Posts tagged ‘investing’

Is Cronyism Private Enterprise's Fault or the Government's?

Oddly enough, this is perhaps the most frequent argument I have with people on the Left in cocktail party conversations.

It begins this way -- some abuse of "private enterprise" is cited.  Almost every time, I have to point out that the abuse in question could not occur if private companies were not availing themselves of government's coercive power to [fill in the blank: step on competitors, limit choice, keep prices high, rake in subsidies, etc.] Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story is very much in this mold, blaming bad outcomes that result in government interventions on free market capitalism.

Kevin Drum has a great example of this.  Asthma inhalers are expensive because certain companies used the government to ban less expensive competitive products.

Nick Baumann picks up the story from there:

The pharma consortium transformed from primarily an R&D outfit searching for substitutes for CFC-based inhalers into a lobbying group intent on eliminating the old inhalers. It set up shop in the K Street offices of Drinker Biddle, a major DC law firm. Between 2005 and 2010, it spent $520,000 on lobbying. (It probably spent even more; as a trade group, it's not required to disclose all of its advocacy spending.) Meanwhile, IPAC lobbied for other countries to enact similar bans, arguing that CFC-based inhalers should be eliminated for environmental reasons and replaced with the new, HFC-based inhalers.

The lobbying paid off. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an outright ban on many CFC-based inhalers starting in 2009. This June, the agency's ban on Aerobid, an inhaler used for acute asthma, took effect. Combivent, another popular treatment, will be phased out by the end of 2013.

In other words, pharmaceutical companies didn't just take advantage of this situation, they actively worked to create this situation. Given the minuscule impact of CFC-based inhalers on the ozone layer, it's likely that an exception could have been agreed to if pharmaceutical companies hadn't lobbied so hard to get rid of them. The result is lower-quality inhalers and fantastically higher profits for Big Pharma.

Rosenthal has a lot more detail in her piece about how the vagaries of patent law make this all even worse, and it's worth reading. But she misses the biggest story of all: none of this would matter if drug companies hadn't worked hard to make sure the old, cheap inhalers were banned. How's your blood doing now, Dr. Saunders?

No one has more disdain than I for companies that attempt to use the coercive power of the government as a competitive weapon in their favor.  Heck, I have barely gone 2 hours since the last time I bashed an industry for doing so.

But the implication that this is all the fault of corporations is just wrong, as is the the inevitable Progressive conclusion that somehow more government regulation and powers are necessary to combat this.

The Left has been the prime cheerleader over the past decades in creating the Federal behemoth that not only allows this to happen, but actively facilitates it.   We have created a government whose primary purpose is to redistribute spoils from one group to another.

Just look at the example he uses.  These drug manufacturers could have protected their markets and products the free market way, by investing tens of millions in more research, manufacturing cost reduction, and customer marketing.   But instead, we have a system where - entirely legally - a company can spend a fraction of this (the chump change amount of half a million dollars) to market to a few dozen people in DC and get the same benefits as investing tens of millions in satisfying customers.    The wonder is not that losers like these drug companies go this route, but that anybody at all still has enough sense of honor to actually invest in the customer rather than in DC bureaucrats.

I put it this way - "invest in customers rather than DC bureaucrats" - because every new regulation, every new government power over commerce is essentially a dis-empowerment of consumers in the marketplace.  Nowhere is this more true than in pharmaceuticals, where the government tells consumers what they can and cannot buy.

In a free market, accountability is enforced by consumers defending their own best interests and new competitors seeking fortunes by striving to serve consumers better than market incumbents.  Every government intervention is essentially saying to consumers that the government is going to make yet another decision for them.  So, having taken over so many decisions of consumers in those huge office buildings in DC, is it any wonder that companies go to DC to market to bureaucrats rather than bother marketing to consumers?

The problem, then, is not that some corporations avail themselves of legal shortcuts to profits.  The problem is that these legal shortcuts exist at all.  The problem is the coercive power of government to intervene in markets, chill competition through incensing, subsidize one competitor over another, etc.  These kinds of stories are going to proliferate endlessly until  that power is scaled back.

The Progressives I argue with come back with one of two answers.

This is a crock, and is the worst bit of enablement for a bad system ever invented.   The folks in government are not bad people -- they are normal people with bad information and bad incentives, and that is never going to change.  After all, something that Drum glosses over here, the agency in hid example went along and did the industry's bidding.  I know why the industry was doing what it did, but why did the agency roll over?  The whole theory is that these are public spirited people without commercial incentives.  Yet they rolled over none-the-less.  And it's not like these government employees are Rothbardian libertarians.  I work with the government all the time.  Their employees are there because they believe in public solutions over private ones.  In outlook and biases and beliefs they look a lot more like Kevin Drum than myself.  So why do they get a pass?  Of the two people here -- the drug company guy and the regulator guy -- which one is not doing his job right for his constituents?  So why does the drug company get the blame?

Response 2:  We just need to ban lobbying and contact with the regulated industry.  The whole theory of regulation is that the regulators are totally knowledgeable about the industry, but they have different incentives so they can work in the public interest.  But how are they going to be totally knowledgeable about the industry without frequent contact?  Or even experience in the industry?  And as to lobbying, lobbying is just speech.  It would be Constitutionally impossible to ban lobbying, and wrong anyway.  Think of it this way-- let's say you ran a restaurant but had to get a government agency's permission for each change in your menu (just as drug companies have to get permission for each change in their product offering).  Would you be happy with a situation in which the government made decisions on your menu without consulting you?  You would want to explain your desired changes and the logic behind them, right?   That's called lobbying, and you would not be happy to see it banned.

Ugh, Another Crony Enterprise Born

When I read this in our local paper, alarm bells immediately went off:

A friendship cemented while working together on the state’s economic development efforts has led to a new partnership linking Roy Vallee, the former Avnet Inc. chairman and chief executive officer, with private developer Don Cardon.

Great, two folks who have focused on bringing crony corporatist benefits to selected local businesses and business relocations are going into business together.  I don't know these guys, I am sure they are fine folks, but my first thought was a business that leveraged their connections with government to create private profits.

Reading further, this seems like a good guess:

The two metro Phoenix business leaders say they will collaborate on large commercial developments, including those with a special public-interest focus and those with special complexities....

