Inventories

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Before a Business Earns any Sales Revenue they have to Spend Cash to Build an Inventory

To sell something a business needs to have it on hand first.  Because when it comes to manufactured goods we rarely custom manufacture things.  No.  When businesses sell something it’s something they already have in their inventories.  So how do they get things into inventory?  With cash.  Businesses buy goods and place them in their inventories.  They exchange some of their cash for the goods they hope to sell at a later date.  And the bigger the inventory they maintain the more cash it will take.  Cash they have to spend before they sell these goods.  Which requires financing.  Each large business, in fact, has a finance department.  That works to raise cash.  So the businesses can buy inventory (and pay their operating and overhead expenses) before they start selling anything.

This is how the retail stores work.  For manufacturers it’s a little different.  They make things.  Out of other things.  Things that go through various stages of production before becoming a finished good.  So to make these things requires different types of inventories.  Raw goods.  Work in process.  And finished goods.  When they pull raw goods out of inventory and begin working with them they become work in process inventory.  When finished goods come off the final production line they enter finished goods inventory.  The finance department secures the cash to buy the raw materials.  And for the equipment and labor used through the stages of production to produce a finished good.  Which enters finished goods inventory until they sell and ship these goods.

Before a business earns any sales revenue they have to spend huge amounts of cash first to move material through these inventories.  Cash they can’t use for anything else.  Like paying their overhead expenses.  Or servicing their debt.  So it’s a delicate balancing act.  You need inventory to produce revenue.  But if you run out of cash you can’t produce any inventory.  Or pay your bills.  A large inventory creates a large variety of things for customers to buy.  But if customers aren’t buying that large inventory will consume cash leaving a business struggling to pay its bills.  If they become so cash-strapped they will cut their prices to unload slow moving inventory.  Cut back on production rates.  Even cut back on expenses.  As in cost-cutting.  And lay-offs.

Good Inventory Management is Crucial for the Financial Health of a Business

A business doesn’t start generating cash until they start selling their finished goods.  Sales numbers may sound high but most sales revenue goes to pay for the costs of producing inventory.  A firm’s accounting department records these revenues.  And matches them to the cost of goods sold.  Which in a retailer is what they paid to bring those goods into inventory.  A manufacturer may use a term like cost of sales.  Which would include all the costs they incurred throughout the stages of production from bringing raw material into the plant.  To the labor to process that material.  To the energy consumed.  Etc.  Everything that was an input in the production process to place a finished good into inventory.  So from their sales revenue they subtract their costs of goods sold (or cost of sales).  The number they arrive at is gross profit.  Which has to pay for everything else.  Rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, non-production salaries and benefits, insurances, taxes, etc.  And, of course, interest on the cash their finance department borrowed to start everything off.

There is a unique relationship between inventories and sales.  There are countless things that happen in a business but what happens between inventories and sales receives particular attention.  A business’ greatest cost is the cost of goods sold.  Or cost of sales.  Everything that falls above gross profit on their income statement (the financial statement that shows a firm’s profitability).  This cost is a function of inventory.  The bigger the inventory the bigger the cost.  The smaller the inventory the smaller the cost.  This is a direct relationship.  You move one the other follows.  Whereas the relationship between sales and inventory is a little different.  The higher the sales revenue the bigger the inventory cost.  Because you have to have inventory to sell inventory.  However, there is no such corresponding relationship for falling sales.  As sales can fall for a variety of reasons.  And they can fall with a falling inventory level.  They can fall with a steady inventory level.  And they can fall with a rising inventory level.

In business sales are everything.  There are few problems healthy sales can’t solve.  It can even overcome some of the worst cost management.  So rising sales revenue is good.  While falling sales revenue is not.  There are many reasons why sales fall.  But the reason that most affects inventories is typically a bad economy.  When people scale back their purchases in response to a bad economy a firm’s sales fall.  And when their sales fall their inventories, of course, rise.  Until management scales back production to reflect the weaker demand.  Because there is no point building things when people aren’t buying.  Those who don’t scale back production will see their sales fall and their inventories rise.  Creating cash problems.  Because sales aren’t creating cash.  And a growing inventory consumes cash.  Making it difficult to meet their daily expenses.  Such as payroll and benefits.  As well as paying interest on their debt.  Which can lead to insolvency.  And bankruptcy.  So good inventory management is crucial for the financial health of a business.

