The Cost of Recalls and Lost Goodwill

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2014

Economics 101

Manufacturers make a Point of not Killing their Customers because it’s just Bad for Business

There have been some costly recalls in the news lately.  From yoga pants that were see-through.  To cars with faulty ignition switches that can turn the engine off while driving.  Disabling the power steering and airbags.  Resulting in the loss of life.  These recalls have cost these companies a lot of trouble.  Including financial losses from the recalls and lawsuits.  Being called to testify before Congress.  And possible criminal charges.

No surprise, really.  As those who distrust corporations would say.  For they believe they constantly put their customers at risk to maximize their profits.  Even if it results in the death of their customers.  Which is why we need a vigilant government to keep these corporations honest.  So they can’t sell shoddy and dangerous goods that can kill their unsuspecting customers.  Which they will do if the government doesn’t have strong regulatory powers to stop them.  Or so says the left.

Of course, there is one problem with this line of thinking.  Dead customers can’t buy things.  And when word spreads that a corporation is killing their customers people don’t want to be their customers.  Because they don’t want to be killed.  Manufacturers know this.  And know the price they will pay if they kill their customers.  So manufacturers make a point of not killing their customers.  Because it’s just bad for business.

The Longer it takes to Recall a Defective Product the Greater the Company’s Losses

Manufacturing defects happen.  Because nothing is perfect.  And when they happen they are both costly and a public relations nightmare.  As no manufacturer wants to lose money.  And, worse, no manufacturer wants to lose the goodwill of their customers.  Because it’s not easy earning that back.  Which is why executive management wants to acknowledge and resolve these defects as soon as possible.  To limit their financial losses.  And limit the loss of their customers’ goodwill.

Let’s illustrate this with some numbers.  Let’s assume a company manufactures 5 product lines ranging from low price to high price.  The lowest priced product has the greatest unit sales.  And the lowest margin. The highest priced product has the fewest unit sales.  And the highest margin.  The other three items fall in between.  Rising in price.  And falling in margin.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Gross Margin per Product Line R1

So each product line produces a sales revenue, a cost of sales and a gross margin (sales revenue less cost of sales).  Adding these departmentalized numbers together we can get total sales, cost of sales and gross margin.  And subtract from that overhead, interest expense and income taxes.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Net Profit

So on approximately $5.8 million in sales this company earns $312,414.  A net profit of 5.4%.  Fictitiously, of course.  Not too bad.  That’s when everything is working well.  And they have nothing but satisfied customers.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes manufacturing defects happen.  Which can turn profits into losses quickly.  And the longer it takes to address the defects the greater those losses can be.

Losing the Goodwill of your Customers will end up Costing More than any Product Recall

Let’s say Product 3 suffers a manufacturing defect.  By the time they identify the defect and halt production of the defective product they’ve produced 20% of the total of that product for the year.  Which they must recall.  Limiting their losses to 20% of the total of that product run.  Which they will have to refund the sales revenue for.  But they will have to eat the cost of sales for those defective units.  And despite the company’s quick response to the defective product and providing a full refund to all customers their goodwill suffers from the bad press of the recall.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Recall

Refunding customers for the 20% of the line that was defective reduced net profits from 5.4% to 0.7%.  And when they lose some customers to their defect-free competition they lose some customer goodwill.  Resulting in a 15% drop in sales.  Leaving manufactured product unsold that they have to sell with steep discounting.  Bringing their sales revenue further down while their cost of sales remains the same.  Turning that 0.7% annual profit into a 2.8% loss.  But as time passes they recover the lost goodwill of their customers.  Limiting these losses in this one year.  Now let’s look at what would probably happen if the company had a ‘screw you’ attitude to their customers.  Like many on the left fervently believe.  Summarized here.

Cost of Recall - Loss of Goodwill R1

The company did not recall any of the defective products.  As word spread that this company was selling a defective product sales of that product soon fell to nothing after selling about 50% of the annual production run.  The other half sits unsold.  Even steep discounting won’t sell a defective product.  And seeing how they screwed their customers on the defective products sales fall on their other products (in this example by 30%).  As they don’t want to suffer the same fate as those other customers.  So what would have been only a $159,929 loss with a recall becomes a $1,494,344 loss.  Over nine times worse than what it could have been without a large loss of customer goodwill.  And this is why executive management moves fast to identify and resolve defects.  Because losing the goodwill of their customers will end up costing more than any product recall.  As it can take years to earn a customer’s trust again.

