Product Pricing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2012

Economics 101

The First Thing a Business has to do to Determine their Selling Price is Determining their Costs

Did you ever think about how businesses price their products?  Do they just pull numbers out of the air?  Do they just charge as much as they want?  No, they don’t.  Because they can’t.  For if one gas station charges $12 for a gallon of gasoline while the station across the street is only charging $3.50 guess where people are going to buy their gas from.  So free market competition prevents businesses from charging whatever they want.  So how do they determine what to charge?

Well, some look at what their competitors are charging and match it.  Or charge a little less.  To steal customers away from the competition.  Which can work.  But it can also bankrupt a business.  For if a business owner doesn’t know his or her costs selling at the market price could fail to recover all of their costs.  The market price limits what they can charge.  But if their costs are too great to stay in business selling at the prevailing market price they have to do something about reducing their costs.  Which they can’t do if they don’t know their costs.  So the first thing a business has to do to determine their selling price is determining their costs.  Like this.

This is an abbreviated fictional income statement showing last year’s results.  And forecasting next year’s results.  EBT stands for earnings before taxes.  Income taxes for this year are based on the 2011 federal tax tables.  Income taxes for next year are based on the proposed Obama tax rates (increasing the top marginal rate from 33% to 39.6%).  The business is a subchapter-S where the business earnings pass through to the owners’ personal income tax returns.  The owner does not draw a salary but draws $125,000 from retained earnings to support him or herself, his or her stay-at-home spouse and their 3 children. The percentages show each number as a percentage of revenue.

You need to Sell at the Right Price and at the Right Volume to Pay all of the Bills

The difference between this year and next year is the rise in costs.  Obamacare and other business regulations increase the cost of sales (direct labor, benefits, direct supplies, etc.) by 2%.  And they increase fixed overhead (rent, utilities, administrative labor, benefits, etc.) by 2%.  They will have to recover these higher costs in higher prices.  Which will likely reduce unit sales.  But because each unit will sell for more we assume sales revenue remains the same.

The higher costs cause EBT to fall.  A lower EBT means lower federal income taxes.  But it also means less retained earnings to invest back into the business.  The reduction in retained earnings is $36,604.28.  Which limits investments to grow the business.  And leaves a much smaller cash cushion after some of those retained earnings are reinvested into the business.  To pay for the unexpected.  Like a new piece of equipment that fails and halts production.  Things worked well in the current year.  The business owner would like to have things work as well in the following year.  Which means not exposing themselves to such a dangerous cash position.  And how do they do that?  By raising their prices to make next year’s retained earnings as large as this year’s.  By recovering those retained earnings in higher prices.  Like this.

Let’s assume these numbers are for a coffee shop that sells only one type and size of drink (say a large espresso-based drink) to simplify this discussion.  If we subtract this year’s cost of sales from revenue we arrive with the markup on our direct costs.  Dividing this number into cost of sales we get a markup percentage.  For this year it was 72%.  In the current year let’s assume they sold 302,406 cups of coffee.  Which comes to about one cup a minute.  Dividing the costs of sales by the number of cups of coffee sold gives a unit cost of $2.58 for a cup of coffee.  Adding the 72% markup to this cost brings the selling price to $4.45.  Coffee sold at this price and at this volume produced enough revenue to pay all the bills, provided an income for the owner and his or her family while leaving enough left over to invest back into the business.  And provide a cash cushion for the unexpected.  As well as paying state income taxes, city income taxes, etc.

A Business must bring their Cost Structure in Line to be able to Sell at the Prevailing Market Price

To arrive at the new selling price we added the loss of retained earnings to next year’s revenue.  And re-crunched all of these numbers.  Because we are raising the price we can expect a small fall in revenue as customers buy less.  The higher costs and lower unit sales volume raised the unit cost.  The markup percentage is 1 percentage point lower but because the unit cost is higher so is the markup amount in dollars.  Which raises the selling price by $0.32.  Increasing the price of a cup of coffee to $4.77.  But is it enough?  As it turns out, no.  Because the new price raises revenue enough to push the business into a higher tax bracket.  Taking the business owner back to the numbers.

