The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published February 27th, 2012)

Because of the Unpredictable Human Element in all Economic Exchanges the Austrian School is more Laissez-Faire

Name some of the great inventions economists gave us.  The computer?  The Internet?  The cell phone?  The car?  The jumbo jet?  Television?  Air conditioning?  The automatic dishwasher?  No.  Amazingly, economists did not invent any of these brilliant inventions.  And economists didn’t predict any of these inventions.  Not a one.  Despite how brilliant they are.  Well, brilliant by their standard.  In their particular field.  For economists really aren’t that smart.  Their ‘expertise’ is in the realm of the social sciences.  The faux sciences where people try to quantify the unquantifiable.  Using mathematical equations to explain and predict human behavior.  Which is what economists do.  Especially Keynesian economists.  Who think they are smarter than people.  And markets.

But there is a school of economic thought that doesn’t believe we can quantify human activity.  The Austrian school.  Where Austrian economics began.  In Vienna.  Where the great Austrian economists gathered.  Carl Menger.  Ludwig von Mises.  And Friedrich Hayek.  To name a few.  Who understood that economics is the sum total of millions of people making individual human decisions.  Human being key.  And why we can’t reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  Because you can’t quantify human behavior.  Contrary to what the Keynesians believe.  Which is why these two schools are at odds with each other.  With people even donning the personas of Keynes and Hayek to engage in economic debate.

Keynesian economics is more mainstream than the Austrian school.  Because it calls for the government to interfere with market forces.  To manipulate them.  To make markets produce different results from those they would have if left alone.  Something governments love to do.  Especially if it calls for taxing and spending.  Which Keynesian economics highly encourage.  To fix market ‘failures’.  And recessions.  By contrast, because of the unpredictable human element in all economic exchanges, the Austrian school is more laissez-faire.  They believe more in the separation of the government from things economic.  Economic exchanges are best left to the invisible hand.  What Adam Smith called the sum total of the millions of human decisions made by millions of people.  Who are maximizing their own economic well being.  And when we do we maximize the economic well being of the economy as a whole.  For the Austrian economist does not believe he or she is smarter than people.  Or markets.  Which is why an economist never gave us any brilliant invention.  Nor did their equations predict any inventor inventing a great invention.  And why economists have day jobs.  For if they were as brilliant and prophetic as they claim to be they could see into the future and know which stocks to buy to get rich so they could give up their day jobs.  When they’re able to do that we should start listening to them.  But not before.

Low Interest Rates cause Malinvestment and Speculation which puts Banks in Danger of Financial Collapse

Keynesian economics really took off with central banking.  And fractional reserve banking.  Monetary tools to control the money supply.  That in the Keynesian world was supposed to end business cycles and recessions as we knew them.  The Austrian school argues that using these monetary tools only distorts the business cycle.  And makes recessions worse.  Here’s how it works.  The central bank lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply (via open market transactions, lowering reserve requirements in fractional reserve banking or by printing money).  Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money to buy houses, cars, kitchen appliances, home theater systems, etc.  This new economic activity encourages businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand.  Ergo, recession over.  Simple math, right?  Only there’s a bit of a problem.  Some of our worst recessions have come during the era of Keynesian economics.  Including the worst recession of all time.  The Great Depression.  Which proves the Austrian point that the use of Keynesian policies to end recessions only makes recessions worse.  (Economists debate the causes of the Great Depression to this day.  Understanding the causes is not the point here.  The point is that it happened.  When recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past when using Keynesian policies.)

The problem is that these are not real economic expansions.  They’re artificial ones.  Created by cheap credit.  Which the central bank creates by forcing interest rates below actual market interest rates.  Which causes a whole host of problems.  In particular corrupting the banking system.  Banks offer interest rates to encourage people to save their money for future use (like retirement) instead of spending it in the here and now.  This is where savings (or investment capital) come from.  Banks pay depositors interest on their deposits.  And then loan out this money to others who need investment capital to start businesses.  To expand businesses.  To buy businesses.  Whatever.  They borrow money to invest so they can expand economic activity.  And make more profits.

But investment capital from savings is different from investment capital from an expansion of the money supply.  Because businesses will act as if the trend has shifted from consumption (spending now) to investment (spending later).  So they borrow to expand operations.  All because of the false signal of the artificially low interest rates.  They borrow money.  Over-invest.  And make bad investments.  Even speculate.  What Austrians call malinvestments.  But there was no shift from consumption to investment.  Savings haven’t increased.  In fact, with all those new loans on the books the banks see a shift in the other direction.  Because they have loaned out more money while the savings rate of their depositors did not change.  Which produced on their books a reduction in the net savings rate.  Leaving them more dangerously leveraged than before the credit expansion.  Also, those lower interest rates also decrease the interest rate on savings accounts.  Discouraging people from saving their money.  Which further reduces the savings rate of depositors.  Finally, those lower interest rates reduce the income stream on their loans.  Leaving them even more dangerously leveraged.  Putting them at risk of financial collapse should many of their loans go bad.

Keynesian Economics is more about Power whereas the Austrian School is more about Economics

These artificially low interest rates fuel malinvestment and speculation.  Cheap credit has everyone, flush with borrowed funds, bidding up prices (real estate, construction, machinery, raw material, etc.).  This alters the natural order of things.  The automatic pricing mechanism of the free market.  And reallocates resources to these higher prices.  Away from where the market would have otherwise directed them.  Creating great shortages and high prices in some areas.  And great surpluses of stuff no one wants to buy at any price in other areas.  Sort of like those Soviet stores full of stuff no one wanted to buy while people stood in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and soap.  (But not quite that bad.)  Then comes the day when all those investments don’t produce any returns.  Which leaves these businesses, investors and speculators with a lot of debt with no income stream to pay for it.  They drove up prices.  Created great asset bubbles.  Overbuilt their capacity.  Bought assets at such high prices that they’ll never realize a gain from them.  They know what’s coming next.  And in some darkened office someone pours a glass of scotch and murmurs, “My God, what have we done?”

The central bank may try to delay this day of reckoning.  By keeping interest rates low.  But that only allows asset bubbles to get bigger.  Making the inevitable correction more painful.  But eventually the central bank has to step in and raise interest rates.  Because all of that ‘bidding up of prices’ finally makes its way down to the consumer level.  And sparks off some nasty inflation.  So rates go up.  Credit becomes more expensive.  Often leaving businesses and speculators to try and refinance bad debt at higher rates.  Debt that has no income stream to pay for it.  Either forcing business to cut costs elsewhere.  Or file bankruptcy.  Which ripples through the banking system.  Causing a lot of those highly leveraged banks to fail with them.  Thus making the resulting recession far more painful and more long-lasting than necessary.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  At least, according to the Austrian school.  And much of the last century of history.

