Saturday, 13 May 2017

Companies don't make investment decisions based on tax rates

If you cut tax rates, will companies invest more ? This is almost a religious belief in a certain party in a certain country in the world. Is it justified  ?

The answer, in my opinion, is mostly No.

Companies make investment decisions based on markets, sales projections, competitive advantage, margin potential, scalability and the like.  These are extremely complex business variables and occupy 90% of the time and effort that goes into a business decision.

The tax line is one of the last lines in the cash flows of an investment proposal. It is certainly important, but hardly a determiner of whether the investment goes ahead or not.

There are a few instances when the tax rate indeed becomes a determining variable in the decision. For example, in India, there have been many instances where the government, in an effort to stimulate an underdeveloped part of the country has allowed zero income tax rates for operations located in those areas. In such a case, the tax rate becomes a determiner of the location of the investment; not the investment per se. Nobody puts up a factory just because the tax rate is zero. They put up a factory because the business opportunity is compelling. Having decided to invest, they may choose to locate it in a low tax zone.

The other instance when a tax rate becomes a determiner of investment is if the tax rate is ridiculously high.  For example if the marginal tax rate is 90%, nobody will invest even if the business opportunity is compelling (M. Melenchon's supporters, are you listening ?). But if you cut the tax rate from 35% to 15% , it's a nice bonus, but it will not add one dollar of investment which otherwise would not have been made.

Further, companies make investments based on a 7 or 9 year time horizon. If one President cuts tax rates this year, what stops the next President from increasing it 3 years from now. So its almost inconceivable that a company which would otherwise have not made the investment, will rush to now make it because of the tax cut.

The argument that a major tax cut on companies, will spur investment growth is mostly flawed. It will however have the following consequences

It will improve corporate profits (for after all tax is a cost) and therefore both the investible surplus and/or dividends in the hands of shareholders. It will increase the wealth in the hands of those who are shareholders. They may spend it which will have a beneficial impact on the economy.

It will correspondingly increase the deficit that the government runs, and therefore the nation's borrowings. That will push the cost of borrowing and inflation.

But will it also increase tax revenues and therefore make the measure revenue neutral. Mostly No. But there is one big exception in the US, which will be the subject matter of the next post.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Fear of Flying

In the normal world of business, companies are supposed to treat their customers with kids gloves. And customers are supposed to be very partial to the brands that they buy. It's all supposed to be a love love relationship .

Not so in the airline industry. Customers absolutely loath airlines. The act of flying is considered by most flyers, especially the regular ones, as next only to root canal surgery.  And airlines (mostly) hate their customers. They are little more than cattle, in their eyes. And everybody associated with the act of flying hates everybody else. The security folk are hated by all. Most airports in the world are glorified cattle pens. And yet the industry is booming. The rash of incidents being reported from the US will simply pass over. The hate hate relationship is alive and kicking and will simply continue thriving.

Why is this so ?  Two reasons primarily, in my view

- One, there is no option but to fly.
- Two,  customers care for nothing else but price. All the talk of wanting service is humbug.

We all moan about how seats have become cramped, food has disappeared altogether, everything costs extra , security lines are impossible, etc etc. And yet , if there was a flight that costed $1, but required you to stand on one leg throughout the flight, we'll cheerfully take it. And therein lies the problem.

Take India and the case of New Delhi . I had the misfortune of flying from there a couple of days ago and hence this post.

There are two domestic terminals in Delhi. One is swank, large, with lots of space, small security lines and can compare favourably with the best in the world. The three airlines that use this as the base are very good, serve complimentary food, are generally on time and don't charge ridiculous extras. The other terminal is a disgrace - crowded worse than a train station, no place to even sit, and  a close approximation of a pig pen. The airlines that are based here charge extra for everything, offer no complimentary food and bus you to the plane worse than a Mumbai local. But this lot are generally cheaper than the other lot by say Rs 500; maybe Rs 1000. Absolutely no prizes for guessing which one the passengers prefer.

We really should stop complaining about how airlines treat us. Until we are prepared to open our wallets a little more.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Corporate Fluff

Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times is one of my favourite columnists. One of her specialities is to roast companies that spew out meaningless bullshit in their communications and press releases. She even hands out annual Golden Flannel Awards for the worst corporate gobbledygook.

She's at her best today canning Mondelez (The Oreos to Cadbury company). The company's marketing head quit and this is what they had to say about finding a successor

" Our search for a successor will focus on finding a digital-first, disruptive and innovative leader who can build on Dana’s legacy and mobilise breakthrough marketing in a rapidly changing global consumer landscape"

Every word is a cliché and the sentence says absolutely nothing other than mouth inanities. Does it make you any wiser who they are going to hire ?

She has , over the years, mocked at meaningless drivel, quoting such outstanding examples as these

From Burberry - "In the wholesale channel, Burberry exited doors not aligned with brand status and invested in presentation through both enhanced assortments and dedicated, customised real estate in key doors"

Or this from E Bay - "We are passionate about harnessing our platform to empower millions of people by levelling the playing field for them"

Have you stopped to think about the nonsense that is shovelled each day. Infosys is doing an "orderly ramp down of about 3000 people", ie sacking them.  Citibank was "optimising the customer footprint across geographies " ie, er firing people. What about grandiose words for mundane things .  Speedo's swimming cap is a "hair management solution", another's aluminium doors are "entrance solutions" and Siemen's healthcare business is "Healthineers".

We ourselves mouth such fluff often - We want to touch base . We are moving forward. We are solutioning for a client. We are mitigating risks by risk management. We are at a "workshop" where somebody is droning through 200 slides and the rest are supposedly paying attention. We are tele commuting.

How about some good old plain English for a change. Something the Queen would approve of. Declare the next week as a fluff free week. Speak in simple English. If you cannot, try Gurmukhi ! A language where fundamentally jargon and flowery language is impossible.

A passing note to American readers. I know the English language is strange to you, but you may want to try and learn it !!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The flying car

Did you see the news item about a flying car, revealed by Kitty Hawk, a Silicon Valley startup funded by Google's founder, Larry Page ? If you didn't , watch the video below


I now petition Kitty Hawk that the best place in the world to launch it first would be in Bangalore. Everybody knows that a basic version of this already exists in the wonderful city's roads , for after all, a two wheeler can come from all 360 degrees to dent your car even  today. But passing over that lightly, let's examine how and why this would be a major hit in Bangalore

Everybody who works in the world famous Ecospace building would buy it immediately. Ecospace is the world's first building where traffic jams are inside the building area and not outside. Average mean time currently for exiting from parking and coming to the gate is 45 mts. With a flying car, the coder will simply jump out of his office window in it and zoom away.  Similarly coders in cubby holes in every other monstrosity - Maanyata, ITPL, Bagmane in that order - are enough to ensure that Kitty Hawk's order book for the next 10 years is filled up.

Two wheeler riders of Bangalore migrating to the flying car are likely to be confused initially as they are genetically programmed only to ride on the pavement or ride on the wrong side of the road. They will need some significant retraining to take to this new vehicle. Two wheeler riders are also currently used to taking the wife and both kids along with them. It is unclear from the prototype of the flying car as to where the two kids can be placed. Perhaps they can be made to hang from the wings. There is no safety worry -  in Bangalore, even babies are trained from birth on how to hang on while on a two wheeler

The world famous cab drivers of Bangalore will be the world's best drivers on this car, as they have considerable practice in ducking and weaving and zooming. So the maneuvers required of a flying car come to them naturally. They will also be doing a massive public service. As they are used to constant honking, they will take this practice to the air and thereby drive off all the pigeons who currently infest every apartment building.

One of the greatest features of this car appears to be that it can instantly stop and hover in a particular spot. This will be very useful to BMTC drivers who like to stop in the middle of the road in an instant, if the fancy hits them.

There is one problem however. In Bangalore, every type of a cable - be it electricity, TV or internet cable dangles about 2 mtrs above every public space. Kitty Hawk will have to design the car such that it can take off and land passing through the 1 nanometer space available between the cables. In this they will be greatly aided by the dodging powers of the legendary cab driver of Bangalore.

We have one of the most proactive governments in the world in Bangalore. They will instantly build KR Puram, Silk Board and Graphite junctions in the air so that Bangaloreans on flying cars would not be deprived of the unique experiences to be had at the aforementioned places.  They will also ensure that enough airpockets are released into the atmosphere so that Bangaloreans will not get sick from a smooth ride - their bodies having being conditioned to the soothing effects of pot holes.