Cardon spent three years at the Arizona Commerce Authority, a public-private partnership, and the predecessor Arizona Commerce Department. Aside from that, he perhaps is best-known as a driving force behind CityScape, the three-block, $1.2 billion mixed-use development in downtown Phoenix. He cites as a strength his ability to bring private and public interests together on a project.

Yep, I definitely think I am on to something:

The firm will strive to encourage a “collective vision” and “make sure projects are worthy of investment and will be successful,” Cardon said. “Everything we do will involve public value, enriching the quality of life.”

You know the type of project -- the ones where the city / state / Feds justify investing millions of taxpayer money into private projects because "they create jobs" (like those at Solyndra).  In fact, the two partners are already polishing up this mantra, which I am sure we will hear over and over:

Deals typically will exceed $100 million and will create hundreds of jobs, both in the development stage and when complete, he said. The company , however, will maintain a fairly lean staff.

“We’re not a big employer, but we’ll be a job creator,” he said.

I want to make a couple of quick points:

  • Investments whose primary return is "jobs" are not investments, because jobs are a cost, not an income stream.  Investing public money to create jobs means that one is investing money now so that it incurs costs later. 
  • All successful capitalist enterprises that make  a profit by definition create "public value" and "enrich the quality of life."  Otherwise no one would buy their product or service and they would fail.  In fact, only publicly-funded projects can evade this sort of accountability.  When it is said that these projects deliver "public value," what is meant is that they deliver benefits that a few self-selected people have defined as somehow interesting to the public, but which it turns out the public (when given a choice) is unwilling to pay for.  Which is how we get the local town of Glendale continuing to subsidize an ice hockey team for $25 million or so a year.

My Tax Proposal

1.  Eliminate all deductions in the individual income tax code

2.  Eliminate the corporate income tax.

3.  Tax capital gains and dividends as regular income.

4.  Eliminate the death tax as well as the write-up of asset values at death

 

I don't have any idea if this revenue positive or negative (I suspect it would be short-term positive, and long-term very positive), but I don't care.  This would:

  1. Substantially reduce the government's ability to play preference games and give crony special help in the tax code.
  2. Completely eliminate the huge unproductive drag of corporate tax law expenses and substantially reduce the cost of individual tax preparation.
  3. Eliminate the enormous unproductive drag of estate tax planning
  4. Eliminate forced sales of family farms and businesses at death in order to pay the taxes (taxes are paid instead on capital gains when sold).
  5. Substantially reduce government-induced distortions on flows of capital  (e.g. current promotion of home ownership over renting, of corporate debt over equity financing, of capital gains over income, etc).
  6. Eliminate most double taxations in the code, since there is now only the individual income tax.

I would be happy to make this revenue neutral (even if it required an individual income tax rate hike) and sell this to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street alike as a plan to reduce waste, corporatism, and crony meddling.  The OWS might be upset about 2 & 4, but corporate profits eventually show up as either capital gains or dividends, so they will eventually get taxed on the individual income tax return.  Ditto death taxes - currently they are largely offset by the ability to write-up asset basis at death and aggressive tax planning.  And anyway, the death tax is a trivial sources of government revenues.

 

Postscript:  I know there is all sorts of literature that supposedly promotes a lower capital gains tax as an economic positive.  Frankly, I don't trust it any more than any other literature genned up to promote special tax breaks to any group because that group is supposedly economically more important.  In my mind, a lower capital gains tax rate (which means a higher regular income tax rate) is just another way of government expressing an artificial preference for one economic activity over another.  Specifically, a lower capital gains rate creates a preference for real estate and stock investors over business owners.   Currently, I invest in a second home and flip it for a profit and I get a tax break on the capital gains.  But if I invest in a business instead that pays off with regular income, I get no tax break.  Why?  Why is one type of investing better than another?  The answer is that it is not, but the people who buy and sell equities and real estate in large quantities have more political clout than small business owners.

Postscript #2:  And Medicare taxes have to go up, at least until the program is restructured. 

Postscript #3:  This is a great example of what I want to make go away.  I consider it far more destructive in the long run than a percentage point rate change.  In case it is behind a paywall, here is a bit of it (these giveaways to the rich were in the very same bill that was supposed to be to soak the rich):

Thus Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow was able to retain an accelerated tax write-off for owners of Nascar tracks (cost: $78 million) to benefit the paupers who control the Michigan International Speedway. New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman saved a tax credit for companies operating in American Samoa ($62 million), including a StarKist factory.

Distillers are able to drink to a $222 million rum tax rebate. Perhaps this will help to finance more of those fabulous Bacardi TV ads with all those beautiful rich people. Businesses located on Indian reservations will receive $222 million in accelerated depreciation. And there are breaks for railroads, "New York Liberty Zone" bonds and so much more.

But a special award goes to Chris Dodd, the former Senator who now roams Gucci Gulch lobbying for Hollywood's movie studios. The Senate summary of his tax victory is worth quoting in full: "The bill extends for two years, through 2013, the provision that allows film and television producers to expense the first $15 million of production costs incurred in the United States ($20 million if the costs are incurred in economically depressed areas in the United States)."

You gotta love that "depressed areas" bit. The impoverished impresarios of Brentwood get an extra writeoff if they take their film crews into, say, deepest Flatbush. Is that because they have to pay extra to the caterers from Dean & DeLuca to make the trip? It sure can't be because they hire the jobless locals for the production crew. Those are union jobs, mate, and don't you forget it.

The Joint Tax Committee says this Hollywood special will cost the Treasury a mere $248 million over 10 years, but over fiscal years 2013 and 2014 the cost is really $430 million because it is supposed to expire at the end of this year. In reality Mr. Dodd will wrangle another extension next year, and the year after that, and . . . . Investing a couple million in Mr. Dodd in return for $430 million in tax breaks sure beats trying to make better movies.

Then there are the green-energy giveaways that are also quickly becoming entitlements. The wind production tax credit got another one-year reprieve, thanks to Mr. Obama and GOP Senators John Thune (South Dakota) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa). This freebie for the likes of the neediest at General Electric GE -0.82% andSiemens SIE.XE +0.20% —which benefit indirectly by making wind turbine gear—is now 20 years old. Cost to taxpayers: $12 billion.

Cellulosic biofuels—the great white whale of renewable energy—also had their tax credit continued, and the definition of what qualifies was expanded to include producers of "algae-based fuel" ($59 million.) Speaking of sludge, biodiesel and "renewable diesel" will continue receiving their $1 per gallon tax credit ($2.2 billion). The U.S. is experiencing a natural gas and oil drilling boom, but Congress still thinks algae and wind will power the future.

Meanwhile, consumers will get tax credits for buying plug-in motorcycles ($7 million), while the manufacturers of energy-efficient appliances ($650 million) and builders of energy-efficient homes ($154 million) also retain tax credits. Manufacturers like Whirlpool love these subsidies, and they are one reason that company paid no net taxes in recent years.

On Private Job Creation, Obama and Reagan are Tied

Obama claims to have created more jobs than Reagan.  Republicans fire back with charts that say otherwise.

Here are the true numbers for private jobs created by these Presidents in office:

  • Reagan:    zero
  • Obama:     zero

Just once I would like to see a Presidential candidate answer:

"Why, I didn't create a single private job in office.  Anyone I hire is by definition a public employee.  The best I can do is to keep government out of the way, as much as possible, of the private individuals who do create new businesses and new products and new technologies that tend to lead to more private employment.  The worst thing I can do is to try to be investment-banker-in-chief.  Every dollar I hand to some company I like is money taken out of the hands of 300 million private individuals, who collectively know a hell of a lot more than I as to what makes for a better business investment  (and by the way they have far better incentives that I as well, since they are investing their own hard-earned money, and should I develop the hubris to play the stimulus game, I would be investing your hard-earned money."

 

Why Is No One From MF Global in Jail?

Whether crimes were involved in the failures of Enron, Lehman, & Bear Stearns is still being debated.  All three essentially died in the same way (borrowing short and investing long, with a liquidity crisis emerging when questions about the quality of their long-term investments caused them not to be able to roll over their short term debt).  Just making bad business decisions isn't illegal (or shouldn't be), but there are questions at all three whether management lied to (essentially defrauded) investors by hiding emerging problems and risks.

All that being said, MF Global strikes me as an order of magnitude worse.  They had roughly the same problem - they were unable to make what can be thought of as margin calls on leveraged investments that were going bad.  However, before they went bankrupt, it is pretty clear that they stole over a billion dollars of their customers' money.  Now, in criticizing Wall Street, people are pretty sloppy in over-using the word "stole."  But in this case it applies.  Everyone agrees that customer brokerage accounts are sacrosanct.  No matter what other fraud was or was not committed in these other cases, nothing remotely similar occurred in these other bankruptcies.

A few folks are talking civil actions against MF Global, but why isn't anyone up for criminal charges?  Someone, probably Corzine, committed a crime far worse than anything Jeff Skilling or Ken Lay were even accused of, much less convicted.   This happens time and again in the financial system.  People whine that we don't have enough regulations, but the most fundamental laws we have in place already are not enforced.

Great Moments in Bad Ideas

Via the Weekly Standard (with video):

Gene Sperling, director of the White House's national economic council, said today at an official meeting that "we need a global minimum tax":

Pegging our tax rates to France is almost as good an idea as pegging our exchange rates to Greece.

Also, this statement is a hilarious mass of contradictions

“He supports corporate tax reform that would reduce expenditures and loopholes, lower rates for people investing and creating jobs in the U.S., due so further for manufacturing, and that we need to, as we have the Buffett Rule and the individual tax reform, we need a global minimum tax so that people have the assurance that nobody is escaping doing their fair share as part of a race to the bottom or having our tax code actually subsidized and facilitate people moving their funds to tax havens," Sperling said.

He wants to lower rates for people investing, but he wants to institute the Buffett Rule, which effectively raises taxes on people whose income is substantially dividends and capital gains, ie people who invest.  He wants special rates for creating jobs and extra special rates in manufacturing, but he wants to get rid of loopholes, most of which were created at least with the nominal intent of spurring investment in certain sectors, particularly manufacturing.

Another Bankrupt Obama Investment

Via Business Week

 Beacon Power Corp., an energy- storage company that received $43 million in backing from the U.S. program that supported failed solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC, filed for bankruptcy after struggling to raise private financing.

The money-losing company, which makes flywheels that manage energy moving through a power grid, had sought to avoid the fate of Solyndra, which entered bankruptcy last month after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from a U.S. Energy Department program designed to spur alternative energy development. Beacon faced delisting of its shares by the Nasdaq Stock Market and warned in an Aug. 9 regulatory filing that it might not remain a “going concern.”...

In addition, Beacon received $29 million in grants from the U.S. and Pennsylvania for a 20-megawatt plant in that state and hired Group Robinson LLC to help raise more funds for the $53 million project. Group Robinson, a Menlo Park, California- based renewable-energy consulting company, also was helping Beacon find customers outside the U.S.

This is not an accident.  By definition, the government is investing in companies that every other private lender and investor turned down.

Believe it or Not....

... there are actually folks who think that Obama's farcical and unreachable 54.5 mpg standards for cars are too low.

Since cars are redesigned every 5 years, the 2025 date is basically 3 car revisions from now.  It also is far enough in the future the auto makers can cynically sign on now fully expecting to ignore or change the regulation in the future.

This is the corporate state in 2011.  Every single executive signing on to this is thinking "this standard is total BS."  But they go along with it because they fear the government's power over them and crave the valuable taxpayer $ giveaways this Administration has demonstrated it is willing to give its bestest buddies in the auto industry.

Of course, once again, some greenie has convinced himself this will create all sorts of jobs.   Sure, investments in car mileage is an investment in productivity (cars will uses fewer resources for the same output, ie miles driven).  BUT - the money that will be forced into this investment would come from other spending and investments.  Right now, private actors think that these other investments are a better use of the money than investing in more MPG.  I will take the market's verdict over the gut feel of an innumerate green.  So this standard is about shifting investment and spending from more to less productive uses.  Which has to reduce growth and jobs.

Coyote's Pre-Response to Obama's Budget Speech

No, Mr. Obama, the fecklessness of politicians does not obligate me to send more of my money to the government.

Three times in my life I have lent money to people in serious financial straits.  In every case, they came back to me for more.  "X more dollars and I will be home free and can pay you back."  In a few cases I came up with a second infusion and in one case I (embarrassingly) actually gave money a third time.   In no case was I ever paid back.    I haven't heard this phrase in years, but when I was young stock investors had a saying -- "your first loss is your best loss."  This was just another way of saying don't throw good money after bad.

