Inventory to Sales Ratio and Labor Force Participation Rate (1992-2013)

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 12th, 2013

History 101

Just-in-Time Delivery lowers Inventory Costs but risks Manufacturing Interruptions

Carrying a large inventory is costly.  And risky.  First of all you have to warehouse it.  In a secured heated (and sometimes cooled) building.  With a fire alarm system.  A fire suppression (i.e., sprinkler) system.  A security alarm system.  You need lighting.  And people.  Safety training.  Safety equipment.  Forklifts.  Loading docks.  Delivery trucks.  Insurances.  Property taxes (real and personal).  Utilities.  Telephone and Internet.  A computer inventory system.  Etc.  It adds up.  And the larger the inventory the larger the cost.

Then there are the risks.  Fire damage.  Theft.  Water damage (say from a fire suppression line that freezes during the winter because some kid broke a window to let freezing air in that froze the water inside the sprinkler line with the expanding ice breaking the pipe and allowing water to flow out of the pipe onto your inventory).  Shrinkage (things that disappear but weren’t sold).  Damaged goods (say a forklift operator accidentally backed into a shelve full of plasma displays).  Shifts in consumer demand (what was once hot may not be hot anymore which is a costly problem when you have a warehouse full of that stuff).  Etc.  And the larger the inventory the greater the risks.

In the latter half of the 20th century a new term entered the business lexicon.  Just-in-time delivery.  Or JIT for short.  Instead of warehousing material needed for manufacturing manufacturers turned to JIT.  And tight schedules.  They bought what they needed as they needed it.  Having it arrive just as it was needed in the manufacturing process.  JIT greatly cut costs.  But it allowed any interruption in those just-in-time deliveries shut down manufacturing.  As there was no inventory to feed manufacturing if a delivery did not arrive just in time.

A Rising Inventory to Sales Ratio means Inventory is Growing Larger or Sales are Falling

There are many financial ratios we use to judge how well a business is performing.  One of them is the inventory to sales ratio.  Which is the inventory on hand divided by the sales that inventory generated.  If this number equals ‘1’ then the inventory on hand for a given period is sold before that period is up.  Which would be very efficient inventory management.  Unless a lot of sales were lost because some things were out of stock because so few of them were in inventory.

Ideally managers would like this number to be ‘1’.  For that would have the lowest cost of carrying inventory.  If you sold one item 4 times a month you could add one to inventory each week to replace the one sold that week.  That would be very efficient.  Unless four people want to buy this item in the same week.  Which means instead of selling 4 of these items you will probably only sell one.  For the other three people may just go to a different store that does have it in stock.  So it is a judgment call.  You have to carry more than you may sell because people don’t come in at evenly spaced intervals to buy things.

We can look at the inventory to sales ratio for the general economy over time to note trends.  A falling ratio is generally good.  For it shows inventories growing as a lesser rate than sales.  Meaning that businesses are getting more sales out of reduced inventory levels.  Which means more profits.  A flat trend could mean that businesses are operating at peak efficiency.  Or they are treading water due to uncertainty in the business climate. Doing the minimum to meet their current demand.  But not growing because there is too much uncertainty in the air.  A rising ratio is not good.  For the only way for that to happen is if inventory is growing larger.  Sales are falling.  Or both.

The Labor Force Participation Rate has been in a Freefall since President Obama took Office

When inventories start rising it is typically because sales are falling.  Businesses are making their usually buys to restock inventory.  Only people aren’t buying as much as they once were.  So with people buying less sales fall and inventories grow.  Rising inventories are often an indicator of a recession.  As unemployment rises there are fewer people going to stores to buy things.  So sales fall.  After a period or two of this when businesses see that falling sales was not just an aberration for one period but a sign of worse economic times to come they cut back their buying.  Draw down their inventories.  And lay off some workers to adjust for the weaker demand.  As they do their suppliers see a fall in their sales and do likewise.  All the way up the stages of production to raw material extraction. 

