Why the Stock Market is so Good when the Economy is so Bad

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2014

Economics 101

No One is going to get Rich by Buying and Selling only one Share of Stock

It takes money to make money.  I’m sure we all heard that before.  If you want to ‘flip’ a house you need money for a down payment to get a mortgage first.  If you want to start a business you need to save up some money first.  Or borrow it from a family member.  And if you want to get rich by playing the stock market you need money.  A lot of money.  Because you only make money by selling stocks.  And before you can sell them you have to buy them.

Stock prices may go up and down a lot.  But over a period of time the average stock price may only increase a little bit.  So if you bought one share of stock at, say, $35 and sold it later at, say, $37.50 that’s a gain of 7.14%.  Which is pretty impressive.  Just try to earn that with a savings account at a bank.  Of course, you only made a whopping $2.50.  So no one is going to get rich by buying and selling only one share of stock.

However, if you bought 10,000 shares of a stock at $35/share and then sold it later at $37.50 that’s a whole other story.  Your initial stock purchase will cost you $350,000.  And that stock will sell for $375,000 at $37.50/share.  Giving you a gain of $25,000.  Let’s say you make 6 buys and sells in a year like this with the same money.  You buy some stock, hold it a month or so and then sell it.  Then you use that money to buy some more stock, hold it for a month or so and then sell it.  Assuming you replicate the same 7.14% stock gain through all of these transactions the total gain will come to $150,000.  And if you used no more than your original investment of $350,000 during that year that $350,000 will have given you a return on investment of 42.9%.  This is why the rich get richer.  Because they have the money to make money.  Of course, if stock prices move the other way investors can have losses as big as these gains.

Rich Investors benefit most from the Fed’s Quantitative Easing that gives us Near-Zero Interest Rates

Rich investors can make an even higher return on investment by borrowing from a brokerage house.  He or she can open a margin account.  Deposit something of value in it (money, stocks, option, etc.) and use that value as collateral.  This isn’t exactly how it works but it will serve as an illustration.  In our example an investor could open a margin account with a value of $175,000.  So instead of spending $350,000 the investor can borrow $175,000 from the broker and add it to his or her $175,000.  Bringing the total stock investment to $350,000.  Earning that $25,000 by risking half of the previous amount.  Bringing the return on investment to 116.7%.  But these big returns come with even bigger risks.  For if your stock loses value it can make your losses as big as those gains.

Some investors borrow money entirely to make money.  Such as carry trades.  Where an investor will borrow a currency from a low-interest rate country to invest in the currency of a higher-interest rate country.  For example, they could borrow a foreign currency at a near zero interest rate (like the Japanese yen).  Convert that money into U.S. dollars.  And then use that money to buy an American treasury bond paying, say, 2%.  So they basically borrow money for free to invest.  Making a return on investment without using any of his or her money.  However, these carry trades can be very risky.  For if the yen gains value against the U.S. dollar the investor will have to pay back more yen than they borrowed.  Wiping out any gain they made.  Perhaps even turning that gain into a loss.  And a small swing in the exchange rate can create a huge loss.

So there is big money to make in the stock market.  Making money with money.  And investors can make even more money when they borrow money.  Making money with other people’s money.  Something rich investors like doing.  Something rich investors can do because they are rich.  For having money means you don’t have to use your money to make money.  Because having money gives you collateral.  The ability to use other people’s money.  At very attractive interest rates.  In fact, it’s these rich investors that benefit most from the Fed’s quantitative easing that is giving us near-zero interest rates.

People on Wall Street are having the Time of their Lives during the Obama Administration

We are in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Yet the stock market is doing very well.  Investors are making a lot of money.  At a time when businesses are not hiring.  The labor force participation rate has fallen to levels not seen since the Seventies.  People can’t find full-time jobs.  Some are working a part-time job because that’s all they can find.  Some are working 2 part-time jobs.  Or more.  Others have just given up trying to find a full-time job.  People the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) no longer counts when calculating the unemployment rate.

This is the only reason why the unemployment rate has fallen.  If you add the number of people who have left the labor force since President Obama took office to the number the BLS reports as unemployed it would bring the unemployment rate up to 13.7% ((10,459,000 + 10,854,000)/155,724,000) at the end of February.  So the economy is still horrible.  No secret to those struggling in it.  And the median family who has seen their income fall.  So why is the stock market doing so well when businesses are not?  When profitable businesses operations typically drive the stock market?  For when businesses do well they grow and hire more people.  But businesses aren’t growing and hiring more people.  So if it’s not profitable businesses operations raising stock prices what is?  Just how are the rich getting richer when the economy as a whole is stuck in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression?

