Tag Archives: Investing

Toyota Posts Loss of $6.9 Billion in Last Quarter

Toyota Posts Loss of $6.9 Billion in Last Quarter

For January-March, Toyota booked a $6.9 billion loss, in line with consensus estimates, and cut its annual dividend nearly 30 percent — the first cut since at least 1994, when it changed its reporting period.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe was more downbeat, stopping short of predicting when sales would pick up in major markets, or when the company would return to profitability as it remains saddled with excess capacity. “Of course the external environment doesn’t help, but we were lacking in the scope and speed of dealing with various problems and issues, and for that I am sorry,” he told a news conference.

For the year to next March, the maker of the Prius hybrid forecast an operating loss of 850 billion yen, more than double the average forecast in a survey of 20 analysts by Thomson Reuters. It sees an annual net loss of 550 billion yen based on the dollar and euro averaging 95 yen and 125 yen.

The bleak forecasts prompted ratings agency Standard & Poor’s to downgrade Toyota’s long-term debt ratings to AA from AA+, with a negative outlook.

To return to profit, Toyota must sell more cars or cut costs further, Watanabe said. But he predicted the U.S. market would be around 10 million vehicles industrywide at best this year, down from more than 13 million in 2008.

Toyota is bleeding overhead costs, with about a third of its global assembly lines working on single shifts. It will slash capital spending by more than a third this year to 830 billion yen as it puts expansion projects on hold, but it said it was not thinking of closing any production lines for good.

In my opinion these negative results are a sign of Toyota’s strength not weakness. The credit crisis and economic downturn has resulted in a poor economic environment. Toyota has managed to sustain the blow and hold firm to their principles and likely will come out of this downturn stronger as a company (mainly re-enforcing the importance of planning for bad economic conditions and not getting too excited about growth potential versus risks of growing too fast) and in a better position compared to their competitors. I continue to be an owner of Toyota stock and happily so.

Related: Idle Workers Busy at ToyotaFinancial Market Meltdown (Oct 2008)“2007 has been a difficult year for Toyota”New Toyota CEO’s Views (2005)Jim Press, Toyota N. American President, Moves to Chrysler

Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay

I continue to do my part to publicize the abusive CEO pay packages that the current crop of unethical CEO’s, and those sitting on corporate boards have supported (Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 20082007 post on CEO pay abuses). It does seem there is more anger now at the looting these corrupt CEOs have engaged in; though far too many people seem to think the corruption is some isolated few CEO’s. The widespread failure of ethical standards by an enormous number CEO’s (those taking from corporate treasuries as though it was their own personal bank account) is the problem (not a few individuals). The looters certainly have littered their “courts” with apologists for their egregious behavior. Even with the large amounts they pay such lackeys I am surprised they find such willing apologists, in such large numbers.

2007 pay
Company CEO 2008 Pay 2007 Pay CEO % of 2008 Earnings total employees
1 Motorola Sanjay Jha $104,400,000 company lost $4.2 billion 64,000
2 Oracle Lawrence Ellison $84,600,000 $61,200,000 1.5% 86,600
3 Walt Disney Robert Iger $51,100,000 $27,700,000 1.2% 150,000
4 American Express Kenneth Chenault $42,800,000 $50,100,000 1.6% 66,000
5 Citigroup Vikram Pandit $38,200,000 company lost $27.7 billion 322,800
6 Hewlett-Packard Mark Hurd $34,000,000 $26,000,000 7.4% 6,200
7 Calpine Jack A. Fusco $32,700,000 327% 2,000

This executive pay data is for 2008, from the New York Times article, Pay at the Top. Earnings and employee data for 2008 from Google Finance. I would not pay any of these guys 1% of what they were paid if I owned the company, myself.

These guys and their friends have created a culture where their looting is as accepted as the clothes the emperor is not wearing. We need to wake up and stop letting these people steal the bounty created by the employees, customers, community, suppliers, investors… They want a world where they can behave like nobility – taking whatever they want from the value created by others. And lately they have succeeded in creating such a world. They leave in their wake very weakened companies and societies.
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Warren Buffett’s Letter to Shareholders 2009

Warren Buffett published his letter to shareholders yesterday. As usual, it is of great interest to anyone interested in the economic, investing and management ideas.