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Cash Flow

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2014

Economics 101

New Complex and Confusing Regulatory Policies require Additional Accounting and Legal Fees to Comply

There have been demonstrations  to raise the minimum wage.  President Obama even called for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  He also wants employers to pay salaried people overtime.  There have been demands for paid family leave (paying people for not working).  Unions want to organize businesses.  To get employers to pay union wages.  Provide union health care packages.  And union pensions.  Obamacare has made costly health insurance mandatory for all employees working 30 hours or more a week.

Environmental regulations have increased energy costs for businesses.  Sexual harassment training, safety training, on-the-job training (even people leaving college have to be trained before they are useful to many employers), etc., raise costs for businesses.  New financial reporting requirements require additional accounting fees to sort through.  New complex and confusing regulatory policies require additional legal fees to sort through them and comply.

With each payroll an employer has to pay state unemployment tax.  Federal unemployment tax.  Social Security tax (half of it withheld from each employee’s paycheck and half out of their pocket).  Medicare tax.  And workers’ compensation insurance.  Then there’s health insurance.  Vehicle insurance.  Sales tax.  Use tax.  Real property tax.  Personal property tax.  Licenses.  Fees.  Dues.  Office supplies.  Utilities.  Postage.  High speed Internet.  Tech support to thwart Internet attacks.  Coffee.  Snow removal.  Landscaping.  Etc.  And, of course, the labor, material, equipment and direct expenses used to produce sales.

The Problem with Guaranteed Work Hours is that there is no such thing as Guaranteed Sales

The worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression has created a dearth of full-time jobs.  In large part due to Obamacare.  As some employers struggling in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression can’t afford to offer their full-time employees health insurance.  So they’re not hiring full-time employees.  And are pushing full-time employees to part-time.  Because they can’t afford to add anymore overhead costs.  Which is hurting a lot of people who are having their own problems trying to make ends meet in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Especially part-time workers.

Now there is a new push by those on the left to make employers give a 21-day notice for work schedules for part time and ‘on call’ workers.  And to guarantee them at least 20 hours a week.  Things that are just impossible to do in many small retail businesses.  As anyone who has ever worked in a small retail business can attest to.  You can schedule people to week 3 weeks in advance but what do you do when they don’t show up for work?  Which happens.  A lot.  Especially when the weather is nice.  Or on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  As some people party so much on Friday and Saturday night that they are just too hung over to go to work.  Normally you call someone else to take their shift.  Then reschedule the rest of the week.  So you don’t give too many hours to the person who filled in.  In part to keep them under 30 hours to avoid the Obamacare penalty.  But also because the other workers will get mad if that person gets more hours than they did.

The problem with guaranteed work hours is that there is no such thing as guaranteed sales.  If you schedule 5 workers 3 weeks in advance and a blizzard paralyzes the city you may not have 5 workers worth of sales.  Because people are staying home.  And if no one is coming through your doors you’re not going to want to pay 5 people to stand around and do nothing.  For with no sales where is the money going to come from to pay these workers?  Either out of the business owner’s personal bank account.  Or they will have to borrow money.  It is easy to say we should guarantee workers a minimum number of work hours.  But should a business owner have to lose money so they can?  For contrary to popular belief, business owners are not all billionaires with money to burn.  Instead, they are people losing sleep over something called cash flow.

Cash Flow is everything to a Small Business Owner because it takes Cash to pay all of their Bills

To understand cash flow imagine a large bucket full of holes.  You pour water in it and it leaks right out.  That water leaking out is expenses.  The cost of doing business (see all of those costs above).  A business owner has to keep that bucket from running out of water.  And there is only one way to do it.  By pouring new water into the bucket to replace the water leaking out.  That new water is sales revenue.  What customers pay them for their products and/or services.  For a business to remain in business they must keep water in that bucket.  For if it runs out of water they can’t pay all of their expenses.  They’ll become insolvent.  And may have no choice but to file bankruptcy.  At which point they’ll have to get a job working for someone else.