Because of near zero interest rates.  The Fed has lowered interest rates to near zero to purportedly stimulate the economy.  Which it hasn’t.  When they could lower interest rates no more they started their quantitative easing.  Printing money to buy bonds on the open market.  Flooding the economy with cheap money.  But people aren’t borrowing it.  Because the employment picture is so poor that they just aren’t spending money.  Either because they don’t have a job.  Only have a part time job.  Or are terrified they may lose their job.  And if they do lose their job the last thing they want when unemployed is a lot of debt they can’t service.  And then there’s Obamacare.  Forcing people to buy costly insurance.  Leaving them less to spend on other things.  And increasing the cost of doing business.  Another reason not to hire people.

So the economy is going nowhere.  And because of the bad economy businesses have no intentions of spending or expanding.  So they don’t need any of that cheap money.  So where is it going?  Wall Street.  The only people who are borrowing and spending money.  They’re taking that super cheap money and they’re using it to buy and sell stocks.  They’re buying and selling like never before.  Making huge profits.  Thanks to other people’s money.  This is what is raising stock prices.  Not profitable businesses operations.  But investors bidding up stock prices with borrowed money.  The people on Wall Street are having the time of their lives during the Obama administration.  Because the Obama administration’s policies favor the rich on Wall Street.  Whose only worry these days is if the Fed stops printing money.  Which will raise interest rates.  And end the drunken orgy on Wall Street.  Which is why whenever it appears the Fed will taper (i.e., print less money each month) their quantitative easing because the economy is ‘showing signs of improvement’ investors panic and start selling.  In a rush to lock in their earnings before the stock prices they inflated come crashing down to reality.  For without that ‘free’ money from the Fed the orgy of buying will come to an end.  And no one wants to be the one holding on to those inflated stocks when the bubble bursts.  When there will be no more buyers.  At least, when there will be no more buyers willing to buy at those inflated stock prices.  Which is why investors today hate good economic news.  For there is nothing worse for an investor in the Obama economy than a good economy.

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Panic of 1907, Federal Reserve Act and Depression of 1920

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 17th, 2013

History 101

In 1907 the Heinze Brothers thought Investors were Shorting the Stock of their United Copper Company

Buying and selling stocks is one way to get rich.  Typically by buying low and selling high.  But you can also get rich if the stock price falls.  How you ask?  By short-selling the stock.  You borrow shares of a stock that you think will fall in price.  You sell them at the current price.  Then when the stock price falls you buy the same number of shares you borrowed at the lower price.  And use these to return the shares you borrowed.  You subtract the price you pay to buy the cheaper shares from the proceeds of selling the costlier shares for your profit.  And if the price difference/number of shares is great enough you can get rich.

In 1907 the Heinze brothers thought investors were shorting the stock of their United Copper Company.  So they tried to turn the tables on them and get rich.  They already owned a lot of the stock.  They then went on a buying spree with the intention of raising the price of the stock.  If they successfully cornered the market on United Copper Company stock then the investors shorting the stock would have no choice but to buy from them to repay their borrowed shares.  Causing the short sellers to incur a great loss.  While reaping a huge profit for themselves.

Well, that was the plan.  But it didn’t quite go as planned.  For they did not control as much of the stock as they thought they did.  So when the short-sellers had to buy new shares to replace their borrowed shares they could buy them elsewhere.  And did.  When other investors saw they weren’t going to get rich on the cornering scheme the price of the stock plummeted.  For the stock was only worth that inflated price if the short-sellers had to buy it at the price the Heinze brothers dictated.  When the cornering scheme failed the stock they paid so much to corner was worth nowhere near what they paid for it.  And they took a huge financial loss.  But it got worse.

The Panic of 1907 led to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913

After getting rich in the copper business in Montana they moved east to New York City.  And entered the world of high finance.  And owned part of 6 national banks, 10 state banks, 5 trusts (kind of like a bank) and 4 insurance companies.  When the cornering scheme failed the Heinze brothers lost a lot of money.  Which spooked people with money in their banks and trusts.  As these helped finance their scheme.  So the people rushed to their banks and pulled their money out.  Causing a panic.  First their banks.  Then their trusts.  Including the Knickerbocker Trust Company.  Which collapsed.  As the contagion spread to other banks the banking system was in risk of collapsing.  Causing a stock market crash.  Resulting in the Panic of 1907.