In 1995, MidAmerican became the major provider of electricity in Iowa. By judicious planning and a zeal for efficiency, the company has kept electric prices unchanged since our purchase and has promised to hold them steady through 2013. MidAmerican has maintained this extraordinary price stability while making Iowa number one among all states in the percentage of its generation capacity that comes from wind. Since our purchase, MidAmerican’s Wind-based facilities have grown from zero to almost 20% of total capacity.

Our long-avowed goal is to be the “buyer of choice” for businesses – particularly those built and owned by families. The way to achieve this goal is to deserve it. That means we must keep our promises; avoid leveraging up acquired businesses; grant unusual autonomy to our managers; and hold the purchased companies through thick and thin (though we prefer thick and thicker).

Our record matches our rhetoric. Most buyers competing against us, however, follow a different path. For them, acquisitions are “merchandise.” Before the ink dries on their purchase contracts, these operators are contemplating “exit strategies.” We have a decided advantage, therefore, when we encounter sellers who truly care about the future of their businesses.

Some years back our competitors were known as “leveraged-buyout operators.” But LBO became a
bad name. So in Orwellian fashion, the buyout firms decided to change their moniker. What they did not change, though, were the essential ingredients of their previous operations, including their cherished fee structures and love of leverage. Their new label became “private equity,”

Berkshire Hathaway is a very well run company. Warren Buffett is a great investor. He is also a great executive. He hires honest and able people and lets them do their job. He ensures managers retain constancy of purpose by focusing on the long term and not getting overly focused on quarterly results. And have you ever read an annual report that talks of so many employees with such respect (granted it is a rare situation – something similar in an annual report could well seem disingenuous if it were not Warren Buffett writing)?

Related: 2005 Annual Report from BuffettWarren Buffett’s 2006 Shareholder LetterWarren Buffett Webcast on the Credit CrisisBerkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2008
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Toyota Winglet – Personal Transportation Assistance

Winglet Personal Mobility Device from Toyota

Toyota has a long term vision. The population of Japan is aging rapidly. Toyota has invested in personal transportation and personal robotic assistance for quite some time. I must admit this new Winglet doesn’t seem like an incredible breakthrough to me (their earlier iUnit seems much better to me – though I am sure much more expensive too). The interest to me is in their continued focus on this market which I think is a smart move. The aging population worldwide (and others) will benefit greatly from improved personal mechanical assistance.

The Winglet is one of Toyota’s people-assisting Toyota Partner Robots. Designed to contribute to society by helping people enjoy a safe and fully mobile life, the Winglet is a compact (you stand just above the wheels and it reaches about the level of your knees) next-generation everyday transport tool that offers advanced ease of use and expands the user’s range of mobility.

The Winglet consists of a body that houses an electric motor, two wheels and internal sensors that constantly monitor the user’s position and make adjustments in power to ensure stability. Meanwhile, a unique parallel link mechanism allows the rider to go forward, backward and turn simply by shifting body weight, making the vehicle safe and useful even in tight spaces or crowded environments.

Toyota plans various technical and consumer trials to gain feedback during the Winglet’s lead-up to practical use. Practical tests of its utility as a mobility tool are planned to begin in Autumn 2008 at Central Japan International Airport (Centrair) near Nagoya, and Laguna Gamagori, a seaside marine resort complex in Aichi Prefecture. Testing of its usefulness in crowded and other conditions, and how non-users react to the device, is to be carried out in 2009 at the Tressa Yokohama shopping complex in Yokohama City.

Toyota is pursuing sustainability in research and development, manufacturing and social contribution as part of its concept to realize “sustainability in three areas” and to help contribute to the health and comfort of future society. Toyota Partner Robot development is being carried out with this in mind and applies Toyota’s approach to monozukuri (“making things”), which includes its mobility, production and other technologies.

Toyota aims to realize the practical use of Toyota Partner Robots in the early 2010s.

On a personal note, I bought some more Toyota stock two weeks ago. The stock had declined a bit recently. Toyota is one of the companies in my 12 stocks for 10 years portfolio.