Retailers typically carry larger inventories than wholesalers or manufacturers.  To try and accommodate their diverse customer base.  So when their sales fall and their inventories rise they are left with bulging inventories that are costly to store in a warehouse.  They may start cutting prices to move this inventory.  Or pray for some government help.  Such as low interest rates to get people to buy things even when it may not be in their best interest (for people tend to get laid off in a recession and having a new car payment while unemployed takes a lot of joy out of having a new car).  Or a government stimulus program.  Make-work for the unemployed.  Or even cash benefits the unemployed can spend.  Which will provide a surge in economic activity at the consumer level as retailers and wholesalers unload backed up inventory.  But it rarely creates any new jobs.  Because government stimulus eventually runs out.  And once it does the people will leave the stores again.  So retailers may benefit and to a certain degree wholesalers as they can clear out their inventories.  But manufacturers and raw material extractors adjust to the new reality.  As retail sales fall retailers and wholesalers will need less inventory.  Which means manufacturers and raw material extractors ramp down to adjust to the lower demand.  Cutting their costs so their reduced revenue can cover them.  Which means laying off workers.  We can see this when we look at inventory to sales ratio and the labor force participation rate over time.

(There appears to be a problem with the latest version of this blogging software that is preventing the insertion of this chart into this post.  Please click on this link to see the chart.)

(Sources: Inventories/Sales Ratio, Archived News Releases

Cheap money gave us irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  And a recession in the early 2000s.   Note that the trend during the Nineties was a falling inventory to sales ratio as advanced computer inventory systems tied in over the Internet took inventory management to new heights.  But as the dot-com irrational exuberance came to a head we had a huge dot-com economy that had yet to start selling anything.  As their start-up capital ran out the dot-coms began to go belly-up.  And all those programmers who flooded our colleges in the Nineties to get their computer degrees lost their high paying jobs.  Stock prices fell out of the sky as companies went bankrupt.  Resulting in a bad recession.  The fall in spending can be seen in the uptick in the inventory to sales ratio.  This fall in spending (and rise in inventories) led to a lot of people losing their jobs.  As we can see in the falling labor force participation rate.  The ensuing recession was compounded by the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Things eventually stabilized but there was more irrational exuberance in the air.  Thanks to a housing policy that put people into houses they couldn’t afford with subprime mortgages.  Which lenders did under threat from the Clinton administration (see Bill Clinton created the Subprime Mortgage Crisis with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending posted 11/6/2011 on Pithocrates).  Note the huge spike in the inventory to sales ratio.  And the free-fall of the labor force participation rate.  Which hasn’t stopped falling since President Obama took office.  Even though the inventory to sales ratio returned to pre-Great Recession levels.  But there is so much uncertainty in the economic outlook that no one is hiring.  They’re just shedding jobs.  Making the Obama economic recovery the worst since that following the Great Depression.

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October 2013 Employment Situation Summary

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 11th, 2013

Economics 101

Although there were 204,000 New Jobs in October 720,000 Workers left the Labor Force

The worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression continues (see Employment Situation Summary by the Bureau of Labor Statistics posted 11/8/2013).

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 204,000 in October, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today…

Both the number of unemployed persons, at 11.3 million, and the unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, changed little in October…

The civilian labor force was down by 720,000 in October.

If the Obama administration was an employment agency that found people jobs someone would have fired the management team by now with numbers like this.  204,000 new jobs for 11.3 million unemployed people is a success rate of 1.81%.  Worse, although there were 204,000 new jobs 720,000 workers left the labor force.  Which means that for every new job we lost 3.5 existing jobs.  So for one step forward in fixing the economy the administration takes 3.5 steps backwards.  Which means we’re moving in the wrong direction with the economy.

After a near-trillion dollar stimulus bill and quantitative easing up the wazoo what do we have to show for it?  Not a whole hell of a lot.  Other than more debt.  And inflationary pressures just waiting to be unleashed.  Taking us back to the stagflation and misery of the Seventies.  The heyday of Keynesian economics.

Solid Economic Growth starts at Raw Material Extraction

Before John Maynard Keynes gave us Keynesian economics the economy hummed along based on classical economic principles.  Including, but not limited to, thrift.  Savings.  Investment.  A sound banking system.  And a strong currency.  People saved their money.  Banks accumulated their savings into investment capital.  Banks made this capital available to investors.  And interest rates were determined by our savings rate.  The more we saved (i.e., the more thrifty we were) the lower interest rates were.  These are the economic principles that made the United States the number one economy in the world.

