Posts tagged ‘competitiveness’

Darwin Meets Capitalism & Private Equity

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A rising discontent is spreading like wildfire in the wake of a massive financial crisis that erupted in the U.S. during 2008, and is now working its way through Europe. Irresponsible governments across the globe succumbed to the deceptive allure of leverage, and as a result racked up colossal debts and gargantuan deficits. Now governments everywhere are toggling between political gridlock and painful austerity. Citizens are feeling the pain through high unemployment, exploding education costs, crumbling social safety nets, and a general decline in the standard of living.

As a result of these dramatic changes, the contributions of capitalism are being questioned by many, whether it’s the Occupy Wall Street movement attack on the top 1%, or more recently the assault on private equity’s relevancy for a presidential candidate.

Although the media may prefer to sensationalize economic stories and tell observers, “This time is different” to boost viewership, usually the truth relies more on the nuanced evolution of issues over time. If Charles Darwin were alive today, he would understand that capitalism and democracies are evolving to massive changes in globalization, technology, and emerging markets. Darwin would appreciate the fact that capitalism can’t and won’t change overnight. Whether capitalism ultimately survives or goes extinct depends on how it adapts. Or as Darwin characterizes evolution:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.

Will Capitalism Survive?

Capitalism and democracy fit like a hand in a glove, which explains why both have thrived for generations. Never mind that democracies have been around for centuries and their expansion continues unabated (see Spreading the Seeds of Democracy), nevertheless pundits feel compelled to question the sustainability of these institutions.

I guess the real response to all those experts who question the merits of capitalism is what alternative would serve us better? Would it be Socialism like we see grinding Europe to a halt? Or perhaps Communism working its wonders in North Korea and Cuba? If not that, then surely the Autocracies in Egypt and Libya are the winning formulas? The Occupy Wall Streeters may not be happy with their personal plight or the top 1%, but I don’t see them packing their bags for Greece, the Middle East or China.

There is arguably a growing disparity between rich and poor and the game of globalization is only making it more difficult for rising tides of growth to lift up our middle class. The beauty of capitalism is that money goes where it is treated best. Capitalism sucks money to the areas of the world that are the freest, most open, transparent, and practice the rule of law. Some of these components of American capitalism unquestionably eroded over the last decade or so, but the good thing is that in a democracy, citizens have the right to vote and elect growth-promoting leaders to fix problems. Growth comes from competitiveness, and competitiveness is derived from education, innovation, and pro-growth policies. Let’s hope the 2012 elections get agents of change in office.

Darwin & Private Equity

Republican Presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney has been raked over the coals for his prior professional career at private equity firm, Bain Capital. I’m convinced Charles Darwin would see private equity’s involvement as a critical factor in the process of global commerce. Businesses are like species, and only the fittest will survive.

Private equity firms prey upon weak businesses, looking to restructure and reorganize them to become more competitive. If private equity companies are bullies, then their business targets can be considered weaklings. Beating wimps into shape may not be fun to watch, but is a crucial evolutionary aspect of business. The fact of the matter is that deteriorating, uncompetitive companies cannot hire employees…only profitable, viable entities can createsustainable jobs. So our public policy officials have two choices:

•  Prop up uncompetitive businesses inefficiently with tax dollars that save jobs in the short-run, but lead to bankruptcy and massive job losses in the future. Other unproductive tariffs and bailouts may garner short-term political votes, but only lead to long-term stagnancy.

OR

•  Trim fat, restructure and reorganize now – similar to the swift pain experienced from extracting a rotted tooth. Jobs may be cut in the short-run, but a long-term competitively positioned company will be able to grow and create sustainable long-term jobs.

I can’t say I agree with all of private equity practices, such as leveraged recapitalizations – the practice in which private equity companies load up the target with debt so big fat dividends can be sucked out by the principals. But guess what? By doing so the principals are only reducing their own future exit value through a potential IPO (Initial Public Offering) or company sale. Moreover, if this is such an evil practice, lenders can curb the practice by simply not giving the private equity companies the needed borrowing capacity.