Cash flow is everything to a small business owner.  Because it takes cash to pay all of their bills.  Payroll, insurance, taxes, etc.  None of which they can NOT pay.  For if they do NOT pay these bills their employees will quit.  Their insurers will cancel their policies.  And the taxman will pay them a visit.  Which will be very, very unpleasant.  So small business owners have to make sure that at least the same amount of water is going into the bucket that is draining out of the bucket to pay their bills.  And they have to make sure more water is entering the bucket than is draining out of the bucket to pay themselves.  And to grow their business.

This is why business owners don’t want to hire full-time people now.  Because full-time people require a lot of cash (wages/salary, payroll taxes, insurances, training, etc.).  They’re nervous.  For they don’t know what next will come out of the Obama administration that will require additional cash.  For every time they want to make life better for the workers (a higher minimum wage, overtime for salaried employees, guaranteed hours, etc.) it takes more cash.  Which comes from sales.  And if sales are down future cash flow into the business will also be down.  Leaving less available for all of those holes in the bucket.  So they guard their cash closely.  And are very wary of incurring any new cash obligations.  Lest they run out of cash.  And have to file bankruptcy.  Which is why they lose sleep over cash flow.  Especially now during the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.

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The Fed’s Quantitative Easing keeps the Big Three Building Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2013

Week in Review

Governments love it when people buy houses and cars.  Because building houses and cars generates a lot of economic activity.  So much economic activity that central banks will flood their economies with money to keep interest rates artificially low.  To encourage people to go into great debt and buy these things.  Even if they don’t want them.  Especially if they don’t want them.  Because if you add in people buying things who don’t want them with the people who do that’s a lot of economic activity.  Which is why central banks keep interest rates artificially low.  To get people to buy things even when they don’t want them.  But do because those low interest rates are just too good to pass up.

Automotive jobs are union jobs.  At least with the Big Three.  Which is another reason why the Federal Reserve (America’s central bank) keeps interest rates artificially low.  To save union jobs.  Because they support Democrats.  And the Democrats take care of them.  By enacting legislation that favors union-built cars.  Placing tariffs and quotas on imports.  And doing whatever they can to encourage the Fed to keep interest rates artificially low.  So the Big Three keep building cars with union labor.  Even if they’re not selling the cars they build (see Spending on new cars may break record in December by Joseph Szczesny posted 12/25/2013 on CNBC).

Total vehicle sales are expected to be up at least 4 percent year over year, with the industry anticipating all-time record consumer spending on new vehicles, according to a forecast.

While new car sales started the month slowly, they are expected to finish strong, according to a monthly sales forecast developed jointly by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. That would be a welcome development for industry planners concerned about a recent bulge in dealer inventories, which has led several manufacturers to trim production…

Vehicle production in North America through November is up 5 percent from the same time frame last year, with nearly 700,000 additional units. Even as inventory has increased, production volume remained strong last month, at 1.4 million units—a 4 percent increase from November 2012.

But there are some concerns that the industry may be turning up production faster than the market can handle. General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler continued to build inventories last month, and their combined supply climbed from 87 days at the beginning of November to 93 days by the end…

Some of the buildup can be traced to dealers’ ordering pickup trucks and utility vehicles before the planned shutdowns for model changes at GM and Ford. But those two makers also have decided to take more downtime at some of their plants this month in an effort to reduce excess stock.

Automotive news is often contradictory.  Sales are up they tell us.  Even when inventories are growing.  A sign that sales are not growing.  Because when people buy more cars than they build inventories fall.  But when people buy fewer cars than they build inventories rise.  So when inventories are rising typically that means sales are falling.  So this isn’t a sign of a booming economy.  But one that is likely to slip into recession.  Especially when the Fed finally begins their tapering of their bond buying (i.e., quantitative easing).  The thing that is keeping interest rates artificially low.  And once they do those inventories will really bulge.  As they do during the onset of a recession.

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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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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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Trend Analysis GM and Toyota 2005—2008

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 29th, 2013

History 101

GM’s Problems were caused by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Ceiling on Wages

The GM bailout is still controversial.  It was part of the 2012 campaign.  It was why we should reelect President Obama.  Because Osama bin Laden was dead.  And General Motors was alive.  But the bailout didn’t fix what was wrong with GM.  Why it went bankrupt in the first place.  The prevailing market price for cars was below their costs.  And what was driving their costs so high?  It was labor.  It was the UAW wage and benefit package that made it impossible for GM to sell a car profitably.

