Category Archives: Economics

Eric Schmidt on Google in 2010 and the Economy

CEO Eric Schmidt Reveals ‘Centerpiece’ Of Google’s 2010 Strategy, speaking at the White House jobs summit.

Google is definitely hiring. “We’re hiring a couple thousand people over the next year,” he said.

And looking at the White House summit he said, “The basic message today is that with small business – which is the primary source of jobs – we need to figure out the loan problem. The banks aren’t really lending to them and anything that the government can do to accelerate that, needs to happen right now.”

“Cloud computing is the centerpiece of our strategy. It’s a new model. You basically put all your information on servers and you have fast networks and lots of different kinds of personal computers and mobile phones that can use the applications… it’s a powerful model and it’s where the industry is going. It is the centerpiece of our 2010 strategy.”

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster today said in a note, that by 2016, 78% of Google’s revenue will still be from search. Schmidt agreed.

“My guess is that advertising and search ads will be the lion’s share of our business for quite a long time,” he said. “The reason is, it’s such a large part of our business and it continues to grow quite well.”

I continue to own Google and have it in my 12 stocks for 10 years portfolio.

Related: Google Exceeded Planned Spending on PersonnelEric Schmidt on Management at GoogleMeeting Like GoogleGoogle Should Stay True to Their Management Practices

How ‘Buy American’ Can Hurt U.S. Firms

How ‘Buy American’ Can Hurt U.S. Firms

Canadian communities angered by perceived American chauvinism have started a Buy Canadian campaign to exclude U.S. bidders from municipal contracts. “If that sticks, well, there goes 25% of my business,” said Mr. Pokorsky. “To me, Ontario may as well be Indiana.”

Halton Hills, a town of 50,000 people about 25 miles west of Toronto, is one of about a dozen Canadian communities forging ahead with plans to amend their procurement policies to freeze out American companies. “We won’t be taking any products from any country that is discriminating against us,” said Mayor Rick Bonnette.

Aquarius gets a lot of its parts from abroad, particularly from Canada. Such integration became even tighter after the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 joined the U.S., Canada and Mexico in a free flow of goods and services.

Trojan Technologies Inc. of Ontario, North America’s dominant maker of ultraviolet disinfection equipment for treating sewage, is a key supplier to Aquarius and other companies. Because of the Buy American provisions, Trojan has had to shift production to a plant in Valencia, Calif., a move that has resulted in delays and additional costs being passed on to customers, said Trojan executive Christian Williamson.

The challenges of trying to legislate market choices such as what products to buy are difficult. It is understandable to want to direct stimulus funds to improving the economy today in the USA. Creating legislation that can cope with interactions and unintended consequences inherent in such attempts is not easy.

Related: China and the Sugar Industry Tax ConsumersNew Look American ManufacturingRussell Ackoff Webcast on Systems ThinkingWhy Congress Won’t Investigate Wall Street

Loan Default Rates Continue to Increase

chart of loan default rates 1998 to 2009Chart showing loan default rates for real estate, consumer and agricultural loans for 1998 to 2009 by the Curious Cat Investing Economics Blog, Creative Commons Attribution, data from the Federal Reserve.

Default rates on commercial (up another 151 basis points) and residential (93 basis points) real estate continued to increase dramatically in the second quarter. Credit card default rates increased but only by 20 basis points.

Real estate default rates exploded in 2008, in the aftermath of the financial market meltdown. In the 4th quarter of 2007 residential default rates were 3.02% by the 4th quarter of 2008 they were 6.34% and in the 2nd quarter of this year they were 8.84% (582 basis points above the 4th quarter of 2007). Commercial real estate default rates were at 2.74% in the 4th quarter of 2007, 5.43% in the fourth quarter of 2008 and 7.91% in the 2nd quarter of 2009 (a 517 basis point increase).

Credit card default rates were much higher than real estate default rates for the last 10 years (the 4-5% range while real estate hovered above or below 2%). Now they are over 200 and 300 basis points bellow residential and commercial default rates respectively. From 4.8% in the 3rd quarter 2008 to 5.66% in the 4th and 6.5% in the 1st quarter of 2009.

