This weekend I wrote about the problems of being an entrepreneur in our Muddle Through Economy. I would like to follow that up with two brief (but somewhat controversial) essays on two aspects of starting up small businesses. The first, by Vivek Wadhwa, points out that start-ups account for all of the net new jobs, and is a summary of a paper from the Kaufman Foundation. (You can read the 12 page paper at http://www.kauffman.org/uploadedFiles/firm_formation_importance_of_startups.pdf)
The second is by my friend William C. Dunkelberg, the Chief Economist of the National Federation of Independent Business. He asks a very simple question: Why is thrift getting such a bad name? And if we take the potential savings from “the rich,” where will the savings come from to invest in start-ups?
Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University.
The both make for thought-provoking reading, and offer some challenges to the conventional wisdom, which is what Outside the Box is supposed to do.
Your doing his part by creating start-ups analyst,
This week we look at some mostly bullish analysis from my friends at GaveKal for the Outside the Box. Much of the letter is devoted to looking at why Europe may fare better than many think (which will make uber-European bull David Kotok happy to read!). But be very sure to read the last page as Steve Vannelli analyzes the latest speculation about the Fed and quantitative easing. All those calling for QE2 may not actually do what they think it will. His conclusion?
"Once again, if there is no growth in broad money, no increase in velocity and no increase in Fed credit (hybrid money), then the only source to finance growth in the real economy will remain the sale of risky assets. When confidence seems to be stuck in a low plateau and talk of reigning in fiscal deficits is growing louder, a policy of undermining the value of risky assets couldn't be more counterproductive to growth."
I find myself in New York this morning (I once again did Yahoo Tech Ticker) leaving for DC later. Then sadly will have to forego Turks and Caicos, but that does allow for me to go to Baton Rouge for a one day course on the affects of the gulf oil spill on the regional economy, helicopter flyovers, etc. I will report back in this week's letter what I learn.
Have a great week.
Your wishing he was still fishing in Maine analyst,
One of my most significant learning experiences came from a basic forecasting mistake. Back in 1998, I looked at 40 years of documented evidence that 50% of all large programming projects ended up coming in late. That set of data was consistent over all industries and over decades. I checked it out with industry experts. I really did my homework. And thus I said that the Y2K bug would be a problem, as a sufficient number of corporations around the world would have bugs that would create supply and management problems, which would slow the economy down. I did not suggest that we would see blackouts or major problems, just enough to slow things down and, when coupled with other macro issues (like the tech bubble), could trigger a recession. We had the recession, so my investment advice actually turned out to be right (lucky?), but it was not caused by Y2K.
Almost 100% of the Y2K fixes came in on time. From a metric that said 50% was the norm, we went straight to 100%. What caused the change? I had a debate with (my good friend) the late Harry Browne, who many of you will remember as a very wise investment counselor, multi-book best-selling author, two-time presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, gold bug, and from the school of Austrian economics. He said that Y2K would be a non-event. When presented with my marshaled facts, he said, "John, each company will figure out what it has to do to survive. That is the way markets work." And sure enough, faced with extinction if they failed, it seems that CEOs found ways to get the programmers to meet a very clear deadline. Besides knowing they fudged deadlines in the past, we now know if you hold a gun to their heads and give them resources, they can in fact perform.
Why this comment to open today's Outside the Box? Today we read a piece sent to me by my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal (and who will be at my conference in April). It is entitled "Where Will the Growth Come From?" It reminds us of the lessons that Harry gave me. Each person and company is responsible for their own part of the recovery. You can't rely on mass statistics, or you miss the important lesson in individual responsibility.
I don't think anyone can accuse me of being bullish the past few years. Interestingly, I get a lot of emails from people telling me the end of the world is coming, and deriding my longer-term optimism. They are convinced we are going into some deep national morass worse than the Great Depression (and such deflationary times will somehow make their gold go to $3,000!?!?). Yet they are working to make sure their own personal worlds are covered. I get no letters from people who are simply giving up. What company will keep a CEO who does not work hard to figure out how to keep the company alive? If you lose your job, do you not try and get another one or figure out how to make ends meet? Do you not put in extra hours to try and make your personal life or business or job better? Even if it is terribly difficult, the very large majority of people don't throw in the towel. Each of us, in our own way, gets up every morning to fight the good fight, even when the swamp is full of more alligators than we ever counted on. We just pick up a baseball bat, wade into the swamp, kill as many alligators as we can in one day, and then go home to get ready to fight the next day.
The lesson from Harry is the same as it was in 1998: It is the individual working to get his or her own house in order that will help us all collectively get our national house in order. This is not to diminish the Herculean tasks we have in front of us, collectively. We have dug ourselves into a very deep hole of credit and leverage. It is going to take lots of time. The way back is not entirely clear at this point. This is not an ordinary business-cycle recession. But each of us will do what we can to make our small corner of the world better. And in the fullness of time, we will collectively get back to trend growth and a rational market.
Of course, we will then find we have other problems to face. There is no nirvana. There will always be more problems. But that's what a free-market collection of motivated individuals does: We face problems and solve them to the best of our ability. And as a group, the clear path for centuries is one of growth and progress. Cautious optimism is the proper long-term stance.
So, today Louis speculates about what sectors might come back first, and offers a good lesson in economics along the way. I think you will enjoy this Outside the Box, unless you just want to believe in the end of the world.
This week we look at a very thoughtful essay by an old Outside the Box friend James Montier. James is now working at Societe Generale in London. He is one of the truly great minds on the psychology of investing, as well as proving great research on how to structure your portfolio. IN this week's essay, entitled "the Dash to Trash and the Grab for Growth," James shows how investors tend to do the wrong thing at the wrong time in times of market volatility. This is a longer letter with lots of graphs, and there is an executive summary at the beginning, but I suggest you read then when you have 15-20 minutes to really concentrate. You will be a better investor when you do.