Related: Toyota Develops Personal Transport Assistance Robot ‘Winglet’No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaMore on Non-Auto Toyota

Management Advice from Warren Buffet

As usual, Warren Buffett’s letter to shareholders is packed with wisdom. He is best know for his investing genius but his writing provides great thoughts for managers also: Berkshire Hathaway 2007 Letter to Shareholders:

We will soon purchase 60% of Marmon and will acquire virtually all of the balance within six years. Our initial outlay will be $4.5 billion, and the price of our later purchases will be based on a formula tied to earnings.

This deal was done in the way Jay would have liked. We arrived at a price using only Marmon’s financial statements, employing no advisors and engaging in no nit-picking. I knew that the business would be exactly as the Pritzkers represented, and they knew that we would close on the dot, however chaotic financial markets might be. During the past year, many large deals have been renegotiated or killed entirely. With the Pritzkers, as with Berkshire, a deal is a deal.

Charlie and I look for companies that have a) a business we understand; b) favorable long-term economics; c) able and trustworthy management; and d) a sensible price tag. We like to buy the whole business or, if management is our partner, at least 80%

A truly great business must have an enduring “moat” that protects excellent returns on invested capital. The dynamics of capitalism guarantee that competitors will repeatedly assault any business “castle” that is earning high returns.

Susan came to Borsheims 25 years ago as a $4-an-hour saleswoman. Though she lacked a managerial background, I did not hesitate to make her CEO in 1994. She’s smart, she loves the business, and she loves her associates. That beats having an MBA degree any time. (An aside: Charlie and I are not big fans of resumes. Instead, we focus on brains, passion and integrity.

I should emphasize that we do not measure the progress of our investments by what their market prices do during any given year. Rather, we evaluate their performance by the two methods we apply to the businesses we own. The first test is improvement in earnings’ with our making due allowance for industry conditions. The second test, more subjective, is whether their “moats” – a metaphor for the superiorities they possess that make life difficult for their competitors – have widened during the year.

You will recall that in our catastrophe insurance business, we are always ready to trade increased volatility in reported earnings in the short run for greater gains in net worth in the long run.

What is no puzzle, however, is why CEOs opt for a high investment assumption: It lets them report higher earnings. And if they are wrong, as I believe they are, the chickens won’t come home to roost until long after they retire.

Related: Buffett’s Letter to Shareholders (from last year)Buffett’s Shareholder Letter (2006)Overview of Warren BuffettAnnual Report by Warren Buffett (2005)Hiring the Right People
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Amazon’s Amazing Achievement

I have mentioned I like the way Amazon, and Jeff Bezos, have been managing in several posts. Recently Amazon has added very strong financial results to that portfolio of things they do well. Amazon earnings announcement:

Net sales increased 35% to $2.89 billion in the second quarter, compared with $2.14 billion in second quarter 2006. Excluding the $46 million favorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, net sales grew 33% compared with second quarter 2006.

Operating income increased 149% to $116 million in the second quarter, compared with $47 million in second quarter 2006. Net income increased 257% to $78 million in the second quarter, or $0.19 per diluted share, compared with net income of $22 million, or $0.05 per diluted share in second quarter 2006.

Pretty impressive. It seems Amazon might be able to begin delivering strong current financial performance (they have done so at least twice, and maybe longer depending on how you look at it…) and continue to build and innovate for the future. That is when a company really sets itself apart from the crowd. Previously, from the investing perspective, the argument was largely based on the belief that the steps taken today were building for the future (a fine thing, but risky – without the evidence of success actually making real profit it is often easy to make a good case for why the future will be good). In an investment it is more comforting when current earning provide some evidence the profits predicted in the future have some basis in reality.

Since the beginning of April Amazon’s share price has gone from $40 a share to $70. And based on the after hours trades today it is going to be in the $80s tomorrow (though after hours trades can often be misleading – there is some more confidence based on the large volume of hour trades in Amazon, but still…). I must admit this price does seem like it might be getting a bit ahead of itself but Amazon is making an impressive case for strong future performance.

Related: Amazon Innovation10 stocks for 10 years (April 2005)12 Stocks for 10 Years Update (June 2007)Very Good Amazon EarningsBezos on Lean ThinkingIs Amazon a Bargain?

Goodbye Quarterly Targets?

Goodbye Quarterly Targets? [the broken link was removed], Business Week:

For about a decade, companies have tried to goose their stocks-or manage the market’s expectations-by putting out quarterly earnings projections. Now the practice has come under fire as business leaders fret that the focus on short-term targets undermines long-term growth.

