’ in pursuit of their vision.  So focused they skip meals because they forgot to eat.  Or didn’t want to waste time by stopping to eat.  Ever try to eat lunch with a small business owner?  It can be a little on the frustrating side trying to hold a conversation.  As they never shut down.  Their mind is somewhere else.  They’re thinking about something.  On the phone.  Checking email.  Scratching notes.  These are the people that keep working the phones even when sitting on the toilet.  They’re that driven.  And we’re lucky to have such people in the world.  For they make a lot of things we like.  And create a lot of jobs.  In fact, these small business owners are the engine of job growth.  For no one creates more jobs than they do.  Not even the big corporations with billions in revenue.  It’s the small business owner who does cartwheels when they break a million in revenue.  It’s the small business with 5 employees that hires a sixth.  This is where real job growth comes from.  Because there are so many more small business owners than big corporations.

The small business owner is no stranger to sacrifice.  He or she is willing to do whatever they have to.  Even going in on the weekend and working late into the night.  While their employees are enjoying their weekend.  Spending the paychecks they earned working for the small business owner.  While the owner often doesn’t take a paycheck.  Because while he or she can sacrifice things in their personal life they need cash for their business.  For employees don’t work unless you pay them.  And if the government doesn’t get their taxes they will shut you down.  This is why a lot of small business owners don’t pay themselves as they establish their businesses.  For money they take from their businesses reduces how much their businesses can grow.  And it leaves them vulnerable to large, unexpected costs that can hit their businesses.  Or to things that can cause a drop in revenue due to something beyond an owner’s control.  Like a recession.

The Higher the Regulatory Costs and Taxes are the less Small Business Owners can Retain to Grow their Business

So when it comes to cash management small business owners are conservative.  They begged, borrowed and sacrificed to start their businesses.  And incurred substantial debt to grow their businesses.  Which only provides short-term financing.  Once they burn through that money they have to replace it with money generated by business operations.  To sustain business operations.  And to pay back those loans.  For if they don’t they can lose everything they built.  Business earnings, then, are like a fire in survival conditions.  Say you’re lost, alone and cold.  The only thing keeping you from freezing to death is the warmth from that fire.   Once started (with those bank loans) the owner has to nurture and protect that fire to keep it from extinguishing.

So how does a business make money?  They sell goods and/or services for money.  Which gives them revenue.  Then they subtract all of their costs from that revenue.  Any money left over is net profits.  Or earnings.  If they leave this money in the business these earnings become retained earnings.  That they can use to pay back those loans.  Repair old equipment.  Buy new equipment.  Pay for some advertising to expand the business.  Or even hire new employees.  If those earnings are large enough.  And recurring enough.  To give them the confidence that they will be able to pay these new costs in the future.  Provided nothing unforeseen comes up to diminish their future earnings.

But there always are.  And they’re something small business owners have to think about.  All of the time.  Especially when they think about expanding their businesses.  And hiring people.  Because that adds recurring costs.  Which is why few business owners are hiring people now.  Because of the added costs of new regulations.  The big one being Obamacare.  And higher taxes.  Especially the talk of new higher tax rates on high income people.  As most small business owners have their business earnings flow to their personal tax returns.  Even if they leave that money in their business they still have to pay taxes on it.  So while the government taxes them as rich people they’re not rich.  As they see little of their earnings.  Most of which they reinvest into their businesses.  Where it becomes retained earnings.  But the higher the regulatory costs and taxes are the less they can retain to grow their business.  And the fewer jobs they can create.  Worse, these new costs and taxes could reduce earnings to the point that they can’t pay their recurring costs.  Or service their debt.  Which could cause bankruptcy.  So small business owners are very sensitive to things like new regulatory costs and new taxes.  For they can be the difference between life and death.  If they rain down hard enough to extinguish those earnings.

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Great Depression, Monetary Expansion, Keynesian, Smoot Hawley Tariff, Gold Window, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 2nd, 2012

History 101

There was Real Economic Activity in the Twenties so the Great Depression should only have been a Recession

The Great Depression began with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Which led to a period of record unemployment.  On average the unemployment rate was 13.46% during the Thirties.  Or, if you don’t count all of the make-work government jobs, 18.23%.  So what caused this unemployment?  Was it the expansionary monetary policy of the Twenties?  The Keynesians thought so.  Even the economists from the Austrian school of economics thought so.  The only ones to have predicted the Great Depression.  So were they right?  A little bit.

Yes, there was monetary expansion during the Twenties.  So a recessionary correction was inevitable.  But a depression?  When you look at the economic activity of the Twenties, no.  The Roaring Twenties were a transformative time.  It was when we began to say goodbye to the steam engine.  And said hello to electricity.  We said goodbye to the horse and buggy.  And said hello to the automobile.  We said goodbye to the horse and plow.  And said hello to the tractor.  As well as said hello to radio, motion pictures, air travel, electric lighting and electric appliances in the home, etc.  So there was real economic activity in the Twenties.  It wasn’t all a bubble.  So the Great Depression should have only been a regular recession.  But it wasn’t.  So what happened?