Because of the higher tax bracket, and the higher top marginal tax rate, this higher price still results in a loss of retained earnings.  About another $30,000.  So going through the whole process again brings the selling price up to $4.87.  Adding a total of $0.43 to this year’s price.  As long as the prevailing market price is around $4.87 for a large espresso-based drink this business owner should be able to keep his or her cost structure in place and stay in business.  However, if this exceeds the prevailing market price the business owner will have to make some spending cuts to bring his or her cost structure in line to sell coffee at the prevailing market price.  Make some assumptions.  And some adjustments.  Then crunch these numbers again.  And again.  For getting this price right is very important.  Too high and people will go elsewhere to buy their coffee.  To low and they won’t be able to pay all of their bills.

This may not be how all businesses determine their selling price.  But however they do it they have to bring their cost structure in line to be able to sell at the prevailing market price.   Because if their price is too high no one will buy from them.  If it’s too low everyone will buy from them.  Making them happy.  Until they realize they can’t pay all of their bills because their prices are too low.  The above example was complicated.  And that was with only one product.  Imagine a store full of products to sell.  And trying to calculate new prices on numerous products to cover the costs of new taxes and new regulations.  It’s not easy.  Which is why business owners don’t like big change coming from Washington.  For this change requires important decisions to make.  And if they get these decisions wrong and don’t find out until 6 months or so later they may dig themselves into a hole they won’t be able to get out of.  Putting them out of business.

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Australia’s New Carbon Tax is Raising Prices and Government Dander

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 8th, 2012

Week in Review

The carbon tax has arrived in Australia.  It’s raising the cost of doing business.  And raising prices.  Surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of love for this new tax (see ACCC to probe Brumby’s for advising stores to ‘let carbon tax take blame for price rises’ by Lanai Vasek posted 7/4/2012 on The Australian).

LABOR has accused the Brumby’s bakery chain of “reprehensible” behaviour after the company advised franchisees to “let the carbon tax take the blame” for price rises.

The consumer watchdog will investigate after Brumby’s managing director Deane Priest advised store owners in her June newsletter to “take an opportunity to make some (price) moves in June and July”.

“Let the carbon tax take the blame, after all your costs will be going up due to it,” she said…

“This sort of behaviour is reprehensible. Anyone who is found to have been jacking-up prices unnecessarily and blaming the carbon tax will be subject to enforcement by the ACCC…

“Businesses are entitled to increase their prices as they see fit. It is business as usual, so long as any claims or representations made about the impact of the carbon price are truthful and have a reasonable basis…

If a business is found to have made a false or misleading claim regarding the carbon tax, the ACCC’s website says the watchdog has the power to issue infringement notices of $6600 for a corporation (or $66 000 for a listed corporation); take legal action against a business for breaches of the ACL; seek court-imposed penalties of up to $1.1 million for serious breaches of the ACL or injunctions to stop a business from making certain carbon price claims.

The controversial tax came into effect on Sunday with an initial starting price of $23 a tonne. It will move to a floating price emissions trading scheme from 2015.

My, the government appears a little testy about their carbon tax, don’t they?  Probably because they know what a fraud it is.  The people don’t want to pay it.  The businesses don’t want to pay it.  And paying it won’t do a thing to save the planet.  It’ll just transfer a lot of wealth from the private sector to the public sector.  Which is why governments like the carbon tax.  Well, that.  And the fact that you can say whatever you want about the good the tax is doing to save the planet.  I mean, if they say that the tax is responsible for preventing a 0.7 degree rise in global temperatures how are you going to argue against that?  There is no way to measure this.  There’s just no way to connect empirical observations of temperature to fiscal policy.

Weather is a whacky thing.  America just suffered through a week-long heat wave following a warm winter and a dry spring.  Proof the global warming alarmists say of global warming.  Yet Britain is suffering their coldest and wettest summer since they began record keeping.  So whatever is happening with the weather isn’t happening globally.  And it’s not climate change.  It’s just the weather.  Sometimes it’s hot.  Sometimes it’s cold.  Because there are a lot of variables that create our weather.  With sunspot activity and volcanic eruptions being high on the list of influencing factors.  While man is farther down that list.  Much farther.