Thankfully, a rich guy, J.P. Morgan, stepped in and saved the banking system.  By using his own money.  And getting other rich guys to use theirs.  To restore liquidity in the banking system.  To avoid another liquidity crisis like this Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act (1913).  Giving America a central bank.  And the progressives the tool to take over the American economy.  Monetary policy.  By tinkering with interest rates.  And breaking away from the classical economic policies of the past that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Built on a foundation of thrift, savings, investment, free trade, the gold standard, etc.  Where people saved for the future.  The greater their savings the more investment capital there was.  And the lower interest rates were.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) changed all of that.  By printing money to keep interest rates artificially low.  Giving us boom and bust cycles as people over invest and over build because of cheap credit.  Leading to bubbles (the boom) in asset prices that painful recessions (the bust) correct.  Instead of the genuine growth that we got when our savings determined interest rates.  Where there is no over-investing or over-building.  Because the limited investment capital did not permit it.  Guaranteeing the efficient flows of capital to generate real economic activity.

Warren Harding’s Tax Cuts ignited Economic Activity and gave us the Modern World

Thanks to the Fed there was a great monetary expansion to fund World War I.  The Fed cut the reserve requirements in half for banks.  Meaning they could loan more of their deposits.  And they did.  Thanks to fractional reserve banking these banks then furthered the monetary expansion.  And the Fed kept the discount rate low to let banks borrow even more money to lend.  The credit expansion was vast.  Creating a huge bubble in asset prices.  Creating a lot of bad investments.  Or malinvestments.  Economist Ludwig von Mises had a nice analogy to explain this.  Imagine a builder constructing a house only he doesn’t realize he doesn’t have enough materials to finish the job.  The longer it takes for the builder to realize this the more time and resources he will waste.  For it will be less costly to abandon the project before he starts than waiting until he’s built as much as he can only to discover he will be unable to sell the house.  And without selling the house the builder will be unable to recover any of his expenses.  Giving him a loss on his investment.

The bigger those bubbles get the farther those artificially high prices have to fall.  And they will fall sooner or later.  And fall they did in 1920.  Giving us the Depression of 1920.  And it was bad.  Unemployment rose to 12%.  And GDP fell by 17%.  Interestingly, though, this depression was not a great depression.  Why?  Because the progressives were out of power.  Instead of the usual Keynesian solution to a recession Warren Harding (and then Calvin Coolidge after Harding died in office) did the opposite.  There was no stimulus deficit-spending.  There was no playing with interest rates.  Instead, Harding cut government spending.  Nearly in half.  And he cut tax rates.  These actions led to a reduction of the national debt (that’s DEBT—not deficit) by one third.  And ignited economic activity.  Ushering in the modern world (automobiles, electric power, radio, telephone, aviation, motion pictures, etc.).  Building the modern world generated real economic activity.  Not a credit-driven bubble.  Giving us one of the greatest economic expansions of all time.  The Roaring Twenties.  Ending the Depression of 1920 in only 18 months.  Without any Fed action or Keynesian stimulus spending.

By contrast FDR used almost every Keynesian tool available to him to end the Great Depression.  But his massive New Deal spending simply failed to end it.  After a decade or so of trying.  Proving that government spending cannot spend an economy out of recession.  But cuts in government spending and cuts in tax rates can.  Which is why the Great Recession lingers on still.  Some 6 years after the collapse of one of the greatest housing bubbles ever.  Created by one of the greatest credit expansions ever.  For President Obama is a Keynesian.  And Keynesian policies only lead to boom-bust cycles.  Not real economic growth.  The kind we got from classical economic policies.  Built on a foundation of thrift, savings, investment, free trade, the gold standard, etc.  The economic policies that made America the number economic power in the world.

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Dow Jones Industrial Average

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 6th, 2013

Economics 101

The Dow 30 is a Selection of Companies that gives an Idea of how the Economy is Doing as a Whole

The stock market rallied on Friday thanks to what investors viewed as a favorable jobs report.  Sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average into new territory.  Above 15,000.  But it couldn’t hold on to close above 15,000.  Instead, closing at 14,974.  Close but no cigar.  It even fell a little on Monday.  Reaching only 14,968.89 at the close of trading.

No doubt many wonder 14,968.89 of what?  Is it dollars?  After all, they call it the Dow Jones Industrial Average (i.e., the Dow).  And most know it has something to do with the stock prices of some group of companies.  Thirty, to be exact.  The Dow 30.  A selection of companies that gives an idea of how the economy is doing as a whole.  By looking at stock prices from all sectors of the economy.  So is the average price of these 30 stocks $14,968.89?  Well, let’s take a look at those 30 stocks and their closing prices at the end of trading today.