The Austrian school believes the market should determine interest rates.  Not central bankers.  They’re not big fans of fractional reserve banking, either.  Which only empowers central bankers to cause all of their mischief.  Which is why Keynesians don’t like Austrians.  Because Keynesians, and politicians, like that power.  For they believe that they are smarter than the people making economic exchanges.  Smarter than the market.  And they just love having control over all of that money.  Which comes in pretty handy when playing politics.  Which is ultimately the goal of Keynesian economics.  Whereas the Austrian school is more about economics.

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We are in the Worst Economic Recovery since that following the Great Depression because of Keynesian Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2014

Week in Review

We are in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Why?  Because of Democrats.  Who are all Keynesians.  And that’s a big problem as all of our worst economic times were given to us by those who adhere dogmatically to Keynesian economics.  That school of economics that gave us the Great Depression.  The stagflation of the Seventies.  The dot-com bubble.  The bursting of the dot-com bubble.  And the dot-com recession.  As well as the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  In all of these events the Keynesians in power followed Keynesian economic policies to avoid recessions.  And then to pull us out of recessions when their avoidance didn’t work.  Then doubling down on the things that didn’t work previously.  In particular artificially low interest rates.  Which have been around zero for the last 5 years.  And massive federal spending to stimulate the economy when the private sector wasn’t spending.  Two pillars of Keynesian economics.  Neither of which have done anything to help improve the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.

This is the problem with all the ‘noted’ economists the government likes to cite.  They embrace poor economic principles.  Proven wrong over and over again.  They can come up with some impressive looking charts and graphs but their analysis is all wrong.  And the fact that we’re in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression proves it better than any chart and graph.  They’re wrong.  And continue to be wrong.  Yet they provide the economic policies for our country.  Some of the greatest nonsense you will ever hear.  Things you wouldn’t do in your business.  Or in your personal life (see Student Loans Are A Drag On The Economy And Society by Josh Freedman posted 2/11/2014 on Forbes).

While loans are intended to expand college access to a broader population, the nature of risk that they entail also produces the opposite result. Low- and middle-income students worried about the consequences of taking out a loan will be more likely to decide that college attendance is not worth the risk…

Studies have found that high debt levels not only deter access at the beginning, but can also drive students away from completing college once they have already started… students who start college but do not graduate are stuck with loan repayments and no college degree. They still have to repay their loans but do not have the economic boost of a college degree to help them have enough income to cover this cost.

First of all, why is it when it comes to a college education no one ever demands that we lower the cost.  Like we do with greedy oil executives who keep the price of gasoline high.  Why is it no one attacks the greedy people in higher education that keep education so costly?

The problem is too many people are going to college for the wrong reason.  There is a reason why there is a list of the best party colleges every year.  Because a lot of these kids want to go to these schools.  Which explains why colleges in Colorado are seeing a spike in out-of-state applications.  Because these kids want to go to a college where they can party with legal marijuana.  And to make that partying easier they’re majoring in easier degree programs that the college assured these kids would provide them a comfortable living after graduation.  So they can get that profitable tuition out of these kids.  Often times paid for by these kids’ student loan borrowings.  So the colleges are misleading a lot of these kids to make a buck.  Leaving them saddled with a lot of student loan debt if they quit.  Or even more student loan debt if they stay in until graduation.  While getting a degree that can’t get them a job.

A second issue with increasing levels of student loan debt is the effect on the economy… Individuals with more student loan debt were less likely than individuals without student loan debt to purchase homes or cars.

Yes, having too much debt is a bad thing.  It reduces your disposable income.  Preventing you from purchasing a house or a car.  Yet these same economic advisors have no problem with raising taxes and devaluing the currency (i.e., printing money) to pay for all of the government’s stimulus spending.  Higher taxes reduce our paychecks.  And devaluing the currency raises real prices.  Reducing what we can buy with our smaller paychecks.  No, a Keynesian has no problem with debt at the federal level that affects everyone.  But student loan debt is just a terrible thing for those kids who dropped out of college or who didn’t get a degree that an employer could use.

In the wake of the financial crash, households have been trying to deleverage, or pay down their debt so they can have a healthier financial outlook, reduce the amount of their income that they use to service their debt, and begin investing and consuming again…

A look at the data suggests that student loans have slowed down households in the process of paying down debt. Since 2008 — the peak level of household debt — households lowered their levels every type of debt except student loan debt. Student loans have continued to grow throughout this process of deleveraging.

Of course the one thing missing from this analysis is the horrible economy President Obama’s Keynesian policies have given us.  Since he became president he has destroyed some 10,948,000 jobs.  Based on the number that were out of the labor force in the January 2014 BLS jobs report (91,455,000) and how many were out of the labor force when he entered office (80,507,000).  This is why people are struggling with debt levels.  There are no jobs.  If there was a robust economy flush with jobs people wouldn’t worry about taking on debt to invest in the future.  As long as they got a useful college degree in a high-tech economy.  And not something useless like women’s studies or poetry.

But aren’t people facing poor job prospects just taking out more loans to avoid working as baristas at coffee shops that drip the coffee super slowly for no apparent reason? This does not appear to be the case from the debt data. Student loan debt has grown at almost exactly the same rate since the crash as it had been the previous five years — i.e. steadily and without fail.

Student loan credit level has been steadily rising because the cost of a college education has been steadily rising.  Again, where is the outrage at our greedy educators getting rich by loading up these kids with student loan debt for a degree they can’t use in a high-tech economy?

…the loan system allows colleges to raise prices, which causes more students to take out loans. States, facing budget pressures, have also pulled back on investment, putting even more risk on students and further increasing the need for loans.

Again, where is the outrage at our greedy educators who keep raising tuition, forcing these kids to take out more and more student loan debt?

The risk and burdens that come from forcing students to take out debt up front and pay it back later is problematic from head to toe (tassel to hem, one might say). To create a better system of higher education, we need to look at alternatives to the current debt-financed model.

So the solution is for the taxpayer to foot the bill for these useless college degrees at these party colleges?  How is that going to solve any problem?  All that will do is allow more people to go to a college in Denver where they can get high for 4 years.  And then go to work as a barista at a coffee shop that requires no 4-year degree.  How does that make anything better?  Other than get more young people to vote Democrat.  Then again, perhaps that is the only objective of Keynesian economics.  Which is why those on the left embrace these failed policies with a religious fervor.  Because it helps them win elections.  Even while they’re destroying the economy.

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The Qualified Mortgage Rule to restore Good Lending Practices destroyed by Government

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were largely responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.  Because they removed risk from lenders, allowing them to sell more risky mortgages.  Something lenders wouldn’t have done if they had to carry the risk of these loans.  But once they could sell those risky loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac what did they care?  So they earned their money with loan origination fees.  Not by servicing these loans.  As had been the tradition in the lending industry until the government intervened to stimulate the housing market.  Which they did.  By putting people who couldn’t afford houses into houses.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.