Another design suggestion for Kitty Hawk would be to provide a glass panel whereby owners can paint or affix stickers saying Bhuvaneswari , Parthiban and Rajasekhar (please note that these will be written in Kannada and therefore will require some additional lateral space)

Drivers will have to adjust their perception of tree branches. Today, the sight of a tree branch on the road means a vehicle has broken down and a twig and some leaves have been lodged in a crack to warn others of this fact. From the flying car, a branch and leaves may be safely taken to be on a living tree.

I am not sure of the impact these cars will have on the traffic cops of Bangalore. Perhaps they can climb trees and tow away the flying cars that have been parked on every branch - the ex two wheeler driver being an expert at parking his vehicle on any vacant area in any terrain.

What I am not clear is  how two drivers who have banged each other will fight. Current practice, which is almost a holy covenant is that you stop right there, get out and hurl the choicest abuse on the other guy.  You cannot move even 1 mtr from the spot (ie move to the side of the road) before fighting).  How this will be done mid air in the future scenario requires deep thought.

All in all, Kitty Hawk must simply relocate to Bangalore and start here. In any case the CEO is probably Arvindkatakshan Ramasubramaniam, who originally went from here. Welcome home, Sir !

Sunday, 23 April 2017

I should have the right to vote out Trump

I am an Indian citizen. I have no right to vote in the US elections. That's fine - US citizens can make their own choices on who to govern them. But when the US starts passing laws that affect the world, expects global compliance and which  have global consequences, then I am not prepared to keep quiet.

Nowhere is the US effect more on other country citizens than in the area of finance. If it starts a war, as it did in Iraq, at least I am not affected too much and its unlikely that the US will start a war with India. But Trump, by the act of trying to roll back Dodd Frank,  is directly affecting me and is therefore fair game in being virulently criticised.

Dodd Frank what ? Yes that's a fair question as unless you are a student of economics you may not have come across the Dodd Frank Act. Here's the context in layman terms

- Remember the financial crisis of a decade ago. It was caused by global financial behemoths (mainly US based) going crazy
- Post the crisis, the Obama administration enacted the Dodd Frank Act to govern the conduct of financial institutions. Massive compliance requirements were brought in and severe restrictions and policing was introduced on what they could and could not do.
- At the time, the Republican Party was in the phase of "Hell No". Therefore the law was not passed on a bipartisan basis. It was mostly a Democratic Party legislation.
- Republicans hated it, largely because they hated anything Obama did. The big finance companies and banks absolutely loathed it.
- The law is complex, fiddly, adds huge costs of compliance and is an absolute nuisance for those in the finance business. All true.  But we have seen what havoc they can wreck on the world if they are let loose. So their complaints should simply be met with a stonewall.
- This is one perfect example of a bad law being infinitely better than no law.
- The consequence of another financial meltdown is that I, an Indian citizen, will have to pay for it even though Indian financial institutions played absolutely no part in creating the mayhem. Like it or not there's no "Buy American" in finance. Finance is global.

Trump is now trying to loosen the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act.  Thankfully he cannot repeal it as he needs 60 votes in the US Senate and he does not have them as the Democrats are now the party of "Hell No". But he can dilute it considerably and that's what he is starting to do. An Executive Order came out on Friday. Thankfully for now,  the Order is just asking somebody to do something , as most Executive Orders thus far have been.  Nothing really has happened.

But it will happen. Trump's cabinet and advisers are full of Wall Street types. They have a vested interest in undoing the Act .  They must be resisted with every force. And I'll loudly call for Trump to be resisted on this one. As should you, whatever nationality you are. It affects you and me.

Dodd Frank has lots of faults. It's 2300 pages long. That alone is enough to tell you that Ramamritham has run amok. BUT, before anybody tries to do anything with it, he has to prove that it will improve controls and not dilute it.

