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Monday, October 17, 2016

Downturns Should Be Times of Investment, Not Divestment


Buy when low and sell when high, right?


Businesses always hoard cash and divest themselves of labour and a equipment in a downturn, usually hampering their recover when the inevitable, cyclical, upturn comes along. It also likely extends the downturn for a longer period of time. Confidence weakened or lost is hard to restore quickly, like a tree.

According The Sunday Edition item below, the 10% of companies that are taking risks are actually doing better on the bottom line.


Accountability isn’t even the norm in accounting these days. CEOs are just unwilling to risk the value of the stock options. Keeping profit continually high, without growth, is a high cost in the long run. Lower profit is still profit; as long as the bills are paid you can ride out the hard times, especially if you plan for them, like the oil companies claim when they project prices over a forty-year project term.  


Maximization of the median profits over the long-term should be the goal, not quarterly extremes. Otherwise the company devours itself from the bottom up until only the CEO remains to engage parachute. A well-run, profitable, growing, sustainable business attracts more, lasting, investor confidence than fast profit at great expense or a timid CEO unable to risk personal profit.
 
A downturn is the perfect time to repair, replace, retool, renovate, upgrade, and build, in order to be prepared for the upswing. Oil companies should be doing cleanup and the like now. This keeps labour employed while improving the business by investing profits from the good times when it is difficult to find time and labour.

The crew works on the ship during the calm so that they can sail at top speed through the storms. One company that I worked for introduces every major change, usually several at a time, at the busiest times, guaranteeing disaster. I fell overboard after getting through a long storm and dark night, swept over the railing by a final rogue wave. 

In 2012, Mark Carney, then the governor of the Bank of Canada, chastised Canadian companies for sitting on "dead money."
In 2012, Mark Carney, then the governor of the Bank of Canada, chastised Canadian companies for sitting on "dead money." (Reuters)
Listen 3:58
In August 2012, Mark Carney, then governor of the Bank of Canada, made a speech to the Canadian Auto Workers about corporate Canada. Mr. Carney, as you know, is now governor of the Bank of England, hence one of the most important people in the UK.
What he had to say was a kick to the delicate undercarriage of Canada's big businesses.
Governor Carney said that companies were sitting on huge piles of cash, what he called dead money. They weren't investing the money, just sitting on it.
It turns out Carney was being polite when he said the caution by Canadian CEOs might be excessive. It turns out that they are in fact scaredy cats. Chickens. Nervous Nellies. Cowards, even. - Michael Enright
"Their job," he said, "is to put money to work and if they can't think of what to do with it, they should give it back to their shareholders."

Stats Can reported that at the time of the governor's speech, companies were hoarding nearly half a trillion dollars in cash, an increase of 43 per cent since the end of the recession in 2009.
Canadian firms weren't doing enough to drive economic growth and create new jobs because the level of caution of CEOs was, in his words, "excessive."
It turns out Carney was being polite when he said the caution by Canadian CEOs might be excessive. It turns out that they are in fact scaredy cats. Chickens. Nervous Nellies. Cowards, even.
Last month, Deloitte published the results of a survey of big business which showed that fully 90 per cent of business leaders lack courage. As a result, the Canadian economy is suffering mightily, stuck in neutral, as Deloitte says. The report is entitled "The future belongs to the bold."
Now, this allegation isn't coming from some upstart startup run by nerds in linty sweaters and sneakers without socks.

Deloitte is the largest business services network in the world, with revenues this year of $36.8 billion. It works like the internal affairs division of a police department. It looked at 1,200 businesses across the country and discovered that 90 per cent lacked what the report calls courage.
The irony is that Deloitte found that the 10 per cent of so-called courageous companies did better at the bottom line than the chicken-hearted. Nearly 70 per cent of the courageous companies had rising revenues and fully 17 per cent increased their work forces. In other words, having guts pays off in terms of profits and in the doing, actually creates jobs.
- Michael Enright
This is from the report: "At a time when Canada needs its businesses to be bolder and more courageous than ever before, almost 90 per cent aren't up to the task."
It found that Canadian executives are far more risk averse than those in other countries, especially the United States.

The bad news gets worse. Canadian firms invest less in machinery and equipment than those in comparable industrialized nations. Moreover, investment in training has dropped 40 per cent in the last 20 years.

The irony is that Deloitte found that the 10 per cent of so-called courageous companies did better at the bottom line than the chicken-hearted.

Nearly 70 per cent of the courageous companies had rising revenues and fully 17 per cent increased their work forces. In other words, having guts pays off in terms of profits and in the doing, actually creates jobs.

The report points out that executives may have some legitimate concerns, as the projected growth for the country next year is only 1.3 per cent — much less than other countries. It does not offer that as an excuse for hyper caution of business leaders.
In the end, Deloitte's findings can serve as a  warning for Canadian CEOs to find a little courage somewhere and get the economy moving again.

Incidentally, the compensation for the top CEOs in this country is 159 times that of the average worker.




Everything is always in process
Only compassion defeats dehumanization.