Small steps to reduce the large consumer debt have been made recently: consumer debt declined a record $21.5 billion in July. Since April of 2008 consumer debt has been reduced by $70 billion in the USA. Unfortunately we still have $2.47 trillion or
$8,233 for every person (using 300 million as the total population).
Data from the Federal Reserve

Dr. Deming Webcast on the 5 Deadly Diseases

The W. Edwards Deming Institute has posted Dr. Deming’s 1984 video on the 5 deadly diseases of western management.

  • Lack of constancy of purpose
  • Emphasis on short term profits – “creative” accounting, focus on quarterly profits
  • Annual Performance Appraisals – management by objective, management by fear
  • Mobility of management – [see Toyota for a great example of a company that operates on different principles – where the leadership has been with Toyota for decades]
  • Running a company on visible figures alone – many important factors are “unknown and unknowable.”

Dr. Deming added 2 diseases to reach his famous 7 deadly diseases: excessive medical care costs and excessive legal damage awards swelled by lawyers working on contingency fees.

Personally I believe all 7 of those diseases are still prevalent and causing damage. I do think some progress has been made on longer term thinking but far too many organizations still are extremely short term focused. And I would add two new deadly diseases of management: excessive executive compensation and an outdated intellectual property system.

Related: Deming CompaniesPurpose of an OrganizationContinual ImprovementCreating JobsNew Management Truths Sometimes Started as Heresies

Blame the Road – Not the Person

The system is responsible for 90, 92, 94, 97% of problems – W. Edwards Deming. Fix the system, don’t blame the people. When you seek system fixes you approach situations differently than if you search for people to blame.

By the way, I am often asked about the data supporting Deming’s contention that the system was responsible for 97% of the problems. This statement was not based on a set of data but on Dr. Deming’s decades of experience. And he increased the percentage over time – as he learned more.

Roads that are designed to kill

Half blamed the runner, saying she should not have been running in the street at that hour. Half blamed the driver, for not paying close enough attention. Not a single writer blamed the road.

Your streets are designed to kill people.

Vision Zero started about 30 years ago, when traffic safety researcher Claes Tingvall got the idea that we didn’t have to accept road traffic deaths as a fact of life. Tingvall and his colleagues said that these deaths were not “accidents’’ but were predictable and preventable. And they set out to prove it.

One of the ways they began to protect people was to put barriers down the center of two-lane roads. They showed that this could be done cheaply. When Mylar – a strong polyester film – is supported by closely spaced plastic poles, it can keep cars from crossing the median. When the Swedes used this type of center barrier to separate the traffic going in opposite directions, they effectively prevented head-on collisions and the death rate on these roads fell by 70 percent to 80 percent.

Global health research shows more improvements can save lives. For example, Ghana put in rumble strips – small bumps spaced closely together – across all the roads leading into the capital city of Accra, reducing fatalities by 35 percent. Research has shown that speed bumps on roads are one of the “best buys” in all of global health.

Most people think we are doing all that can be done to keep our roads safe. They are wrong. Road traffic injuries kill more than a million people a year worldwide, including 40,000 a year in the United States.

Is a situation killing 40,000 people in the USA a year a health care issue? It sure seems to me it would be. It probably isn’t a disease management issue though (some might try to say bad roads are a disease but I wouldn’t say that). I think this is one, of many examples, that shows that we have a disease and injury management system not a health care system (in addition to illustrating systems thinking, effective root cause analysis, PDSA, innovation, respect for people…).

Related: Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameTraffic Congestion and a Non-SolutionChecklists Save LivesSaving Lives: US Health Care ImprovementThe Economic Benefits of Walkable CommunitiesSWAT Raid Signs of Systemic FailuresSystem Improvement to Respond to the Dynamics of Crowd DisastersThe Leading Causes of Death

CEO’s Castles and Company Performance

Where are the Shareholders’ Mansions? CEOs’ Home Purchases, Stock Sales, and Subsequent Company Performance by Crocker H. Liu, Arizona State University and David Yermack, New York University – Stern School of Business

We study real estate purchases by major company CEOs, compiling a database of the principal residences of nearly every top executive in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. When a CEO buys real estate, future company performance is inversely related to the CEO’s liquidation of company shares and options for financing the transaction. We also find that, regardless of the source of finance, future company performance deteriorates when CEOs acquire extremely large or costly mansions and estates. We therefore interpret large home acquisitions as signals of CEO entrenchment. Our research also provides useful insights for calibrating utility based models of executive compensation and for understanding patterns of Veblenian conspicuous consumption.

