Posts tagged ‘OWS’

Darwin Meets Capitalism & Private Equity

Source: Photobucket

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

2011: Beating Batter into Flat Pancake

As it turns out, 2011 can be characterized as the year of the pancake…the flat pancake. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow) rose about 6% this year (its third consecutive annual gain), the S&P 500 ended the year flat at 1257.6 (-0.003%), the smallest yearly move in more than four decades. Along the way in 2011, there was plenty of violent beating and whipping of the lumpy pancake batter before the flat cake was cooked for the year. With respect to the financial markets, the 2011 lumps came in the form of various unsavory events:

* Never-Ending Eurozone Financial Saga: After Ireland and Portugal sought bailouts, Greece added its negligent financial storyline to the financial soap opera. Whether European government leaders can manage out-of-control deficits and debt loads will determine if Greece and other peripheral countries will topple larger countries like Italy and Spain.

* Credit Rating Downgrade: Standard & Poor’s, the highest profile credit rating agency, downgraded the U.S.’s long-term debt rating to AA+ from AAA due to high debt levels and Congressional legislators inability to hammer out a deficit-reduction plan during the debt ceiling negotiations.

* Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: Japan and the global economy were rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, which resulted in 15,844 people dead and 3,451 people missing. The ripple effects are still being felt through large industries like the automobile and electronics industries.

* Arab Spring Protests: Protesters throughout the Middle East and North Africa provided additional uncertainty to the global political map as demonstrators demanded regime change and more political freedoms. In the long-run, removing oppressive leaders like Hosni Mubarak (Egypt’s leader for 30 years), Muammar Gadaffi (Libya’s leader for 42 years), and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia’s president for 23 years) should be beneficial for global stability, but in the short-run, how the new leadership vacuum will be filled remains ambiguous.

* Occupy Movement Voices Disapproval: The Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and spread to over 100 cities in the U.S. There has not been a cohesive articulated agenda, but a common thread underlying all the Occupy movements is a sense that 99% of the population is being treated unfairly due to a flawed corrupt system controlled by Wall Street that is feeding the richest 1%.

All these lumps experienced in 2011 were not settling to investors’ stomachs. As a result individuals continued the trend of piling into bonds, in hopes of soothing their investment tummies. Long-term Treasury prices spiked upwards in 2011 (+29% as measured by TLT Treasury ETF) and soaring 10-year Treasury note prices pushed yields (1.87%) below yields on S&P 500 equities (2.1%). Despite a more than 3,400 point increase in the Dow (+39%) since the end of 2008, investors have still poured $774 billion into bonds versus $33 billion yanked from equities, according to EPFR Global. Over-weighting bonds makes sense for some, including retirees on fixed budgets, but many investors should brace for an inevitable reversal in bond prices. Eventually, the sweet taste of safety achieved from bond appreciation will turn to heartburn, once interest rates reverse their 30 year trend of declines.

Syrupy Factors Help Sweeten Pancakes 
 

Although the aforementioned factors lead to historically high volatility and flat flavors in 2011, there are also some countering sweet reasons that make equities look more palatable for 2012. Here are some of the factors:

* Record Corporate Profits: Even with the constant barrage of fear, uncertainty, and doubt distributed via the media channels, corporations posted record profits in 2011, with an estimated increase of +16% over last year (and another forecasted +10% rise in 2012 – Source: S&P).

* Historic Levels of Cash: Record profits mean record cash, and all those riches have been piling up on non-financial corporate balance sheets at historic levels. At the beginning of Q4 the figure stood at $2.12 trillion. Companies have generally been stingy, but as the recovery progresses, they have increasingly been spending on technology, equipment, international expansion, and even the beginnings of hiring.

* Interest Rates at 60 Year Lows: Interest rates are at record lows and home affordability has never been better with 30-year fixed rate mortgages hovering below 4%. Housing may not come screaming back, but the foundation for a recovery is being laid.

* Improving Economic Variables: Whether you’re looking at broader economic activity (Gross Domestic Product up for nine consecutive quarters); employment growth (declining unemployment rate and 21 consecutive months of private job creation), or consumer spending (consumer confidence approaching multi-year highs), all major signs are currently pointing to an improving outlook.

* Near Record Exports: While the U.S. dollar has made some recent gains against foreign currencies because of the financial crisis in Europe, the relative value of the dollar remains historically low versus the major global currencies. The longer-term depreciation of the dollar has buoyed exports of U.S. goods to near record levels despite the global uncertainty.

* Unprecedented Central Bank Support Globally: Ben Bernanke and the U.S. Federal Reserve is committed to keeping exceptionally low levels of lending interest rates at least through mid-2013, while also implementing “Operation Twist” and potential further quantitative easing (QE3). Translation: Ben Bernanke is going to do everything in his power to keep interest rates low in order to stimulate economic growth. The European Central Bank (ECB) has pulled out its lending fire trucks too, with an unparalleled three-year lending program to extinguish liquidity fires in the European banking sector.

* Improving Mergers & Acquisitions Environment: We may not be back to the 2006 buyout “hay-days,” but U.S. mergers and acquisitions activity increased +24% in 2011. What’s more, high profile potential IPOs like an estimated $100 billion Facebook offering may help kick-start the new equity issuance market in 2012.

* Tasty Fat Dividends: Rarely have S&P 500 dividend yields (currently 2.1%) outpaced the interest rates earned on 10-year Treasury note yields, but now happens to be one of those times. Typically S&P 500 stock dividends have averaged about 40% of the yield on 10-year Treasury notes, and now it is 112%. In Q3 of 2011, dividend increases rose +17% and expectations are for nearly a +11% increase in 2012, said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P.

Any way you cut it (or beat the batter), 2011 was a volatile year. And despite all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt, profits continue to grow and sovereign nations are being forced to deal with their fiscal problems. Unforeseen risks always exist, but if Europe can contain its financial crisis and the U.S. recovery can continue into this new election year, then opportunities in the 2012 attractively priced equity markets should sweeten the flat equity pancake we ate in 2011.

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, including a short position in TLT, 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 3, 2012 at 1:07 am Leave a comment


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