Government.  The government interfered with market forces.  Based on Keynesian advice.  They said the government needed to increase aggregate demand.  As that demand would encourage businesses to expand and hire new workers.  Thus lowering the unemployment rate.  And part of increasing demand was keeping wages from falling.  So people had more money to spend.  Of course, if employers were to continue to pay higher wages that meant that prices could not fall.  Like they normally do during a recession.  So the Keynesian advice was to prevent the market from correcting prices to match supply to demand.  Prolonging the inevitable recession.  But there was more bad government policy.

The Keynesian Cure for Unemployment is Inflation

The stock market was soaring in the late Twenties.  Because of that real economic growth.  So what happened to that economic growth?  Well, in part, the Smoot Hawley Tariff of 1930.  Which was in committee in 1929 before the great crash.  But investors saw it coming.  And they knew tariffs rising as much as 50% were going to cool those hot earnings they’ve been enjoying.  As well as Herbert Hoover’s progressive plans.  Who would go on to double income tax rates.  When Herbert Hoover won the 1928 election the writing was on the wall.  And investors bailed.  Especially when the Smoot Hawley Tariff was moving through committee.  Because raising the cost of doing business does not help business.  So the great earnings ride of the Twenties was ending and the investors sold their stocks to lock in their profits.  Precipitating the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  And the record unemployment that would follow.  And the Great Depression.

So the Keynesians got it wrong during the Thirties.  Their next grand experiment would be in the Seventies.  As government spending took off thanks to the Vietnam War, the Great Society and the Apollo moon program.  There was so much spending that they had to print money to pay for it all.  As they did, though, they devalued the dollar.  Which became a problem.  As the U.S. at the time agreed to exchange gold for dollars at $35/ounce.  So when the Americans made their dollar worth less our trading partners decided to take our gold instead.  Gold flew out of the gold window.  So to stop this gold flow out of the country Nixon did what any Keynesian would do.  No, he didn’t cut back spending.  He decoupled the dollar from gold.  Slamming the gold window shut.  Without any advanced warning to the world.  So we now call this action he took on August 15, 1971 the Nixon Shock.  The Keynesians were thrilled.  Because they now had no restraint in printing new money.

The reason Keynesians were happy to be able to print more money was because that was their cure for unemployment.  Inflation.  When the economy goes into recession it was just a simple matter of expanding the money supply.  Which lowers interest rates.  Which makes businesses who had no intention to expand their businesses borrow money to expand their businesses.  So to pull the economy out of recession they inflated the money supply.  And did it work?  No.  Of course it didn’t.  It just raised prices.  Increasing the cost of business.  As well as leaving consumers with less real income.  So, no, the economy didn’t improve.  It just stagnated.  The average unemployment rate during the Seventies was 6.21%.  While the average inflation rate was 7.08%.  Also, the top marginal tax rate of 70%.  Which didn’t help the anti-business environment.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession were Direct Consequences of Bad Monetary Policy

So the Keynesians failed.  Again.  Their inflationary monetary policy only made things worse during the Seventies.  All of that inflation just kept pushing prices ever higher.  Ensuring that the inevitable recession to correct those prices would be long and painful.  Which it was.  In the early Eighties.  Then Paul Volcker rang out all of that inflation.  And Ronald Reagan began bringing the top marginal tax rate down until it was at 28% by the end of the decade.  Making a more favorable business environment.  So business grew.  And began to hire new workers.  Teaching an economic lesson some in government refused to learn.  Keynesian inflationary monetary policies did not work.

During the Nineties the Keynesians were back.  Inflating the money supply slowly but surely to continue an economic expansion.  Making money available to borrow.  And borrow it people did.  Creating a long and sustained housing boom that would last for about 2 decades.  That expansionary monetary policy gave us cheap mortgages.  Making it very easy to buy a house.  Housing prices rose.  And continued to rise during those two decades.  Then President Clinton had his Justice Department tell banks to lower their standards for approving mortgages for the unqualified.  So everyone could buy a house.  Even if they couldn’t afford to pay for it.  Ushering in the subprime mortgage industry.  Further increasing the demand for houses.  And further driving up housing prices.  Making the inevitable correction a long and painful one.

Meanwhile, there was something new in the market place in the Nineties.  The Internet.  And new Internet start-ups (dot-coms) flooded the market.  Investors poured money into them.  Even though they didn’t have a product to sell.  And had no earnings.  But investors were exuberant.  And irrational.  Kids flooded into universities to get degrees in computer science.  To staff all of those Internet start-ups.  Companies went public.  Creating a stock market bubble as investors scrambled to buy their stock.  They raised a boatload of money from those IPOs.  And spent it all.  Many without producing anything to sell.  And when that money ran out they went bankrupt.  Bursting that stock market bubble.  And throwing a lot of computer scientists out of a job.  Causing a painful recession in the early 2000s that George Bush helped mitigate with tax cuts.

