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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FT125: “Welfare states fail because economic systems based on slavery don’t create enough stuff.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 6th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In the Barter System the Only Way to Get Something you Wanted was to create Something of Value Yourself

What’s more important?  Money?  Or stuff?  Stuff, of course.  Because people work to earn money to buy stuff.  They don’t work just for the money.  Because you can’t eat money.  You can’t drink money.  You can’t smoke money.  You can drive money.  You can’t watch or listen to money.  You can’t live in money.  You can’t surf the Internet with money.  No.  The only thing money is good for is buying stuff.  It’s the stuff we buy that makes our lives more enjoyable.  Having money helps.  But it is only a means to an end.  That end being stuff.  And someone has to make that stuff.  For if no one does then all the money in the world is worthless.

Early economies were barter economies.  People traded stuff.  Stuff they created, dug up, grew, manufactured, etc.  Instead of working to earn money to buy stuff they created stuff and traded it for other stuff.  So the only way to get something you wanted was to create something of value yourself.  Money didn’t change this.  Money just made trading with other people more efficient.  By being a temporary storage of wealth.  Because the barter system had a serious flaw.  High search costs. 

It took time to bring two people together to trade their stuff.  If a toolmaker wanted a pottery vase he had to find a potter who wanted a tool the toolmaker made.  This could take awhile.  Hence the high search costs.  Because while these people were seeking each other out they couldn’t make anything else of value.  With money, though, you could accept money in trade.  And then go and trade that money for what you wanted.  This greatly reduced search costs.  Because all you had to do was find the things you wanted.  And trade your temporary storage of wealth (i.e., money) for them.  Allowing them to spend more time creating value.  And less time searching.

The North won the American Civil War because the North practiced Free Market Capitalism while the South Didn’t

Advances in agriculture allowed larger and larger food surpluses.  Which, in turn, allowed more and more people to do something other than farm.  This unleashed human capital.  Allowed people to think about other things.  Create new things.  And improve existing things.  This created a middle class of artisans.  Craftspeople.  The people that created goods and services and brought them to the market place.  Creating the complex economy.  These people became entrepreneurs.  They efficiently used resources and sold things in the market place the people were demanding.  Not out of the goodness of their hearts.  But because they were pursuing profits.

This is free market capitalism.  The economic system that ushered in the modern world.  Free people thinking freely.  Creating.  Bringing their bold new ideas into reality.  Giving us the steam engine.  The railroad.  Machine tools.  Electric power.  The assembly line.  Free market capitalism brought us these things and improved our standard of living.  Because they were free to enter the market place.  And make profits.  Providing a powerful incentive to make the world a better place for everyone else.  Because when they took risks and worked hard to make the world a better place they could get rich in the process.

This is why the North won the American Civil War.  Because the North practiced free market capitalism.  While the South did not.  Their economy was a slave economy.  Instead of an expanding middle class working and contributing to the economy they had an expanding slave population.  That didn’t contribute to the economy.  They worked in the fields.  With all the proceeds from their labors going to a few plantation owners.  Slaves in general didn’t tinker or bring new things to market to enrich their masters.  For they had no incentive to do so.  They did have an incentive to do as they were told and work the fields.  To avoid punishment.  And they had no wages to spend in the market.  So there was less demand for manufactured goods in the South (in some states of the Deep South slaves made up to a third to half of the population).  So there was less manufacturing in the South.  Far less.  This is why the North exploded in manufacturing.  Entrepreneurs could bring things to market.  And the manufacturing workers earned wages they could use to buy those things.  As well as mass-produce the implements of war.  Unlike they could in the South.  Because of the economic superiority of the North it was just a matter of time before the South was overwhelmed.  And lost. 

When the Roman Empire turned into a Welfare State they had to Force People to Make Stuff Against their Will

Governments can print money.  They can tax people.  They can borrow money.  But the one thing they can’t do is create stuff.  If they could create stuff (i.e., economic activity) simply by printing money then the South would have matched the North in economic output.  But they did not.  Which is why they ultimately lost the war.  Because they could print Confederate dollars.  But that didn’t make muskets, bullets, canon, shoes, food, ships, steam locomotives or railroad track.  Creative people had to make these things first before the Confederate government could procure them.  Which is why the government didn’t procure them.  Because no one made them.

This is why governments just can’t print money and give it to the people.  They could.  But it would be pointless.  Let’s say they gave everyone $100,000 a year.  So no one would ever have to work again.  A lot of people would vote for the politician that promised that.  Of course if no one works who will create all the stuff to buy with that $100,000?  Having money is one thing.  But if there is nothing to buy with it then that money is worthless.

