Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. US Housing Market Real Estate Crash The Next Shoe To Drop – Part II - Chris_Vermeulen
2.The Coronavirus Greatest Economic Depression in History? - Nadeem_Walayat
3.US Real Estate Housing Market Crash Is The Next Shoe To Drop - Chris_Vermeulen
4.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications and AI Mega-trend Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
5. Are Coronavirus Death Statistics Exaggerated? Worse than Seasonal Flu or Not?- Nadeem_Walayat
6.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications, Global Recession and AI Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
7.US Fourth Turning Accelerating Towards Debt Climax - James_Quinn
8.Dow Stock Market Trend Analysis and Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Britain's FAKE Coronavirus Death Statistics Exposed - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Commodity Markets Crash Catastrophe Charts - Rambus_Chartology
Last 7 days
Will You Make Money in the New Silver Bull Market ? - 13th Aug 20
Hyper-Deflation Capital Destruction And Gold & Silver - 13th Aug 20
Stock Market Correction Approaching - 13th Aug 20
Silver Took the Stairs to $21 in 2008, Took Escalator to $29 2010. Is Silver on Elevator to 120th floor today? - 13th Aug 20
President Trump Signs Additional COVID Relief – What To Expect from the Markets - 13th Aug 20
Has Gold's Upward Drive Come to an End? - 13th Aug 20
YouTuber Ads Revenue & How to Start a Career on YouTube - 13th Aug 20
Silver Notches Best Month Since 1979 - 12th Aug 20
Silver Shorts Get Squeezed Hard… What’s Next? - 12th Aug 20
A Tale of Two Precious Metal Bulls - 12th Aug 20
Stock Market Melt-Up Continues While Precious Metals Warn of Risks - 12th Aug 20
How Does the Gold Fit the Corona World? - 12th Aug 20
3 (free) ways to ride next big wave in EURUSD, USDJPY, gold, silver and more - 12th Aug 20
A Simple Way to Preserve Your Wealth Amid Uncertainty - 11th Aug 20
Precious Metals Complex Impulse Move : Where Is next Resistance? - 11th Aug 20
Gold Miners Junior Stcks Buying Spree - 11th Aug 20
Has the Fed Let the Inflation Genie Out of the Bottle? - 10th Aug 20
The Strange Food Trend That’s Making Investors Rich - 10th Aug 20
Supply & Demand For Money – The End of Inflation? - 10th Aug 20
Revisiting Our Silver and Gold Predictions – Get Ready For Higher Prices - 10th Aug 20
Storm Clouds Are Gathering for a Major Stock and Commodity Markets Downturn - 10th Aug 20
A 90-Year-Old Stock Market Investment Insight That's Relevant in 2020 - 10th Aug 20
Debt and Dollar Collapse Leading to Potential Stock Market Melt-Up, - 10th Aug 20
Coronavirus: UK Parents Demand ALL Schools OPEN September, 7 Million Children Abandoned by Teachers - 9th Aug 20
Computer GPU Fans Not Spinning Quick FIX - Sticky Fans Solution - 9th Aug 20
Find the Best Speech Converter for You - 9th Aug 20
Silver Bull Market Update - 7th Aug 20
This Inflation-Adjusted Silver Chart Tells An Interesting Story - 7th Aug 20
The Great American Housing Boom Has Begun - 7th Aug 20
NATURAL GAS BEGINS UPSIDE BREAKOUT MOVE - 7th Aug 20
Know About Lotteries With The Best Odds Of Winning - 7th Aug 20
Could Gold Price Reach $7,000 by 2030? - 6th Aug 20
Bananas for All! Keep Dancing… FOMC - 6th Aug 20
How to Do Bets During This Time - 6th Aug 20
How to develop your stock trading strategy - 6th Aug 20
Stock Investors What to do if Trump Bans TikTok - 5th Aug 20
Gold Trifecta of Key Signals for Gold Mining Stocks - 5th Aug 20
ARE YOU LOVING YOUR SERVITUDE? - 5th Aug 20
Stock Market Uptrend Continues? - 4th Aug 20
The Dimensions of Covid-19: The Hong Kong Flu Redux - 4th Aug 20
High Yield Junk Bonds Are Hot Again -- Despite Warning Signs - 4th Aug 20
Gold Stocks Autumn Rally - 4th Aug 20
“Government Sachs” Is Worried About the Federal Reserve Note - 4th Aug 20
Gold Miners Still Pushing That Cart of Rocks Up Hill - 4th Aug 20
UK Government to Cancel Christmas - Crazy Covid Eid 2020! - 4th Aug 20
Covid-19 Exposes NHS Institutional Racism Against Black and Asian Staff and Patients - 4th Aug 20
How Sony Is Fueling the Computer Vision Boom - 3rd Aug 20
Computer Gaming System Rig Top Tips For 6 Years Future Proofing Build Spec - 3rd Aug 20
Cornwwall Bude Caravan Park Holidays 2020 - Look Inside Holiday Resort Caravan - 3rd Aug 20
UK Caravan Park Holidays 2020 Review - Hoseasons Cayton Bay North East England - 3rd Aug 20
Best Travel Bags for 2020 Summer Holidays , Back Sling packs, water proof, money belt and tactical - 3rd Aug 20
Precious Metals Warn Of Increased Volatility Ahead - 2nd Aug 20
The Key USDX Sign for Gold and Silver - 2nd Aug 20
Corona Crisis Will Have Lasting Impact on Gold Market - 2nd Aug 20
Gold & Silver: Two Pictures - 1st Aug 20
The Bullish Case for Stocks Isn't Over Yet - 1st Aug 20
Is Gold Price Action Warning Of Imminent Monetary Collapse - Part 2? - 1st Aug 20
Will America Accept the World's Worst Pandemic Response Government - 1st Aug 20
Stock Market Technical Patterns, Future Expectations and More – Part II - 1st Aug 20
Trump White House Accelerating Toward a US Dollar Crisis - 31st Jul 20
Why US Commercial Real Estate is Set to Get Slammed - 31st Jul 20
Gold Price Blows Through Upside Resistance - The Chase Is On - 31st Jul 20
Is Crude Oil Price Setting Up for a Waterfall Decline? - 31st Jul 20
Stock Market Technical Patterns, Future Expectations and More - 30th Jul 20
Why Big Money Is Already Pouring Into Edge Computing Tech Stocks - 30th Jul 20
Economic and Geopolitical Worries Fuel Gold’s Rally - 30th Jul 20
How to Finance an Investment Property - 30th Jul 20
I Hate Banks - Including Goldman Sachs - 29th Jul 20
NASDAQ Stock Market Double Top & Price Channels Suggest Pending Price Correction - 29th Jul 20
Silver Price Surge Leaves Naysayers in the Dust - 29th Jul 20
UK Supermarket Covid-19 Shop - Few Masks, Lack of Social Distancing (Tesco) - 29th Jul 20
Budgie Clipped Wings, How Long Before it Can Fly Again? - 29th Jul 20
How To Take Advantage Of Tesla's 400% Stock Surge - 29th Jul 20
Gold Makes Record High and Targets $6,000 in New Bull Cycle - 28th Jul 20
Gold Strong Signal For A Secular Bull Market - 28th Jul 20
Anatomy of a Gold and Silver Precious Metals Bull Market - 28th Jul 20
Shopify Is Seizing an $80 Billion Pot of Gold - 28th Jul 20
Stock Market Minor Correction Underway - 28th Jul 20
Why College Is Never Coming Back - 27th Jul 20
Stocks Disconnect from Economy, Gold Responds - 27th Jul 20
Silver Begins Big Upside Rally Attempt - 27th Jul 20
The Gold and Silver Markets Have Changed… What About You? - 27th Jul 20
Google, Apple And Amazon Are Leading A $30 Trillion Assault On Wall Street - 27th Jul 20
This Stock Market Indicator Reaches "Lowest Level in Nearly 20 Years" - 26th Jul 20
New Wave of Economic Stimulus Lifts Gold Price - 26th Jul 20
Stock Market Slow Grind Higher Above the Early June Stock Highs - 26th Jul 20
How High Will Silver Go? - 25th Jul 20
If You Own Gold, Look Out Below - 25th Jul 20
Crude Oil and Energy Sets Up Near Major Resistance – Breakdown Pending - 25th Jul 20
FREE Access to Premium Market Forecasts by Elliott Wave International - 25th Jul 20
The Promise of Silver as August Approaches: Accumulation and Conversation - 25th Jul 20
The Silver Bull Gateway is at Hand - 24th Jul 20
The Prospects of S&P 500 Above the Early June Highs - 24th Jul 20
How Silver Could Surpass Its All-Time High - 24th Jul 20