Capitalism and its private equity subset have gotten quite a bad rap lately, but I believe these forces are essential aspects for the rising standards of living for billions of people across the planet. When first introduced, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was critically examined by many non-believers. Although capitalism will be forced to adapt to an ever-changing world and its merits have been questioned too, the chances of capitalism going extinct are about as likely as the extinction of Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

January 21, 2012 at 3:47 pm 1 comment

Job Losses = Job Creation

Apple Inc. (AAPL) is considered the quintessential innovation company. After all, if you flip over an iPad or an iPhone it will clearly state, “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” Apple is just too busy innovating to worry about dirtying their hands by assembling products – they can simply outsource that work. Many people have a problem with the millions of manufacturing jobs moving offshore, but if I am the self anointed “Innovation Czar” for the United States, I definitely favor keeping the $120,000 Apple engineering jobs over the low-cost $2 per hour jobs being lost to China (or cheaper developing country). Oh sure, I would prefer keeping both workers, but if push comes to shove, I much rather keep the six-figure job. The bad news is the displaced American iPhone/iPad assembler must find an alternative lower-skilled employment opportunity. The good news is there are plenty of service-based jobs that will NOT get outsourced to the Chinese. If displaced workers are unhappy serving lattes at Starbucks or changing bedpans at the local hospital (or other unglamorous service-based job), then they can choose to retool their skills through education, in order to land higher-paying jobs not getting outsourced.

Bass Ackwards Job Assessment

While I may agree with many points made by Time Magazine’s Fareed Zakaria in his article, The Future of Innovation: Can America Keep Pace?,   I think Zakaria is looking at the job trade-off a little backwards. Here is what says about Apple-created job losses in a CNN blog post:

“Apple has about $70 billion in revenues.  The company that makes Apple’s products called Foxconn is in China.  They have about the same revenue – $70 billion dollars. Apple employees 50,000 people. Foxconn employs 1,000,000 people. So you can have all the innovation you want and tens of thousands of engineers in California benefit, but hundreds of thousands of people benefit in China because the manufacturing has gone there. What does that mean? America needs to innovate even more to keep pace.”

Wow, that’s very altruistic of Apple to create thousands of jobs for Foxconn in Asia, but that $70 billion in Apple revenues likely generates close to 10 times the profits that Foxconn creates (Apple had 24% net profit margins last quarter versus probably a few percent at Foxconn). As Innovation Czar, I’ll gladly take the $20 billion in Apple profits added to the U.S. economy over the last 12 months versus the $2-3 billion profits at Foxconn (my estimate). Let’s be clear, profitable companies add jobs (Apple added over 12,000 employees in fiscal 2010, up +35%) – not weak or uncompetitive companies losing money.

Although the U.S. is losing low-skilled jobs to the likes of Foxconn, guess what those $120k engineering jobs at Apple are creating? Those positions are also generating lots of $12/hour service jobs. When you are paying your workers billions of dollars, like Apple, a lot of those dollars have a way of recirculating through our economy. For instance, if I am a six-figure employee at Apple, I am likely funding leisure jobs in Tahoe for family vacations; supporting jobs at Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) because my demanding schedule at Apple means more take-out meals; and creating jobs for auto workers at Ford (F) thanks to my new SUV purchase.

Margin Surplus Redux

The same arguments I make in the Apple vs. Foxconn comparison are very similar to the case I wrote about in Margin Surplus Retake, which compares the profit and trade deficit dynamics occurring in a $1,000 Toshiba laptop sale. Although Toshiba and its foreign component counterparts may recognize twice the revenues in a common laptop sale as American suppliers (contributing to our country’s massive trade deficit), Intel Corp. (INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) generate six times the profits as Toshiba and company. The end result is a massive profit or margin surplus for the Americans – a better barometer to financial reality than stale government trade deficit statistics.

There are obviously no silver bullets or easy answers to resolve these ever-growing economic issues, but as political gridlock grinds innovation to a halt, globalization is accelerating. The rest of the world is racing to narrow the gap of our innovative supremacy, but our sense of entitlement will get us nowhere. Zakaria points out that by 2013, China is expected to overtake the U.S. as the leading scientific research publisher and after we held a three-fold increase in advanced engineering and technology masters degrees in 1995, China surpassed us in 2005 (63,514 in China vs. 53,349 in the U.S.). China may not be home to Facebook or Google Inc. (GOOG), but Baidu Inc. (BIDU) is headquartered in China with a market capitalization of $43 billion and Tencent Holdings is valued at more than $50 billion (not to mention Tencent has roughly the same number of users as Facebook – more than 600 million).

The jobless recovery has been painful for the 14 million unemployed, but there is hope for all, if innovation and education (see Keys to Success) can create more six-figure Apple jobs to offset less valuable jobs lost to outsourcing. In order to narrow the chasm between rich and poor in our country, Americans need to climb the labor ladder of innovation. Contrary to Fareed Zakaria’s assertion, swapping quality job gains with crappy job losses, is an economic trade I would make every day and twice on Sunday. If the country wants to return to the path of economic greatness and sustainable job creation, the country needs to embrace this idea of outsourced creative destruction.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AAPL, and GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Foxconn, Facebook, MSFT, INTC, CAKE, CMG, F, BIDU, Tencent, Toshiba, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 15, 2011 at 12:41 am 1 comment


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