Product Pricing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2012

Economics 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clinton Tax Rates, Japan’s Lost Decade, Irrational Exuberance, Dot-Com Bubble, EBT and Job-Creating Capital

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 14th, 2012

History 101

The Economy of the Nineties boomed because of Japan’s Lost Decade and Irrational Exuberance

President Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy.  He wants to go back to the Clinton tax rates.  The economy was booming during the Clinton Nineties.  Better than it is now.  Tax rates were higher in the Nineties than they are now.  While the deficit is greater now than it was in the Nineties.  And the debt is greater than it was in the Nineties.  The conclusion?  Higher tax rates improve economic activity.  Produce smaller deficits.  And grow the debt at a slower rate.  At least, that’s what those who want to raise tax rates say.  The only problem with this is that there are reasons why the economy was booming in the Nineties.  And it didn’t have to do with tax rates.  But, instead, the Japanese.  And irrational exuberance.

The Japanese government partnered with business in the Eighties.  Corporations worked closely together for the good of the export economy.  And the national economy.  This was Japan Inc.  And the economy surged.  Fueled by low interest rates.  People in America worried about the Japanese buying American landmark assets with their fat profits.  An American magazine joked that America would become a wholly owned subsidiary of a Japanese corporation.  A Democrat presidential candidate said America was a fool for not doing what the Japanese were doing.  But the good times didn’t last.  That inflationary monetary policy caused a massive asset bubble.  And when it burst the Japanese suffered a deflationary spiral that last a decade or more.  Their Lost Decade.  This great contraction weakened America’s greatest economic competitor.  Greatly helping the US economy.

Also during the Nineties the Internet was coming of age.  In the Eighties there was the personal computer.  Silicon Valley.  And Microsoft.  A lot of investors were looking for the Microsoft of the Nineties.  No one knew who that was going to be.  But one thing everyone knew was that it was going to be a dot-com.  Investors poured money into dot-coms that didn’t have anything to sell.  Hence the irrational exuberance.  Dot-coms built great office buildings and technology corridors in cities.  New ‘Silicon Valleys’ were appearing across the country.  Kids went to college to learn how to make websites and set up ecommerce.  All these young kids filled these new dot-com buildings.  But when the investment money ran out these companies went bankrupt.  As they had no revenue.  Or anything to sell.  The dot-com bubble burst after Clinton’s Nineties.  Giving George W. Bush a bad recession at the beginning of his first term.  Also, President Clinton pressured lenders to qualify the unqualified for mortgages they couldn’t afford.  Starting a great real estate bubble.  That burst after Clinton’s Nineties.  Causing the subprime mortgage crisis about a decade later.

The Government taxes Small Business Owners as Rich People even though they’re not really Rich People

So there is more to the Nineties than those Clinton tax rates.  The Japanese gave them an able assist.  Then a lot of bad investing creating a lot of artificial economic activity that created a bubble.  That crashed into a recession.  Thanks to a lot of governmental interference in the private sector economy.  They kept interest rates artificially low.  And offered a lot of incentives to get those dot-coms to build in their cities.  Leaving cities with a lot of empty buildings, budget deficits, bloated public sector payrolls and no increase in tax revenue to pay for the additional infrastructure and services.  This is what the Clinton policies gave us.  Not sustained economic activity.  Or a budget surplus.  So going back to the Clinton tax rates is not likely to produce sustained economic activity.  Or a budget surplus.  Especially when President Obama has outspent Clinton over a trillion dollars a year.

So returning to the Clinton tax rates won’t help to reduce the deficit unless they return to the Clinton spending as well.  And that’s not likely to happen.  So what will the increase in tax rates do?  Well, we can get an idea by comparing the Clinton tax rates (1999) to the last tax rates we used (2011).  As they apply to a small business.  The following is an income statement for what could be a typical small business with about $1.8 million in annual sales revenue.

This is a very summarized income statement using some typical percentages for cost of sales and overhead.  This also assumes about $350,000 of debt on the company books.  Giving an interest expense of about $28 grand.  When you subtract all of these expenses from revenue you arrive at an earnings before taxes (EBT) of $358,016.73.  For many small business owners this EBT flows to their personal income tax return as personal income.  Which sounds like a lot.  But business owners will leave most of this money in their businesses.  So while the government taxes them as rich people they’re not really rich people.  For what the government doesn’t tax away will become retained earnings.  And reinvested back into their businesses.