Bow Jones 30 Stocks and Closing Prices 5-6-2013

Hmmm.  Looks like IBM is the most expensive stock in the group at $202.78.  But an average can’t be higher than the highest price.  It has to be somewhere in the middle of the pack.  In this case the average is $64.97.  So the Dow certainly isn’t the average stock price of these 30 companies.   Is it the sum of these stock prices?  Well, if we add all of the stock prices in the above table we get $1,949.19.  That’s closer to 14,968.89 than 64.97.  But it sure isn’t 14,968.89.  So what exactly is this number?

A Company wants a Rising Stock Price and a High Trading Volume

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dates back to 1896.  Then it included 12 industrial stocks.  American Cotton Oil, American Sugar, American Tobacco, Chicago Gas, Distilling & Cattle Feeding, General Electric, Laclede Gas, National Lead, North American, Tennessee Coal & Iron, U.S. Leather preferred and U.S. Rubber.  (General Electric has been a part of the DJIA for all its 117-year history except for the periods September 1898 – April 1899 and April 1901 – November 1907.)  And the DJIA was just that.  The average price of these 12 stocks.

To simplify this let’s look at three fictitious companies and their stock prices.  ABC at $300/share.  XYZ at $200/share.  And 123 at $100/share.  If you add these three stock prices together you get $600.  And if you divide this number by three you get the average stock price ($200).  This is how they calculated the first DJIA.  Only with those 12 stocks.  Which gave a good idea about the market.  If companies were doing well their stock prices went up.  Raising the average price.  Telling us the economy was doing well.  Doing this today, though, would give you a distorted view of the economy.  Why?  Because of stock splits (as well as the changing of companies in the Dow 30).

When a company has growing sales and growing profitability the value of the company increases.  Which the stock price reflects.  As people bid up the price of the stock.  Because everyone wants to buy it.  So the laws of supply and demand raise the price.  But a higher price will reduce the number of shares an investor can buy.  Which will reduce the trading volume.  Showing a falling interest in the stock.  Which may cause the stock price to fall.  Something a company doesn’t want.  What they want is a rising stock price AND a high trading volume.  Two seemingly contradictory things.  Which is where the stock split comes in.  Which works like this.  If there are 1 million shares outstanding at $300/share that’s a market capitalization of $300 billion (1 million shares X $300/share).  To increase the trading volume the company may announce a 2-1 stock split.  That is, they will cut the stock price in half and double the shares outstanding.  So after the stock split there’s a market capitalization of $300 billion (2 million shares X $150/share).  The value of the company is the same BEFORE and AFTER the stock split.  But the stock price is lower which encourages investors to buy and sell more of the stock.  Thus increasing the trading volume.  While the stock price can continue to rise.  Thus meeting those two contradictory objectives.

They divide the New Sum of the Closing Stock Prices for the Dow 30 by the Current Divisor to get the DJIA

The DJIA shows the relative strength of the economy.  As companies grow more valuable their stock prices rise.  If they rise a lot the company may announce a stock split.  Anyone holding stock at the time of the stock split will be very happy.  As the number of their shares may double.  Triple.  Even quadruple.  And even though the market capitalization remains the same before and after the stock split the split itself is a sign of a strong and growing company.  Which tends to drive the stock price—and the market capitalization—higher.  So stock splits are good things.  Which is why they had to change the way they calculated the DJIA.  For the average of stock prices after a split will fall even though the economy as a whole is getting stronger.  As we can see with our three sample companies.

Adjusting Index after Stock Split

This is the problem of using a straight average of stock prices.  It would show a weakening market when it was, in fact, growing stronger.  So they had to add a little math.  To make the market capitalization before and after the stock split the same.  And they do this with a divisor.  They divide the sum of stock prices after the split by the sum of stock prices before the split (450/600=0.75).  So if we divide the sum of stock prices after the split by 0.75 the ‘DJIA’ equals 600.  Just what it was before the stock split.  Which makes the market capitalization before and after the split the same.  As it should be between the close of one day’s trading and the beginning of the following day’s trading.  As there are more and more stock splits this divisor gets smaller.  As the sum of stock prices gets smaller with each stock split.  Which makes the divisor grow smaller with each stock split.  And as we divide the sum of closing stock prices in the Dow 30 by a divisor that is continually getting smaller the resultant ‘DJIA’ gets larger.  As we can see here.

Adjusting Index after Stock Split 2

These companies are doing exceptionally well.  So well that they all announced stock splits.  ABC and XYZ quadrupled the number of shares outstanding and divided their stock price by 4.  123 tripled their outstanding shares while dividing their stock price by 3.  The average stock price fell by 73%.  If this was reported as the ‘DJIA’ it would probably cause a stock market crash.  Which is why the DJIA is no longer an average of stock prices.  Because an average of stock prices does not show the true economic picture.  But adding a divisor into the mix does.  And every time there are stock splits (or new companies replace old companies in the Dow 30) they calculate a new divisor.  They divide the new sum by the old sum of stock prices.  Then multiply this number by the old divisor to get the new divisor.  Which they divide into the new sum of closing stock prices in the Dow 30 to arrive at the DJIA at the close of each trading day.

