Climate Capitalists to the Rescue?

Record heat has hit the South. On October 1, it was 101 in Montgomery, AL. Record highs were hit in AL, TN, MS and KY. An acute lack of rainfall has dried out the Southeast as well and residents and farmers are hurting. Planet Earth continues to get warmer.

Look at the chart above showing the changes in temperatures from the 1850s until now. Each stripe is one year. Dark blue years are cooler and red stripes are warmer. The period 1971-2000 is the base line. At the same time, extreme events like Dorian are becoming more severe, more glaciers have died and seas and lakes are getting higher. The climate has changed.

The past century has seen major changes in the world. The Industrial Revolution has brought riches to some, higher standards of living to many, and the population has increased from 2 billion to 7 billion in that last century, and carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions have skyrocketed. Fossil fuels have been used to produce industrial power, electricity, transportation, heating, fertilizers and plastic. In 1900 about 2 billion tons of CO2 went airborne. For 2019, 40 billion tons per year will be emitted, with the biggest increase in the last 30 years.   Expanding use of fossil fuel and related increasing emissions of CO2 have gone hand in hand with the expansion of world growth. See the chart below.

GDP CO2

We humans also produce CO2, breathing and eating.  Trees and plants absorb CO2 and, with sunlight and water, convert it to food.   Compared to 1900, we have 5 billion more humans, expanded use of fossil fuels and, because of deforestation, we have less flora to absorb the CO2.

The first half of the 20th century scientists believed that almost all of the CO2 given off by industry and humans and not absorbed by plants would be sucked up by the oceans.  By 1965 oceanographers realized that the seas couldn’t keep with the CO2 emissions.   Climate change shouldn’t come as a surprise; we’ve known about it for decades.

There are lots of predictions about the impact of climate change in the future. No one can predict the future. But certainly, as our beloved Yogi Berra always said, “The Future is not what it used to be.”

The Economist recaps it this way: “Climate change is not the end of the world.”  Humankind is not poised teetering on the edge of extinction.  The planet is not in peril.”  However, climate change could be a dire threat to the displacement of tens of millions of people, it will likely dry up wells and water mains, increase flooding as well as producing higher temps and more severe weather.  The Economist concludes that “the longer humanity takes to curb emissions, the greater the dangers and sparser the benefits-and the larger the risk of some truly catastrophic surprises.”

Addressing climate change will also provide substantial business opportunities in the coming years.  Already some countries are abandoning coal to generate electricity. Britain, e.g., has developed a thriving offshore wind farm industry used to generate power. Germany recently announced that it will spend $75 billion to meet its 2030 goals to combat climate change, primarily in the transportation area with electric vehicles.

In addition, “climate capitalists” want to do good for the planet and well for themselves.  Elon Musk has invested billions into batteries and electric vehicles.   Chinese BYD’s Zhenzhen sprawling campus is a major provider of solar cells, electric cars, heavy machinery and other items needing energy storage.  Warren Buffet has invested $232 million into BYD.  American billionaire Philip Anschutz has spent a decade promoting a $3 billion high-voltage electric grid. Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is now backing Beyond Meat, a maker of plant-based alternatives to burgers.  Microsoft’s Bill Gates established a $1 billion company to bankroll technologies that “radically cut annual emissions.”  Even Pope Francis is using the Vatican Bank’s $3 billion fund to help fight climate change.

The UN’s one day climate summit last week concluded with a number of new announcements.  65 countries and the EU have committed to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.   Unfortunately 75% of the emissions come from 12 countries and 4 of them, India, American, China and Russia made no commitment.  However, certain businesses such as Nestle, Salesforce and have made commitments to reach net-zero by 2050 or before.

2050 will be here before we know it.  Yet, technological change can be adopted quickly, particularly when people are provided a better alternative.  In America, the shift from horse-drawn carts to engine-driven vehicles took place within a decade, from 1903 to 1913.  Let’s hope climate capitalists all over the world do well for themselves and good for planet as soon as possible and we humans and our countries do our parts as well.

 

REINVENT CAPITALISM?

Kraft Heinz (KHC) and Unilever (UL) have many things in common. Both companies own hundreds of global consumer brands- KHC includes not only Kraft foods and Heinz Ketchup but also Planter’s peanuts and Grey Poupon mustard. Unilever owns Dove soap and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Lipton’s tea and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Both have been in business since the 1920s. Both employ tens of thousands of employees.

In early 2017, KHC offered to buy UL for $143 billion. UL’s then CEO, Paul Polman, fended off the takeover attempt because of a “corporate culture that couldn’t have been more different from Unilever’s.” Since then, KHC’s share price has dropped 70% and UL’s has increased about 35%. If we look at some of the differences between KHC and UL we will see why Mr. Polman didn’t want to merge with KHC and why he would like to see capitalism “reinvented.”