This is why the welfare state will ultimately fail.  As more people collect welfare benefits instead of creating stuff there will be less stuff to buy.  When supply shrinks while demand increases prices rise.  Higher prices that everyone has to pay.  People who create.  And people who don’t.  So they will raise taxes on those who work to pay for the benefits for those who don’t.  So those who don’t work can afford the higher prices, too.  Higher taxes are a great disincentive to create.  Or to become an entrepreneur.  Some may just choose the easier path.  Stop creating.  And start collecting that government money, too.  Further reducing supply and increasing demand.  Raising prices further.  Reducing overall economic activity.  And reducing the standard of living.

This happened in the Roman Empire as they kept raising taxes and debasing their coin to pay for their excessive government spending.  It got so bad that people quit their jobs because they couldn’t make any money.  Creating great shortages of goods.  And food.  So the Romans passed laws forbidding people from leaving their jobs.  Even tied people and their descendants to the land they farmed.  Which grew into European feudalism.  And Russian serfdom.  Economic systems little better than the slavery of the Deep South.  Which stunted innovation.  Lowered the standard of living.  And led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  But it was the only way the Romans could get the stuff they needed.  By forcing people to make it against their will.  Which is what they had to do when the Roman Empire turned into a welfare state.  And the creators quit creating.

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Mercantilism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2012

Economics 101

Wealth is the Stuff we use our Talent and Ability to Make

Mercantilism gave us the United States.  For it was because of these policies that the British established colonies in North America.  And it was those same policies that led to American Independence.  Because those polices pissed off the Americans. 

The mercantile system came into being as nation states arose from feudal estates.  Kings arose and consolidated these estates into larger kingdoms.  Then one king arose to consolidate the kingdoms into a nation.  Creating Spain, France, the Netherlands, England, etc.  Enlightened thinking and better technology created food surpluses.  With food surpluses a middle class of artisans arose.  And manufactured goods.  People met in markets to trade their food and goods.   These markets grew into cities.  All of this economic activity created wealth.  Food.  And manufactured goods.  That we bought with money.  Often silver and gold. 

There was wealth.  And there was money.  Two different things.  Wealth is the stuff we use our talent and ability to make.  Food and manufactured goods, for example.  And the more food and manufactured goods a nation has the wealthier that nation is.  This is a critical point.  And the mercantile policies ultimately failed because those policies mistook money for wealth.  But money is not wealth.  It’s a temporary storage of wealth.  To make our trading of food and manufactured goods easier.  By reducing the search costs to find people to trade with.  Which is why the barter system failed in a complex economy.  It just took too long to find people to trade with.  Money solved that problem.  Because you could trade what you had for money.  Then trade your money for what you wanted.

England used the Positive Flow of Bullion to Finance the Building of the Royal Navy

Mercantilism focused on the money.  And used wealth to accumulate it.  Instead of the other way around.  The way most advanced nations do today.  These European nations accumulated money with international trade.  Beginning in the 15th century they started looking at the balance of trade between nations.  And did everything they could to maintain a positive balance of trade.  Meaning they tried to export more than they imported.  Why?  Well, nations often did trade with each other.  So they owed each other money.  And when you settled your account if other nations owed you more than you owed them there was a net flow of money to you.  Bullion.  Silver and gold.  Which is what they wanted.

To maintain a positive balance of trade the government actively intervened into the economy.  It set up monopolies.  It provided subsidies for manufacturers who exported their goods for bullion.  It placed tariffs on imports.  Or simply blocked the importation of any goods that they produced domestically.  They set up colonies to harvest raw materials to ship back to the mother country.  Which would use those raw materials in their factories to produced higher valued finished goods.  That they would export.  Especially to their colonies.  Which were convenient captive markets for their finished goods.  On the mother country’s ships.  Through the mother country’s ports.  Where they, of course taxed it.  Guaranteeing that at every step of the way they added to the positive bullion flow back to the mother country.

And it worked.  To a certain extent.  England used that positive flow of bullion to finance the building of the Royal Navy.  Which proved invaluable in the wars that followed in the mercantile world.  For mercantilism is a zero-sum game.  For every winner there had to be a loser.  Which is why this era was an era of world war.  To wrest control of those colonies.  And those sea lanes.  Great Britain came out the victor.  Thanks to their Royal Navy.  But it wasn’t all good.  For Spain found gold in the New World.  And they took it.  Shipped it back to the Old World.  Just like a good mercantilist would.  Which caused problems in the Old World.  Because money is not wealth.  It’s a temporary storage of wealth.  And when they inflated their money supply it took more of it to hold the same amount of value it once did.  Because there was so much of it in circulation.  And what happens during inflation?  Prices rise.  Because the money is worth less it takes more of it to buy the same things as it did before.  So by hording bullion to create wealth they actually destroyed wealth.  With wealth-destroying inflation.