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

How to Get Rich Investing in Stocks by Riding the Electron Wave

Corporate Capex Fallacies and Why You Shouldn’t Rely on CNBC

Companies / Corporate Earnings Mar 14, 2014 - 01:03 PM GMT

By: F_F_Wiley

Companies

We get experts on everything that sound like they’re scientific experts … They’ll sit at a typewriter and make up all this stuff as if it’s science and then become an expert … Now, I might be quite wrong, maybe they do know all these things. But I don’t think I’m wrong. You see I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something … how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something. And therefore, I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it. They haven’t done the work necessary. They haven’t done the checks necessary. They haven’t done the care necessary … and they’re intimidating people. -Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist


The excerpt is from a 1981 BBC documentary about Richard Feynman that was linked in a Zero Hedge post several years ago. Unfortunately, Feynman passed away in 1988 and never had the chance to watch the “experts” on financial television. We would have particularly liked to hear the great physicist’s thoughts on economics punditry.

To understand economics experts in Feynman’s absence, the best analogy that we can think of is to the methods of a magician. Magicians operate by showing their audience a small window on reality, and then tricking people into mentally filling in the rest incorrectly. Because the economy has so many moving parts, a similar approach also works in economics. Pundits can draw our attention to a couple of indicators, ignore everything else, and make claims that sound realistic even though they make little sense in the bigger picture. One difference between economists and magicians, though, is that economists are often unaware of their trickery because they fool themselves before fooling others.