Obama and Bush (I haven't forgotten your culpability in all this George) sold the country, or at least Congress, on emergency spending for wars and bailouts and stimulus.  This was supposedly one-time spending only for the duration of the emergency.  But now Democrats and Obama are treating the peak of this emergency spending as the new baseline, from which cuts are impossible.

This lack of desire to cut spending and a resetting of norms as to "what is normal" is not just a government problem, it is endemic to every organization.  Private organizations face this problem all the time.  The difference is that when times go bad, private organizations do not have fiat taxation power, so that when they are underwater, they must cut bloated budgets or die.  Either way, the problem goes away.  Private companies differ from government not in that they don't have problems with beauracracy and risk aversion and deadwood and bloat and bad incentives - because they do.  The difference is that private companies cannot get away with allowing this stuff to linger forever, and governments can.

Government will never, ever, ever, ever cut spending unless all hope of new taxes is removed, and even then they will likely try to cut spending on the most, rather than the least, popular programs to build public support for more taxes.

In the early 90's, after the fall of the Soviet Union, we talked about a peace dividend from reductions in military spending.  I want a sanity dividend.

Postscript: We like to think that financial problems are due to bad luck, but they usually are due to poor management.  The guy I lost the most money with was producing a really interesting boat concept, basically as fun and lithe and fast as a jetski but enclosed so boaters who were less daring would not actually be in contact with the water.  I wanted a bunch for rental service at our marinas.  But he kept asking for money, saying that he had bad luck with this supplier or that supplier.  Eventually, I found out he was in this incredibly expensive commercial lease, and was burning all the money I lent him on useless rent payments.  Stupid.

After I graduated from college, I cashed in about $7000 in savings bonds I had accumulated.  I was going to make a fortune in the market.  After three years I had lost almost all of it -- right in the heart of one of the greatest bull markets in history!  A few years later, I was in a situation where I could have really used this money.  This was not bad luck or circumstances, I did stupid things.  I recognized something that many dentists and doctors never learn - it was possible to be a smart guy who sucked at investing.  I was one of them.  My investing has been in index funds ever since.

Retirement, From An Entrepeneur's Perspective

A while back another entrepreneur/blogger wrote and asked me about investment choices for retirement.  My philosophy on retirement seems to be a lot different than that of others, and I think owning one's own company changes some of the dynamics of retirement investing.   Note that this advice is not right for everyone, and maybe no one, so read at your own risk.  I publish it because the person I wrote suggested I do so, and after weeks of crazy intense work schedules I finally have the time.

A blogger wrote me about his despair at finding appropriate investment vehicles for his retirement savings.   With relatively equal chances of 1) a long period of Japan-like slow growth or 2) a high inflationary period triggered by trying to avoid #1, both bonds and equities looked bad, and while real estate may have some value plays when things finally bottom out, neither of us has the time to pursue that.  [since our emails, International equities are something I have moved money into, both as a diversification play as well as a way to short the dollar].

As I wrote him in one email

There is still a good chance of returning to normal growth in the middle somewhere, but both those bookends [inflation and stagnation] loom much larger than they might have, say, in my calculations five years ago.  I have trouble figuring out what to invest in when both are possibilities.  Equities?  Great for hedging inflation but suck if there is a lost decade.  Bonds would make sense in that case, but their interest will be low and they will be awful if inflation ramps up.  If I really knew we would get inflation and devaluation, I would be leveraging like crazy because inflation transfers wealth from creditors to debtors.

As a result, I said that my main investment for my free capital was debt reduction and de-leveraging of my own business.  Paying down debt has the advantage of having an absolutely predictable return and it reduces risk.   This makes double sense for me as I have put new expansion investments in my business on hold until a variety of government issues from health care to tax rates become clearer.  (For example, in health care, because my company is an oddity, with seasonal part time workers mostly on Medicare already, no one can yet tell me what my future costs will be.  Estimates range from +0 to +20% of revenues!)

The key to my business, which may be very different from others, is that I make big investments to gain long-term contracts, but once captured, these contracts give my business a fair amount of stability and predictability.  Further, in the latest recession, my business has proved to be either counter-cyclical or at least recession-proof to some extent, as 2009 was actually a blow-out record year for us.  Given these facts, I am able to put a higher percentage of my net worth into my own business as an investment, without having to diversify as much in case of business trauma.  And I prefer this.  Given the choice of investing in a company I barely know on the NYSE or mine, which I understand and control, I prefer the latter.  Also, returns on capital from buying or investing in private small businesses can be much higher (with higher risk of course) than in traditional equities -- see my whole series on buying a small business.

But here is where I really differ from most people:
I take a very different view of retirement.   When I worked in grinding corporate jobs (e.g. up until I was about 40) I was very focused on retirement.  Now that I am doing something that is not brutally stressful,  I hardly think about retirement.   The whole concept of retirement now seems weird.  I have, after a lot of hard work, gotten my business to the point where I can generally work as hard as I want to -- if I don't work hard, the business does not grow but I have good people such that it doesn't fall apart either.  I compete with people who are running businesses in their late 70's who are still having a good time.  I can take nice trips when I want to, take the day off if I need to, or whatever.  My business actually has an off-season so I can be more relaxed part of the year.

My advice to this particular entrepreneur was to maybe reconsider the paradigm of "retirement."  After all, the the long history of the world, retirement is a new concept that is barely 100 years old.

Are you the shuffleboard and golf type?  What do you imagine yourself doing after retirement?  I think you need some protection against becoming infirm or senile, but if you are healthy and vigorous, are you the type to get bored fast?  As an example, nearly all of my 400 employees are retired, but they all got bored and wanted something to do.

Here is an alternative, entrepreneur's way to think about planning for retirement:  How do I work really hard building a business that in 10 years will have a position such that it spits out some level of cash without effort on my part and can still grow if I want to spend time on it.  I am surrounded in Scottsdale by people who have done exactly this after giving up a corporate job.  At some point they took their savings from their 30s and 40s and dumped it into a business where they could still have the lifestyle they wanted.  Buying or building the right company is sort of like buying a bond with an attached warrant whose value is related to how hard you want to work.

