Posts tagged ‘Mary Meeker’

USA Inc.: Buy, Hold or Sell?

If the U.S. was a company, would you buy, hold, or sell the stock? A voluminous report put out last year by Mary Meeker sought to answer that very question. Since we’re in the thick of the presidential elections, why not review the important financial state of our great nation.

For those of you who may not know who she is, Mary Meeker is the well-known partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who is also affectionately known as the “Queen of Internet.” Apparently, beyond her renowned expertise in analyzing and valuing tech companies and start-ups, she also has the knack of dissecting government statistics and distilling wonky numbers down to understandable terms for the masses. “Distilling” may be a generous term, given the massive size of her 460-page report, USA Inc., but nevertheless, I am going to attempt to synthesize this gargantuan report even further.

As a visual learner, I think some key cherry-picked slides from her report will help put our multi-trillion debts and deficits in context, so here goes…

The Scope of the Problem

If one spends a few hundred billion dollars here, and a few hundred billion dollars there, before you know it, a trillion dollars will have piled up. Currently our government has run $1 trillion+ budget deficits for three years, and the estimated deficit is for another trillion dollar deficit this fiscal year. If you have ever wondered how many football fields it takes to fill with a trillion dollars of cash, then today is your lucky day. The answer: 217 football fields.

Financial Statements: The Health Thermometer

In order to determine the relative health of USA Inc., Meeker created financial statements for our country, starting with the income statement. As you can see from the chart below, unfortunately USA Inc.’s expenses have been significantly larger than its revenues, creating a “discouraging” trend of negative cash flows (deficits). An entity that takes in $2.2 trillion in revenue and spends $3.5 trillion, cannot sustainably continue this trend for long, before significant financial problems arise. The largest contributing factor to our country’s losses (deficits) has been the exploding costs of entitlements, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

As the pie chart shows, the major categories of entitlements comprise a whopping 58% of USA Inc.’s 2010 total expenditures.

Trillion dollar deficits have been the norm over the last three years.

Why Entitlement Spending is a Problem

Why are entitlements such a massive problem? The plain and simple answer to why entitlements are a major issue is that government expenditures are growing too fast. You can’t have expenses growing significantly faster than revenues for 45 years and expect to be in happy financial place.

Another reason for the abysmal spending record is due to politicians horrendous forecasting abilities. Future promises are made by politicians to garner votes today, and when they make overly rosy estimates about the costs of those promises, future generations are left holding the underfunded bag. Meeker points out that when Medicare was instituted in 1966, total future spending  of $110 billion turned out to be about 10x more expensive (see chart below) than originally planned…ouch!

No Defense for Defense

Trillion dollar deficits and debts can’t be solely blamed on entitlements, but $700 billion in annual defense expenditures is not exactly chump change. The inopportune timing of the financial crisis in 2008-2009 didn’t help either, while two unfunded wars were being fought. Even if you strip out the wars, defense spending is still obscenely high. Given our poor state of financial affairs, we cannot afford to be the globe’s babysitter (see Impoverished Global Babysitter). Legacy Cold War spending on obsolete ground warfare needs to be reprioritized to 21st Century threats (i.e. focus on unmanned drones and coordinated intelligence). When a government spends more than the top 25 countries combined (see chart below), that country can certainly find some defense fat to trim.

Demographic Headwinds

The out-of-control gluttonous government spending is a threat to our national security, and although I wish I could say time alone will heal our fiscal wounds, unfortunately the opposite is true. Time is our enemy because the ticking demographic time bomb is about to explode, unless government acts to solve our spending problems. For starters, Americans are living longer, which means entitlement spending has accelerated faster than revenues collected, and life expectancy consistently continues to rise. As you can see below, life expectancy has outpaced Social Security age adjustments by +23% over a 74 year period.

Another self inflicted problem contributing to our colossal health care costs is the obesity epidemic. Over an 18 year period, the rate of obesity more than doubled to 32%. Individuals can and should shoulder more of the burden for these belt-busting costs, and government should spend more on prevention and education in this area. Bad drivers pay higher premiums for their auto insurance, so why not have bad eaters pay higher premiums? Genetics certainly can play a role in obesity, but so to do eating habits. The same accountability principle should be applied to smokers who overly burden our healthcare system too.