Fannie and Freddie are still active.  In particular helping rich people who can take advantage of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing.  Who are the only people doing well as median household income falls in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression (see US extends backing for higher-priced mortgages by Diana Olick posted 10/24/2013 on CNBC).

Federal regulators will allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to continue funding higher-priced mortgages, at least through the middle of next year. President Barack Obama had called on the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator of the two mortgage giants since September 2008, to lower the limits by the end of this year in order to shrink their role in the market. FHFA acting director Ed DeMarco, however, said the timing is not right just yet.

“We are not making a change there in the immediate term,” DeMarco told reporters. “I recognize and understand that the industry is very busy right now making implementation of other regulations that take effect the first of next year, and that’s enough.”

DeMarco is referring to new mortgage regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, requiring lenders to prove a borrower has the ability to repay a loan. The so-called “Qualified Mortgage rule,” goes into effect Jan. 1, and lenders are scrambling to make sure they will be in compliance with all its requirements.

The Qualified Mortgage rule?  You know what we used to have before we had to have the Qualified Mortgage rule?  Good lending practices.  Where lenders carried their loans on their balance sheets.  And serviced those loans.  Holding on to all the risk from their lending decisions.  Which prevented them from making loans to unqualified applicants.  The way a good banking system should operate.  The way it was before the government destroyed it with their manipulation of interest rates.

Now the government wants to do what it was doing before the subprime mortgage crisis.  Putting as many people into homes who can’t afford them.  Only this time they’ve added a law to prevent lenders from qualifying the unqualified.  Even while the government is pressuring them to do so.  Just like Bill Clinton did with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending that kicked off subprime lending in earnest to qualify the unqualified.  Because the Clinton administration called any denials of loans to the poor/minorities as discriminatory lending practices.  Of course, back then lenders had only good lending practices to hang their hat on.  Now they have a law to use to defend themselves against charges of discriminatory lending practices.  Which basically takes the lending industry back to where it was before the government destroyed it and gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  Things would have been a whole lot easier and less costly if the government had just stayed out of it in the first place.

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Saving, Investing and the Paradox of Thrift

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published August 27th, 2012)

Healthy Sales can Support just about any Bad Decision a Business Owner Makes

“Industry, Perseverance, & Frugality, make Fortune yield.”  Benjamin Franklin (1744).  He also said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  Franklin was a self-made man.  He started with little.  And through industry, perseverance and frugality he became rich and successful.  He lived the American dream.  Which was having the liberty to work hard and succeed.  And to keep the proceeds of his labors.  Which he saved.  And all those pennies he saved up allowed him to invest in his business.  Which grew and created more wealth.

Frugality.  And saving.  Two keys to success.  Especially in business.  For the business that starts out by renting a large office in a prestigious building with new furniture is typically the business that fails.  Healthy sales can support just about any bad decision a business owner makes.  While falling sales quickly show the folly of not being frugal.  Most businesses fail because of poor sales revenue.  The less frugal you’ve been the greater the bills you have to pay with those falling sales. Which speeds up the failing process.  Insolvency.  And bankruptcy.  Teaching the important lesson that you should never take sales for granted.  The importance of being frugal.  And the value of saving your pennies.

Saving and frugality also hold true in our personal lives.  Especially when we start buying things.  Like big houses.  And expensive cars.  As a new household starting out with husband and wife gainfully employed the money is good.  The money is plentiful.  And the money can be intoxicating.  Because it can buy nice things.  And if we are not frugal and we do not save for a rainy day we are in for a rude awakening when that rainy day comes.  For if that two income household suddenly becomes a one income household it will become very difficult to pay the bills.  Giving them a quick lesson in the wisdom of being frugal.  And of saving your pennies.

The Money People borrow to Invest is the Same Money that Others have Saved

Being frugal lets us save money.  The less we spend the more we can put in the bank.  What we’re doing is this.  We’re sacrificing short-term consumption for long-term consumption.  Instead of blowing our money on going to the movies, eating out and taking a lot of vacations, we’re putting that money into the bank.  To use as a down payment on a house later.  To save for a dream vacation later.  To put in an in-the-ground pool later.  What we’re doing is pushing our consumption out later in time.  So when we do spend these savings later they won’t make it difficult to pay our bills.  Even if the two incomes become only one.

Sound advice.  Then again, Benjamin Franklin was a wise man.  And a lot of people took his advice.  For America grew into a wealthy nation.  Where entrepreneurs saved their money to build their businesses.  Large savings allowed them to borrow large sums of money.  As bank loans often required a sizeable down payment.  So being frugal and saving money allowed these entrepreneurs to borrow large sums of money from banks.  Money that was in the bank available to loan thanks to other people being frugal.  And saving their money.

To invest requires money.  But few have that kind of money available.  So they use what they have as a down payment and borrow the balance of what they need.  The balance of what they need comes from other people’s savings.  Via a bank loan.  This is very important.  The money people borrow to invest is the same money that others have saved.  Which means that investments are savings.  And that people can only invest as much as people save.  So for businesses to expand and for the economy to grow we need people to save their money.  To be frugal.  The more they save instead of spending the greater amount of investment capital is available.  And the greater the economy can grow.

The Paradox of Thrift states that Being Frugal and Saving Money Destroys the Economy

Once upon a time this was widely accepted economics.  And countries grew wealthy that had high savings rates.  Then along came a man named John Maynard Keynes.  Who gave the world a whole new kind of economic thought.   That said spending was everything.  Consumption was key.  Not savings.  Renouncing centuries of capitalism.  And the wise advice of Benjamin Franklin.  In a consumption-centered economy people saving their money is bad.  Because money people saved isn’t out there generating economic activity by buying stuff.  Keynes said savings were nothing more than a leak of economic activity.  Wasted money that leaks out of the economy and does nothing beneficial.  Even when people and/or businesses are being frugal and saving money to avoid bankruptcy.

In the Keynesian world when people save they don’t spend.  And when they don’t spend then businesses can’t sell.  If businesses aren’t selling as much as they once were they will cut back.  Lay people off.  As more businesses suffer these reductions in their sales revenue overall GDP falls.  Giving us recessions.  This is the paradox of thrift.  Which states that by doing the seemingly right thing (being frugal and saving money) you are actually destroying the economy.  Of course this is nonsense.  For it ignores the other half of saving.  Investing.  As a business does to increase productivity.  To make more for less.  So they can sell more for less.  Allowing people to buy more for less.  And it assumes that a higher savings rate can only come with a corresponding reduction in consumption.  Which is not always the case.  A person can get a raise.  And if they are satisfied by their current level of consumption they may save their additional income rather than increasing their consumption further.