On March 14 the Commission on the Regulation of U.S. Capital Markets in the 21st Century, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged executives to stop issuing their short-term goals. The practice is a “self-inflicted wound by American CEOs,” says commission member Robert Pozen, chairman of MFS Investment Management, a Boston fund manager.

Debate over this issue has simmered for years. Indeed, dozens of companies, including Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have quit publicizing quarterly earnings targets. Now the issue has become urgent, the Chamber argues, as U.S. companies face growing long-term competition from overseas, where such projections are not widely made.

Learning that a fixation on short term profits is bad for the organization is a good step. Deming talked about this problem over twenty years ago in seven deadly diseases of western management one of which was: the emphasis on short term profits.

Related: Life Beyond the Short TermDell Falls ShortConstancy of Purpose

Firing Workers Isn’t Fixing Problems

I commented on a post on Evolving Excellence that Jim Jubak is a wall street guy who has good ideas. He has posted another good article: Firing workers isn’t fixing problems [the broken link was removed]

Both CEOs, Edward Zander at Motorola and Jeffrey Kindler at Pfizer, of course, kept their jobs and their paychecks. According to Motorola’s latest proxy statement, Zander received a salary of $1.5 million, a $3 million bonus and $2.3 million in restricted stock in 2005.

For this kind of money, investors — let alone the workers who are being fired — deserve something a little more imaginative as a turnaround strategy. Cutting jobs has become a reflex, not because it works especially well at fixing the real problems at companies like these but because firings produce the kind of immediate earnings improvements that help CEOs keep their jobs. Getting rid of workers, you see, lets a company forecast the kind of immediate cost savings and surging profit margins that keep shareholders from marching on the executive suite.

Right. Wall street is not incapable of seeing past short term “thinking.” Even if many on wall street can’t seem to understand. I am far from convinced short term thinking is Wall Street’s fault, it seems to me many executives have this problem and blame “Wall Street.” I believe short term thinking is mainly management’s fault.

Short term thinking is part of the management system. Exorbinant executive pay exacerbates the problem. A failure to understand variation exacerbates the problem.

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Danaher – Lean Thinking

A Dynamo Called Danaher [the broken link was removed]

DBS, as it’s called, is a set of management tools borrowed liberally from the famed Toyota Production System. In essence, it requires every employee, from the janitor to the president, to find ways every day to improve the way work gets done. Such quality-improvement programs and lean manufacturing methods have been de rigueur for manufacturers for years. The difference at Danaher: The company started lean in 1987, one of the earliest U.S. companies to do so, and it has maintained a cultish devotion to making it pay off.

Short term lean thinking payoffs are nice, but the long term benefits are much more powerful.

Over 20 years, it has returned a remarkable 25% to shareholders annually, far better than GE (16%), Berkshire Hathaway (21%), or the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index (12%).Over 20 years, it has returned a remarkable 25% to shareholders annually, far better than GE (16%), Berkshire Hathaway (21%), or the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index (12%).

Related: Danaher’s Low Profile Lean ExcellenceLean Bloglean manufacturing articles10 Stocks for 10 years update (Danaher was in serious consideration)

Danaher Practicing Lean Thinking

Manufacturer’s Acquisition Strategy Sets It Apart From The Pack [the broken link was removed], Investors Business Daily:

“It’s adapted from the Japanese Kaizen system,” Holmstead said. “Kaizen is a way of removing waste and standardizing processes and bringing underperforming or slow-growth companies with maybe single-digit margins up to midteen margins.”

The keys are standardization, measurement and innovation — all directed toward the goal of continuous improvement.

“It’s basically a set of tools that allows Danaher to make whatever widget they are manufacturing at a cost less than most of their competitors,” said Morningstar analyst Eric Landry. “Over the past decade they have (also been moving) DBS into the back office and into sales. It produces a culture where you are never satisfied.”

The quotes are from Wall Street Analysts. I think basically they like the ever increasing cash flow and then use the story the company gives for why they are successful. Still they are playing up lean thinking.

See my comments on: Wall St. Doesn’t Respect GE’s Processes

via: The Kaizen Turnaround Kings at Danaher [the broken link was removed]