The USA spends more on healthcare than all OECD countries combined and 3x the OECD per capita average, yet as you can see from the chart below, the USA is not getting a life expectancy bang for its buck. The argument that the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world may be true in some instances, but the overall data doesn’t support that assertion.

The Rubber Hits the Road

The problem is easy to identify: Government spending going out the door is running faster than the revenues coming in via taxes. The solution is easy to identify too: Politicians need to cut spending, increase taxes, and/or do a combination of the two options. Like dieting, the solutions are easy to identify but difficult to execute.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit – Scott Grannis

Almost everyone wants the government to spend less, but at the same time nobody wants their benefits cut. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Citing two different studies, Meeker shows how 80% of Americans want a balanced budget as a national priority, but only 12% are willing to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security.

The rubber will hit the road in the next few months when politicians in a post-presidential election period will be forced to face these difficult “Fiscal Cliff” choices – $700 billion+ in tax hikes and spending increases that  jeopardize the current recovery and our fiscal future.

Source: PIMCO

As market maven Mary Meeker recognizes, our fiscal situation is quite “discouraging”. With that said, although USA Inc. may have earned a current “Sell” rating, Meeker acknowledges that our country can become a positive turnaround situation. If voters actively push politicians to making difficult but necessary financial decisions to lower deficits and debt, investors around the globe will be ready to “Buy” USA Inc.’s stock.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions 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.

 

 

 

October 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm 1 comment

The Internet: The Fourth Necessity

The basic necessities for human life are food, water, shelter and most importantly…the internet. Imagine a world where you cannot: access your email; text your spouse or significant other in the same house; Twitter the contents of your lunch; or Facebook a YouTube video of a dancing meringue dog (see video).  Scary thought.

Many people take the internet for granted, just like the air we breathe, but how important a role does the internet play in people’s lives? Mary Meeker, internet analyst from Morgan Stanley, takes a look at this question in a recently released presentation she completed. Earlier in the decade, Meeker was raked over the coals during the deflation of the internet bubble, but in many respects she has been redeemed in the subsequent years as hundreds of millions of people continue to plug into the internet.

According to the broad base of expert strategists, we apparently are living in an overvalued, “New Normal ” market with subdued growth for as far as the eye can see (check out New Abnormal). In the mean time Meeker shows how the top 15 global internet franchises have nearly quadrupled revenue from $33 billion in 2004 to $126 billion today. Perhaps abnormally outsized opportunities in the corporate internet universe will be the “New Normal” over the coming years?

Internet Ubiquity

Source: Morgan Stanley

How ubiquitous is the internet becoming? Last year 1.8 billion people accessed this invisible global flattening medium we like to call the internet, and users spent 18.8 trillion minutes online, up +21% over the previous year. Many people are very familiar with the home-bred internet franchises of Facebook (620 million users), Google (940 million users), and Apple (120 million internet device users), but many investors under-appreciate the global scale of international internet franchises like Tencent (637 million users…more than Facebook by the way), Baidu ($40 billion market value), or Alibaba.com ($10 billion market value).

Source: Morgan Stanley

Mobile ubiquity is on the rise too. Connecting through a desktop or laptop is not enough these days, so internet addicts are increasingly attaching a mobile phone umbilical cord for such useful bathroom applications such as this (click here). Lugging a laptop around all over the place can be an inconvenience. So primal is the mobile instinct among internet users, Morgan Stanley expects mobile phone shipments to surpass PC and laptop shipments over the next 24 months.

What’s Next?

The party is just getting started. If you just consider eCommerce (purchases online), which only accounts for 4% of total commerce conducted in the U.S., then there is a lot of headroom for internet purchases to expand. The incredible potential rings true especially if you contemplate old traditional catalog, which peaked at more than 10% of overall commerce according to some industry executives. The rich feature functionality afforded to users through the internet, coupled with the increased convenience of mobility, augur well for future ecommerce sales growth.

The internet has been around for 15 years, but in the whole scheme of things this transformative medium is just a baby – especially if you consider the amount of time it took other revolutions like electricity, the rail network, and automobile proliferation to spread.  That is why it is not too late to join the internet party.  Food, water, and shelter are human necessities of life, just like exposure to the internet revolution is a necessity for your investment portfolio.

Read the Morgan Stanley Internet Presentation by Mary Meeker

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

http://www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: 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 MS, BIDU, Tencent, Alibaba.com, Facebook, Twitter, 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.

November 19, 2010 at 1:32 am Leave a comment


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