At the close of trading today the DJIA was 14,968.89.  While the sum total of the closing stock prices for the companies in the Dow 30 was $1,949.19.  If we divide 1,949.19 by 14,968.89 we get 0.130216081.  This is the divisor.  Which they publish every day.  Showing any revisions in the divisor whenever there is a stock split or a change in the companies in the Dow 30.  And every day at the close of trading they divide the new sum of the closing stock prices for those companies in the Dow 30 by the current divisor to get the DJIA.  And today they divided 1,949.19 by the current divisor to get 14,968.89.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average at the end of today’s trading.

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Stock Options

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 29th, 2013

Economics 101

It takes a Lot of Time to Design, Develop and Bring to Market a Radical New Aircraft

The number one cost airlines have is fuel.  So anything that can reduce fuel consumption can cut an airline’s costs.  Aircraft manufacturers are aware of this.  And want to incorporate new fuel-saving technology into their aircraft.  Because that’s what airlines want.  And if you can give the airlines what they want they will buy your aircraft.  But sometimes new technology can be a little temperamental.  Everything doesn’t work as expected.  And sometimes problems that come up can take a long time to engineer through.  Like it did for the Boeing 787 Dream liner.

Boeing did everything they could think of to squeeze every last ounce of weight from the 787.  One thing they did is well known.  Thanks to a problem with it that caused the grounding of the entire 787 fleet.  The lithium-ion battery.  But that’s not the only weight-saving innovation of the 787.  They added Dual Electronic Flight Bags in the cockpit.  So pilots don’t have to bring bulky and heavy books aboard.  They went from conventional pneumatic architecture to more-electric architecture.  Eliminating the engine bleed air system and associated pneumatic system components.  Reducing weight and improving efficiency.  Which reduced fuel consumption.  They used simple trailing edge flaps.  Not slotted flaps.  Letting them use smaller flap track fairings (those canoe-shaped things underneath the trailing edge of the wings that operated the flaps).  Reducing drag.  And fuel consumption.  They used bigger engines with higher bypass ratios (the amount of air pulled into the fan disk but NOT used for combustion).  Increasing engine efficiency.  Reducing fuel consumption.  The use of composite materials decreased weight.  And the use of one-piece barrel sections eliminated additional joints, fasteners and splice plates.  Reducing weight.  And fuel consumption.

These and other innovations result in a fuel savings of 20% over similarly sized aircraft.  This is huge.  Which is why airlines are ordering this airplane.  But such a radical change in aircraft design comes with a lot of risks.  As the problem with the lithium-ion battery has shown.  And it takes a lot of time to design, develop and bring to market a new aircraft.  Especially one that is radically different from other airplanes.  So the decision to put the aircraft company on this course was a very risky decision.  And one that took a lot of guts.  Because so many things can go wrong.  Leading to cost overruns.  Which can delay promised delivery dates.  And Boeing had their share of those bringing the 787 to market.  Which they have worked through.  Will it be worth it?  As long as airlines want to save on fuel costs, yes.  And no problems arise that they can’t overcome.

Stock Options get Risk-Averse and Cautious CEOs to be Bold and Take Risks

These are big decisions.  Decisions that lead to great successes.  Or great failures.  Some so bad that they can bankrupt a company.  Someone has to be responsible for these decisions.  That one person sitting at the top of the corporation.  The CEO.  It is the CEO who has the ultimate say on the direction of the corporation.  And with this one decision all the resources of the corporation are marshaled together to take the corporation in this new direction.  Incurring great costs that will be on the books for years.  Making it hard to change course until these great investments pay off.  If they pay off.

These are the things CEOs have to deal with.  Not just at Boeing.  But throughout corporate America.  CEOs have to make these singular decisions that can have consequences for years to come.  Where it may take years to see if that one decision actually pays off.  There are few CEOs in the labor force.  So few can imagine the stress these people work under.  And in that pool of CEOs there are only a few that have the Midas touch.   Who can consistently take great risks while making all the right decisions.  Board members desperately want these CEOs.  Offering very generous compensation packages to lure them in.  And to keep them once they have them.  This crème de la crème of CEOs may make the big bucks.  But in exchange for that fat paycheck they do something few others can.  They make shareholders rich.  And they love making these owners rich.  For they love the thrill of the job.  Relishing that high-stress environment.  Where every little decision has great consequences.  Thriving under the kind of pressure that would leave most others whimpering in their beds.  Curled up in the fetal position.  In a pool of their own tears.

But not every corporation can get one of the crème de la crème.  They may have a great CEO.  But one that suffers from a major CEO character flaw.  Being averse to taking big risks.  Who instead wants to be a little more conservative.  And a little more cautious.  Shareholders don’t like overly cautious CEOs.  Because the people getting rich are doing it by breaking away from the pack.  By doing something different.  Abandoning convention.  Trying something bold.  And new.  Bringing something brand new to market that no one knows anything about.  But once they learn about it they can’t live without it.  This is what shareholders want.  Not cautious and conservative.  So to light a fire under these CEOs they came up with a new way to compensate them.  To appeal to their greed.  By letting them get rich if they can make that next great thing that sends the stock price soaring.  And the key to their greed is the stock option.

Stock Options provide a Powerful Incentive to bring Great New Things to Market

The CEO that creates the next big thing everyone will want to buy will send sales revenue soaring.  And with great sales revenue comes great profits.  Increasing the value of the company.  Which, in turn, makes the stock price soar.  This is what shareholders want.  A soaring stock price.  So to encourage the CEO to give them what they want they tie the CEO’s interest to their interests.  By giving the CEO stock options.  Making the sky the limit.  For the more the CEO increases the stock price the greater the CEO’s compensation.  Thus encouraging the CEO to try something bold and new.

A stock option is a right to buy a share of stock at a fixed price in the future.  Say the current stock price is $70/share.  The board of directors gives the CEO the option to buy, say, 500,000 shares of stock at $80/share up until some date in the future.  Creating a strong incentive for the CEO to raise the stock price.  The greater the CEO raises the price above $80 the greater his or her compensation.   Let’s say the CEO was bold and took a great risk.  And it pays off.  Sending the stock price soaring to $110/share.  When the CEO exercises those options he or she will buy 500,000 shares of stock from the company at $80/share.  The company gets $40 million in new capital to help finance further growth.  And the CEO will sell those 500,000 shares at the current market price of $110/share.  Pocketing $15 million.  And the shareholders, of course, get what they want.  A higher stock price.  Everyone wins.

Now let’s say that nothing spectacular happens.  And the stock price only rises to $75/share.  Because it’s below the ‘strike price’ the CEO will let these options expire.  The CEO profits nothing from these options.  But doesn’t lose anything either.  But what happens when the stock price falls because of that bold, new direction?  Causing the corporation to lose value.  As well as the shareholders.  But the CEO?  Again, the CEO will let those options expire.  And will lose no money.  Which is one of the benefits of stock options.  It got those risk-averse and cautious CEOs to take those big risks that got shareholders rich.  As there is no downside risk for the CEO.  Which is both good and bad.  On the one hand it encourages risk taking.  But on the other it encourages risk-taking.  Some CEOs will take excessive risks as they have nothing to lose.  Some will even cook the books to boost the stock price so they can exercise those options.  So it’s not a perfect system.  But they do provide a powerful incentive to bring great new things to market.  Which is what shareholders want.  And will take great risks themselves to get it.

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The Roaring Twenties and the Stock Market Crash of 1929

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 23rd, 2013

History 101

The Roaring Twenties gave us the Modern World and one of the Greatest Economic Booms in History

When the steam engine hit the American farm it increased farm production.  By mechanizing the farm fewer farmers could farm more land.  Allowing American farmers to produce bumper crops.  Creating a boom in farm exports.  Especially during World War I.  As Europeans farmers exchanged their plows for rifles Europe had no one to grow their food.  So even though the mechanization of the American farm caused crop prices to fall the increase in sales volume brought in more farm revenue.  Life was good for the American farmer.  For businesses manufacturing all of that mechanized farm equipment.  And the banks making loans to farmers so they could mechanize their farms.

The1920 presidential election pitted a progressive Democrat against a conservative Republican.  The progressive promised to raise tax rates to pay down the war debt.  Andrew Mellon, Warren Harding’s treasury secretary, found that high tax rates were counterproductive.  They actually reduced tax revenue.  As wealthy people invested their money out of the country to avoid high tax rates.  So when Harding won the election they cut tax rates.  With no need to shelter their income the wealthy invested their money in the United States.  Pouring their money into the domestic economy caused great economic activity.  Great returns on investment.  And great income tax revenue.  The wealthy paid almost three times as much in tax revenue.  While the tax burden on the poor fell.  And the national debt fell by one third.