GM’s problems go back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The country was suffering in the Great Depression with double-digit unemployment.  He wanted to get businesses to hire people.  To reduce unemployment.  And pull us out of the Great Depression.  So how do you get businesses to hire more people?  Hmmm, he thought.  Pay people less so businesses have more money to hire more people.  It was brilliant.  So FDR imposed a ceiling on wages.  Why did FDR do this?  Because he was from a rich family who didn’t understand business or basic economics.

Of course there was one major drawback to this.  How do you get the best talent to work for you if you can’t pay top dollar?  Normally the best talent can go to whoever pays the most.  But if everyone pays the same by law you might as well work at the place closest to your house.  Or across from the best bars.  No, if a business wanted the best workers they had to figure out how to get them to drive across town in rush hour traffic and sit in that traffic on the way home.  A real pain in the you-know-what.  So how to get workers to do that if you can’t pay them more?  You give them benefits.

Toyota doesn’t have the Legacy Costs that Bankrupted an Uncompetitive GM

And this was, is, the root of GM’s problems.  Those generous pension and health care benefits.  Things we once took care of ourselves.  Before our employers started providing these.  And the UAW really put the screws to GM.  Getting great pay, benefits and workplace rules.  For both active workers.  And retirees.  Even laid-off workers.  Such as the job bank.  Where GM paid workers who had no work to do.  It’s benefits like this that have bankrupted GM.  Especially the pensions and health care costs for retired workers.  Who outnumbered active workers.  Those people actually assembling the cars they sell.

It’s these legacy costs that have made GM uncompetitive.  Toyota, for example, didn’t suffer the FDR problem.  So their costs for retired workers don’t exceed their costs for active workers.  In fact let’s compare GM and Toyota for the four years just before GM’s government bailout (2005-2008).  We pulled financial numbers from their annual reports (see GM 2005 & 2006, GM 2007 & 2008, Toyota 2005 & 2006 and Toyota 2007 & 2008).  We’ve used some standard ratios and plotted some resulting trends.  Note that this is a crude analysis that provides a general overview of the information in their annual reports.  A proper analysis is far more involved and you should not construe that the following is an appropriate way to analyze financial statements.  We believe these results show general trends.  But we offer no investment advice or endorsements.

GM Toyota Current Ratio

We get the current ration by dividing current assets by current liabilities.  These are the assets/liabilities that will become cash or will have to be paid with cash within 12 months.  If this ratio is 1 it means current assets equals current liabilities.  Meaning that a business will have just enough cash to meet their cash needs in the next 12 months.  If the number is greater than 1 a business will have even a little extra cash.  If the number is less than 1 a business is in trouble.  As they won’t have the cash to meet their cash needs in the next 12 months.  Unless they borrow cash.  Toyota’s current ratio fell slightly during these 4 years but always remained above 1.  Falling as low as 1.01.  Whereas GM’s current ratio was never above 1 during these 4 years.  And only got worse after 2006.  Showing GM’s financial crash in 2008.

The GM Bailout did not address the Cause of their Bankruptcy—UAW Pensions and Health Care Benefits

There are two basic ways to finance a business.  With debt.  And equity.  Equity comes from outside investors (when a business issues new stock).  Or from profitable business operations.  Which typically accounts for the majority of equity.  Profitable business operations are the whole point of running a business.  And it’s what raises stock prices.  To see which is providing the financing of a business (debt or equity) we calculate the debt ratio.  We do this by dividing total liabilities by total assets.  If this number equals 1 then total assets equal total liabilities.  Meaning that 100% of a business’ assets are financed with debt.  And 0% with equity.  Lenders do not like seeing this.  And will be very reluctant to loan money to you if your business operations cannot generate enough profits to build up some equity.  And that was the problem GM had.  Their business operations could not generate any profits.  So GM had to keep borrowing.

GM Toyota Debt Ratio

GM went from bad to worse after 2005.  Their debt ratio went from 1.02 in 2006.  To 1.24 in 2007.  And to 1.94 in 2008.  Indicating massive borrowings to offset massive operating losses.   And how big were those losses?  They lost $17.806 billion in 2005.  $5.823 billion in 2006.  $4.309 billion in 2007.  And in the year of their crash (2008) they lost $21.284 billion.  Meanwhile Toyota kept their debt ratio fluctuating between 0.61 and 0.62.  Very respectable.  And where lenders like to see it.  As they will be more willing to loan money to a company that can generate almost half of their financing needs from profitable business operations.  So why can’t GM?  Because of those legacy costs.  Which increases their cost of sales.