That said few governments can pass up a new tax.  Especially one that has such a noble purpose.  Such as saving the planet.  And they don’t take kindly to businesses telling their customers how much the new carbon tax will cost them.  For no business ever pays a tax.  Their customers do.  And every time the government raises taxes business have to pass it on to their customers in their prices.  Because they have to cover all of their costs in their prices to remain in business.  And taxes are a cost of doing business.  As far as raising their prices higher than the carbon tax?  Well, their competition will tend to that.  That’s the beautiful thing about free market competition.  It always makes a business’ price the right price.  For if it’s too high they will lose business to their competition.  And that will happen without any government investigation. 

It is a beautiful thing.  Free market competition.

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Free Market Competition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2012

Economics 101

Competition makes Everything Better for Consumers

Let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the railroads were making their way west.  Through barren and unforgiving country.  Where a depot is built in the middle of nowhere.  One day it will become a city but now is just a shack or two.  And a water tower along the tracks to replenish the steam locomotives.  This is the closest thing to civilization for hundreds of miles.  Railroad building supplies head west on the new track to continue the track further west.  And the trains stop to fill their locomotives with water.  You look at all that traffic passing that depot and decide to open up a diner/saloon to replenish all those people.  Who are earning wages.  But have nothing to spend them on for hundreds of miles around.

There’s no electricity yet.  Or ice.  So the meat shipped to the diner may not be the freshest.  But you can cook it with a lot of spices to hide any bad taste in case the meat is rancid.  Liquor comes out without any spoilage.  It’ll last so long that you can keep watering it down to make more money per bottle.  Your diner/saloon can be dirty and overrun with bugs.  You can just throw the bugs into the pot to make the meat go further.  It doesn’t matter.  Because for most of your customers this is the only place to come to eat and drink.  Even if they get ill from eating bad meat they’ll keep coming back.  Because where else are they going to go?

Your costs are low.  And your prices are high.  You’re doing very well.  It’s nice being the only diner/saloon at this depot.  But then a town starts growing around the depot.  And another diner/saloon opens.  It’s cleaner.  They serve fewer bugs in their food.  Their meat is less rancid.  Their liquor is less watered down.  And their prices are lower.  Everyone who eats and drinks at this depot-town eats and drinks there.  Not at your filthy shack.  You quickly go from making a lot of money to making nothing at all.  Because this new competition in town took away all of your business.  For competition makes everything better for consumers. 

When the Government Interferes with the Free Market there is no Incentive to Please their Customers

Competition is key to the free market economy.  And it’s the most important thing.  Even more important than government regulation.  Because with competition you don’t need regulations.  You don’t need inspectors.  You don’t have to file complaints.  You don’t have to wait for corrective action.  Because if you have competition you have something that works better.  And faster.  Pleasing customers.  If you don’t please them more than your competition then you will lose your customers to your competition.  This is a powerful incentive to lower your prices.  Improve the cleanliness of your establishment.  And to improve your quality.  Competition makes businesses try harder to please their customers.  On their own.  Without compulsion.

In the above example the first diner/saloon owner could have appealed to the government.  Asked the government to prohibit the second establishment from opening.  Saying that it was destructive competition.  That they were dumping lower-priced food and drink onto the market to put the first establishment out of business.  So they could raise their prices higher and lower their quality when they do.  That the market wasn’t large enough to support two businesses.  That their lower prices mean they will pay their employees less.  And a whole host of other bad things that will follow if this second business opens.  Of course the second business has none of these complaints.  Because they offer better quality at lower prices.  They don’t need the help of government.  Just a competitive free market.

If the first business should prevail in their request for government help the government will take action.  Force the second business to shut down.  Make them sell their food and drinks at higher prices.  Charge them a special excise tax on all their sales to raise money to transfer to and help the first business.  Or some other action to make the market ‘fair’ again.  Which means allowing the first establishment to continue to sell lower quality at higher prices.  Which they would.  For with the power of government helping them they have no incentive to please their customers.  So they don’t.  So people with no choice have to pay more for lower quality.  And this is what happens when the government interferes with the free market.

