Putting the Business Roundtable to THE test

Capitalism. The most successful economic system in human history. With all its flaws, no other system has generated more wealth and elevated more people from poverty to riches. But like every other system, it’s designed and managed by humans, so obviously it will be full of flaws. And there is no better place on earth to observe these flaws than the United States of America.

The richest country on earth, with huge conglomerates and companies that are homes to the richest people on the planet. But after just a month of shutting down their business, these capital behemoths are already asking their government for bailouts.

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The importance of emergency funds

Financial advisors usually teach their clients about the importance of emergency funds. Rule of thumb is to have 3-6 months of expenses allocated in an easily accessible deposit account. Whether it’s cash or short term, high-yield savings accounts. Whatever. Point is, that if you lose your job or if there is any other reason for why your cash-flow will get suspended, you should have a quick and easy way to access that cash. So even if your life does get disrupted, you can take the time to fully focus on getting back on your feet.

It’s obvious now that such lessons would be also critical for companies, especially the larger ones. As doors are being shut and balance sheets shattered, mass-unemployment is on the rise and demands for government support is increasing. Again, we are only a month into lockdowns, which may easily extend by another month or two.

Should governments bailout companies?

Governments around the world have responded quickly with stimulus packages, low-interest loans, grants and even direct cash payouts to citizens. I honestly don’t know and can’t think of any other solution for now. But it’s ironic, and funny enough, that even a country like the US, which is currently being led by the republican party, jumps in with help so quickly.

The republicans. Everything they are doing now is against every core principle of how capitalism should look like in a country that devoted itself to that system. Why should the government bailout unsuccessful businesses? A company that fails within as little as a month of trouble certainly can’t be called “successful” or “sustainable”.

Keeping an unsuccessful company alive just to preserve some jobs makes no sense. Wouldn’t it be better to restructure the company or to let it go bankrupt so new, smarter and better competitors get the opportunity to fill the void?

The only way I could imagine this to make any sense is if the government would see opportunities in the business for itself. Then it shouldn’t give any grants either, but rather take a stake in it.

By taking a stake in a company, the government can ensure the operations can continue and support a larger restructuring to put it back on feet. It can also keep better oversight to make sure the money goes to where it’s supposed to go to. Does anyone really believe that stock buybacks and CEO bonuses won’t happen in 2020, while employees are being laid-off, or staff salaries and benefits cut?

I am not alone with this this idea. It has been also supported by Mark Cuban and other prominent voices, who by the way might come up as an independent candidate for the presidential election in November.

The real strength

I think I heard the quote from Howard Shultz:

“It’s very easy to lead when things are going great. It gets really hard when you get headwinds, disappointments, and people are telling you that you’re in the wrong way.”

As of now, the headwinds are really strong for all of us. But it’s also an interesting and exciting time, becasue as investors, right now we can observe easily which companies are on the right track, which can endure hardships, and which have sound business strategies designed to go beyond their quarterly reports and dividend distributions.

We can (and should) also observe which companies have the strength not only to navigate through this crisis but to do so by simultaneously supporting their stakeholders. Keeping employees is just one part. Business partners are another piece of the puzzle. And yes, asking for taxpayers money is also a factor.

Being financially strong means, in my humble opinion, to not need to rely on anyone coming to rescue. Not only that but also to make a point that even if one would be eligible to get benefits, grants or subsidies, this money should be rather distributed to those who really are in need of it.

Putting them to the test

Less than a year ago the Business Roundtable declared the end of shareholder primacy and a stronger focus on stakeholders. There won’t be a better time but now to see who of those who signed the paper really meant it.

The best statement on paper is only worth as much as our actions tell. In good times, and in bad times. The world will be watching.

New Year’s Optimism

The first month of any new year tends to be great. Not only does it feel like a fresh start, but it also helps us to draw a line, to make a clear cut, and it reminds us that it’s never too late to start over. This psychological and ever-repeating pattern also shows on the stock market. Throughout history, January has tended to be a great month for stocks.

2020 is not different and off to a great start. The US markets keep moving up because, despite all the disturbing news across the globe, there are plenty of positive news that people don’t talk about.

Good news vs. bad news

Indeed, regular news channels tend to report only the most shocking and catastrophic events. No matter which news channels you follow, chances are that roughly 95% of whatever is being reported on is something that is meant to upset you, to make you sad, angry or disturbed. Something good or positive will usually get a window of 10-20 seconds by the end of the show. Something to “brighten the day”.

But against all odds, the world as we know it is improving on many factors. For this, you just have to dig a little deeper into the news cycle.

General education levels across the globe are increasing, child mortality is shrinking, poverty is at lowest in human history, we can cure millions of diseases and are living longer than ever.

I am following regular news channels to get my daily portion of negativity in, and an alternative channel to balance this out again. There are several to choose from, and one of them is this one: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org

Investors sentiment

Why is all this important? Because the stock market is very closely related to human emotions. The sentiment of investors, their emotional connection to the markets, to the companies they invest in, their attitudes, all this has an effect on the stock market.

This is why traditionally, the beginning of a new year is a great time for investors, and why this is the time when one should hold on to his shares as they climb up to new record highs.

So when is a good time to sell? There is no easy and definite answer to that. But there is a quote that gives an indication: “Sell in May and go away…” and of course: “…but remember to come back in September”.