After receiving his M.B.A., Mr. Polman joined Procter & Gamble which provided the foundations for his leadership approach. In his recent NYT interview, Mr. Polman indicated that “P&G has enormous values that permeate all levels and all places in the world that it operates. Ethics, doing the right thing for the long term, taking care of your community is really the way you want a responsible business to be run.”

Fast forward to 2009. After 10 years of decline, UL hires Mr. Polman as CEO. Annual sales had dropped from $55 billion to $38 billion. Mr. Polman felt UL had good brands and good people but had become too “short-term focused.” A change was needed.

Mr. Polman brought back values from the 20s that were at the roots of Unilever’s success. He felt a more responsible business model was needed. He came up with a bold plan to double Unilever’s revenue while cutting the company’s negative impact on the environment in half. And, he committed his entire team to focus on the long-term, not the short-term, in solving important issues.

In short, Mr. Polman believes “We need to reinvent capitalism, to move financial markets to the longer term.”  He felt that “KHC is clearly focused on a few billionaires that do extremely well, but the company is on the bottom of the human rights indexes and is built on the concept of cost cutting.”

This long-term vs. short-term focus is at the heart of a recent best seller, “Prosperity” by Colin Mayer, a former dean of Oxford’s Said business school. Dr. Mayer believes that a great shift in businesses, here in the U.S. and abroad, started about 50 years ago with the overwhelming acceptance of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s simple doctrine that “the one and only responsibility” of a business is to increase its profits for the benefits of its shareholders, as long as it stays within the rules of the game.” This has been a “powerful concept that has defined business practice and government policies and has molded generations of business leaders.” It has resulted in a huge emphasis on quarterly reporting and quarterly behavior.

Dr. Mayer believes, on the other hand, that the purpose of a corporation should consider its customers, employees, suppliers, and communities as well as its shareholders. Historically, family-owned businesses were cognizant of and responsive to all the constituencies that compose a business and focused on the long-term. Today, almost all corporations in the UK and many US corporations are no longer owned by the founders or their families. This change has accelerated due to the focus on short-term profits, often by simply merging and cutting costs. Dr. Mayer also pointed out that corporations can also have dual-class share structures (typically voting and non-voting shares) which can allow the founders and their like-minded successors to control the company and therefore focus on its long-term purpose rather than quarterly earnings reports. Ford, Google, and Facebook all have this structure. This is a positive trend.

Robert Reich’s new book “The Common Good”, sums it up this way, “In the corporate world, the single-minded-pursuit of shareholder value has displaced the older notion that companies are also responsible for the well-being of workers, customers and communities they serve.” “The common good is no longer a fashionable idea.” He defines common good as “consisting of our shared values about what we owe another as citizens who are bound together in the same society.” Regardless of political party, all Americans should embrace contributions to the common good.

For 50 years, there has been a huge focus on financial capital with less attention paid to human capital, intellectual capital, material capital and environmental capital. All five of these components of capital should be considered for the overall long-term growth and common good of America and the world.

Reinventing capitalism would require companies to focus on more than quarterly profits. Consideration of all of its constituents- customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment for the long-term-could certainly benefit the common good and likely produce even better stock market returns in the long-run as well.

Billionaire Investor Ray Dalio: “Capitalism Needs Reform”

 

why_and_how_capitalism_needs_to_be_reformed.jpg

Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Bloomberg ranked him as the world’s 79 wealthiest person earlier this year. Like many of us, Mr. Dalio was “fortunate enough to be raised in a middle-class family by parents who took good care of me, to go to good public schools, and to come into a job market that offered me equal opportunity.” He has lived the American Dream. America created the first truly middle-class society; now, a middle class life is increasingly out of reach for many of its citizens.

Mr. Dalio “became a capitalist at age 12, using earnings from part-time employment to start an investing career.” Mr. Dalio has been a macro global investor (making predictions on large-scale world events) for 50 years, which required him to gain a practical understanding of how economies and markets work. (In 2007, Bridgewater predicted the coming global financial crisis that hit in 2008-09). Mr. Dalio has learned that capitalism can be an effective motivator to make money, save it, and invest it, rewarding people for their productive activities that produce a profit. “Being productive leads people to make money which provides capital resources, which when combined with ideas can convert them into the profits and productivities that raise our living standards.” Even communist countries, including “communist China” have made capitalism an integral part of their systems.

As part of his work, Mr. Dalio has studied what makes countries succeed and fail. In short, “poor education, poor culture (that impedes people from operating effectively together), poor infrastructure and too much debt cause bad economic results.” The best results come from more equal opportunity in education and work, good family upbringing, civilized behavior, and free and well-regulated markets.

So, how is the US doing?