With the Boston Tea Party the Americans Renounced Mercantilism and Demanded Free Trade

Spain was one of the greatest mercantile nations of the era.  But they quickly became a shadow of their former self.  Even though they had more bullion than their European neighbors.  For it turned out that those mercantile policies hindered economic growth.  Which is the true source of wealth.  Economic growth.  Where people use their talent and ability to create things.  That’s where the true value lay.  Not the money that held that value temporarily.  All those mercantilist policies did was raise domestic prices.  And allocated scarce resources poorly. 

It turned out free trade was the secret to wealth.  For free trade can increase wealth.  For both nations.  Thanks to something we call comparative advantage.  Instead of both nations manufacturing all of their goods they should only manufacture those goods that they can manufacture best.  And trade for the goods they can’t manufacture best.  This more efficiently allocates those scarce resources.  And produces a greater total amount of wealth.  By allowing people to buy lower cost imports they have more money left over to buy other stuff.  Increasing the overall amount of economic activity.  Which is why when Great Britain adopted free trade in the 19th century the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  And led the Industrial Revolution.  By creating wealth.  Goods and services people created with their talent and ability.  That changed the world.  And ushered in the modern era.  Something no amount of bullion could do.

But before Britain adopted free trade they were struggling with one of their belligerent colonies.  Their British American colonies.  Who were unhappy over taxation without representation in Parliament.  And the mother country forcing them to buy only British tea shipped on British ships at higher prices than they could get from the Dutch.  The British thought they found a solution to their problem.  By permitting their British East India Company monopoly to ship their tea directly to America without passing through an English port.  The tea was cheaper because of this.  But it also would set a precedent for taxation without representation.  Something the Americans weren’t about to accept.  So they threw that tea into Boston Harbor.  What we affectionately call the Boston Tea Party.  Renouncing mercantilism.  And demanding the right to engage in free trade.  Which they got after winning their independence.  And the mother country would follow suit in a few decades.  Because they, too, would learn that free trade was better than mercantilism.

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Price Inflation has led to Wage Inflation in the Eastern Manufacturing Cities in China

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 25th, 2011

Week in Review

Inflation has arrived in China.  Wages are going up.  Increasing the cost of their manufactured goods.  And the cost of living (see China province raises minimum wage by 23% posted 12/22/2011 on the BBC).

Sichuan province in southwest China has increased the minimum wage sharply to try and attract workers amid a rapidly rising cost of living.

Sichuan raised the minimum monthly wage by 23.4% starting on 1 January, state news agency Xinhua said on Thursday…

Severe labour shortages in Chinese cities have prompted wage rises in many provinces this year and last.

An example of the role prices play in supply and demand.  Life is good in the Eastern manufacturing cities.  So good that there is a lot of economic activity.  And prices are rising to allocate scarce resources that have alternative uses.  Even labor.  But inflation isn’t always good.  Higher prices eventually will lower sales as people can’t afford to buy as much as they once did.  And those cheap exports become not so cheap.  Which means those factories eventually will cut back on production.  As a recession settles in to readjust those prices.

Rising wages have prompted analysts to predict that China, previously known for its low cost of labour, could lose its edge as a manufacturing hub.

Manufacturers could look to countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and Cambodia where wages are still low.

However, Chinese authorities have been trying to boost domestic consumption and be less export dependent, and a rise in wages will encourage spending.

Before China it was Mexico.  Remember that great sucking sound as all those American jobs went to Mexico?  Mexico was chopping in high cotton for awhile.  Until they heard that great sucking sound as their jobs went to China.  And now China may hear it next.  As some of their jobs go to Vietnam, Bangladesh and Cambodia.  Who will lament one day the loss of their jobs to some other low-wage country.

This is economics.  And consumerism.  Consumers are always looking to get the most value for their money.  So manufacturers are always trying to undercut the competition to give these consumers what they want.  Good for consumers.  But not good for countries whose poor get a taste of the good life.  And don’t want to be poor anymore.  Thus raising the cost of production.  And eliminating their low-cost advantage.  At least for their export markets.

Eventually all emerging economies will be emerging no more.  And the low-cost advantage will not be attained the easy way.  With cheap labor.  For these once emerging economies will go to the next step in their economic development.  Capital investment in plant and equipment.  To lower their cost of production through economies of sales.  By doing more with less people.  With people leaving the low-skill assembly jobs in massive factories.  And instead design, build, run and maintain the equipment that replaces them at their old jobs.

Socialists and communists (as well as Big Labor) say this is a bad thing.  Replacing people with machines.  Even though they help to relieve chronic labor shortages that labor just can’t meet.  Lowering the cost of living for everyone.  And increasing the standard of living for everyone.  It’s happened everywhere through history.  And it now appears to be happening in China.  Which should ultimately be a good thing for the Chinese.  Especially for the masses who don’t live and work in the Eastern manufacturing cities.

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