Higher Taxes and Higher Regulatory Costs hurt Job Growth by taking away Job-Creating Capital from Businesses

All right, so let’s look at what the government would tax away.  Based on the 1999 tax rates.  And the 2011 tax rates.  Using the tax rates for married filing jointly we get the following income tax for each set of tax rates.

The 1999 tax brackets give an effective tax rate of 31.4%.  In 2011 that fell 4.7 points to 26.7%.  Which increased net profit from 13.7% in 1999 to 14.6%.  An increase of 0.93 points.  Not as big a change as in the income tax rate.  But it’s an additional $16,730.50 the small business would have to reinvest into the business.  Which could pay for a lot (even help pay their interest expense).  Especially over time.  In two years that’s about $33,461.  In five years that’s about $83,650.  In ten years that’s about $167,300.  That’s a lot of ‘free’ money the business could use to grow their business that they didn’t have to pay back.  But if we returned to the Clinton tax rates that’s money these businesses would no longer have to invest into their business.  Forcing them to pay to borrow money.  Adding additional interest expense.  And burdening the business with greater debt.  Which would be a disincentive to add additional costs.  Like creating new jobs and hiring people.

A lot of small business owners don’t pay themselves.  That is, they don’t get a paycheck like everyone else in their business.  Instead they distribute earnings from the business.  People think all business owners are rich.  But here’s something they don’t understand.  Even though they pay income taxes on their total business earnings they may only take a small percentage of their earnings out of the business.  In this example the married couple draws $75,000 a year to live on.  Even though they paid income taxes on $358,016.73.  Netting only $75,000 on these earnings would be like having 79.1% of your earnings withheld in taxes from your paycheck.  While these numbers vary among business owners this generally holds true.  They pay taxes on amounts far greater than what they take out of their business to live on.

If we go back to the Clinton tax rates it will reduce the amount of investment capital owners have to grow their business.  Which new regulations have already reduced by increasing costs.  With the unknowns of Obamacare basically freezing all new hiring.  As small business owners don’t know if the government will leave them enough money to grow their businesses.  Or even enough to maintain their current business operations.  Which is how higher taxes and higher regulatory costs hurt job growth.  By taking away job-creating capital from businesses.

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Retained Earnings

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 12th, 2012

Economics 101

Small Business Owners often Reinvest Everything they Earn back into their Businesses

It takes money to make money.  Before a business can make any money it has to produce something that can create revenue.  That is, they have to create something of value that people will pay money for.  To do that they have to buy land, buildings, equipment, etc., first.  They have to hire people and pay wages, salaries, benefits and payroll taxes first.  They have to spend this money before they can sell anything of value.  Because there is a time delay before the money they spend can produce anything to sell they have to get money elsewhere.  To pay all the bills.  Before they can start paying their bills from their revenue.

Small business owners often use their life savings.  They may mortgage their homes.  They may borrow money from their parents.  Or from other family.  If their capital needs are small they may use their credit cards.  And work out of their homes.  But one thing is for sure.  A small business is a cash hungry beast.  And it has a voracious appetite when it’s growing.  For those who make it to this level may be able to convince a bank to loan them money.  That can fund that growth.  Others may turn to venture capital.  If they can convince a venture capitalist that they have a great idea than can really make some money.  More advanced businesses may require even greater sums of money to fund growth and turn to the capital markets.  Using stocks and bonds to fund that growth.

Of course, it takes awhile to get to that level.  Unless you have one of those great and unique ideas.  Which can accelerate a business through this growth process.  But for most it’s a longer journey to get there.  Involving a life of sacrifice.  Skipping vacations.  Eating more hamburger than steak.  And putting off the things you want (new television, smartphone, tablet, car, etc.) until you can afford them.  Which often doesn’t come for a very long time.  Instead, small business owners often reinvest everything they earn back into the business.  To help get it to the next level.  Many small business owners don’t even pay themselves.  Because their business needs that cash elsewhere.

A lot of Small Business Owners don’t pay themselves as they Establish their Businesses

So why do they do it?  It’s not for the money.  For small business owners could make more money working for someone else without all of the headaches.  No.  They don’t do it for the money.  They do it because they’re entrepreneurs.  Filled with a passion to do something better.  Or new.  Just look at what drove Steve Jobs.  It wasn’t the money.  It was all about creating great things.  Things he couldn’t stop thinking about.  Driving some of his people crazy with his relentless push for perfection.  But he couldn’t help himself.  For he felt no inner peace until he realized his vision.  Even when his engineers and designers said what he wanted couldn’t be done.  And they kept saying that until they did what they said couldn’t be done.