Harding died in office but Calvin Coolidge continued his policies.  He slashed government spending along with those tax cuts.  Pulling the government out of the private sector economy.  And the private sector economy responded.  Creating a lot of jobs.  Unemployment fell to as low as 2%.  And living standards soared.  For everyone.  Not just those in the unions.  In fact, this general rise in living standards weakened the unions.  For you didn’t need to belong to a union to live well.  It was the beginning of the modern world.  Brought about by a burst of innovation and manufacturing that lasted 8 years.  One of the greatest economic booms in history.  Henry Ford’s moving assembly line made the car affordable for the working man.  Auto registrations rose from 9 million in 1921 to 23 million by 1929.  An increase of 156%.  And keeping pace with the auto manufacturers were their suppliers.  Metal, steel, paint, lumber, leather, cotton, glass, rubber, etc.  And especially the oil industry.  That made lubricating oils and greases.  And the gasoline that powered all of these cars.  With so many jobs per capita income increased from $522 in 1921 to $716 in 1929.  An increase of 37%.  With people earning more home ownership soared.  And this boom in economic activity didn’t end there.

Herbert Hoover thought Government could better Manage the Economy than Messy Laissez-Faire Free Market Forces

Electric utilities were bringing the new electric power to industrial users and private homes during the Twenties.  Industry was using 300% more electric power than they were in 1899.  And it changed home life.  As electric clothes irons, vacuum cleaners, clothes washers, toasters and refrigerators became common household items by the end of the Twenties.  Households that had a telephone increased by 51% during the Twenties.  People were watching movies.  And saw the first talkies in the Twenties.  The radio also became a household fixture with some 7.5 million radio sets sold by 1928.   The economy was booming.  The middle class was expanding.  Consumer prices fell due to increases in productivity giving people more disposable income than they ever had before.  Causing an increase in consumer spending.  Allowing 1 in 5 Americans to own a car.  And increasing the number of people who could afford to fly from 40,000 in 1920 to 417,000 in 1930.  An increase of 943%.  So Americans were buying a lot.  But they were also saving a lot.  And investing.  Some 28% of American families owned stock.  Something once the exclusive privilege of the rich.  Wage earners were even buying life insurance policies to provide for their families in the event of their death.  Things were happening in the United States during the Twenties.  And the innovation and economic tsunami coming out of America had those in Europe worried.  So worried that they were discussing forming a United States of Europe to compete with the American system.

But all was not good.  During the Twenties those Europeans traded their rifles back for plows.  Reducing the export market for American farmers.  And when European governments threw up tariffs on America farm goods that export market disappeared.  Putting great surpluses into the American market.  Causing crop prices to fall further.  Crashing farm incomes.  Making some farmers unable to service their debt for all of that mechanized equipment they financed.  And when they defaulted on their loans en masse banks in the farming regions failed.  And when they did the money supply contracted.  The Federal Reserve made no effort to stop this contraction.  Which had a cooling effect.  Tapping the breaks on an expanding economy.

Coolidge chose not to run for a second term.  His successor, Herbert Hoover, was a progressive Republican.  And was everything Coolidge was not.  Hoover favored a big government perfecting the country.  He was a professional bureaucrat.  He loved bureaucracies.  And he loved paperwork and forms.  Which he wanted to bury private business in.  He thought the government could manage the economy better than messy laissez-faire free market forces.  Those very forces that created the Roaring Twenties.  He wanted to partner government with business.  With the emphasis on government.  (As president he increased the size of the Commerce Department and deepened its reach into the private sector economy.)

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff caused Investors to Dump their Stocks causing the Stock Market Crash of 1929

The Federal Reserve misjudged the stock market.  They thought it was nothing but speculation.  Citing radio maker RCA’s stock price’s meteoric rise.  So the Fed tapped the breaks further to cool this ‘speculative’ fervor.  Further contracting the money supply.  But this wasn’t speculation.  The rate of growth in radio sales actually was greater than the rate of growth in the stock price.  Making it more likely that the stock was undervalued.  Not overvalued.  But the Fed went ahead and contracted the money supply anyway.  Making it difficult for business to get funding for continued growth.  Despite there still being people out there who hadn’t bought a car, a house, electric appliances or a radio yet.  And wanted to.

In 1929 a new tariff bill was moving through Congressional committees.  The Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Which would raise taxes on imports by up to 30%.  Which would greatly increase the cost of business.  Because most if not all of American manufacturing used some imported raw materials.  Which would increase their selling prices.  Making them less competitive.  Worse, if the U.S. slapped tariffs on imports it was certain their trading partners would respond with some retaliatory tariffs.  Which would just shut down their export markets.  Much like those tariffs shut down the export markets for American farmers.  Then in the autumn of 1929 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff passed critical votes in committee.  Sending the tariff bill on its way to becoming law.  This was not good news for investors.