GM Toyota Cost of Sales

GM’s cost of sales was close to 100% of automotive sales revenue these 4 years.  Even exceeding 100% in 2008.  And it’s this cost of sales that sent GM into bankruptcy.  Toyota’s was close to 80% through these 4 years.  Leaving about 20% of sales to pay their other costs.  Like selling, general and administrative (S,G&A).  Whereas GM was already losing money before they started paying these expenses.  Thanks to generous UAW pay and benefit packages.  The job bank.  And the even greater costs of pensions and health care for their retirees.  It’s not CEO compensation that bankrupted GM.  It was the UAW.  As CEO compensation comes out of S,G&A.  Which was less than 10% of sales in 2007 and 2008.  Which was even less than Toyota’s.

GM Toyota S G and A

GM’s costs kept rising.  But they couldn’t pass it on to the consumer.  For if they did the people would just buy a less expensive Toyota.  So GM kept building cars even though they couldn’t sell them competitively.  And sold them at steep discounts.  Just to make room for more new cars.  So the UAW could keep building cars.  Incurring massive losses.  Hoping they could make it up in volume.  But that volume never came.

GM Toyota Automotive Sales as percent of 2005

Toyota continued to increase sales revenue year after year.  But GM’s sales grew at a flatter rate.  Even falling in 2008.  It was just too much.  GM was such a train wreck that it would have required a massive reorganization in a bankruptcy.  Specifically dealing with the uncompetitive UAW labor.  Especially those pensions and health care benefits for retirees.  Which the government bailout did not address.  At all.  The white collar workforce lost their pensions.  But not the UAW.  In fact, the government bailout went to bolster those pension and health care plans.  So the underlying problems are still there.  And another bankruptcy is likely around the corner.

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Trend Analysis – Liquidity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 7th, 2013

Economics 101

Liquidity can be More Important than Profitability to a Small Business Owner

Small business owners lose a lot of sleep worrying if they will have enough cash for tomorrow.  For next week.  For next month.  You can increase sales and add new customers but unless this creates cash those new sales and new customers may cause more problems than they help.  For a lot of businesses fail because they run out of cash.  Often times learning they have a cash problem only when they don’t have the cash to pay their bills.  So savvy business owners study their financial statements each quarter.  Even each month.  Looking for signs of trouble BEFORE they don’t have the cash to pay their bills.

Investors poor over corporations’ financial statements to make wise investment decisions.  Crunching a lot of numbers.  Analyzing a myriad of financial ratios.  Gleaning a lot of useful information buried in the raw numbers on the financial statements.  Small business owners analyze their financial statements, too.  But not quite to the extent of these investors.  They may look at some key numbers.  Focusing more on liquidity than profitability.  For profits are nice.  But profits aren’t cash.  As a lot of things have to happen before those profits turn into cash.  If they turn into cash.  The following are some balance sheet and income statement accounts.  Following these accounts are some calculations based on the values of these accounts.  With four quarters of data shown.

So what do these numbers say about this year of business activity?  Well, the business was profitable in all four quarters.  And rather profitable at that.  Which is good.  But what about that all important cash?  With each successive quarter the business had a lower cash balance.  That’s not as good as those profitability numbers.  And what about accounts receivable and inventory?  There seems to be some large changes in these accounts.  Are these changes good or bad?  What about accounts payable?  Accrued expenses?  Current portion of long-term debt?  These all went up.  What does this mean in the grand scheme of things?  Looking at these numbers individually doesn’t provide much information.  But when you do a little math with them you can get a little more information out of them.

In Trend Analysis a Downward sloping Current Ratio indicates a Potential Liquidity Problem

Current assets are cash or things that a business can convert into cash within the next 12 months.  Current liabilities are things a business has to pay within the next 12 months.  Current assets, then, are the resources you have to pay your current liabilities.  The relationship between current assets and current liabilities is a very important one.  Dividing current assets by current liabilities gives you the current ratio.  If it’s greater than one you are solvent.  You can meet your current financial obligations.  If it’s less than one you will simply run out of current resources before you met all of your current liabilities.  In our example this business has been solvent for all 4 quarters of the year.