Another key concept of classical economics is the stages of production.  From the extraction of raw materials to manufacturing to wholesale goods to retail goods.  In a healthy economy there is growth at all stages.  And solid economic growth starts at raw material extraction.  For this feeds manufacturing.  Which feeds wholesale goods.  Which feeds retail goods.  Where consumers spend their money.  The fatal flaw of Keynesian economics is that it focuses only on consumer spending.  Not at these higher-order stages of production.  And when Keynesians try to end a recession while ignoring them they fail.  And get job numbers like these.

Employment in retail trade increased by 44,000 in October, compared with an average monthly gain of 31,000 over the prior 12 months…

Manufacturing added 19,000 jobs in October, with job growth occurring in motor vehicles and parts (+6,000), wood products (+3,000), and furniture and related products (+3,000). On net, manufacturing employment has changed little since February 2013…

In October, employment showed little or no change elsewhere in the private sector, including mining and logging, construction, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities.

This is not the picture of an improving economy.  Consumers are spending money.  Thanks to low interest rates and a record amount of government benefits.  But the economic activity is greatest at the consumer level.  As evidenced by the largest increase in jobs at the retail level.  There are fewer job gains at manufacturing.  And even less at the whole sale level and raw material extraction.  Meaning the new economic activity is greatest at the consumer level.  Because of cheap (and free) money.  But there are no new jobs at the highest stage of production.  Raw material extraction.  Because they see no real economic recovery.  Only Keynesian ‘hot’ money that will cause a surge in consumer spending.  And a surge in inflation.  Leading to a continued sluggish economic recovery.  Or a fall back into recession.  And the last thing they want should that happen is higher costs.  Or more debt.  So they don’t spend more or invest during periods of Keynesian stimulus.

President Obama’s Greatest Supporters are suffering some of the Greatest Unemployment

The October 2013 Employment Situation Summary paints a grim economic picture.  People continue to leave the labor force.  And the government’s efforts to stimulate economic activity isn’t stimulating anything above the consumer level.  As the higher stages of production fear the coming inflation.  And possible recession.  This after 5 years of President Obama’s Keynesian economic policies.  Further proving the futility of Keynesian economics.  And the failure of the Obama administration.  Whose policies have stalled new hiring.  And pushed people from full-time to part-time.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed at 8.1 million in October. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

Those individuals who had their hours cut or can’t find a full-time job are in large part due to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Which is not only destroying any economic recovery.  But the Affordable Care Act is also making health insurance unaffordable.  Which will make these economic numbers worse as the carnage spreads to employer-provided health insurance.  As people will have to both pay for health insurance AND pay for all of their health care out-of-pocket thanks to those high deductibles.  Which won’t help the unemployment numbers.  For as consumer spending falls so does hiring.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.0 percent), adult women (6.4 percent), teenagers (22.2 percent), whites (6.3 percent), blacks (13.1 percent), and Hispanics (9.1 percent) showed little or no change in October. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.2 percent.

It is interesting, or rather ironic, that the president’s greatest supporters are suffering some of the greatest unemployment.  Teenagers.  Blacks.  And Hispanics.  Who seem to never lose their faith.  No matter how much President Obama’s policies favor old white men and women.  And Asians.  It’s not for the lack of spending, either.  For the Obama administration has spent more domestically than any other president.  But it is only his rich Wall Street cronies who are doing well.  And other rich people.  Not the rank and file Obama supporters.  Yet they remain Obama supporters.  So far, at least.  These continual bad job numbers AND the unaffordable Affordable Care Act may change things.  Especially when these continue to fall disproportionally on teenagers, blacks and Hispanics. 