Many people get a raise every year.  Which allows them to more easily pay their bills.  Pay down their credit cards.  Even to save for a large purchase later.  Which is good responsible behavior.  The kind that Benjamin Franklin would approve of.  But not Keynesian economists.  Or governments.  Who embrace Keynesian economics with a passion.  Because it gives them a leading role.  When people aren’t spending enough money guess who should step in and pick up that spending slack?  Government.  So is it any wonder why governments embrace this new kind of economic thought?  It justifies excessive government spending.  Which is just the kind of thing people go into government for.  Sadly, though, their government spending rarely (if ever) pulls a nation out of a recession.  For government spending doesn’t replicate what has historically created strong economic growth.  A high savings rate.  That encourages investment higher up in the stages of production.  Where that investment creates jobs.  Not at the end of the stages of production.  Where government spending creates only inflation.  Deficits.  And higher debt.  All things that are a drag on economic activity.

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Capital Markets, IPO, Bubbles and Stock Market Crashes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2013

Economics 101

Entrepreneurs turn to Venture Capitalists because they Need a Lot of Money Fast

It takes money to make money.  Anyone who ever started a business knows this only too well.  For starting a money-making business takes money.  A lot of it.  New business owners will use their lifesavings.  Mortgage their home.  Borrow from their parents.  Or if they have a really good business plan and own a house with a lot of equity built up in it they may be able to get a loan from a bank.  Or find a cosigner who is willing to pledge some collateral to secure a loan.

Once the business is up and running they depend on business profits to pay the bills.  And service their debt.  If the business struggles they turn to other sources of financing.  They pay their bills slower.  They use credit cards.  They draw down their line of credit at their bank.  They go back to a parent and borrow more money.  A lot of businesses fail at this point.  But some survive.  And their profits not only pay their bills and service their debt.  But these profits can sustain growth.

This is one path.  Entrepreneurs with a brilliant new invention may need a lot of money fast.  To pay for land, a large building for manufacturing, equipment and tooling, energy, waste disposal, packaging, distribution and sales.  And all the people in production and management.  This is just too much money for someone’s lifesavings or a home mortgage to pay for.  So they turn to venture capital.  Investors who will take a huge risk and pay these costs in return for a share of the profits.  And the huge windfall when taking the company public.  If the company doesn’t fail before going public.

The Common Stockholders take the Biggest Risk of All who Finance a Business

As a company grows they need more financing.  And they turn to the capital markets.  To issue bonds.  A large loan broken up into smaller pieces that many bond purchasers can buy.  Each bond paying a fixed interest rate in return for these buyers (i.e., creditors) taking a risk.  Businesses have to redeem their bonds one day (i.e., repay this loan).  Which they don’t have to do with stocks.  The other way businesses raise money in the capital markets.   When owners take their business public they are selling it to investors.  This initial public offering (IPO) of stock brings in money to the business that they don’t have to pay back.  What they give up for this wealth of funding is some control of their business.  The investors who buy this stock get dividends (similar to interest) and voting rights in exchange for taking this risk.  And the chance to reap huge capital gains.

The common stockholders take the biggest risk in financing a business.  (Preferred stockholders fall between bondholders and common stockholders in terms of risk, get a fixed dividend but no voting rights.)  In exchange for that risk they get voting rights.  They elect the board of directors.  Who hire the company’s officers.  So they have the largest say in how the business does its business.  Because they have the largest stake in the company.  After all, they own it.  Which is why businesses work hard to please their common stockholders.  For if they don’t they can lose their job.

During profitable times the board of directors may vote to increase the dividend on the common stock.  But if the business is not doing well they may vote to reduce the dividend.  Or suspend it entirely.  What will worry stockholders, though, more than a reduced dividend is a falling stock price.  For stockholders make a lot of money by buying and selling their shares of stock.  And if the price of their stock falls while they’re holding it they will not be able to sell it without taking a loss on their investment.  So a reduced dividend may be the least of their worries.  As they are far more concerned about what is causing the value of their stock to fall.

Investors make Money by Buying and Selling Stocks based on this Simple Adage, “Buy Low, Sell High.”

A business only gets money from investors from the IPO.  Once investors buy this stock they can sell it in the secondary market.  This is what drives the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  This buying and selling of stocks between investors on the secondary market.  A business gets no additional funding from these transactions.  But they watch the price of their stock very closely.  For it can affect their ability to get new financing.  Creditors don’t want to take all of the risk.  Neither do investors. They want to see a mix of debt (bonds) and equity (stocks).  And if the stock price falls it will be difficult for them to raise money by issuing more stock.  Forcing them to issue more bonds.  Increasing the risk of the creditors.  Which raises the bond interest rate they must pay to attract creditors.  Which makes it hard for the business to raise money to finance operations when their stock price falls.  Not to mention putting the jobs of executive management at risk.

Why?  Because this is not why venture capitalists risk their money.  It is not why investors buy stock in an IPO.  They take these great risks to make money.  Not to lose money.  And the way they expect to get rich is with a rising stock price.  Business owners and their early financers get a share of the stock at the IPO.  For their risk-taking.  And the higher the stock trades for after the IPO the richer they get.  When the stock price settles down after a meteoric rise following the IPO the entrepreneurs and their venture capitalists can sell their stock at the prevailing market price and become incredibly rich.  Thanks to a huge capital gain in the price of the stock.  At least, that is the plan.

But what causes this huge capital gain?  The expectations of future profitability of the new public company.  It’s not about what it is doing today.  But what investors think they will be doing tomorrow.  If they believe that their new product will be the next thing everyone must have investors will want to own that stock before everyone starts buying those things.  So they can take that meteoric rise along with the stock price.  As this new product produces record profits for this business.  So everyone will bid up the price because the investors must have this stock.  Just as they are sure consumers will feel they must have what this business sells.  When there are a lot of companies competing in the same technology market all of these tech stock prices can rise to great heights.  As everyone is taking a big bet that the company they’re buying into will make that next big thing everyone must have.  Causing these stocks to become overvalued.  As these investors’ enthusiasm gets the better of them.  And when reality sets in it can be devastating.

Investors make money by buying and selling stocks.  The key to making wealth is this simple adage, “Buy low, sell high.”  Which means you don’t want to be holding a stock when its price is falling.  So what is an investor to do?  Sell when it could only be a momentary correction before continuing its meteoric rise?  Missing out on a huge capital gain?  Or hold on to it waiting for it to continue its meteoric rise?  Only to see the bottom fall out causing a great financial loss?  The kind of loss that has made investors jump out of a window?  Tough decision.  With painful consequences if an investor decides wrong.  Sometimes it’s just not one individual investor.  If a group of stocks are overvalued.  If there is a bubble in the stock market.  And it bursts.  Look out.  The losses will be huge as many overvalued stocks come crashing down.  Causing a stock market crash.  A recession.  A Great Recession.  Even a Great Depression.

