I thought I’d toss in an economics 101 primer for any of our new friends from US New & World Report or NAM who happen to stumble by after reading the article on the state of American manufacturing. As background, you ought to read the article from CNN letting the world know that the leeches and bottom dwellers who make their living on Wall Street pulled down an average of almost $300K last year each. That’s not what the big boys at the top made – that’s the average for everybody who claims to work in the securities business on Wall Street.
I know that numbers can be kind of grueling, but please bear with me for a moment. Toyota has a market cap – its value on Wall Street – of 184 Billion dollars. They make money by the dump truck load, every year, without fail, and they do it as a result of the most phenomenal manufacturing focus and capability the world has ever seen. 418,400 shares of their stock were traded today and, over the last year, the value of a share of Toyota has been $105 plus or minus 18%. With me so far?
On the other side of the coin we have GM. Their market cap is a puny $18 Billion – 90% less than Toyota. By comparison, they are a mom and pop outfit. As amazing as it may seem, this nickel and dime outfit had 7,256,200 shares of their stock traded today – 17 times as many stock trades as Toyota. GM’s stock has bounced around its mean by 31% up or down over the last year. On tenth the value, 17 times the trading volume, nearly twice the stock price volatility
Did you catch the difference? Toyota manufacturers very well, very methodically, very predictably, and is boringly consistent. GM is out of control, jerking factories up and down selling subsidiaries, rolling out press releases, strategic plans and model ideas. Who knows what they might do next? Whatever they do, it will happen before the end of the quarter when Wall Street next passes judgment on them.
The boys and girls who made $300K apiece love GM because they make money when you trade. It really doesn’t matter whether you buy or sell, or whether GM makes money or not. As long as GM is volatile, Wall Street make money. They can’t make any money on Toyota, however. Even though Toyota is ten times as valuable and infinitely more profitable, their stability makes it impossible for Wall Street to make any money on them. With their stability, there is almost no chance of a wild short term swing in stock price, so you can only make money on Toyota stock if you buy it and hang on fro the long steady upward climb everyone knows they will make. GM, on the other hand, might go up or down by a huge amount – maybe even tomorrow – so a short term trader just might get rich on them.
17 times as many stock trades means Wall Street made 17 times as much money on GM than they did on Toyota today. Warren Buffet has often pointed out this scam perpetuated by Wall Street. If you invest $100 in stock, and trade it for some other stock every quarter, and each time you buy and sell you pay a total of 4% commission, your initial $100 has dropped down to $85. You have to get a 15% return on your investment just to break even. The Wall Street folks, of course make out like the bandits they are – to the tune of $300K a year, in fact, on the strength of all those commissions – and you put enormous pressure on GM to do something spectacular and immediate so you can get that 15% back and then some.
You don’t put that pressure on, of course, because you can’t. But there are plenty of hustlers and shysters like Kirk Kerkorian around to do it for you. While the stoic guys running Toyota sit in Tokyo as stone faced as the Buddha when quarter ends come and go, American execs go crazy doing whatever it takes to keep their stock rolling to satisfy you and the Kerkorians of the world who only make money on the short term churning and rolling of the stock market. Toyota, on the other hand, could care less if you buy or sell their stock today – they are going to keep on doing what they do no matter what you do or what Wall Street says.
Of course, the execs are willing participants in the Wall Street fiasco. Their compensation is tied to short term stock prices. At the end of the year, four months before Ford and GM went into junk bond status, Bill Ford collected $10 million and Rick Wagoner put $5 million in his pocket – all from stock options. Hundreds have played it a little too sharp lately, prompting the Feds to start hunting stock option back-daters down and throwing them in jail.
Manufacturing is a long term proposition. A transformation from traditional manufacturing to lean takes five years for a decent sized company. No problem for the guys at Toyota who snicker up their sleeves at American execs and Wall Street. No way for American publicly traded companies ruled by Wall Street.
The solution is pretty simple. Ross Perot pushed it in 1992. Put a sliding scale on capital gains taxes. 100% tax for the gain on any stock sold within a year of buying it – dropping down to zero in five or six years. That would bring the trading and churning to an immediate halt. Folks like Kerkorian would have to find a new shell game to play, and people who plow money into companies would be more concerned with the long haul – putting their dough into outfits willing to sign up for that five year journey to Toyota-like excellence.
But that would also gut the bank accounts of the bottom feeders on the Street. With every Republican in Washington in their hip pockets, and 2/3 of the Democrats, that ain’t gonna happen in our lifetime. And that’s why public companies don’t become lean. Wall Street doesn’t make any money on lean manufacturing. The public companies play the Wall Street churning game and outsource instead.