If Retail Sales are Falling and Inventories are Rising Bad Times are Coming

Businesses target specific inventory levels.  During good economic times they increase inventory levels because people are buying more.  During bad economic times they decrease inventory levels because people are buying less.  And they monitor changes in the actual sales and inventory levels continuously.  Adjusting inventory levels to match changes in sales.  To balance the need to have an inventory flush with goods to sell.  While keeping the cost of that inventory to the lowest level possible.  All businesses do this.  And if you track the aggregate of the inventory levels of all businesses you can get a good idea about what’s happening in the economy.

John Maynard Keynes used inventory levels in his macroeconomics formulas.  The ‘big picture’ of the economy.  Looking at inventories tied right into jobs.  If sales are outpacing inventory levels then businesses hire new workers to increase inventory levels.  So sales growing at a greater rate than inventory levels suggest that businesses will be creating new jobs and hiring new workers.  A good thing.  If inventory levels are growing greater than sales it’s a sign of an economic slowdown.  Suggesting businesses will be reducing production and laying off workers.  Not a good thing.

Because of the stages of production changes in finished goods inventories can create or destroy a lot of jobs.  For if the major retailers are cutting back on inventory levels due to weak demand that will ripple all the way through the stages of production back to the extraction of raw materials out of the ground.  Which makes inventory levels a key economic indicator.  And when we combine it with sales you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about the economy.  For if retail sales are falling and inventories are rising bad times are coming.  And a lot of people will probably soon be losing their jobs.  As the economy falls into a recession.  Which won’t end until these economic indicators turn around.  And sales grow faster than inventories.  Which indicates a recovery.  And jobs.  As they ramp up production to increase inventory levels to meet the new growing demand.

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The Economic Prognosis is Not Good in the U.S., China or Europe

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

For those of you who think the U.S. economy is picking up don’t get your hopes up.  The same goes for the Europeans.  And anywhere governments actively interfere with market forces.  They can provide a little succor.  But their efforts provide only temporary relief from reality.  And what is that reality?  That Keynesian economics and state capitalism do not work.  And that government meddling makes things worse in the long run.  Which is no secret.  Investors know what’s going on.  And aren’t fooled by the self-congratulatory praise the politicians heap upon themselves (see Analysis: Spluttering economies to curtail earnings horizon by Mike Dolan posted 4/18/2012 on Reuters).

Exuberant global markets have taken a reality check this month on chronic U.S., Chinese and European growth concerns, and investors should hold companies’ relatively rosy profit outlooks up for scrutiny too…

Macroeconomic hopes hinge on a U.S. recovery gaining more traction, a soft landing of Chinese growth to about 7.5 percent from the double digits of the past decade and a resolution of euro zone’s systemic sovereign debt and banking problems.

All three of these, however, were in doubt again in April and the anxiety knocked some 5 percent off MSCI’s world equity index from their March peaks. That leaves stocks still up 8 percent on the year but, just like last year, the price momentum and direction seems to have stalled.

Even though bouts of central bank money-printing and cheap lending in the United States, Europe and elsewhere periodically offer a fillip, as the European Central Bank’s money flood did again spectacularly in the first quarter, the effect on the real economy and market prices tends to fade fast…

What’s more, ThomsonReuters data shows that margin gains from cost-cutting in jobs, pay and other expenses was a significant part of the U.S. profit recovery since 2009 but that this route to bottom-line improvement is reaching its limits.

The major economies aren’t improving.  All of those government fixes didn’t fix anything.  Printing money just put more inflation into the pipeline.  And increased prices.  You ever notice the boxes of cereal getting smaller?  The bags of chips getting smaller?  They’re getting smaller because of inflation.  Unable to raise prices anymore because people can’t afford them they’ve held prices steady.  And shrunk the portion size.  Making consumers spend more in the long run to buy the same quantities as before.  Or simply go with less.  This is the result of all that money printing.

In business you don’t solve problems on the cost side.  You solve them on the revenue side.  For healthy revenue can pay for anything.  Even the worst cost management.  That’s why during good economic times the focus is on revenue.  Not cost cutting.  During good times companies hire people and expand production.  To grow revenue.  It’s during recessions when they lay off people and cut costs.  Temporary provisions to make it through the recession.  And when they emerge from these recessions they start hiring people and expanding production again.  To grow revenue.  So when margin gains are due to cost-cutting and NOT revenue growth you’re still in a recession.  No matter what the numbers say.  And no one is optimistic about the future economy.  Businesses.  Or investors.

Now would be a good time for governments everywhere to acknowledge their failures.  And let the Invisible Hand take control of the economy again.  For the longer they wait the harder it will be for the Invisible Hand to do its magic.  And the longer and more painful the recovery.  It’s time we drop the ‘state’ from capitalism.  And replace it with ‘free market’.  And trust in the free market.  Like we did during the Industrial Revolution.  Like we did when we abandoned FDR’s New Deal during World War II.  And like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan did during the Eighties.  All periods of incredible economic growth.  That no period of state capitalism ever equaled.

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Bloated Public Sectors Responsible for the Eurozone Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 1st, 2012

Week in Review

The Eurozone was Europe’s answer to the United States of America.  One large, single-currency, free-trade zone.  And it worked.  For awhile.  During good economic times.  Like most things work during economic times.  Like it does in business.  A business could have a lot of cost problems and inefficiencies.  But if sales are good people don’t tend to see them.  Because healthy sales revenue can fix any problem.  It’s when you don’t have healthy sales revenue that high costs and inefficiencies hurt a business.  And the cost cutting, nay, the cost slashing begins.  Which is what has happened in the Eurozone.  Only they haven’t started the cost slashing yet (see The Eurozone Crisis For Dummies by Simone Foxman posted 12/30/2011 on Business Insider).

Since joining the euro back in 1999, the governments of Greece and Portugal (among other offenders) have gotten used to spending a LOT of money. When times were good, it wasn’t a problem — banks and other investors were willing to lend them money on the cheap and their public sectors became bloated.

When the financial crisis hit, however, problems came to a head. Debt levels in Portugal, Italy, and Greece became unsustainable, and taxes in a contracting economy are no longer enough to pay the bills.

Greece, Portugal, and Ireland are still struggling to bring their public debt under control, after receiving billions of euros in bailout aid from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank (the so-called troika). Some of this aid was provided through a temporary Special Purpose Vehicle called the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

For a complete summary of the Eurozone crisis follow the above link to the full article.

Some say Europe’s spending is the problem.  Others say it’s the austerity they’re pushing onto the high-debt states that has taken a non-problem and created a crisis.  Some blame outside economic factors such as the American subprime mortgage crisis that ruined a good thing.  To point the finger of blame you need to look at when the crisis became a crisis.  And when was that?  When these countries could no longer pay the bills for their bloated public sectors.  Regardless of what caused it.  It happened.  And when it did they showed us that they could only support their government spending during exceptional economic times.  Which can mean but one thing.  They were spending too much.

When a business finds itself in this predicament the long knives come out and they start slashing costs.  And the businesses that weren’t spending too irresponsibly usually survive.  Those who spent too much or don’t slash enough don’t.  And that’s where the Eurozone is right now.  But they have a peculiar problem.  They may have a currency union but they are still independent nations.  Rich with history and tradition.  And set in their welfare-state ways.  These great social democracies of Europe.  The Eurozone as a whole can only hope the problem states do the right thing and cut back their spending.  Which they haven’t yet.  And appear to be doing only with the utmost reluctance.  Which explains the ongoing crisis.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #43: “If business ain’t selling, business ain’t hiring.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2010

The Greediest People are in Government

A lot of people don’t understand business.  No big surprise considering that most people get their education from the public school system.

Our teachers ingrain it into us from the earliest days of our schooling.  Business is bad.  And they’d be even worse.  If it wasn’t for government.

Business is all about profits.  Not people.  Business is greedy.  Government takes more of our money than business does but government is never greedy.  Just business.  Funny how that works.  The lesson we learn?  If you’re really greedy and want a lot of money, be in government.

Government Earmarks and the Airport for Nobody

We deal with business on our own free will.  We choose to buy what they’re selling.  It’s a little different with government.  They take our money.  And if we don’t cough up enough of it, they’ll seize our assets.  Even send us to jail.  A business just won’t do that.  No matter how greedy our teachers tell us they are.

And more times than not, we don’t want what government is selling.  Earmarks.  Such as the John Murtha Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  The ‘airport for nobody’.  An airport nobody needs and few use.  But dump trucks of taxpayer dollars find their way to the John Murtha Airport.  Why?  Because Murtha was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  And that’s what representatives do.  Raise our taxes.  And take our money home to their districts.

Yet business is bad.  And government is good.  Go figure.

Government Spending Disrupts the Free Market

During good economic times, people say business is greedy.  They’re making their employees work overtime instead of hiring more employees.  During bad economic times, people say business is greedy.  They’re causing a recession by not hiring more employees. 

Businesses hire employees.  That’s key.  The more they hire the better the economy will be.  And you just can’t say that about government.  Because when they hire more people, it doesn’t stimulate the economy.  It just increases our taxes.  Leaving us with less money to stimulate the economy with.

Some people will say that government spending does stimulate the economy.  That’s what Keynesians say.  But they’re wrong.  When government spends money, they’re just spending our money.  And when they spend more we spend less.  The spending nets out.  But it disrupts the free market.  Millions of taxpayers will spend less at millions of small businesses.  Who will then sell less.  And hire less.  Maybe even lay off some employees.

We Spend Less when We Earn Less

Are these small business owners greedy?  No more so than you are.  Consider this.  Let’s say you and your spouse both work.  You make a comfortable living.  You can afford to hire a landscaping company to cut your grass.  You can hire a lawn maintenance company to fertilize your grass.  You take your car once a week to where they hand wash it.  You and your spouse sign up for ballroom dance lessons (while a sitter watchers your kids).  Now let’s say one of you gets laid off.  What do you do?

Well, if you’re like most other people, you cut expenses.  You let your landscaping contractor go.  Your lawn maintenance company, too.  You tell the people at the carwash that they can’t wash your car anymore.  You tell your dance instructors that you don’t need them anymore for lessons.  And you let your babysitter go.

Because of you some people have lost their jobs.  Are you greedy?  Or are you just adjusting your expenses to be in line with your sales revenue (i.e., your income)?  When you go from 2 paychecks to 1, you simply can’t afford to spend money like you used to.  And it’s the same for a business.

A Business Spends Less when they Sell Less

In business cash is king.  They use it to pay their employees.  Their employee benefits.  Their suppliers.  The interest on their debt.  Even their taxes.  If a business doesn’t have enough cash to pay these, they may not be a business much longer.  To be successful, then, a business must master their cash flow.

Making this more difficult is the fact that a business has to spend cash often BEFORE they get paid.  They pay employees, employee benefits and taxes often before the customer pays for the product or service of these employees.  Of course, before a customer pays they have to buy what a business is selling first.  If the business is not a ‘cash’ business, this can add even more time between the cash going out and the cash coming in.

So when economic times aren’t good and businesses are not selling, businesses aren’t spending.  They try to get by on less.  They hold onto their cash.  As long as possible.  Because they are uncertain of what the future holds.  But one thing they do know is that the future will take cash. 

Hiring People doesn’t Stimulate anything but Costs

So why doesn’t a business just hire more people during a recession?  Wouldn’t that stimulate the economy by giving people more money to spend?  Well, let’s say a restaurant hires a new cook.  The business pays the cook a wage and a benefit package.  Let’s say it adds another $1,000 per week to the business’ cash flow.  But it’s a recession.  Hiring the new cook doesn’t change the number of people coming into the restaurant to eat.  It just costs the business more.

The new cook will have more money to go out and stimulate the economy with.  But what good does it do for the restaurant owner?  Unless the new cook spends at least $1,000 per week buying meals at the restaurant (which is not likely to happen), the owner loses money by hiring the new cook.  His or her cash flow will only get worse.

This is why businesses don’t hire people during bad economic times.  Because no one is buying what they are selling.  Hiring people will only make a bad situation worse.  It will put a greater financial burden on a business that is already struggling to get by on what little cash they have.   

 Businesses and Taxpayers Stimulate Best

But our public schools still teach us that business is bad.  And government is good.  Even though it is business that creates jobs and hires people.  And it’s government that raises taxes and kills jobs.

To create jobs you need to help business make a profit.  Tax cuts are a good way to start.  With fewer taxes to pay, a business can use that cash elsewhere. With fewer taxes to pay, a taxpayer can spend that money elsewhere.  You let businesses and taxpayers keep more of their money and they will do good things.  This is how you stimulate the economy.  And how you create jobs. 

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