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Britain’s Green Deal fails to attract a Single Homeowner to Exchange Higher Debt for Higher Energy Bills

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 18th, 2012

Week in Review

The British have a program where they encourage homeowners to borrow up to £10,000 ($15,900) to weatherproof their homes in exchange for higher energy bills.  With the goal of combating global warming.  And saving the planet.  So how is that program going?  Not good (see Green Deal ‘in tatters’ as no-one registers by James Hall posted 11/16/2012 on The Telegraph).

The Green Deal encourages homeowners to take out a loan to make their house more energy-efficient. The project goes live in 10 weeks but households have had since October 1 to have their home assessed for the scheme prior to its launch.

However Greg Barker, the climate change minister, has admitted that “no assessments have yet been lodged” on the Government’s official register by homeowners…

Luciana Berger, the shadow climate change minister, described the Green Deal as a “shambles” and said its launch is “lying in tatters”. The Coalition hopes that owners of up to 14 million draughty homes will sign up to the scheme…

Under the Green Deal people can borrow up to £10,000 from a private sector loan provider and have loft and wall insulation fitted in their homes. The loan is repaid over a period of up to 25 years through higher bills. The idea is that bills will fall once the loan has been paid off because the houses need less energy.

They’re scratching their heads why not one of the 14 million homes signed up yet for this program?  Well, I’ll take a guess as to why.  How about that 25 year payback?  This means a couple could start a family and raise 7 kids and send them on to college before breaking even on their investment.  That’s not a good investment.  Why would anyone want to raise their energy bills for 25 years?  Especially when a lot of things can happen in 25 years.

People change jobs and move.  People lose their jobs and move.  People get divorced and move.  People get married and move.  People suffer a loss and move.  People suffer ill health and can no longer maintain a house and move.  Twenty five years is a long time.  A lot of things could happen to prevent people from remaining 25 years in the same home.  And, yes, you may be able to get that money out of your house when you sell it.  As long as there aren’t any houses selling in your neighborhood for £10,000 ($15,900) less.  And that’s the last thing a person wants when they’re trying to sell their home.  Trying to recover the cost of a home improvement when they’re selling.  Especially in a depressed housing market.

So there’s that.  Then there’s something else.  Energy bills have soared in recent years.  Which was the whole point for the Green Deal in the first place.  And if those energy bills are high now what’s to keep them from being higher later?  Especially with the government’s green policies to reduce global warming.  No, the British homeowner probably can count on few things in life with any certainty.  Taxes.  Death.  And higher energy bills.  So why would they want to add to those energy bills when they’re only going to continue to rise?  Because the government says those bills will be cheaper 25 years hence?  When it’s the same government who made those energy prices soar in recent years?

Many real estate experts will tell you there are few home improvements that an owner will get their money back on when they sell.  Kitchen and bathrooms lead a very short list.  But finished basements, dormers and sun porches?  Kiss that money goodbye.  Because when it comes to selling a house it’s all about location.  People pay what the location is worth.  Not what the house is worth.  If you build a $250,000 house in a $100,000 neighborhood guess what that house will sell for.  The same price all houses sell for in a $100,000 neighborhood.  Around $100,000.  If a buyer is choosing between two houses that cost $115,000 in the $100,000 neighborhood which do you think the buyer will choose?  The one with the new insulation that raised the energy bills?  Or the one with the new bathroom or the new kitchen that the new homeowners will use every day of their life in their new home?  They’ll choose the nice bathroom and kitchen.  For their energy costs will probably be a wash.  They’ll either buy more energy at a lower rate.  Or buy less energy at a higher rate.  Giving them no advantage in energy costs no matter which house they buy.

This is why no one is signing up for this program.  It’s just a horrible deal for homeowners.

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Saving, Investing and the Paradox of Thrift

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 27th, 2012

Economics 101

Healthy Sales can Support just about any Bad Decision a Business Owner Makes

“Industry, Perseverance, & Frugality, make Fortune yield.”  Benjamin Franklin (1744).  He also said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  Franklin was a self-made man.  He started with little.  And through industry, perseverance and frugality he became rich and successful.  He lived the American dream.  Which was having the liberty to work hard and succeed.  And to keep the proceeds of his labors.  Which he saved.  And all those pennies he saved up allowed him to invest in his business.  Which grew and created more wealth.

Frugality.  And saving.  Two keys to success.  Especially in business.  For the business that starts out by renting a large office in a prestigious building with new furniture is typically the business that fails.  Healthy sales can support just about any bad decision a business owner makes.  While falling sales quickly show the folly of not being frugal.  Most businesses fail because of poor sales revenue.  The less frugal you’ve been the greater the bills you have to pay with those falling sales. Which speeds up the failing process.  Insolvency.  And bankruptcy.  Teaching the important lesson that you should never take sales for granted.  The importance of being frugal.  And the value of saving your pennies.

Saving and frugality also hold true in our personal lives.  Especially when we start buying things.  Like big houses.  And expensive cars.  As a new household starting out with husband and wife gainfully employed the money is good.  The money is plentiful.  And the money can be intoxicating.  Because it can buy nice things.  And if we are not frugal and we do not save for a rainy day we are in for a rude awakening when that rainy day comes.  For if that two income household suddenly becomes a one income household it will become very difficult to pay the bills.  Giving them a quick lesson in the wisdom of being frugal.  And of saving your pennies.

The Money People borrow to Invest is the Same Money that Others have Saved

Being frugal lets us save money.  The less we spend the more we can put in the bank.  What we’re doing is this.  We’re sacrificing short-term consumption for long-term consumption.  Instead of blowing our money on going to the movies, eating out and taking a lot of vacations, we’re putting that money into the bank.  To use as a down payment on a house later.  To save for a dream vacation later.  To put in an in-the-ground pool later.  What we’re doing is pushing our consumption out later in time.  So when we do spend these savings later they won’t make it difficult to pay our bills.  Even if the two incomes become only one.

Sound advice.  Then again, Benjamin Franklin was a wise man.  And a lot of people took his advice.  For America grew into a wealthy nation.  Where entrepreneurs saved their money to build their businesses.  Large savings allowed them to borrow large sums of money.  As bank loans often required a sizeable down payment.  So being frugal and saving money allowed these entrepreneurs to borrow large sums of money from banks.  Money that was in the bank available to loan thanks to other people being frugal.  And saving their money.

To invest requires money.  But few have that kind of money available.  So they use what they have as a down payment and borrow the balance of what they need.  The balance of what they need comes from other people’s savings.  Via a bank loan.  This is very important.  The money people borrow to invest is the same money that others have saved.  Which means that investments are savings.  And that people can only invest as much as people save.  So for businesses to expand and for the economy to grow we need people to save their money.  To be frugal.  The more they save instead of spending the greater amount of investment capital is available.  And the greater the economy can grow.