To understand better the reasons behind the underperformance of companies whose CEOs acquire very large homesteads, we read news stories about major events affecting the firms in our sample in which a CEO acquires a property with at least 10 acres or a 10,000 square foot house. These news stories suggest parallels between the CEOs’ oversight of their personal assets and management of their companies. No less than nine of the 25 CEOs attempted major corporate acquisitions in the two years following their personal acquisitions of very large real estate,9 and seven of the 25 announced significant capital investment initiatives involving the construction or expansion of corporate facilities. An additional two firms became mired in accounting scandals shortly after their CEOs purchased mansions, and one firm saw a previously agreed merger collapse.

Using a database of principal residences of company CEOs, we study whether these executives’ decisions about home ownership contain information useful for predicting the future path of their companies’ stock prices. We find that CEOs who acquire extremely large properties exhibit inferior ex post stock performance, a result consistent with large mansions and estates being proxies for CEO entrenchment. We also find that the method of financing a home’s acquisition is informative about future stock returns. A general pattern of CEO sales of their firms’ shares and options exists over the twelve months leading up to the date of home acquisition. However, when the CEO does not sell any shares, his stock performs significantly better ex post than the stocks of firms whose CEOs do liquidate equity to finance their houses. The retention of company shares simultaneous with a new home purchase, despite the presence of an evident personal liquidity need, appears to send a signal of commitment by a CEO to his company.

That we put in power CEO’s that see themselves as nobility with the right to build castles (and many of these CEO castles dwarf all but the most conspicuous castle built by nobility) by taking the wealth produced by others from corporate coffers is a sign of our failure to select acceptable leaders for companies.

Related: Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive PayExcessive Executive PayExposing CEO Pay ExcessesNarcissistic Cadre of Senior Executives9 Deadly Diseases

When Performance-related Pay Backfires

When Economic Incentives Backfire by Samuel Bowles, Sante Fe Institute

Dozens of recent experiments show that rewarding self-interest with Economic incentives can backfire when they undermine what Adam Smith called “the moral sentiments.”

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn, is a great book on this topic. The area of “motivating” employees is one it is often hard for managers to learn. Even managers that have been studying Deming, Ackoff, Ohno… for years still have trouble with the idea that trying to find the right incentive scheme to motivate the right behavior is the wrong approach. Read the The Human Side Of Enterprise by Douglas Mcgregor (in 1960) to re-enforce the understanding of human motivation provided by Toyota’s respect for people principles.

Managers need to eliminate de-motivation in the work systems not try and find bonus schemes to motivate behavior. Eliminating de-motivation is often much more work. You can’t just get some money from the bonus pool and start giving it away. You have to manage. But if you are a manager you shouldn’t be afraid to actually manage the system and make it better.

Related: “Pay for Performance” is a Bad IdeaReward and Incentive Programs are Ineffective — Even Harmful by Peter Scholtes – The Defect Black MarketWhat’s the Value of a Big Bonus?Problems with BonusesLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesStop Demotivating Employees

When performance-related pay backfires:
Continue reading

Narcissistic Cadre of Senior Executives

In yet another voice against the looting mentality of the current crop of executives Chris Bones, dean of Henley Business School writes a A crisis of confidence?

This has resulted in the creation of a narcissistic cadre of senior executives who knew no right but their own perception and brooked no criticism or check on their ambition. In their demands for personal rewards we have seen them in their true light.

Secondly, a responsible organisation should set limits above which senior reward will not stray. I cannot see a reason why any annual bonus plan should be worth more than 100% of salary or should pay out more than 50% of this in the year in question. I do not think there is any justification for the annual value of chief executives’ rewards to be more than 20 times that of the average employee. Rocketing executive pay is in no one’s interests, except the small number of executives involved, and limiting it voluntarily is a better solution than the state intervening through taxation changes.

Business schools can help rebuild confidence in business leadership. But they too have to change—to become critical friend rather than fawning supporter. MBA programmes have to produce values-driven general managers, not finance-driven technocrats. They must build critical thinkers with the ability to make decisions that benefit all stakeholders, not just themselves.

It really is a shame that the executives leading so many companies are so moral, ethically and managerially bankrupt. We need to stop allowing such people to become executives in organizations. With such fundamental problems in their basic understanding of human systems the correct solution is to stop allowing such flawed people to have power not to try and convince such flawed people to behave responsibly.