Free Market Competition delivers High Quality at Low Prices with the Most Efficient Allocation of Resources 

Competitive free markets also guarantee that businesses use resources in the most efficient manner.   As they try to sell the highest quality at the lowest price they will buy very carefully.  They will buy only the things they can sell.  And only enough of them to meet their demand.  For if they buy more than they can sell it will only raise their prices.  As those prices have to pay for the things they sell.  And the things they can’t sell.  So there is a very strong incentive to buy only what they absolutely need.  Leaving things for others to buy.  Which is much better than having some government bureaucrat allocate resources.

Suppose the government owned the railroad and all the depot-towns along the line.  And each depot has a diner/saloon.  Each depot-town is about the same size.  So the government bureaucrat ships the same supplies to each depot.  One barrel of flour.  One barrel of cornmeal.  One barrel of salted pork.  Two sacks of beans.  Four sacks of coffee.  Five cases of whisky.  And so on.  But the people don’t eat and drink the same in each of these depot-towns.  Some drink more liquor than others.  Some drink more coffee than others.  Some eat more meat than others.  Some eat more beans than others.  Depending on the season.  The cattle drives.  Whether the farmers are sowing or reaping.  The religious pilgrimages.  The weather.  Etc.  The local diner/saloon owners are in tune with the rise and fall of demand.  But the government bureaucrat 2,000 miles away isn’t.  So some receive more than they can use.  Others run out before the next shipment.  Making the allocation of resources inefficient.  Leading to waste.  And higher prices to pay for all of that waste.

Free market competition always works best.  And the more problems that we solve by creating more competition the better the solutions are for the people ultimately paying the prices.  The consumers.  As free market competition delivers high quality at low prices with the most efficient allocation of resources.  Giving us things like the high-definition television.  The smartphone.  The tablet computer.  And our morning coffee.  Where quality just keeps getting better while prices keep falling.  When we don’t use free market competition we get high prices, poor quality and inefficient resource allocation.  From cable television that increases rates while lowering quality (we’ll be at your house either sometime in the morning or sometime in the afternoon tomorrow or the day after.  Please have someone available at your home to meet our technician).  To waiting in line to renew your driver’s license.  Which is about as enjoyable as a root canal.

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Free Market Competition versus Cronyism and Monopoly

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 15th, 2012

Week in Review

There is a general misunderstanding of what capitalism means.  When most people criticize capitalism, they’re not criticizing capitalism.  But, instead, crony capitalism.  Where some in business seek special favors from government.  Thus preferring the privilege of cronyism over free market competition.

Economics can range between two poles.  Free competition.  And monopoly.  Free competition is an essential element of capitalism.  Whereas monopoly requires the power of the state to enforce (see Competition and the Economists by Murray N. Rothbard posted 1/10/2012 on Ludwig von Mises Institute).

To Adam Smith and to his successors, “competition” was not a term defined with mathematical precision; it meant, generally, “free competition,” i.e., competition unhampered by governmental grants of exclusive privilege. And “monopoly” tended to mean such grants of governmental privilege.

To Adam Smith, for example, “competition” was used in the common-sense way that businessmen use it: to mean rivalry between two or more independent persons or firms. “Free competition” meant absence of grants of exclusive privilege, freedom of trade and freedom of entry into occupations; “monopolies” meant grants of exclusive privilege.

When Smith used the term “competition,” for example, he used it to describe the competition among buyers, which bids prices up when demand exceeds supply, or the competition of sellers, which bids prices down when supply is greater than demand.

Free market competition keeps consumer prices down.  Because of that competition between sellers.  When there is crony capitalism there is less competition.  And elements of monopoly.  Which lets prices stay high.  This is crony capitalism.  It lets those politically connected escape free market competition.  So they can enjoy higher selling prices.  And you can only do this with friends in high places.  Who have the power to suspend free market forces by legislation.  Which is the only way you can.

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