The Paradox of Thrift states that Being Frugal and Saving Money Destroys the Economy

Once upon a time this was widely accepted economics.  And countries grew wealthy that had high savings rates.  Then along came a man named John Maynard Keynes.  Who gave the world a whole new kind of economic thought.   That said spending was everything.  Consumption was key.  Not savings.  Renouncing centuries of capitalism.  And the wise advice of Benjamin Franklin.  In a consumption-centered economy people saving their money is bad.  Because money people saved isn’t out there generating economic activity by buying stuff.  Keynes said savings were nothing more than a leak of economic activity.  Wasted money that leaks out of the economy and does nothing beneficial.  Even when people and/or businesses are being frugal and saving money to avoid bankruptcy.

In the Keynesian world when people save they don’t spend.  And when they don’t spend then businesses can’t sell.  If businesses aren’t selling as much as they once were they will cut back.  Lay people off.  As more businesses suffer these reductions in their sales revenue overall GDP falls.  Giving us recessions.  This is the paradox of thrift.  Which states that by doing the seemingly right thing (being frugal and saving money) you are actually destroying the economy.  Of course this is nonsense.  For it ignores the other half of saving.  Investing.  As a business does to increase productivity.  To make more for less.  So they can sell more for less.  Allowing people to buy more for less.  And it assumes that a higher savings rate can only come with a corresponding reduction in consumption.  Which is not always the case.  A person can get a raise.  And if they are satisfied by their current level of consumption they may save their additional income rather than increasing their consumption further.

Many people get a raise every year.  Which allows them to more easily pay their bills.  Pay down their credit cards.  Even to save for a large purchase later.  Which is good responsible behavior.  The kind that Benjamin Franklin would approve of.  But not Keynesian economists.  Or governments.  Who embrace Keynesian economics with a passion.  Because it gives them a leading role.  When people aren’t spending enough money guess who should step in and pick up that spending slack?  Government.  So is it any wonder why governments embrace this new kind of economic thought?  It justifies excessive government spending.  Which is just the kind of thing people go into government for.  Sadly, though, their government spending rarely (if ever) pulls a nation out of a recession.  For government spending doesn’t replicate what has historically created strong economic growth.  A high savings rate.  That encourages investment higher up in the stages of production.  Where that investment creates jobs.  Not at the end of the stages of production.  Where government spending creates only inflation.  Deficits.  And higher debt.  All things that are a drag on economic activity.

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Venture Capital and Private Equity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 28th, 2012

Economics 101

An Idea is only an Idea unless there’s Capital to Develop it and a Business Plan

People put money in the bank to save it.  And to earn interest.  To make their savings grow.  So they can afford a down payment on a house one day.  Or start up a business.  To start a college fund.  Or a variety of other things.  They put their money into a bank because they have confidence that the bank will repay that money whenever they want to withdraw it.   And confident that the bank will earn a profit.  By prudently loaning out their deposits in business loans, mortgages, equity loans, etc.  So the bank can pay interest on their savings.  And make it grow.  While not risking the solvency of the bank by making risky loans that people won’t be able to repay.  With responsible saving and responsible lending both parties achieve what they want.  And the economy grows.

A high savings rate means banks can make more loans.  And businesses can borrow more to expand their businesses.  This is a very critical element in capitalism.  Getting capital to the people who need it.  Who can do incredible things with it.  Create new jobs.  Develop a new technology.  Find a better way to use our limited resources.  Bringing consumer prices down and increasing our standard of living.  Because when prices go down we can buy more things.  So we don’t have to sacrifice and go without.  We have a higher standards of living thanks to capitalism.  And the efficient use of capital.

As technology advanced individuals had more and more brilliant ideas.  But an idea is only an idea unless there’s capital to develop it.  And a business plan.  Something a lot of brilliant entrepreneurs are not good at.  They may think of a great new use of technology that will change the world.  Their mind can be that creative.  But they don’t know how to put a business plan together.  Or convince a banker that this idea is gold.  That this innovation is so new that no one had ever thought of it before.  That it’s cutting edge.  Paradigm shifting.  And it may be that and more.  But a banker won’t care.  Because bankers are conservative with other people’s money.  They don’t want to loan their deposits on something risky and risk losing it.  They want to bet on sure things.  Loan money to people that are 99% certain to repay it.  Not take chances with new technology that they haven’t a clue about.

Venture Capitalists make sure their Seed Capital is Used Wisely so it can Bloom into its Full Potential

Enter the venture capitalists.  Who are the polar opposite of bankers.  They are willing to take big risks.  Especially in technology.  Because new technologies have changed the world.  And made a lot of people very wealthy.  Especially those willing to gamble and invest in an unknown.  Those who provide the seed money for these ventures in the beginning.  That’s their incentive.  And why they are willing to risk such large sums of money on an unknown.  Something a banker never would do.  Who say ‘no’ to these struggling entrepreneurs.  And tell them to come back when they are more established and less risky. 

This is responsible banking.  And this is why people put their money into the bank.  Because bankers are conservative.  But there is a price for this.  Lost innovation.  If no one was willing to risk large sums of money on unknowns with brilliant ideas the world wouldn’t be the same place it is today.  This is what the venture capitalists give us.  Innovation.  And a world full of new technology.  And creature comforts we couldn’t have imagined a decade earlier.  Because they will risk a lot of money on an unknown with a good idea.

Most venture capitalists have been there before.  They were once that entrepreneur with an idea that turned it into great success.  That’s part of the reason they do this.  To recapture the thrill.  While mentoring an entrepreneur into the ways of business.  Like someone once did for them.  But it’s also the money.  They expect to make a serious return on their risky investment.  So much so that they often take over some control of the business.  They do what has to be done.  Make some hard decisions.  And make sure they use their investment capital wisely.  Sometimes pushing aside the entrepreneur if necessary.  To make sure that seed capital can bloom into its full potential.  Perhaps all the way to an initial public offering of stock.  And when it does everyone gets rich.  The entrepreneur with the good idea.  And the venture capitalist.  Who now has more seed capital available for other start-ups with promise.

The Goal of the Private Equity Firm is to Get In, Fix the Problems and Get Out

Venture capital belongs to the larger world of private equity.  Where private equity investment firms operate sort of like a bank.  But with a few minor differences.  Instead of depositors they have investors.  Instead of safe investments they have risky investments.  Instead of low returns on investment they have high returns on investment.  And instead of a passive review of a firm’s financial statements by a bank’s loan officer they actively intervene with business management.  Because private equity does more than just loan money.  They fix problems.  Especially in underperforming businesses.

A mature business that has seen better days is the ideal candidate for private equity.  The business is struggling.  They’re losing money.  And they’ve run out of ideas.  Management is either blind to their problems or unable (or unwilling) to take the necessary corrective action.  They can’t sell because business is too bad.  They don’t want to go out of business because they’ve invested their life savings to try and keep the business afloat.  Only to see continued losses.  Their only hope to recover their losses is to fix the business.  To make it profitable again.  And selling their business to a private equity firm solves a couple of their problems fast.  First of all, they get their prior investments back.  But more importantly they get hope. 