As I implied earlier, this is not an appropriate approach for every small business.   The problem with technology businesses, for example, is that they never seem to mature into that latter predictable-cash-flow-stable-market-share phase.  One is always running in place.  One lesson I never forgot from my corporate years:  In the industrial sector, I often saw people making loads of money selling bushings or some such whose design hadn't changed since 1920.  It led me to this strategy:  Find a market with barriers to entry, which may well not be very sexy, and spend ten years battering you way in, and then relax behind those walls.  (As to sexy, the very first two classes of the first year Harvard Business School strategy course were a sexy cool software business and a boring stable industrial product business.  Of course,the boring stable water meters made a fortune, while the software business never made a good return on capital.  Beware of sexy businesses -- see: Airlines).

One other paradigm I would challenge is the notion everything you do as an entrepeneur has to be started from scratch.  Many entrepreneurs have fun doing this but the prospect of doing a bootstrap startup when you are 70 years old is exhausting.   Such entrepreneurs who have had a life of serial startups might consider a new phase in their business career as they get older, when they have saved enough assets to perhaps buy into an existing business rather than starting from scratch.  I cannot tell you how many interesting small businesses there are that come up for sale with a guy who has an interesting product and has made some progress but can't manage his way out of a paper bag and thus hits some growth ceiling.  I bought just such a core to my current business 8 years ago.  These businesses require a lot of due diligence, because they are a real mixed bag, but I bought mine in an asset sale for 3.5 times EBITDA (which is an entirely typical price).  Try buying Wall Street equities for 3.5 times EBITDA!  If you pick the right business, and you are a good manager, there is not a better investment out there.  Again,  see my whole series on buying a small business.

Of course this investing-for-retirement is higher risk, because one bets a substantial portion of his net worth on his own business.  But for those with confidence in their own ability, I find it a lot more compelling to bet my capital on myself rather than on guys I don't know running the Fortune 500.

Hope and Change, Sopranos Style

California state treasurer Bill Lockyer is urging public employee pension fund to divest itself of stocks of companies because of their support for a particular state ballot initiative.   Check that again - a sitting state official using his position in power to punish folks during an election campaign for their stand in that election.

"¦ state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a former attorney general, urged the state's largest public employee investment funds to divest themselves of Valero and Tesoro stock.

Lockyer sent a letter to the public pension funds, known as CalPERS and CalSTRS, asking them to rid themselves of any stock connected to the refiners Valero and Tesoro. Lockyer charged the companies with attempting to constrain gasoline supplies in California to ensure profits for years to come "” and opposing the state's climate change law as a means to ensure that constraint.

"CalPERS and CalSTRS should not be investing in Texas oil companies that hurt the California economy, no more than they should invest in companies that spend millions of shareholder dollars to undermine California's environmental laws and the state's green energy industries and green tech jobs," Lockyer wrote.

Lockyer, a board member at CalPERS, is expected to ask the board tomorrow to divest Valero and Tesoro holdings during a meeting."

The Green Hell blog added:

It was also reported to this blog that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who views the global warming law as his signature accomplishment, kept Chevron out of the Proposition 23 battle by threatening the company with adverse tax measures.

You Can Bet on 36 Red, But Not Amazon.com Angel Shares

I thought this was an interesting irony of our growing corporate state:

In my post "Attention Gov't: This Is How Businesses Are Created" I brought up the point that government regulations keep the average American from investing in ground floor business opportunities with rules specifying how much money someone must have before they can invest in start-ups (unless the start-up is being done by a friend or family member).  Government regulations also prevent start-ups from advertising their investment opportunity.  If you need ground-floor investment (as opposed to loans) to bring your business to the proverbial next level, there is a wall of regulation that keeps you from asking for it from the general public and specifies what "sophisticated investors" (the already rich) you can approach and how.

Those rules are there to protect us middle class rubes from being taken in by crafty and ill-intentioned businessmen.

I contrasted this protection the government so thoughtfully provides us"“keeping us from making possible bad investments"“with it's promotion of lotteries and acceptance of casino gambling.

Now these people who will not allow an entrepreneur to advertise or promote his start-up in order to get voluntary investment money from people willing to take a risk on the business idea or invention are looking at legalization of online gambling in the USA.

They Should Be Getting Degrees in Post-Modern Art Criticism Instead

Congress is cracking down on for-profit universities that market relatively fast degrees (< 2 years) in certain vocational programs like auto mechanics.  Apparently, Congress is concerned about "vocational programs in which a large share of students don't earn enough to pay back their loans."

So Congress is worried about students paying several thousand dollars and investing 18 months of their lives for a degree that may not repay their student debts.  No word yet on whether they are looking into students who spend four years and $160,000 for Ivy League gender studies degrees, which we all know have simply enormous income-generation potential.

Green Triumphalism

Via a reader, the cost of a few politicians deciding that there absolutely had to be an Australian-assembled hybrid.

"My wife was looking for an Australian-made hybrid car," Rudd told John Laws in March, 2007, "and I'm sure some of your listeners would have found this out "“ you can't find one.

"So, that started me thinking about why don't we have one in this country."

There are certain people from whom the phrase "that started me thinking" serves as a 150-decibel alarm. We weren't to know it at the time, but Kevin Rudd turned out to be one such bloke. Instead of settling on a nice secondhand Prius, Rudd's simple quest to find some wheels for the missus quickly led, once he was elected, to the $500 million Green Car Fund.

Why couldn't Ms Rein have been interested in something less expensive, like knitting? No, scratch that "“ once her husband "started thinking", we'd have been stuck with a $2 billion National Crochet Initiative.

Subsidies appear to amount to about $(AU)100,000 per private car sale.  This is a sort of new brand of left-progressive triumphalism that reminds me of an essay Ayn Rand wrote decades ago on statism and prestige.  These are the modern Green equivalents of the Brandenburg Gate -- they cost a lot of money, they don't really do anything useful, but everyone can point at them and marvel.

And speaking of which, our current Administration in the US in by no means immune

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for an LG Chem plant in Holland, Michigan, the company said Sunday. It is very unusual for an incumbent U.S. president to appear at such an event for a foreign company, and it is the first time for a Korean firm.

LG is investing US$300 million to build the plant which will produce batteries for electric vehicles. First-phase commercial production is scheduled to begin in the first half of 2012, and once completed in 2013 the plant will churn out lithium ion cells for 200,000 hybrid cars annually.

Ah, there Coyote goes exaggerating -- because the article explicitly says that a private company will be investing the money, so this isn't really a government project.   Ah, but read to the last paragraph

As part of efforts to revive the auto industry by bringing more green vehicles to the road, the U.S. government has lent considerable support to LG's Holland plant, including $151 million from a federal stimulus program. The Michigan state government also offered tax cuts worth $130 million, which together with the stimulus funds will almost offset LG's entire construction costs. The plant will help ease unemployment in the state by creating some 400 jobs, U.S. media reported.

So $281 million of the $300 million LG is investing is actually taxpayer money.  More brave capitalists! But fortunately we will have lots more batteries so rather than burn gasoline, electric vehicles can charge themselves from coal plants.

PS- Don't forget the jobs, though, created for the low low taxpayer cost of $702,500 each!

PS #2 - I had not noticed before I wrote it, but both of these articles also share in common the government subsidizing foreign companies to manufacture in their country, rather than producing these goods elsewhere and importing them.  This reduces the benefit of these investments even further - its pretty clear that both batteries and Prius's would have been made somewhere in the world, so they would have been available to consumers (probably at lower prices), but these investments merely were to shift production across some line on a map.

Update: John Stossel discusses another form of modern statist triumphalism -- the government-funded sports stadium

South Africa's ability to pull it all together for six weeks doesn't mean the World Cup will be a net benefit to the country in the long term. As the ESPN video below explains, South Africa's government spent $6 billion on the tournament. Tournament-related revenues are expected to fall well short of that figure. Some of the hundred million dollar stadiums built for the tournament won't get much use now that the games are over. The video points to one stadium built for the tournament which will likely remain vacant"”it sits over over slums that lack running water.

Fond memories of the month South Africa performed marvelously on the world stage are nice. But $6 billion is a lot to pay for a memory. These spectacles"”the World Cup and the Olympics"”are nearly always money losers. They're a lousy investment in wealthy countries. They're particularly garrish in countries that aren't as affluent.

Remember that Greece got the same kudos for not screwing up the Olympics, but years later it sure seems like the $15 billion that was sunk into those games by the Greek government has contributed to its financial crisis.

Same Here

Tyler Cowen writes:

If aggregate demand is so low, why are profits so high?

TJIC responds

SmartFlix  [TJIC's company] has show paper losses every year it's been in existence "¦ but I expect that this year it will show it's first ever paper profit.

"¦which is not a sign of macroeconomic health, but is, in fact, a sign of my very poor expectations for the economy.

Ditto here. We will probably show our largest paper profit this year, but it is mainly because we have cut way back on investment in new projects.  And this has nothing to do with demand - we are experiencing a boom, as the recession pushes Americans towards lower cost recreation of the type we operate, at the same time it cuts state budgets and makes them more amenable to our business model of private operation of public parks.

So why are we cutting back investment?  I run a very low margin service business. Here is a simplified calculation: We make, say, 8% of revenues before taxes and accelerated depreciation. 50% of our costs are labor, and the new health care law may raise our labor costs by 8% or even more.  A four percentage point cut in margins is not a big deal to Microsoft, but it is to us.  Until we figure out how this all will play out, we are still investing but only in above-average opportunities.

When we invest in a new project, it hits that year's income in two ways.  First, we have accelerated depreciation on the new capital equipment.  And second, we typically have a startup loss in the first year.  In the last few years of rapid growth, we have had close to zero paper earnings because of these growth effects.  Once we take our foot off the pedal this year, though, we will show a large positive income.  For us, reduced growth and investment = higher short term reported profits.

Grim Milestone

Via the USAToday

Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds.

At the same time, government-provided benefits "” from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs "” rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010.

Those records reflect a long-term trend accelerated by the recession and the federal stimulus program to counteract the downturn. The result is a major shift in the source of personal income from private wages to government programs.

Buried in the ariticle is a quote that I have to cite as perhaps the worst analysis I have ever seen:

The shift in incomeshows that the federal government's stimulus efforts have been effective, says Paul Van de Water, an economist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"It's the system working as it should," Van de Water says. Government is stimulating growth and helping people in need, he says. As the economy recovers, private wages will rebound, he says.

How does the income shift prove the stimulus worked?  The problem is, as usual, a difficult one of evaluating what the economy would have done without the stimulus.  The mere shift in income is a necesary outcome of the stimulus -- all it means is that we have succesfully robbed Peter to pay Paul -- it says nothing about whether Peter and Paul are more wealthy in aggregate had we not moved money around by force.  In fact, proponents of the stimulus never, ever address a very simple fact - someone was using the money to run a business or invest or buy things or employ people before the government took it for stimulus programs.  And it is really, really hard to look at the body of stimulus programs and come to the conclusion that the private sector was investing the money worse, which is the only way stimulus would occur.

Green Rent Seeking Update

More here on the failure of European green energy subsidies.

At a speech a while ago, I told this to an investing group a while back:  Do the math.  You can't build a growth company on public subsidies.  It may be possible to grow at first when the subsidized activity (e.g. solar) is a tiny percentage of the market.  But once it starts to grow, the projected subsidies are astronomical.  The German solar subsidy is something like 50 cents per KwH -- to give one a sense of scale, the typical electricity price from fossil fuels there or here is something like 8-10 cents per KwH.  Subsidizing just 20% of US electricity production at this kind of rate would cost $50 billion a year.  Subsidizing all production would cost a quarter of a trillion dollars a year.

Take a company dependent on subsidies, figure out what their implied size is in 10 years based on current stock multiples, and then calculate what the public subsidy at current rates would have to be to support that size and a reasonable market share (because competitors are following the same model).  Investors who do this will quickly figure out that the subsidies needed to support their favored company are unsustainable.  Phoenix-based FirstSolar, a sometimes-darling of Wall Street, has had  a rocky year.  Its stock price has had several steep falls, each one just after rumors that Germany would cut its solar subsidy rate (actually its feed-in tariff, but the same idea).

My advice to the group was that if you were investing in green energy, either your company had a three year plan to reduce costs to be able to compete profitably in a subsidy-free environment, or else you are investing in pets.com.

Update: If you have Nancy Pelosi's husband on your board, you can probably extend your window to five years.

Economic Stimulus

If Obama really wanted to get small businesses to start investing again, he could announce that both cap-and-trade and the health care bill are dead-dead and will not be disinterred this year.   These two bills affect nearly 2/3 of our company's cost structure.  Since we have single digit margins, small changes in the wage and fuel cost lines can completely wipe out our profits.  Not knowing what 2/3 of our costs were going to look like into the future, we have been sitting on our hands.