Days’ sales in receivables is one way to see how your customers are paying their credit purchases.  The smaller this number the faster they are paying their bills.  The larger the number the slower they are paying their bills.  And the slower they pay their bills the longer it takes to convert your sales into cash.  Days’ sales in inventory tells you how many days of inventory you have based on your inventory balance and the cost of that inventory.  The smaller this number the faster things are moving out of inventory in new sales.  The larger this number is the slower things are moving out of inventory to reflect a decline in sales.  These individual numbers by themselves don’t provide a lot of information for the small business owner.  Big corporations can compare these numbers with similar businesses to see how they stack up against the competition.  Something not really available to small businesses.  But they can look at the trend of these numbers in their own business and gain very valuable information.

The above chart shows the 4-quarter trend in three important liquidity numbers.  Days’ sales in receivables increased after the second quarter upward for two consecutive quarters.  Indicating customers have paid their bills slower in each of the last two quarters.  Days’ sales in inventory showed a similar uptick in the last two quarters.  Indicating a slowdown in sales.  Both of these trends are concerning.  For it means accounts receivable are bringing in less cash to the business.  And inventory is consuming more of what cash there is.  Which are both red flags that a business may soon run short of cash.  Something the three quarters of falling current ratio confirm.  This business is in trouble.  Despite the good profitability numbers.  The downward sloping current ratio indicates a potential liquidity problem.  If things continue as they are now in another 2 quarters or so the business will become insolvent.  So a business owner knows to start taking action now to conserve cash before he or she runs out of it in another 2 quarters.

Keynesian Stimulus Spending can give a Business a Current Ratio trending towards Insolvency

In fact, this business was already having cash problems.  The outstanding balance in accounts payable increased over 100% in these four quarters.  Not having the cash to pay the bills the business paid their bills slower and the balance in outstanding accounts payable rose.  Substantially.  As the cash balance fell the business owner began borrowing money.  As indicated by the increasing amounts under current portion of long-term debt and interest expense.  Which would suggest substantial borrowings.  Putting all of these things together and you can get a picture of what happened at this business over the past year.  Which started out well.  Then experienced a burst of growth.  But that growth disappeared by the 3rd quarter.  When sales revenue began a 2-quarter decline.

Something happened to cause a surge in sales in the second quarter.  Something the owner apparently thought would last and made investments to increase production to meet that increased demand.  Perhaps hiring new people.  And/or buying new production equipment.  Explaining all of that borrowing.  And that inventory buildup.  But whatever caused that surge in sales did not last.  Leaving this business owner with excess production filling his or her inventory with unsold goods.  And the rise in days’ sales in receivables indicates that this business is not the only business dealing with a decline in sales.  Suggesting an economic recession as everyone is paying their bills slower.

So what could explain this?  A Keynesian stimulus.  Such as those checks sent out by George W. Bush to stimulate economic activity.  Which they did.  Explaining this sales surge.  But a Keynesian stimulus is only temporary.  Once that money is spent things go right back to where they were before the stimulus.  Unfortunately, this business owner thought the stimulus resulted in real economic activity and invested to expand the business.  Leaving this owner with excess production, bulging inventories, aging accounts receivable and a disappearing cash balance.  And a current ratio trending towards insolvency.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus spending does not work.  Most businesses know it is temporary and don’t hire or expand during this economic ‘pump priming’.  While those that do risk insolvency.  And bankruptcy.

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Statement of Cash Flows

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2012

Economics 101

No Business will be able to Repay any Loan unless their Business Operations can Generate Cash

In business cash is king.  As it is in life.  We need cash to buy food to survive.  Just as a business needs cash to pay its bills to survive.  Cash is so important to a business that there is a special financial statement to summarize cash flows in a business.  It looks something like this.

The above are made up numbers that could be similar to any statement of cash flows.  It shows the three sources of cash for a business.  Operating activities.  Investing activities.  And financing activities.  Every last dollar a business has came from one of these three sources.  And we can determine the health of the business just by seeing where its cash came from.