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Housing Boom, Bubble and Bust

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2013

Economics 101

Building and Furnishing Houses creates Great Economic Activity

Central to any booming economy are healthy home sales.  For home sales unleash great economic activity.  From the first surveys of a new subdivision.  To the new sewers and water systems.  Gas and telephone.  Cable television and broadband Internet.  Concrete for basements, driveways and sidewalks.  Structural steel (that beam in the basement and steel poles holding up the house).  Rough carpentry.  Electrical work and plumbing.  Drywall, windows and roofing.  Painting, flooring, doors and hardware.  Heating and air conditioning.  Lighting and plumbing fixtures.  Brick, siding and landscaping.  Etc.

All of this takes manufacturing to make these construction products.  All these manufacturers need raw materials.  And raw material extraction needs heavy equipment and energy.  At all of these stages of production are jobs.  Extracting raw materials.  Processing raw materials.  Manufacturing products out of these raw materials.  Building this production equipment.  Interconnecting these stages of production is every form of transportation.  Rail, Great Lake freighter, river barge and truck.  Requiring even more jobs to build locomotives, rolling stock, ships and trucks.  And jobs to operate and maintain them.  And build their infrastructure.  Filling all of these jobs are people.  Earning a paycheck that will let them buy a house one day.

Then even more economic activity follows.  As people buy these homes and furnish them.  Washers and dryers.  Refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, food processors and coffee makers.  Furniture and beds.  Light fixtures and ceiling fans.  Rugs, carpeting and vacuum cleaners.  Telephones, televisions, music systems, modems and computers.  Curtains, drapes, blinds and shades.  Shower curtains, bath mats, towels and clothes hampers.  Mops, buckets, cleaning supplies and waste baskets.  Lawnmowers, fertilizers, hoses and sprinklers.  Snow shovels and snow blowers.  Cribs, highchairs, diapers and baby food.  Etc.  All of these require manufacturers.  And all of these manufacturers require raw materials.  As well as transportation to move material and product between the stages of production.  And to our wholesalers and retailers.  More jobs.  More people earning a paycheck.  Who will one day buy their own home.  And create even more economic activity.

Bill Clinton pressured Lenders to Lower their Requirements and Subprime Lending took Off

This is why governments love housing.  And try to do everything within their power to increase home ownership.  Which is why they changed the path to home ownership.  After World War II when the building of subdivisions took off there was the 3-6-3 savings and loan.  Where savings and loan paid 3% interest on savings accounts.  Loaned money to home buyers at 6%.  And were on the golf course by 3 PM.  And the mortgage was the 30-year conventional mortgage with a 20% down payment.

The conventional mortgage was the mortgage of our parents.  Who had no problem putting off their wants to save money for that 20% down payment.  They prioritized.  And planned for the future.  But the conventional mortgage has an obvious drawback.  It limits home ownership to those who can save up a 20% down payment.  Pushing home ownership further out for some.  Or just taking that option away from a large percentage of the population.  So the government stepped in.  To help those who couldn’t save 20% of the house’s price.

Mortgage Qualification Decreasing Down Payment

As we lowered the down payment amount it allowed lower-income people the opportunity of home ownership.  But it didn’t get them a lot of house.  That is, those who could afford a 20% down payment could buy more house for the same monthly payment than those who couldn’t afford it.  And a house in a better neighborhood.  Which some said was unfair.  Some in government even called it discriminatory.  As Bill Clinton did.  Who pressured lenders to lower their lending requirements to qualify the unqualified.  His Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending helped to fix that alleged problem.  And kicked off subprime lending in earnest.  Leading to the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

Conventional Wisdom was to Pay the Most you could Possibly Afford when Buying a House

But lowering the down payment wasn’t enough.  Even eliminating it all together.  The people needed something else to help them into home ownership. And to generate all of that economic activity.  And this was something the government could fix, too.  By printing a lot of money.  So banks had a lot of it to lend.  Thus keeping interest rates artificially low.  And we can see the effect this had on home ownership combined with a zero down payment.  It allowed people to buy more house for the same given monthly payment.  Even more than those buying with the 3-6-3 conventional mortgage.