Unfortunately, this may not be enough.  The third leg of the uncertainty stool is income taxes, and its seems likely that some huge increase almost has to be forthcoming given Congress's predilection for taxes and marked unwillingness to cut spending in any meaningful way.

Here is a very specific example.  We have an opportunity to invest about a half million dollars in a new operation in Texas.  Financing is available.  But in my evaluation spreadsheet, small changes in income tax rates combine with a potential 8% health care tax on wages and an unknown fuel tax increase to move the net present value by enormous amounts.  I am not going to risk a half million dollars on a 20-year investment when the government is considering so much legislation that will arbitrarily move the value of this investment.

This is why Obama's offer of small business financing is meaningless.   In the last decade, government sponsored cheap money lured people into housing "investments" that eventually went upside down.   Are they now luring small businesses into a new trap, encouraging them to take on debt, only to slam the door on them with future increases to their operating costs and taxes?

Michigan's Job Creation Plan

Michigan has  a huge problem with jobs and capital leaving the state for more favorable climates.  Which makes it incredible that the ruling Democrats in the state have this plan to improve things:

  • Hiking the minimum wage to $10 an hour for all workers.
  • Imposing a blanket moratorium on home foreclosures for 12 months.
  • Cutting utility rates 20% across the board.
  • Requiring all employers to provide health care to their employees.
  • Hiking, by $100 a week, and extending, for six months, unemployment benefits.

Wow, that should really bring companies running to the state to invest their capital.  This is always a powerfully attractive package:

  • Raise the price of unskilled labor and entry-level employees
  • Reduce protections for lenders investing capital in the state
  • Set the state up for power shortages
  • Increase the price of labor by $12,000 or more per year
  • Increase employment-related taxes  ( a sure outcome of raising unemplyment benefits)

The Box

I just finished "The Box," which is a history of container shipping.  Never has any book I have read elicited so many laughs from my family.  Nothing says "geek" like reading a book about shipping containers.

But, for those of you who might similarly be turned off by the subject matter as unpromising, I can say this is easily one of the most interesting business books I have ever read.    It is fascinating to see how the entire economics of an industry can be changed not by some arcane advance in silicon, but by a metal box.  In a period of about 20 years, the entire merchandise shipping business, which had remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, was completely reinvented.  Every ship and every port had to be replaced.  Moreover, these changes resonated far beyond shipping, as they enabled much of the global manufacturing revolution of the last generation.

Because pre-container shipping and transport were so highly regulated, the book provides a great window on how regulation affects innovation, and vice versa.  It also focuses quite a bit on how unions and in particular union work rules affected industry economics, and how these unions reacted to change in the industry.

And of course, the book allows us to look at any number of interesting business strategy issues:

  • Is being a first mover an advantage, or a disadvantage?  Sea-Land reaped a number of first mover advantages, but it also got hurt badly when a number of the earlier investment choices they made turned out to be wrong.  Several late movers, who invested after ship designs had been through two or three generations, did quite well.  Others did not.
  • Who makes money investing into this kind of change?  A few early SeaLand investors made out well, the equivalent of angel investors, but later investors did poorly.  And it is not at all clear that anyone making massive, billion dollar investments ever really made great returns.  Like the airline industry, the industry quickly hit over-capacity and prices dropped.  It is clear shippers won big, but did it really make sense for anyone to invest in this business?  The best strategy I can come up with was followed by Maersk, which basically sat out until late and then bought up assets on the cheap out of bankruptcy from early participants.

This situation was reminiscent of a business case I had at HBS about the beginnings of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) market.  It was run as a computer simulation among teams.  Basically, almost not matter what everyone did, the industry ended up in over-capacity and everyone lost money.  The only successful strategy was the Wargames approach ("the only winning move is not to play').

Public vs. Private

I believe most of my regular readers know that in my day job I am involved in privatization of public recreation.  For fairly obvious reasons, I never blog about the public recreation agencies with whom I work.  In particular, I don't think its fair that an agency that is at least visionary enough to consider private management of its recreation have its dirty laundry spread all over my blog.

But there is one situation with a particular state parks organization that is driving me so crazy that I must share the story publicly, but I will do so without revealing the state. I have no reason to believe that what I describe is unusual.

The state parks organization runs a bit fewer than thirty parks and campgrounds, whereas our company runs over 150 public parks and campgrounds.  Their total operation budget for parks is about the same as my company's annual expenses.  The state parks organization gets about 20% of all its labor hours donated for free by volunteers, whereas we are prohibited by the Fair Labor Standards Act from accepting volunteer labor.  Their parks are spread all over a large state, ours are spread from Washington to Florida.

By scale and scope, our company is reasonably considered larger and more complex, though the state has some reporting requirements I do not have.  There are two major differences between us, though, which are telling:

  1. Including myself, our company has 3.5 people on the corporate staff with total corporate office space of about 700 sq ft. -- everyone else is dedicated to and works at a particular facility.  This state parks organization has scores of people working in a dedicated headquarters building with tens of thousands of square feet of space.
  2. Demand for public recreation is booming, as people are looking for low cost recreation opportunities.  Our pre-season camping reservations, for example, are at an all time high.  We have had to scrape deep, but we are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in expansion money this year to address opportunities to serve more visitors.  This state parks organization is cutting back parks.  It has closed a number of parks, and plans to close more, and has cut most of its investment.  To my knowledge, it has done nothing to address headquarters staff costs, nor is it able by state rules to take any credit in its budget for expected increases in park fee collections.

The staff level bureaucracy problem is just endemic to government.  I would love to look at the growth of staffing of public schools by type of employee over the last 30 years -- my bet would be that the total number of teachers is flat to down while the number of administrators and assistant principals have skyrocketed.

Update: I have had parks employees writing me guessing that I was writing about their organization.  They made the point that their parks organization is not comparable to ours, as their organization had been saddled with a number of non-recreation missions that were expensive (e.g. preservation, certain environmental goals, historical interpretation, etc)  This is certainly true, though not of every parks organization or necesarily the one about which I was writing.  But one could argue that this kind of mission creep is a failure point in public agencies.  While there are incentives for this to occur in both public and private organizations, there are fewer corrective mechanisms in the publis sphere to push back.  In fact, in the public sphere, new missions are a blessing because they often carry new funding.  In the private sector, new missions threaten to dillute results and are more resented.