That executives believe they should act as royalty taking what they wish from the value produced by others is so fundamental a failure that I do not believe reform is the best solution. They should just be removed. If you are lucky some competitor will hire them and you can gain not only from their removal but from the damage they cause your competitor.

Related: Warren Buffett on Excessive CEO PayHonda Executives not OverpaidUnconscionable Executive PayTilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 2008Looting: Bankruptcy for ProfitMore on Obscene CEO Pay

Computer Network Operations Center Failures

Obviously many businesses are now dependent on computer Network Operations Centers (NOC). Some of these data centers can cause millions of dollars in lost sales each minute if they fail. So sound engineering, including off-site redundancy is critical. Authorize.net is a recent example of such a failure, Authorize.net Goes Down, E-Commerce Vendors Left Hanging

Payment gateway service provider Authorize.net has been down and out for several hours… That has big implications: since the service is used by tens of thousands of e-commerce vendors to accept credit card and electronic checks payments on their websites, it likely means millions are being lost during its downtime. PayPal and Google Checkout are still up and running.

A fire in Fisher Plaza, Seattle has cause a massive power outage causing leading IP-based payment gateway solution Authorize.Net to go down around approximately 11:15pm PST (last night). A traffic reporter for KOMO News that operates out of Fisher Plaza tweeted that a fire set off the sprinkler system which fried the generators.

From what I can piece together it seems within about 5 hours services were back up, at least partially. NOC failures are not uncommon (either due to fire, power failure [including backup systems], government raids, software glitches [not exactly the same as a NOC failure but some can have the affect of essentially knocking off a NOC from providing the specific service desired]). Evaluating these risks must be part of management systems with significant NOC dependencies.

Authorize.net set up a Twitter account and within hours has 2,500 followers. I am not a huge fan of Twitter, it is nice but seems pretty limited to me. But this is an example of using it effectively. You can follow me on Twitter @curiouscat_com.

Related: Information Technology and Business Process SupportAmazon S3 Failure AnalysisInformation Technology and ManagementIT Operations as a Competitive AdvantageUndersea Cables Cut Again, Reducing India’s Capacity by 65%

Community Medical Care Successes

The Cost Conundrum by Atul Gawande, New Yorker (The Power of a Checklist was published there in 2007 by the same author)

For example, Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic dominates the scene, has fantastically high levels of technological capability and quality, but its Medicare spending is in the lowest fifteen per cent of the country—$6,688 per enrollee in 2006, which is eight thousand dollars less than the figure for McAllen. Two economists working at Dartmouth, Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, found that the more money Medicare spent per person in a given state the lower that state’s quality ranking tended to be. In fact, the four states with the highest levels of spending—Louisiana, Texas, California, and Florida—were near the bottom of the national rankings on the quality of patient care.

I talked to Denis Cortese, the C.E.O. of the Mayo Clinic, which is among the highest-quality, lowest-cost health-care systems in the country. A couple of years ago, I spent several days there as a visiting surgeon. Among the things that stand out from that visit was how much time the doctors spent with patients. There was no churn—no shuttling patients in and out of rooms while the doctor bounces from one to the other. I accompanied a colleague while he saw patients. Most of the patients, like those in my clinic, required about twenty minutes. But one patient had colon cancer and a number of other complex issues, including heart disease. The physician spent an hour with her, sorting things out. He phoned a cardiologist with a question.

“I’ll be there,” the cardiologist said. Fifteen minutes later, he was. They mulled over everything together. The cardiologist adjusted a medication, and said that no further testing was needed. He cleared the patient for surgery, and the operating room gave her a slot the next day.

The whole interaction was astonishing to me. Just having the cardiologist pop down to see the patient with the surgeon would be unimaginable at my hospital. The time required wouldn’t pay. The time required just to organize the system wouldn’t pay.

The core tenet of the Mayo Clinic is “The needs of the patient come first—”not the convenience of the doctors, not their revenues. The doctors and nurses, and even the janitors, sat in meetings almost weekly, working on ideas to make the service and the care better, not to get more money out of patients. I asked Cortese how the Mayo Clinic made this possible.

“It’s not easy,” he said. But decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focussed first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.

No one there actually intends to do fewer expensive scans and procedures than is done elsewhere in the country. The aim is to raise quality and to help doctors and other staff members work as a team. But, almost by happenstance, the result has been lower costs. [actually the Deming Chain Reaction] Continue reading