This is why some entrepreneurs go ‘Albert Einstein’ in pursuit of their vision.  So focused they skip meals because they forgot to eat.  Or didn’t want to waste time by stopping to eat.  Ever try to eat lunch with a small business owner?  It can be a little on the frustrating side trying to hold a conversation.  As they never shut down.  Their mind is somewhere else.  They’re thinking about something.  On the phone.  Checking email.  Scratching notes.  These are the people that keep working the phones even when sitting on the toilet.  They’re that driven.  And we’re lucky to have such people in the world.  For they make a lot of things we like.  And create a lot of jobs.  In fact, these small business owners are the engine of job growth.  For no one creates more jobs than they do.  Not even the big corporations with billions in revenue.  It’s the small business owner who does cartwheels when they break a million in revenue.  It’s the small business with 5 employees that hires a sixth.  This is where real job growth comes from.  Because there are so many more small business owners than big corporations.

The small business owner is no stranger to sacrifice.  He or she is willing to do whatever they have to.  Even going in on the weekend and working late into the night.  While their employees are enjoying their weekend.  Spending the paychecks they earned working for the small business owner.  While the owner often doesn’t take a paycheck.  Because while he or she can sacrifice things in their personal life they need cash for their business.  For employees don’t work unless you pay them.  And if the government doesn’t get their taxes they will shut you down.  This is why a lot of small business owners don’t pay themselves as they establish their businesses.  For money they take from their businesses reduces how much their businesses can grow.  And it leaves them vulnerable to large, unexpected costs that can hit their businesses.  Or to things that can cause a drop in revenue due to something beyond an owner’s control.  Like a recession.

The Higher the Regulatory Costs and Taxes are the less Small Business Owners can Retain to Grow their Business

So when it comes to cash management small business owners are conservative.  They begged, borrowed and sacrificed to start their businesses.  And incurred substantial debt to grow their businesses.  Which only provides short-term financing.  Once they burn through that money they have to replace it with money generated by business operations.  To sustain business operations.  And to pay back those loans.  For if they don’t they can lose everything they built.  Business earnings, then, are like a fire in survival conditions.  Say you’re lost, alone and cold.  The only thing keeping you from freezing to death is the warmth from that fire.   Once started (with those bank loans) the owner has to nurture and protect that fire to keep it from extinguishing.

So how does a business make money?  They sell goods and/or services for money.  Which gives them revenue.  Then they subtract all of their costs from that revenue.  Any money left over is net profits.  Or earnings.  If they leave this money in the business these earnings become retained earnings.  That they can use to pay back those loans.  Repair old equipment.  Buy new equipment.  Pay for some advertising to expand the business.  Or even hire new employees.  If those earnings are large enough.  And recurring enough.  To give them the confidence that they will be able to pay these new costs in the future.  Provided nothing unforeseen comes up to diminish their future earnings.

But there always are.  And they’re something small business owners have to think about.  All of the time.  Especially when they think about expanding their businesses.  And hiring people.  Because that adds recurring costs.  Which is why few business owners are hiring people now.  Because of the added costs of new regulations.  The big one being Obamacare.  And higher taxes.  Especially the talk of new higher tax rates on high income people.  As most small business owners have their business earnings flow to their personal tax returns.  Even if they leave that money in their business they still have to pay taxes on it.  So while the government taxes them as rich people they’re not rich.  As they see little of their earnings.  Most of which they reinvest into their businesses.  Where it becomes retained earnings.  But the higher the regulatory costs and taxes are the less they can retain to grow their business.  And the fewer jobs they can create.  Worse, these new costs and taxes could reduce earnings to the point that they can’t pay their recurring costs.  Or service their debt.  Which could cause bankruptcy.  So small business owners are very sensitive to things like new regulatory costs and new taxes.  For they can be the difference between life and death.  If they rain down hard enough to extinguish those earnings.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #85: “The rich pay more than their fair share of income taxes to provide tax relief for the poor and middle class.” –Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 27th, 2011

The ‘Rich’ Obama wants to Tax more already Pays the Majority of all Federal Income Taxes

Some people complain that too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands.  And they say that isn’t fair.  But you know what else is concentrated into too few hands?  Federal income taxes.  That is, who pays these taxes.  The top 10 percent of income earners pay about 70% of the taxes.  That doesn’t sound fair.  This 10% paying 70% of the tax bill.  While 90% only pays 30% of the tax bill.  No, this isn’t fair.  But that’s okay.  At least that’s what the 90% think.  I mean, we don’t hear them demanding to pay their fair share of federal income taxes, do we?