It was all too much.  The coming expansion of government regulation over the private sector economy.  Higher taxes to pay for this bigger government.  The contraction of the money supply.  And then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Investors could read the writing on the wall.  None of this would be good for business.  It would just smother the economic growth of the Twenties.  For if you increase businesses’ costs and decrease their markets you will slash their profits.  Which will reduce the value of these companies.  And reduce the value of their stock prices.  As investors live by the adage of “buy low, sell high” they’d want to sell those stocks fast before the Smoot-Hawley Tariff sent their prices into a tailspin.  Which they did.  Causing a great selloff starting in October.  That led to the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Now contrast that with a true speculative bubble.  The dot-com bubble.  Where investors poured money into these dot-com companies eager to find the next Microsoft.  Aided and abetted by the Federal Reserve that was keeping interest rates artificially low.  To encourage all sorts of investment.  Including ones driven by irrational exuberance.  So investors were bidding those stock prices into the stratosphere.  For companies that had no profits.  For companies that didn’t have a product or service to sell.  But these investors were looking with great anticipation at their future profits.  Even though they really didn’t understand the Internet.  They just knew that computers were involved.  Which is what made Microsoft rich.  Producing software to run on computers.  And every investor was sure their dot-com was going to produce something to run on computers.  Making that company rich.  And their investors.  But when the start-up capital ran out there were no earnings to replace it.  And the speculative bubble burst beginning on March 11, 2000.  And those highly overvalued stock prices began to fall back to earth.  With the tech-laden NASDAQ losing 78% of its value before it was all over.  Now THAT is a speculative bubble that the Federal Reserve should have tried to prevent.  Not the economic boom of the Twenties where companies were building real things that real people were buying.

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Capital Markets, IPO, Bubbles and Stock Market Crashes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2013

Economics 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami both Helped GM and Hurt the Economy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2012

Week in Review

Sadly for President Obama and GM the Japanese have recovered from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  And GM has to face some formidable competition once again (see More Bad News for Obama: A Slump at GM by Rick Newman posted 8/2/2012 on U.S News & World Report).

The downshift seems to have scotched any notion of the government selling its stake in the company prior to the November elections, since that would amount to a taxpayer loss of roughly $17 billion, and a major embarrassment for Obama. The government can hold onto its shares as long as it likes, and sell when the price is high enough to get all its money back. But the stock would have to hit about $53 for Uncle Sam to break even—a threshold that seems a long way off…

One reason GM has lost market share this year has been the resurgence of Toyota, Honda and Nissan, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disrupted production and temporarily boosted the market share of Japan’s competitors…

Funny.  For the 2011 earthquake and tsunami was responsible for America’s lingering recession.  According to President Obama.  And here it was propping up GM and all the economic activity it generated.  Which was why the government bailed out GM.  To save jobs.  And all of that economic activity GM created.  So if the 2011 earthquake and tsunami was responsible for propping up GM why didn’t it prop up the rest of the economy?  Like Japan’s Lost Decade helped Bill Clinton’s economy during the Nineties?  Simple.  Because President Obama’s economic policies are just that bad.

GM will probably regain some momentum in 2013, when it rolls out its next generation of large SUVs, which are usually highly profitable. Meanwhile, Cadillac is on a roll, thanks to the new ATS compact, the XTS large sedan, and improving quality ratings. Chevrolet has three new models out or on the way—the Malibu and Impala sedans and the Spark subcompact—and a refreshed version of the popular Traverse crossover is coming next year as well…

Nobody would like to see the government sell its stake in GM more than GM. CEO Dan Akerson has complained about the company’s unhappy status as a political football, and the toll that takes on sales and morale. But he’s probably going to have to put up with it for a good while longer.

The car President Obama wanted Government Motors, I mean, General Motors to build is not even mentioned in this article.  The Chevy Volt hybrid.  Which is conspicuous by its absence.  Instead they mention the things his administration opposes.  SUVs.  And large sedans.  Vehicles the American people want to buy.  Perhaps encouraging GM to build something the American people didn’t want to buy also had something to do with GM’s falling stock price.

Perhaps it would be best for the government to sell its shares now.  Even at a loss.  So GM can run the car company.  And not politicians who don’t know the first thing about running a car company.  Ending his war on the stuff that makes these cars run, refined petroleum, would help, too.  A lot.  By bringing the cost of gasoline down.  Helping GM to sell more of the vehicles people want to buy.  Doing these things would help the economy more than 2011 earthquake and tsunami helped it.  Now that would be smart government.  Sadly, something we just don’t see much of these days.

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