“Capitalism Is Not Working Well for Most Americans” says Ray Dalio. His research looked at the differences between the haves and have-nots in American- those in the top 40% and those in the bottom 60% of income earners. He found the following key stats:

  • There has been little or no real income growth for most people (the bottom 60%) for decades.
  • The income gap is about as high as ever and the wealth gap is the highest since the 1930s.
  • Most people in the bottom 60% are poor- they would struggle to raise $400 in the event of an emergency.
  • The economic mobility rate is now one of the worst in the developed world- US people whose fathers were in the bottom income quartile have very little chance of moving up to higher quartiles.
  • Many of our children are poor, malnourished and poorly educated.
  • Low incomes, poorly funded schools and weak family support for children lead to poor academic achievement, which leads to low productivity and low incomes of people who become economic burdens on the society.
  • The US scores in the bottom 15% of developed countries on standardized educational tests. High poverty schools really push our average test scores down.
  • Poor educational results can lead to students being unprepared for work and having emotional problems which manifest in damaging behaviors, including higher crime rates.

And, most importantly, he found that the income/education/wealth/opportunity gap reinforces the income/education/wealth/opportunity gap.

 These gaps weaken us economically because:

  • They slow our economic growth because a large portion of our population doesn’t have money to spend
  • They result in suboptimal talent and human development and, in many cases, lack of having a job that honors the dignity of one’s work
  • They result in a large percentage of our population detracting from our GDP, not contributing to it.
  • In addition, these gaps can cause dangerous social and political divisions that threaten our cohesive fabric and capitalism itself.

In conclusion, Mr. Dalio suggests capitalism is now producing a self-reinforcing feedback loop that widens the income/wealth/opportunity gap to the point that capitalism and the American Dream are in jeopardy. Ray Dalio believes what is needed is a long-term investment program for America that achieves good “double bottom line” returns on investments; producing both good economic returns and good social returns.

The nice bump in economic growth brought on by tax reform has already started to fade. GDP growth is expected to be less than 2% next year. While capitalism has likely worked very well for most of us, who are in the top 40%, it hasn’t worked so well for the bottom 60%. Let’s hope our politicians, of both parties, focus on long-term investments for our country with double bottom line returns. That could really make a difference in long-term economic growth.

Will the Peasants Go Medieval on Bankers?

Peasants go Medieval on BankersWall Street bankers are under siege. Everyone from Tony Blair to Nouriel Roubini is debating whether they should be “hung.” Are changes coming, or will we have a repeat of the Peasant Revolution of 1381?

People have always been touchy about their money. 3,700 years ago in Babylon, violators of a financial contract were “put to death as a thief.” In medieval Catalonia, if a banker went bust, he had to live on bread and water until he repaid his depositors in full. In Florence, during the Renaissance, money-changers who cheated clients were tortured on the “rack.” Dante’s Inferno is populated largely  with financial sinners, including “misers”, “thieves”, “usurers”, and even “forecasters.”

The LIBOR scandal is just the latest black mark for banks. Leading banks have been alleged to manipulate a financial benchmark determining the interest rates charged to millions of borrowers and used in derivative contracts worth hundreds of trillions of dollars. The Economist describes it as the “rotten heart of finance.” Emails that have come to light re the scandal include: One employee after being asked to submit false information, answered: “Always happy to help.” And another, recruiting a colleague in the fix, wrote: “If you know how to keep a secret, I’ll bring you in on it.” 

Neil Barofsky just added new fuel to the fire. He is the former special inspector general in charge of oversight of TARP, the bailout fund and has just released his book Bailout. In it, Mr. Barofsky argues that the Treasury Department worked with Wall Street firms to increase their profits at the public’s expense. Mr. Barofsky told Bloomberg that “Americans should deplore the captured politicians and regulators who distributed tax dollars to the banks without insisting that they be accountable.” Further, Mr. Barofsky indicated that the “American people should be revolted by a financial system that rewards those who drove it to the point of collapse and will undoubtedly do so again.”

People are very mad. Nouriel Roubini told Bloomberg recently: “Nobody has gone to jail since the financial crisis. The banks, they do things that are illegal and at best they slap on them a fine. If some people end up in jail, maybe that will teach a lesson to somebody. Or someone hanging in the streets.” Last week, Tony Blair, former British prime minister and current senior adviser to JP Morgan, responded, “We must not start thinking that society will be better off with 20 bankers at the end of the street.” We agree with Tony Blair on that point.

Regardless, it’s time for a change. Crony capitalism and radical deregulation in finance, particularly in the last 15 years, have hurt our economy and our country. Barry Ritholtz, chief executive of Fusion IQ, said it well in the Washington Post on Sunday, “We should be finding ways to definancialize the U.S. economy and reduce bankers’ influence.” 

The question is whether public outrage over the LIBOR scandal and other financial misdeeds will lead to reforms. Or will we have to wait for a new peasants’ revolt until we see any real changes?