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 !!

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