I Beat the Market

Almost exactly 10 years ago, on my son's 5th birthday, I bought him some large scale (G-scale) trains and track.  It was a logical present given that I have always been a model railroader myself, though with smaller scale trains (HO and now N) and a different approach (for example, I fabricated my own track rather than buying it).

Anyway, I bought 4 boxes of track from the leader in large scale, LGB, for $85 a box  (I know because the price tag is still on the boxes).  We used the track only lightly and indoors.  Over the holidays, 10 years later, we decided to get rid of it.  I almost just gave it way, but put it on eBay instead.

Well, apparently LGB went out of business, and its track is still very much in demand on eBay.  I sold the boxes for an average of $200 a box.  That is an annual return, even leaving out the use we got out of it, of 8.9%.  Compare this to the 10-year return of the S&P500 index as of 1/2/09 of -1.4%.  Can you say, "found money?"

Get Bob Cratchitt to Do It

The Town of South Attleboro, MA sent out wildly threatening past due letters for folks with balances as low as 1-cent  (thereby investing at least 42 cents to get one back).  In response to charges that this was stupid, City Collector Debora Marcoccio responded:

A computer automatically printed the letters for any account with a balance remaining, and they were not reviewed by staff before being sent out, Marcoccio said.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible for me to have staff weed through the bills and pull out any below a certain amount," Marcoccio said. " And what would that amount be?"

What, are we living in the 19th century with clerks in a musty room preparing bills by hand?  This fix probably requires one whole entire line of program code in the billing system to fix.  I could probably teach myself to code whatever language the payroll system is written in (my guess is COBOL, which, god help me, I already know) in less time than this woman has spent fielding complaints and media inquiries.  Compare this to what TJIC has to do just to get the mail out.

And don't you love people who don't even have enough spine to make a simple decision about the cutoff for minimum bill size.  I have found this is one of those things the government is really, really bad at -- making decisions under uncertainty  (which covers about all decisions, except routine ones embodied in SOP).  Government has no incentives, in general, for productivity, or production, or customer satisfaction.  The only time government employees get feedback at all is when they get negative feedback from having someone yell at them for making a decision that some higher-up didn't like..  So if a decision is not justifiable either by past precedent/SOP or explicitly by the rules, it is not made.

By the way, I had a personal programming milestone last night.  I finally built a website without using a WYSIWIG editor that formatted the way I wanted it to all in CSS without a single table.  I predict that now that I have finally gotten a decent handle on CSS, which mainly consists of learning all the workarounds for when it doesn't work as you would expect, that someone is about to introduce a whole new system for formatting web pages.

Lenders Have to Lend

I know this may be pointing out the obvious, but I think it needs to be said:  Lenders have to lend, just as much as borrowers have to borrow.  I know most people understand the "borrower" part of this phrase, but they seem to act as if lenders are somehow only putting their money on the street as some sort of charitable activity, and if we don't sufficiently kow-tow to all their needs, they will run away and never help us all again.

The fact is that people with large pools of money -- banks, pension funds, insurance companies -- HAVE to lend.  And in a time where stocks are dicey, they probably have more, not less, cash than normal they want to lend, much of it short-term.  Now, they may be temporarily scared off from doing so for a few days or weeks as they try to assess what is safe and what is not, but they can't stick their money in a mattress or buy tons of gold or invest in ammunition and run for the hills.  Banks have to pay off depositors; insurance companies often aim to break
even on premiums and payouts and make their money on investing the cash
in between; pension funds can't make their long-term obligations
without making steady returns.Their very survival, in many cases, depends on making continuous returns off their free cash. 

Wisdom from Schoolhouse Rock:

You got a couple hundred bucks saved up in your birthday stash.Why not deposit them dollars in the bank instead?
Then at the end of the year you'll come out way ahead,
Because the bank'll pay you money in exchange for the use of your cash!
And that's called interest; you're makin' money that way,
And you can buy that gear about a year from today.

      

Arizona Politicians Pursue Protectionism -- Against New Mexico

Taking the economically illiterate but apparently politically powerful notion that it is important that commerce across arbitrarily selected geographic boundaries be minimized, some Arizona politicians are taking the argument to the next, ridiculous level:  Not content to blame perceived problems in the state economy (which has outperformed most other states) on NAFTA, Mexico, or Mexican immigrants, Arizona politicians are now blaming them on New Mexico.

An Arizona energy regulator is frustrated that Arizona Public Service
Co. is passing up in-state wind-energy for power from New Mexico and
Utah....

The state's largest utility buys 90 megawatts of energy from the
Aragonne Mesa Wind Project near Santa Rosa, N.M., and officials have
informed Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes of plans to buy more
renewable energy from out of state, including from a Utah
geothermal-power plant.

"I am concerned that such out-of-state purchases hinder the development
of renewable energy here in Arizona, and potentially deprive our state
of much needed economic development," Mayes said in a letter to APS,
echoing concerns she raised at a regulatory meeting last week.

Of course, everyone knows that silly government energy mandates have much more growth potential than, say, low electrical rates.  So obviously the power company is just being treasonous in buying power from the cheapest sources:

When APS [one of our electric utilities] chose to buy power from the Aragonne project in New Mexico, it
rejected a similar proposal from a company that wanted to build a wind
farm in northern Arizona, which wasn't built because of the decision
from APS, Mayes said.

Brandt said the New Mexico project was better for customers.

"We put all these projects out with a competitive bid," Brandt said.
"Then we select the resource that comes out the best. It's not always
the cheapest. It's a combination of price, reliability and do-ability,
all the things a common businessperson would look at."

He said APS would rather support Arizona power projects, but so far those that have bid on power have not been competitive.

Of course, all of this, even taking the cheapest source, is more expensive than electricity would be without these mandates:

When the Corporation Commission approved the renewable-energy standard
in 2006, officials estimated it would raise an existing monthly tariff
on customer bills from less than 50 cents to $1.05 to help APS meet the
goal, but those projections have gone up. Regulators are expected to
set a new limit on the tariff in the next month, according to Mayes and
APS officials, with some proposals nearing $2.

The protectionist argument is summed up:

"This is Arizona ratepayer money that is currently going to other
states that ought to stay in Arizona," she said. "We are in an economic
downturn. It's a terrible time to be investing out of state."

Yes, yet another blow is struck against economic literacy and the concept of division of labor.  Just how arbitrarily small does a geographic area have to be before protectionists will accept that this area does not need to be self-sufficient of all products and services?