Mortgage Qualification Decreasing Mortgage Rate

Falling interest rates bring in a lot more people into the housing market.  Which is good for sellers.  And good for the economy.  A lot more people than just those who could afford a 20% down payment can now buy your house.  As people bid against each other to buy your house they bid up your price.  Raising home prices everywhere.  Increasing the demand for new housing.  Which builders responded to.  Creating a housing boom.  As builders flood the market with more houses.  At higher prices.  That new homeowners move into.  And max out their credit cards to furnish.  Creating a lot of debt people are servicing at these artificially low interest rates.  But then the economy begins to overheat.  And other prices begin to rise.  Leaving people with less disposable income.  The housing boom turns into a housing bubble.  House prices are overvalued.  Those artificially low interest rates created a lot of artificial demand.  Bringing people into the market who weren’t planning on buying a house.  But decided to buy only to take advantage of those low interest rates.

Conventional wisdom was to pay the most you could possibly afford when buying a house.  For all houses gained value.  You may struggle in the beginning and have to make some sacrifices.  Say cut out steak night each week.  But in time you will earn more money.  That house payment will become more affordable.  And your house will become more valuable.  Which will let you sell it for more at a later date letting you buy an even bigger house in an even nicer neighborhood.  But when it’s cheap interest rates driving all of this activity there is another problem.  For printing money creates inflation.  And inflation raises prices.  Gasoline is more expensive.  Groceries are more expensive.  As prices rise households have less disposable income.  And have to cut out things like vacations.  And any discretionary spending on things they like but don’t need.  Which destroys a lot of economic activity.  The very thing the government was trying to create more of by printing money.  So there is a limit to the good economic times you create by printing money.  And when the bad consequences of printing money start filtering through the rest of economy the government has no choice but to contract the money supply to limit the economic damage.  And steer the economy into what they call a soft landing.  Which means a recession that isn’t that painful or long.

The Price of Artificially Low Interest Rates is Inflationary Booms, Bubbles and Great Recessions

As interest rates rise home buying falls.  Leaving a lot of newly built homes unsold on the market.  And that housing bubble bursts.  Causing home values to fall back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving a lot of people owing more on their mortgage than their houses are now worth.  What we call being ‘underwater’.  And as interest rates rise so do the APRs on their credit cards.  As well as their monthly payments.  And those people who paid the most they could possible afford for a house with an adjustable rate mortgage saw their mortgage interest rates rise.  As well as their monthly payment.  By a lot.  So much that these people could no longer afford to pay their mortgage payment anymore.  As a half-point increase could raise a mortgage payment by about $50.  A full-point could raise it close to $100.  And so on.

Increasing Monthly Payment dur to Increasing Mortgage Rate

With the fall in economic activity unemployment rises.  So a lot of people who have crushing credit card debt and a house payment they can no longer afford lost their job as well.  Causing a rash of mortgage foreclosures.  And the subprime mortgage crisis.  As well as a great many personal bankruptcies.  Causing the banking system to struggle under the weight of all this bad debt.  Add all of this together and you get the Great Recession.

This is the price of artificially low interest rates.  You get inflationary booms.  And bubbles.  That burst into recessions.  That are often deep and long.  Something that didn’t happen during the days of 3-6-3 mortgage lending.  And the primary reason for that was that the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  Which prevented the government from printing money at will.  The inflationary booms and busts that come with printing money.  And Great Recessions.

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Stages of Production

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2012

Economics 101

People used their Human Capital to Transform Raw Materials into Something Valuable

As we unleashed our human capital civilization advanced.  Our food needs taken care of thanks to advances in agriculture we used our new free time to think.  To think about transforming the world around us.  By exploring our world.  And the stuff that made it.  Great civilizations rose and fell throughout history.  But the ones that really advanced the world were those in northern Europe.  The people who conquered the oceans.  The Portuguese.  The Spanish.  The Dutch.  The French.  And the British.

As these great European powers set out to explore the world they established colonies in faraway lands.  To gather the raw materials available.  And to ship them back to their mother countries.  Where their advanced civilizations would transform those raw materials into higher value finished goods.  And then export them throughout the world.  Including their colonies.  This was mercantilism.  Establish colonies.  Ship raw materials to the mother country.  Export finished goods.  And Import bullion accepted in payment for those finished goods.