And low interest rates.  People were back buying houses.  But this time they were buying McMansions.  Because that easy monetary policy gave us cheap mortgage rates.  And subprime, no-documentation, zero down loans, etc., made it easier than ever to buy a house.  Housing prices soared.  And builders flooded the market with more McMansions.  Pushing prices ever higher.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were buying those toxic subprime mortgages from banks to encourage them to approve more toxic subprime mortgages.  Pushing the inevitable correction further and further out.  Running up prices so high that their fall would be a long and painful one.  Which it was when the subprime mortgage crisis hit.  As well as the Great Recession.  Direct consequences of bad monetary policy.  And the government’s interference into market forces.

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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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Our Favorite Athletes are Part of the 1% and try to Minimize the Taxes they pay just like those on Wall Street

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 25th, 2012

Week in Review

Don’t think high taxes influences behavior?  Of course, no one cares about the evil 1%.  Those greedy Wall Street types that don’t pay their fair share of taxes.  But you know who else is in that greedy 1%?  Your favorite athletes.  And guess what?  They want to hold on to their earnings just like those greedy Wall Street types (see Professional Athletes’ Big-League Tax Bills by Jay MacDonald posted 3/15/2012 on Yahoo! Finance).

Behind every sports star who’s hauling down the big bucks is a keen-eyed certified public accountant quick-stepping through a maze of state and local income taxes imposed on nonresident athletes, commonly known as the “jock tax.”

Professional sports players get taxed by pretty much every city and state in which they play, says Ryan Losi, CPA and executive vice president of Piascik & Associates, a Glen Allen, Va., accounting firm that represents more than 70 professional athletes.

“NFL players typically file in 10 to 12 jurisdictions. NBA is somewhere between 16 and 20. MLB is somewhere between 20 and 26, and the NHL is between 14 and 16,” says Losi.

Professional sports players are great big cash piñatas to these city and states that chronically over spend.  They all want a piece of these guys.  To make sure they pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes.  While they can before some career-ending injury puts an end to this gravy train.  But because these players could lose millions in future career earnings because of a career-ending injury, they want to keep their money.  For they may never be able to get another job.  Sure, some may move into the front office.  Some may move on to coaching.  But few will earn the kind of money they did during their short careers.  So they want to keep as much as they earn.  To take care of their wife and kids.  And have enough for their retirements.  Which can be rather long for these worn out and injured bodies.  So they just don’t sit by passively while every taxing authority is shaking them down for everything they’re worth.

The lion’s share of most players’ income, their salary, is taxed in the city and state where the team is based. But income from other sources, including endorsements, personal appearances, dividends and interest income, is taxed in their state of residence.

This is the reason New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning lives in Hoboken, N.J., instead of in the Big Apple. It’s simple arithmetic, says Raiola.

“If he were a resident of New York, he’d pay 8.97 percent New York state tax and another 3.78 percent New York City tax on top of that, not only on his wage income but also his endorsements and investment interest,” he says. “In New Jersey, he only pays 8.97 percent…”

Taxes — or the lack of them — may also have had something to do with NBA all-star and 2010 free agent LeBron James’ choice to play for the Miami Heat instead of the New York Knicks. Losi points to Florida’s lack of a state income tax.

“That may have been one of the factors that led LeBron to choose Florida versus New York,” says Losi. “Ten percent of his first contract was going to be the difference. For him, it was an extra 5 (percent to) 9 percent difference in tax. That’s real money.”

New York City may be the greatest city in the world but the rich pay an enormous amount of taxes to live there.  So many chose not to.  In fact, a lot of athletes chose where they live and raise their families based on their total tax burden.

Professional golfers, tennis players and other athletes who compete on the world stage often leave a third or more of their earnings in the local coffers.

“Whenever they play in foreign countries, they have to pay taxes in that jurisdiction, and the tax liability is much bigger than the 5 (percent) to 10 percent state tax. It’s usually in the 30 (percent) to 40 percent bracket,” says Losi. “Usually it’s withheld in their prize money, and they can file a nonresident return if they think they might have a refund coming.”

Because the United States is one of the few countries that taxes all personal income regardless of source, some pro sports stars who compete internationally actually have a financial disincentive to make their home in America.

“If they’re (not U.S. citizens or green card holders) and they’re not planning to stay here more than 183 days out of the year, from a tax perspective it absolutely makes sense to not live in the U.S.,” says Losi. “All the foreign golfers who come here to play, if they want all of their foreign prize money and endorsement money to be taxed, all they have to do is hang out here for 183 days.”

Being an athlete competing at the level that makes them millionaires is not an easy life.  While others look forward to weekends, holidays and vacations to kick back and relax and recharge their batteries with copious amounts of alcohol and enormous quantities of fattening foods these athletes don’t.  They often work on weekends and holidays.  And when they’re not working they’re practicing.  Where their practice is often more intense than their competition.  This is their life.  This is how they become elite athletes.  And their reward?  To be whacked open like a cash piñatas by the taxing authorities so the politicians they serve can take their money and spend it to buy votes for the next election.  And forcing them to choose where to live based on who will penalized them the least for being really good at something.

This is not a meritocracy.  Where we reward people for achievement.  This is out of control government spending to maintain a privileged class.  Politicians.  And government workers.  Who live and feed off of taxes.  To fund their class warfare that makes these privileged few secure in their class.

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