The private equity firm uses some of their investment capital to secure a large loan.  The infamous leveraged buyout which has a lot of negative connotations.  But to a business owner about to go under and lose everything the leveraged buyout is a blessing.  And it’s so simple.  A private equity firm buys a business by taking on massive amounts of debt.  They put that debt on the business’ books.  Debt that future profits of the business will service.  Once the equity firm does its magic to restore the business to profitability.  Starting with a new management team.  Which is necessary.  As the current one was leading the firm to bankruptcy.  They may interview people.  Identify problems.  Find untapped potential to promote.  They may close factories and lay off people.  They may expand production to increase revenue.  Whatever restructuring is necessary to return the firm to profitability they will do.  Their goal is to get in, fix the problems and get out.  Selling the now profitable business for a greater sum than the sum of debt and equity they used to buy it.

But with great risk comes the chance for great failure.  When it works it works well.  Producing a huge return on investment.  But sometimes they can’t save the business.  And the firm can’t avoid bankruptcy.  The business then will be liquidated to repay the banks who loaned the money.  While the equity the firm invested is lost.  Which is why they need to make big profits.  Because they suffer some big losses.  But they typically save more businesses than they fail to save.  And the businesses they do save would have gone out of business otherwise.  So in the grand scheme of things the world is a better place with private equity.

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The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2012

Economics 101

Because of the Unpredictable Human Element in all Economic Exchanges the Austrian School is more Laissez-Faire

Name some of the great inventions economists gave us.  The computer?  The Internet?  The cell phone?  The car?  The jumbo jet?  Television?  Air conditioning?  The automatic dishwasher?  No.  Amazingly, economists did not invent any of these brilliant inventions.  And economists didn’t predict any of these inventions.  Not a one.  Despite how brilliant they are.  Well, brilliant by their standard.  In their particular field.  For economists really aren’t that smart.  Their ‘expertise’ is in the realm of the social sciences.  The faux sciences where people try to quantify the unquantifiable.  Using mathematical equations to explain and predict human behavior.  Which is what economists do.  Especially Keynesian economists.  Who think they are smarter than people.  And markets.

But there is a school of economic thought that doesn’t believe we can quantify human activity.  The Austrian school.  Where Austrian economics began.  In Vienna.  Where the great Austrian economists gathered.  Carl Menger.  Ludwig von Mises.  And Friedrich Hayek.  To name a few.  Who understood that economics is the sum total of millions of people making individual human decisions.  Human being key.  And why we can’t reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  Because you can’t quantify human behavior.  Contrary to what the Keynesians believe.  Which is why these two schools are at odds with each other.  With people even donning the personas of Keynes and Hayek to engage in economic debate.

Keynesian economics is more mainstream than the Austrian school.  Because it calls for the government to interfere with market forces.  To manipulate them.  To make markets produce different results from those they would have if left alone.  Something governments love to do.  Especially if it calls for taxing and spending.  Which Keynesian economics highly encourage.  To fix market ‘failures’.  And recessions.  By contrast, because of the unpredictable human element in all economic exchanges, the Austrian school is more laissez-faire.  They believe more in the separation of the government from things economic.  Economic exchanges are best left to the invisible hand.  What Adam Smith called the sum total of the millions of human decisions made by millions of people.  Who are maximizing their own economic well being.  And when we do we maximize the economic well being of the economy as a whole.  For the Austrian economist does not believe he or she is smarter than people.  Or markets.  Which is why an economist never gave us any brilliant invention.  Nor did their equations predict any inventor inventing a great invention.  And why economists have day jobs.  For if they were as brilliant and prophetic as they claim to be they could see into the future and know which stocks to buy to get rich so they could give up their day jobs.  When they’re able to do that we should start listening to them.  But not before.

Low Interest Rates cause Malinvestment and Speculation which puts Banks in Danger of Financial Collapse

Keynesian economics really took off with central banking.  And fractional reserve banking.  Monetary tools to control the money supply.  That in the Keynesian world was supposed to end business cycles and recessions as we knew them.  The Austrian school argues that using these monetary tools only distorts the business cycle.  And makes recessions worse.  Here’s how it works.  The central bank lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply (via open market transactions, lowering reserve requirements in fractional reserve banking or by printing money).  Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money to buy houses, cars, kitchen appliances, home theater systems, etc.  This new economic activity encourages businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand.  Ergo, recession over.  Simple math, right?  Only there’s a bit of a problem.  Some of our worst recessions have come during the era of Keynesian economics.  Including the worst recession of all time.  The Great Depression.  Which proves the Austrian point that the use of Keynesian policies to end recessions only makes recessions worse.  (Economists debate the causes of the Great Depression to this day.  Understanding the causes is not the point here.  The point is that it happened.  When recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past when using Keynesian policies.)

The problem is that these are not real economic expansions.  They’re artificial ones.  Created by cheap credit.  Which the central bank creates by forcing interest rates below actual market interest rates.  Which causes a whole host of problems.  In particular corrupting the banking system.  Banks offer interest rates to encourage people to save their money for future use (like retirement) instead of spending it in the here and now.  This is where savings (or investment capital) come from.  Banks pay depositors interest on their deposits.  And then loan out this money to others who need investment capital to start businesses.  To expand businesses.  To buy businesses.  Whatever.  They borrow money to invest so they can expand economic activity.  And make more profits.

But investment capital from savings is different from investment capital from an expansion of the money supply.  Because businesses will act as if the trend has shifted from consumption (spending now) to investment (spending later).  So they borrow to expand operations.  All because of the false signal of the artificially low interest rates.  They borrow money.  Over-invest.  And make bad investments.  Even speculate.  What Austrians call malinvestments.  But there was no shift from consumption to investment.  Savings haven’t increased.  In fact, with all those new loans on the books the banks see a shift in the other direction.  Because they have loaned out more money while the savings rate of their depositors did not change.  Which produced on their books a reduction in the net savings rate.  Leaving them more dangerously leveraged than before the credit expansion.  Also, those lower interest rates also decrease the interest rate on savings accounts.  Discouraging people from saving their money.  Which further reduces the savings rate of depositors.  Finally, those lower interest rates reduce the income stream on their loans.  Leaving them even more dangerously leveraged.  Putting them at risk of financial collapse should many of their loans go bad.

