Flostock News #19

Flostock Formula for Investments

Formulas make life easier.

Investment(t) = Demolishing(t) +  d(underutilization(t))/dt + α*d(Sales(t)/dt +α* d(Inventory)/dt2

whereby α is a conversion factor describing how many inventory units can be made per capital unit per time, and ignoring delays. In words: Investment is equal to replacement plus a higher idleness plus growth in sales plus a change in the growth of inventory. This formula helps understanding the dimensions and the dynamics of investments. E.g. Sales and Inventory follow iron laws and dictate that investments are made, certainly for the industry as a group. If Sales goes up and nobody would invest, stocks deplete, a shortage develops, prices goes up and investing becomes more attractive, so will eventually be done.  Delay in sales-driven investments creates wave around the α*sales curve.

Lack of credit during the Lehman Crisis had two effects:  1) it caused companies to reduce their inventories strongly, making d(sales)/dt strongly negative, and 2) it prevented people from investing. Companies who could not afford a large d(underutilization)/dt, had to close, which is equal to strong demolishing.   Surviving companies delayed demolishing, so delayed investment for replacement and let their fleet of capital goods grow older, but not bigger. This aging fleet will require extra investments in the future.

This formula works for a company, and for an industry, and for the whole economy, if the proper settings are used.  One caveat: in reality delays play a prominent role in investments: so calculating real investments should be done dynamically.  Call Flostock if you want to know how to do this.

Increasing the money supply (QE) does not stimulate Investments

Drowning in money is not stimulating

The consequence of Law 18 is that low interest rates or increasing the money in the economy (a.k.a. QE) does not stimulate investment. With investments we mean the buying of new capital goods. We don’t mean a takeover of a company or the buying of shares. Increasing the money supply for investment is like reducing the price of sunshine in the desert. Excess cash and too low interest rates will only stimulate waste, speculation, price bubbles and such. The opposite, extremely high interest rates or a complete lack of credit, would prevent investments, yes, as shown e.g. by Bernstein in his interesting book The Birth of Plenty and as seen during the crisis and as we will see in Russia, where interest rates were raised to 17% this week.  But that situation does not apply in Europe or the USA, where interest rates have been low for a long time and there is plenty of cash available.  

Don’t worry about Deflation

Not interested

Law 18 also means that striving for higher inflation is not needed. Economists Larry Summers and others argue that we need inflation and not deflation (=negative inflation),  otherwise real interest rate (=interest rate minus inflation) cannot be lowered far enough to stimulate investment to achieve full employment.  It is clear that interest can’t be < 0  (it would be ridiculous to pay people to take your money, although banks come close to this J), so Summers argues that a small positive interest rate minus a  negative inflation gives a bigger positive real interest rate, which does not stimulate investments. But Law 18 indicates that  at this moment investment is low because the industry is still reducing the underutilization, which is high because sales is still lower than the peak in 2007. Interest rates do not influence this decision too much. Summers’ view is obsolete in a world with constant low interest rates.

The other argument in favor of inflation is that consumers would otherwise delay their purchases. This I don’t believe either. Which purchase does a normal person delay because next year prices will be 1% lower? This has never prevented sales of electronics, which strongly decline in price. And it certainly does not prevent sales of FMCG.  It may delay purchasing a house, but that is a different category. For most other purposes lower prices stimulate demand.

Leading Indicators as an alternative to the Flostock forecasting method

Leading into the bush

Managers would like to find an indicator that is correlated to their business and  earlier in time: a so-called leading indicator. There are several issues with this approach:  first issue is that the pattern of the available indicator is often completely  different from the business, even if the indicator represents the correct driving force behind the business. This can be due to delays, hold-ups and feedback loops or because of an interaction with other driving forces, other indicators. A second issue is the pseudo-leading indicator:  assume variable B is the growth of variable A. In a graph the variable B will seem to lead A, but in reality it is the opposite.  Please try this at home with any curve. It is optically misleading. A third issue is that the correlation is based on the past: any new event or development is missing.  E.g. the Lehman Wave was not part of any indicator during the last 10 years.  If you want to see the causal relation between your indicators and your business, taking delays, hold-ups, and feedback loops into account, call Flostock!