Not all business owners use a statement of cash flows.  Most small business owners probably don’t.  Having some other method to see where their cash is coming from.  And going to.  But if they plan on borrowing money from a bank they’re going to need one.  As bankers want to see a business’ ability to generate cash from their business operations.  For no business will be able to repay any loan unless their business operations can generate cash.

An Increase in Accounts Receivable indicates a Business’ Customers are Paying them Slower

A business generates cash from operating activities.  Which comes from sales.  Of course business have to spend a lot of money to create those sales.  So the net cash generated is basically net income with a few adjustments.  In accrual accounting we expense a portion of what we spent on an asset as a depreciation expense each accounting period.  Because although we pay for an asset in one year we may use that asset for the next 5 years.  Or more.   So we expense a portion of that asset each accounting period.  But we don’t have to write a check to pay for depreciation.  It is a non-cash transaction.  So to adjust net income to show net cash generated we have to add back this depreciation expense.

An increase in accounts payable indicates a business is paying their bills slower.  And when you pay your bills slower you free up cash for other things.  Becoming a source of cash.  With each payroll a business has to withhold taxes from their employees’ paychecks.    Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, the employee’s federal and state withholding taxes.  With each payroll these liabilities accrue and are payable to the various government agencies.  You  can free up some cash by paying these taxes late.  But it is not recommended.  For the penalties for doing so can be severe.

An increase in accounts receivable indicates their customers are paying them slower.  An increase in inventory indicates they’re buying more into inventory than they’re selling from inventory.  Prepayments will conserve cash in the future by paying for things now.  But they will leave you with less cash now.  A decrease in accrued liabilities indicates they’re catching up on paying some of their accrued expenses.  Like those payroll taxes.  (In the ideal world if you add up the increase and decrease in accrued liabilities they should net out. Indicating you’re paying your accrued expenses on time.  In this example the business has a balance of $3,000 they’re paying late.)  Increases in all of these items consume cash, leaving the business with less cash for other things.

When the Owner has to put in More of their Own Cash into the Business Things are not going Well

Cash flows from investing activities can include financial investments a business buys and sells with the excess cash they have.  In this example the only investment activities is the buying and selling of some plant assets.  Perhaps selling some old equipment that is costly to maintain and replacing it with new equipment.  Even replacing a vital piece of production equipment that breaks down.  Putting a business out of business.  Thus requiring a cash purchase to replace it as quickly as possible.  Short-term borrowing may be advances on their credit line while the settlement on short-term debt may be the repaying of some of those advances.  Proceeds from long-term debt may be a new bank loan.  While payments to settle long-term debt may be repaying a previous loan.  Finally, paid-in capital is money from the business owner.  Such as cashing in a 401(k) or getting a second mortgage on their house so they can put it into their business to make up for a cash shortage.

So what does all of this mean?  Is this business doing well?  Or are they having problems?  Well, the good news is that they are meeting their cash needs.  The bad news is that it’s not because of their operating activities.  They’re meeting their cash needs by paying their vendors slower.  In fact, if they didn’t they may have had a net loss of cash for the year.  Which means had they not paid their bills late they may have gone bankrupt.  And their cash problems are evident elsewhere.   For not only are they paying their vendors slower their customers are paying them slower.  Making them wait longer to get the cash from their sales.  And with more money going into inventory than coming out of inventory it indicates that sales are down.  Leaving them with less revenue to convert into cash.  And what’s particularly troubling is that increase in accrued liabilities.  Which could mean they’re paying their payroll taxes slower.  Accessing their credit line also indicates a cash problem.  Also, having to borrow $50,000 to help repay a $100,000 loan coming due is another sign of cash problems.  Finally, when the owner has to put in more of their own cash into the business things are not going well.

These are things a business owner has to deal with.  And things a loan officer will note when reviewing the statement of cash flows.  Some people may think a net increase in cash of $18,000 is a good thing.  But it’s not that good.  Considering they had to get that cash by paying their vendors slower, paying the government slower, borrowing money as well as investing more of their personal savings into the business.  Worse, despite having all of these cash problems the government is taxing away of lot of their cash.  Because their net income passing through to their personal income tax return is $235,000.  Putting them in the top 5% of income earners.  And into the crosshairs of those looking to raise tax rates on those who can afford to pay a little more.  To make sure they pay their ‘fair’ share.