Keynesian Economics is more about Power whereas the Austrian School is more about Economics

These artificially low interest rates fuel malinvestment and speculation.  Cheap credit has everyone, flush with borrowed funds, bidding up prices (real estate, construction, machinery, raw material, etc.).  This alters the natural order of things.  The automatic pricing mechanism of the free market.  And reallocates resources to these higher prices.  Away from where the market would have otherwise directed them.  Creating great shortages and high prices in some areas.  And great surpluses of stuff no one wants to buy at any price in other areas.  Sort of like those Soviet stores full of stuff no one wanted to buy while people stood in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and soap.  (But not quite that bad.)  Then comes the day when all those investments don’t produce any returns.  Which leaves these businesses, investors and speculators with a lot of debt with no income stream to pay for it.  They drove up prices.  Created great asset bubbles.  Overbuilt their capacity.  Bought assets at such high prices that they’ll never realize a gain from them.  They know what’s coming next.  And in some darkened office someone pours a glass of scotch and murmurs, “My God, what have we done?”

The central bank may try to delay this day of reckoning.  By keeping interest rates low.  But that only allows asset bubbles to get bigger.  Making the inevitable correction more painful.  But eventually the central bank has to step in and raise interest rates.  Because all of that ‘bidding up of prices’ finally makes its way down to the consumer level.  And sparks off some nasty inflation.  So rates go up.  Credit becomes more expensive.  Often leaving businesses and speculators to try and refinance bad debt at higher rates.  Debt that has no income stream to pay for it.  Either forcing business to cut costs elsewhere.  Or file bankruptcy.  Which ripples through the banking system.  Causing a lot of those highly leveraged banks to fail with them.  Thus making the resulting recession far more painful and more long-lasting than necessary.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  At least, according to the Austrian school.  And much of the last century of history.

The Austrian school believes the market should determine interest rates.  Not central bankers.  They’re not big fans of fractional reserve banking, either.  Which only empowers central bankers to cause all of their mischief.  Which is why Keynesians don’t like Austrians.  Because Keynesians, and politicians, like that power.  For they believe that they are smarter than the people making economic exchanges.  Smarter than the market.  And they just love having control over all of that money.  Which comes in pretty handy when playing politics.  Which is ultimately the goal of Keynesian economics.  Whereas the Austrian school is more about economics.

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Stocks and Bonds

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 9th, 2012

Economics 101

When Companies grow their Capital Requirements grow beyond a Bank’s Lending Ability

We note a civilization as being modern when it has vigorous economic activity.  Advanced economies around the world all have the same things.  Grocery stores.  Clothing stores.  Electronic stores.  Appliance stores.  Coffee shops and restaurants.  Factories and manufacturing plants.  And lots and lots of jobs.  Where people are trading their human capital for a paycheck.  So they can take their earnings and engage in economic activity at these stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

To buy things off of shelves in these stores things have to be on those shelves first.  Which means selling things requires spending money before you earn money.  Businesses use trade credit.  Such as accounts payable.  Where a supplier will give them supplies and send them an invoice typically payable in 30-90 days.  They will establish a credit line at their bank.  Where they will borrow from when they need cash.  And will repay as they collect cash (such as when their customers pay their accounts payable).  And take out loans to finance specific things such as a delivery van or restaurant equipment.

Businesses depend on their bank for most of their credit needs.  But when companies grow so do their capital requirements.  Where capital is large amounts of money pooled together to purchase property, buildings, machinery, etc.  Amounts so great that it exceeds a bank’s ability to loan.  So these businesses have to turn to other types of financing.  To the equity and debt markets.

Investors Invest in Corporations by Buying their Stocks and Bonds

Equity and debt markets mean stocks and bonds.  Where we use stocks for equity financing.  And bonds for debt financing.  Stocks and bonds allow a corporation to spread their large financing needs over numerous people.  Investors.  Who invest in corporations by buying their stocks and bonds.

When a business ‘goes public’ they are selling stock in their company for the first time.  We call this the initial public offering (IPO).  If the company has a very promising future this will bring in a windfall of capital.  As investors are anxious to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing.  To be a part of the next Microsoft.  Or Apple.  This is when a lot of entrepreneurs get rich.  When they are in fact the next big thing.  And if they are, then people who bought stock in their IPO can sell it on the secondary market.  Where investors trade stocks with other investors.  By buying low and selling high.  Hopefully.  If they do they get rich.  Because the greater a company’s profits the greater its value and the higher its stock price.  And when a company takes off they can sell their stock at a much higher price than they paid for it in the IPO.

When a corporation needs to borrow more than their bank can loan and doesn’t want to issue new stock they can sell bonds.  Which breaks up a very large amount into smaller amounts that investors can buy.  Typically each individual corporate bond has a face value of $1000.  (So a ten million dollar ‘loan’ would consist of selling ten thousand $1,000 bonds).  Like a loan a corporation pays interest on their bonds.  But not to a bank.  They pay interest to the investors who purchased their bonds.  Who can hold the bonds to maturity and collect interest.  Or they can trade them like stock shares.  (Changes in the interest rates and/or corporate financial strength can change the market value of these bonds.)  When a bond reaches maturity (say in 20 years) the company redeems their bonds from the current bondholders.  Hopefully with the new profits the bond issue helped to bring into the corporation.  Or they just issue new bonds to raise the money to redeem the older bonds.

A Company Usually has a Mix of Equity and Debt Financing that Balances all the Pros and Cons of Each

There are pros and cons to both equity and debt financing.  Selling stock transfers ownership of the company.  Sell enough so that someone can own more than 50% and that someone can replace the board of directors.  Who in turn can replace the CEO and the other corporate officers.  Even the business founder.  This is the big drawback of going public.  Founders can lose control of their company.

Stocks don’t pay interest.  So they are less threatening during bad economic times.  As business owners, stock shareholders are there for the long haul.  During the good times they may expect to collect dividends (like an interest payment).  During bad times they will wait it out while the company suspends dividend payments.  Or, if they lose confidence, they’ll try and sell their stock.  Even at a loss.  To prevent a future greater loss.  Especially if the corporation goes bankrupt.  Because stockholders are last in line during any bankruptcy proceedings.  And usually by the time they pay off creditors there is nothing left for the shareholders.  This is the price for the chance to earn big profits.  The possibility to lose everything they’ve invested.

Bonds are different.  First of all, there is no transfer of ownership.  But there is a contractual obligation to make scheduled interest payments.  And if they fail to make these payments the bondholders can force the company into bankruptcy proceedings.  Where a corporation’s assets can be liquidated to pay their creditors.  Including their bondholders.  Which, of course, often means the end of the corporation.  Or a major restructuring that few in management enjoy.

Stockholders don’t like seeing their share value diluted from issuing too many shares.  Bondholders don’t like to see excessive debt that threatens the corporation’s ability to service their debt.  So a company usually has a mix of equity and debt financing that balances the pros and cons of each.  A financing strategy that has been working for centuries.  That allows the advanced civilized world we take all too much for granted today.  From jetliners.  To smartphones.  To that new car smell.  For none of these would be possible without the capital that only the equity and debt markets can raise.

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