It’s not a good economic system.  Mercantilism.  But it did create the United States.  Which started out as a British colony.  But as a colony of a mercantilist country the Americans had to follow the rules of the mother country.  First of all they had to understand their place.  And purpose.  They were subordinate to the mother country.  And their only purpose was to procure raw materials and ship them to the mother country.  They couldn’t open trade with other countries.  Everything that left the colonies had to go on a British ship to a British port.  Where British manufacturers would transform those raw materials into finished goods for export.  The British did this because finished goods were more valuable than raw goods.  And sold for much higher prices than the raw materials sold for.  So Britain did the manufacturing.  While their colonies fed their manufacturers with raw material.

The Stages of Production is the Economic Activity that happens to bring Finished Goods to Market

The British eventually abandoned mercantilism and adopted free market capitalism and free trade.  And the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  This after losing the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, losing about half of their empire.  So free market capitalism is clearly superior to mercantilism.  But for a couple of centuries mercantilism built empires.  And provided an excellent example of the stages of production.

Raw materials mean little to consumers.  What we like are the things that people with human capital transform them into.  The things we go to the store to buy.  Such as a smartphone, for example.  Whenever a new model comes out we flock to our favorite retail store to buy it.  The retail store has it to sell because they bought a shipment from their wholesaler.  The wholesaler had it to sell because they bought it from the assembly plants that assembled them.  The assembly plants could build them because they bought the components (displays, hard cases, antennas, keys, circuit boards, etc.) from various manufacturers.  And the various manufactures bought raw materials from those who extracted them from the ground.  Interconnecting all of these is ship, rail and truck transportation.  Even planes.  Not to mention an extensive cellular network to make these smartphones work.  As well as all the software applications they run.  Adding value at every stage along the way.

There is much economic activity that happens to bring that smartphone to your favorite retail store.  Throughout these stages of production.  Note how everything else has to happen before you buy that smartphone.  Going all the way back to the extraction of raw materials from the ground.  All of these stages have to happen before you buy that phone.  So the payment for the phone follows much later than all of these other stages.  Introducing a very important element in the stages of production.  Time.  It takes time to bring things to market.  And because it takes time it also takes money.  Everyone working from raw material extraction to the salesperson selling you the phone earns an income.  And their employers pay them before you buy your phone.  Some a lot earlier than others.  Also, all of these people either work in a building.  Or in the field with equipment.  Things that others have to build first before we can even begin our raw material extraction.  Requiring an enormous capital investment before anyone earns a dime of revenue on the sale of a smartphone.

The British Empire went on to Rule the World for a Century or More because they let the Market Manage their Economy

To bring a smartphone to a retailer near you requires people to risk their money by investing in something that may earn a profit.  Investors.  And bankers.  As people saved their money they created large pools of capital for businesses to borrow.  Venture capitalists bankrolled promising entrepreneurs.  And the big corporations turned to the equity and bond markets to raise their capital.  Individuals worked hard and saved money to put in their savings account.  Or to buy stocks and bonds.  Because they did there was money to borrow.  Or to invest.  And because there was money to borrow and invest the stages of production could begin.

In the days of mercantilism the government controlled much of this.  Even providing some of that early capital.  But as the economy grew more complex it was too complex for government to manage.  Which is why the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or more.  Because they let the market manage their economy.  A myriad of people in the market place pursuing their own interests.  Pursuing profits.  Which is why free market capitalism works.  For no one person could know enough to manage all of the stages of productions to bring a smartphone to market.  And the beautiful thing is in free market capitalism no one person has to.  For when people throughout the stages of production pursue profits smartphones arrive at a retailer near you.  At reasonable prices to boot.

So the next time you pick up a smartphone at a retailer think of everything it took to bring it to your hands.  And everything it takes to operate it as you wish.  Hundreds of thousands of people pursuing profits.  Most of which have no idea what they’re doing will allow you to hold a smartphone at your favorite retailer.  Because in the stages of production everyone does their part.  Without any consideration of what their part is in the big picture.  Which is why it works so well.  Thanks to people thinking.  And unleashing their human capital to create great things throughout the stages of production.

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