For, you see, if you want to be really scared, do not think of nuclear war with North Korea. Or Arctic melt down. Or an asteroid hitting the earth. Get mortally terrified with just this one statistic. The total value of financial derivatives in the world at this moment is some $1.5 quadrillion. By comparison the world's  GDP is $80 trillion

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Élection présidentielle 2017

France goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new President. If you haven't been following this election, then you are missing something. It's a very crucial election and is much more fun for an outsider to follow than the US Presidential elections.

This blog largely tries to steer clear of political issues and focuses on the economic ones. So, although this blogger has strong views on the candidates and knows who he would vote for if he had a vote, he will avoid discussing that here. Instead, the focus is strictly on economic policies, which is of course, only one dimension of evaluating any candidate.

Who's the most dangerous of them all economically ? If the pat answer is Marine Le Pen, a more polished version of Trump, think again. Introducing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far left candidate who is currently surging in the polls . Nearly 20% of France want him as President .


Here are his economic policies, without comment

  • 90% tax rate for those earning more than Euro 400,000 a year
  • 273 billion Euros higher spending over 5 years
  • 16% rise in minimum wage to Euros 1326 a month (Rs 90,000 a month)
  • 35 hour work week.
  • Exit the Euro
  • Abolish the treaties prescribing a target of deficit to GDP . In other words, simply print money
  • Exit EU, a la Britain, if necessary
  • Join Alba the economic pact between Cuba and Venezuela. Honourable observers of this pact are Iran and Syria
  • Right to housing to become a constitutional right
  • Nationalise utility companies

There is more, but this is enough for the time being.

The system of French elections is such that that he is unlikely to get through even in the first round. But it should give a pause for thought that a full 20% of the French electorate is willing to subscribe to such lunacy.

The right to vote is a heavy responsibility. Concepts like protest vote, angry voter, etc are deadly pitfalls. You are supposed to consider the options carefully and vote according to what you think is best for your country. You can have differing views, but irresponsible exercise of the franchise is catastrophic.

If you are of the view that this is all fear mongering, capitalism has failed, and we should give such a philosophy a try (yes, I am talking to you , if you have felt the Bern), then all I will say is that this has been tried before and the example is there for all to see. Venezuela.

The loony left is even more dangerous than the rabid right.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Buy American and Hire American

When this blogger started blogging in 2009, his very first post was titled "What is American goods, anyway ? " Eight years later, when returning back from a two year hiatus in blogging,  the same theme resurfaces as the second innings of blogging is started.

The trigger for this post is of course Trump's executive order titled the same as this post, which he signed with much fanfare three days ago.  The order , of course, is pure bombast and is only meant to show that the President is doing "something". It simply orders the Secretary of Commerce to tell the world what the hell this means in 60 days and orders sundry other Ramamrithams to specify how it will be implemented  in 150 days. I was not aware that you need an Executive Order to tell people to do their jobs, but apparently in the world of alternative reality, that is required.

Precious little, other than nuisance value, will come of it. For you see, in today's globalised world of supply chains it is almost impossible to determine what is "American" as my first ever post argued.  If "value added" is the yardstick for measuring national origin, then your iPhones are as American as mom and apple pie even though they are entirely manufactured outside the US. If the physical act of manufacturing (read final assembly)  is the yardstick, then the iPhone is Chinese while BMW is American.  If the entire supply chain has to be in the US, most products will simply disappear off the shelves as some of the raw materials and components are simply not available in the US and have to be imported.

The Executive Order gives some clues to the warped thinking - apparently they would like  that "for iron and steel products,  all manufacturing processes, from the initial melting stage through the application of coatings, occurred in the United States ."  US iron and steel has been on decline for decades. Only an idiot will set up steel capacity in the US - after all the next President can sign another Executive Order to the opposite. Not a single new job will be created. What will only happen if this pig headed policy is even half tried is that the existing US steel plants will jack up their prices. The American consumer shall pay.

The problem of disappearing jobs is a real and serious one, but there are no easy fixes. It cannot be tackled by trumpeting economic nationalism. It certainly cannot be solved by sitting on the toilet seat and tweeting whatever comes to your mind.

By the way, the GOP was meant to stand for free markets and trade. It would have been appropriate if a President Sanders were to try something like this. But a Republican President ?

PS : Its nice to be back. Sorry for going away for two years - I was dabbling in a social enterprise in the interim, but am now back in retirement, and therefore back to blogging.

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