Let’s look at some of the numbers.  From 2008 tax returns (see Table 2.  Returns with Modified Taxable Income [1]: Tax Generated, by Rate).

The first thing that jumps out at you is that the poor pay no income taxes.  Only the middle class and rich do.  The biggest income groups of taxpayers are those earning from $100,000 to $200,000.  And from $200,000 to $500,000.

Are these factory workers?  No.  Are these construction workers?  No.  These aren’t blue collar jobs.  These are white collar jobs.  And small business owners.  Currently in the crosshairs of the Obama administration.  Those ‘rich’ people who aren’t paying their fair share of taxes.  People who in fact pay the majority of all federal income taxes.

Those who don’t Pay Income Taxes are Dictating Tax Policy on those who Do

So why is president Obama so vilifying these most generous ‘rich’ people?  Because it’s the largest group of ‘rich’ people whose taxes he can raise.  From the same data let’s take a look at the distribution of income earners.  By looking at the number of actual tax returns filed by each group.

Interesting.  The distribution has shifted down to the lower income groups.  There are very few people earning $1 million or more and yet they pay a substantial amount of the total federal income tax.  While there are a great number of people earning less than $50 thousand who pay little to no federal income tax.

There’s another way to look at these numbers.  One person one vote.  Despite the amount of money you earn.  And the amount of taxes you pay.  Or the lack of taxes you pay.  So in essence what we have is those who don’t pay income taxes dictating tax policy on those who do.  Hence the appeal of class warfare.  Tax the rich?  Raise tax rates on high earners?  A millionaire’s tax?  Absolutely.  As long as I remain in the near 50% of those people who pay no income taxes.

Small Business Owners Earn a lot because they’re both CEO and Investor

There’s yet another way to look at these numbers.  With 70% of all taxes paid by those earning $100,000 or more let’s focus on these people.  We’ve summarized this data here (Taxable Income and Income Tax Generated are in thousands of dollars):

The sweet spot of tax revenue are the people earning from $100,000 to $200,000.  Who pay an effective tax rate of 17.91%.  And a good chunk of these are small business owners.  Who have S corporations.  Where their earnings pass directly to their private income tax return.  That’s why they earn so much.  Because they’re both CEO.  And equity investor.  But they don’t use those retained earnings to live an extravagant lifestyle.  No.  Instead, they use them to grow their business.  And create jobs.

Raising the tax rate on those retained earnings will not help grow these businesses.  In fact, it will prevent these businesses from growing.  And you don’t want to do that.  Because not only do these small business owners pay as much in federal income taxes as all the millionaires do.  They also create the majority of jobs in the American economy.

If you want Tax Policy that will Raise Tax Revenue don’t Raise Tax Rates on Job Creators

Is the purpose of tax policy to raise tax revenue?  Or politics?  When about half of the people pay no income taxes there is definitely a political aspect in taxing the rich.  But exploiting the political capital in the tax code defeats the purpose of the tax code.  Raising taxes.  Let’s look at a simple example.

Everyone agrees that lowering taxes helps businesses more than raising taxes.  That’s why even President Obama extended the Bush tax cuts to prevent a double-dip recession.  So let’s look at some numbers.  Let’s say we make it more business friendly out there.  Cut back on some onerous regulations that cost businesses.  Such as repealing Obamacare. Or some other costly legislation(s).  Not cutting taxes mind you.  Just cutting the costs on the job creators.

If we do this business-friendly deregulation let’s assume businesses respond.  They do well and grow.  And these small business owners earn more income.  So much that about 20% of them move up from the $100,000 to $200,000 income group to the $200,000 to $500,000 income group.  This group pays an effective tax rate of 23.3%.  Federal income taxes would increase approximately $100 billion with this growth in income.  Or an increase of 23.3%.  And that’s without cutting taxes.  Imagine what they could do if did cut taxes.

If you want good tax policy.  If you want tax policy that will raise tax revenue.  Don’t raise tax rates on job creators.  Instead, cut their costs.  Cut the cost of job creation.  Then watch the jobs they’ll create.  And the tax revenue they’ll pay.  Both the small business owners.  And their new employees.

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