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Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 26th, 2012

Economics 101

Someone’s Account Payable is Someone’s Account Receivable

Cash is king in small business.  Because without it you can’t make payroll or pay your payroll taxes.  As important as cash is, though, many business will never grow until they start offering credit.  Trade credit.  Selling things on account.  Because for those doing repeat business it is just too much of a pain to write a check for every purchase.  And it’s just dangerous carrying around that kind of cash.  So businesses offer credit to established customers.  Those with good credit.  And good reputations.

Customers open an account.  When they make a purchase they get an invoice generally payable in 30 days.  Or some number of days around that.  At the end of the month they will receive a statement from their vendor showing all of their open invoices.  Which they will compare with their accounting records.  By running their accounts payable report.  And they will compare the invoices they show outstanding with those on their vendor’s statement.   They will resolve any differences.  And then write a check for their outstanding invoices.

On the other end of the sale there is an account receivable.  For someone’s account payable is someone’s account receivable.  A sale that doesn’t bring cash into the business.  But a promise to pay cash within a short amount of time.  So a business can greatly increase sales by offering trade credit.  By being a mini-banker.  Their sales revenue will grow.  As will their net profit.  But not necessarily their cash in the bank.  For it will look good on paper.  But until they convert those accounts receivable into cash it will only be on paper.  And money on paper is just not as good as money in the bank.

When Invoices are Unpaid for 90 Days or More there’s a Good Chance they will Never be Paid

There is a certain euphoria small business owners feel when they see their sales grow.  Things are moving in the right direction.  All their hard work is paying off.  Finally.  Some even fantasize about spending some of that money.  Such as going out to lunch on Friday instead of brown-bagging it every day of the week.  Then some anxiety starts growing.  And it comes from their accounts receivables report.  When they see that 30 days after those sales come and go.  And a lot of those open invoices remain on the report.

The accounts receivable report small business owners review is called an aging report.  Because it shows what invoices are current, which are 30 days old, which are 60 days old and which are 90 days or more old.  And when invoices are unpaid for 90 days or more there’s a good chance they will never be paid.  In fact, once they pass 30 days the chances that their customers won’t pay them grow greater.  And this is the source of a small business owner’s anxiety.  When he or she sees those invoices move from 30 days to 60 days to 90 days.

Why do some customers pay slower than others?  Because they, too, have accounts receivable moving from 30 days to 60 days to 90 days.  And if they’re not collecting their money in a timely manner then can’t pay their bills in a timely manner.  When the economy slows down you will see a lot of businesses start to pay their bills slower.  And as they pay their bills slower businesses collect their money slower.  Which forces them to pay their bills slower.  Or, worse, borrow money to pay their bills until their customers pay theirs.

To encourage their Customers to Pay their Bills Timely many Businesses will offer Early Payment Discounts

Sales are great.  Everything that’s good follows from sales.  Sales are the first step in creating cash.  And cash is king.  But between cash and sales are accounts receivable.  Which can make or break any small business.  For you can’t often grow sales without extending credit.  But if you extend too much credit and/or your customers don’t pay their bills a business owner can lose everything he or she worked for.  Because when it comes down to it, sales are great but cash is king.

To encourage their customers to pay their bills timely many businesses will offer early payment discounts.  If the customer pays their invoice within 10 days, say, they will get a 2% discount on that invoice.  So if they have a $1000 invoice they only have to pay $980.  As an owner will trade $20 in profits to speed up their cash collections.  And if you look at some numbers you can see why.  If they have $150,000 in new sales in one month that 2% discount will cost them $3,000 in profits.  Now compare that to the cost of borrowing cash from an 11% credit line to replace the cash they can’t collect from their customers.  If they have receivables of $150,000 at 30 days, $300,000 at 60 days and $49,950 at 90+ days the interest cost to borrow money to replace these funds can add up to $3,322.46.

So an early payment discount can equal a business’ borrowing costs.  Making it a wash.  While offering a huge benefit.  Allowing a business to pay their bills.  Like payroll.  Payroll taxes.  And their vendors.  For in difficult economic times all businesses have cash problems.  And will do almost anything to improve their cash position.  And when it comes to paying their bills and they can’t pay them all guess which ones they’re going to pay first?  Those that help their cash position.  That is, those invoices that offer an early payment discount.  Because sales are great.  But cash is king.

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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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