To be clear, we don’t claim to be immune to such deceptions, but we do try to root them out as best we can and will do that here.

We’ll look at capital expenditures (capex), in particular. You can’t take in much media commentary today before finding someone arguing that capex is lower than it should be. Crystal ball gazers predict a capex resurgence that lifts the economy into a robust recovery, while pundits with an activist bent implore businesses (and public officials) to ramp up their investments.

There’s usually some combination of four pieces to what we’ll call the “CNBC” story:

  1. Corporate cash is high
  2. Net investment is low
  3. Bond yields are low
  4. Corporate profits are high

These four observations are said to demonstrate that businesses are behaving irrationally or improperly by not pushing capex higher. And the story may sound reasonable on the surface, but is it really that simple?

To dig deeper, we’ll critique the proposition linked to each observation, while testing them with over 60 years of data.  Our results show that the CNBC story is yet another careless economic illusion.

Proposition 1: Corporate cash is high, and therefore, businesses should put that cash to work through capex.

Comments: This is the most obviously deceptive of the four propositions, hence Mark Spitznagel’s incredulous response when asked to address cash balances by Maria Bartiromo last week. As Spitznagel explained, it makes little sense to isolate the cash that sits on corporate balance sheets without netting the credit portions of both assets and liabilities. We last updated corporations’ net credit position here, showing that gradual increases in cash balances are dwarfed by rising debt.

A longer history further disproves the proposition; it shows that there’s no correlation between capex and corporate cash:

capex and cnbc 1

Proposition 2: Net investment (capex less depreciation) is unusually low and should be much higher at this point in the business cycle.

Comments: This argument implies that businesses should invest more when depreciation is higher, as that’s the only way to drive the net amount of investment towards “normal” levels. Our criticism is that it combines current capex with an accounting measure of depreciation on past capex. This is extremely misleading after periods of malinvestment, in particular, when the capital stock is too high for the level of demand. Unusually high depreciation after such periods is a sign that capex should be managed carefully to keep the capital stock from further outpacing fundamentals, not increased blindly to maintain an assumed margin over depreciation. Therefore, net investment fails to tell us anything about the “right” amount of capex.

Turning again to the last six decades, data confirms that the second proposition is just as faulty as the first:

capex and cnbc 2

Proposition 3: Low interest rates should encourage more capex.

Comments: This is a trickier proposition than the first two, since low rates should certainly spur higher spending when other factors are held constant. The problem is that other factors are never constant. On the contrary, low rates are typically associated with a challenging economy, and this is especially true in today’s highly manipulated markets. The Fed seems to be discouraging long-term investment in some respects by holding rates well below where they would otherwise be. As perceived by us and many others (including Spitznagel per the interview linked above), the Fed’s approach raises long-term risks while drawing capital into short-term financial strategies.

Needless to say, this isn’t the ideal environment for capex. It’s not that companies aren’t taking advantage of low rates; they’ve increased borrowing substantially as noted above. It’s just that the proceeds of that borrowing aren’t flowing into capex as much as they would in less manipulated markets.

Moreover, history once again refutes the proposition. Adjusting corporate bond yields for inflation, the chart below shows that capex has tended to be slightly lower than average when real yields are low:

capex and cnbc 3

Proposition 4: Record corporate profits should encourage more capex.

Comments: Here’s a proposition with empirical support, finally. Although the relationship isn’t especially strong, the chart below shows that high profits have tended to coincide with high capex, and visa-versa. We highlighted the latest figures to show that they sit below the regression line:

capex and cnbc 4

There are two reasons not to get too carried away, though. First, the surge in profits is explained mostly by extremely high margins and tight controls on expenses. When businesses boost profits though expense reductions instead of revenue growth, there’s more than a little circular logic in the idea that their success calls for higher spending.

Second, there are other, offsetting considerations suggesting that businesses are wise to limit capex growth to a modest pace. In “What Needs To Happen Before We See a Big Recovery,” we listed four reasons to doubt the capex boom that many pundits predict: ample unused capacity, tepid overseas growth, growing financial risks and President Obama’s bumbling incursions into private markets. Unfortunately, the financial risk and policy factors aren’t as testable as the propositions above. We tested capacity utilization, though, and here are our results:

capex and cnbc 5

Lo and behold, 2013 capex fell almost directly on top of the regression line. This shows that businesses may not be so irrational after all, in view of the excess capacity that still remains after the last decade’s overinvestment. And together with the first three charts above, it tells us that capex fundamentals aren’t as simple as “CNBC” would have you believe.

F.F. Wiley

http://www.cyniconomics.com

F.F. Wiley is a professional name for an experienced asset manager whose work has been included in the CFA program and featured in academic journals and other industry publications.  He has advised and managed money for large institutions, sovereigns, wealthy individuals and financial advisors.

© 2014 Copyright F.F. Wiley - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules