Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.
September 18, 2013 at 10:18 AM
The announcement by Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz “respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas — even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel” — puts right-wing extremists in an interesting spot. On the one hand, they tend to be Second Amendment absolutists. On the other, they subscribe to “economic freedom,” usually a dog whistle for defunding the EPA, etc. but also presuming that business owners should be able to do as they please. Viva Ayn Rand!
Schultz’s letter was a model of care and fence-sitting. It’s a request, not a ban. I suspect the fence could be very painful for Starbucks’ backside. While most Americans probably don’t care, the gun lobby is extremely powerful and its base very energized. Polls show the country closely divided on more restrictive firearms laws, despite the rising body count from our continuing episodes of mass murder (that’s some American exceptionalism, for sure). President Obama’s modest reforms proposed after the massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., went nowhere after the National Rifle Association did its thing.
Now before you go off on me, I have been around firearms all my life. My mother taught me to shoot when I was eight. In the seventh grade, I took and passed the NRA Safe Hunter course. Somewhere I still have that treasured patch that was given out. Among the things I was taught: Always check to see if a gun was loaded and never to point it at someone, loaded or not. But that was a different America. I’m a gun owner now, but have no problem with sensible restrictions, including on assault weapons and extended magazines (memo to media: They’re not “clips” unless they go in an M-1 rifle).
May 8, 2013 at 9:45 AM
As of last month, Starbucks was holding nearly 1.7 billion in cash on hand. In June of last year it was nearly $2.5 billion. Microsoft had nearly $74.5 billion. Amazon.com, which invests heavily in its future, still boasted about $7.9 billion. All these figures are much higher than before the recession — and these companies are pikers compared to many. Apple, for example, has about $145 billion. In general, American corporations are holding record amounts of cash.
Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis set out to find the answers. One size probably doesn’t fit all. For example, some corporations are keeping profits earned in growing international markets offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. Some don’t seem to trust the safety of the financial system after the Panic of 2008, thus are keeping cash for acquisitions and operations rather than borrowing on a large scale as they would have done so in the past. Yet another explanation is the rising importance of information-technology firms, which use cash for research and development. I would add that cash gives management a tool to keep shareholders happy, with dividends and stock buybacks.
One thing that’s not happening is broad-based hiring. The nation still faces an unemployment crisis, despite record cash in corporate treasuries and a historic high (not adjusted for inflation) for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Whether this is the new normal or a sign of continued uncertainty and low demand is a key question that isn’t answered.
And Don’t Miss: Bankers warn of farm, student loan bubbles echoing subprime | Bloomberg
Today’s Econ Haiku:
The snake eats its tail
October 1, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Puget Sound companies put in a respectable showing in the 13th annual Best Global Brands report from Interbrand, a consulting outfit owned by the Omnicom Group. It ranks brands the top 100 brands based on “ongoing investment and management of the brand as a business asset.” Among the criteria: Brand strength (“the ability of the brand to secure the delivery of expected future earnings”); financial performance and the role of brand (“the portion of the decision to purchase that is attributable to brand–this is exclusive of other aspects of the offer like price or feature”).
Microsoft is No. 5 out of 100, followed by Amazon.com at No. 20, and Starbucks at 88. Oregon’s Nike placed at 26. The top spot went to Coca-Cola, followed by Apple.
Amazon was the second biggest brand riser, up from 36 in 2010 and 26 in 2011. The survey comments, “…Amazon has much to celebrate. However, its unfriendly stance toward unions, hardball battles to evade sales taxes in certain parts of the U.S., and a highly publicized story about the harsh treatment of workers in a Pennsylvania warehouse last year have put a dent in the company’s image. To leverage the full potential of its brand, Amazon needs to manage the reputation of its business and work to improve employee relations.”
April 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Whether the government shuts down or not, a major event will happen in D.C. on Monday. The Brookings Institution will roll out its “metropolitan business planning” concept for three pilot areas: Northeast Ohio, the Twin Cities and Seattle. According to Brookings’ Mark Muro, “metro business planning is all about local regions taking the lead in deciding how they want to grow, and what investments they need to make it happen. In short, the plans reflect a new era of more assertive ‘bottom up’ economic development practice.”
The Prosperity Partnership, the region’s coalition of 350 business, government and labor groups, has taken the lead here. The “Puget Sound Prospectus” focuses on building the next major business cluster in clean technology and energy efficiency. The energy efficiency market alone is projected to be worth $700 billion by 2030 and will be a major export market (China is already trying to corner this lucrative niche). It proposes a Building Energy Efficiency and Testing Integration Center where entrepreneurs can test, evaluate and integrate promising products and services before bringing them to market.
September 30, 2010 at 9:45 AM
As the third quarter slouches across the finish line, many of the worst fears of early summer weren’t realized. Deflation did not break out. A double-dip recession did not happen. The Eurozone did not collapse. Commercial real-estate’s sickness did not become a worse drag on the economy.
On the other hand, no magic optimism rescued the labor market. Unemployment remained acute, particularly for younger workers, minorities, older workers who had lost a job and those in many distressed industries. Five unemployed workers are chasing every opening. In addition, the weak recovery is sending more people into poverty and income inequality, which was already at levels not seen since the 1920s, is increasing. The real pain and general anxiety is creating an unstable political environment even as it seems to paralyze political leaders from meaningful action.
The Dow rose some 8 percent in September (we’ll see how it ends the last day of the month). Bullish analysts saw it as a sign of fresh life in the expansion. Other observers, also using a word with “bull” in it, pointed out a fresh infusion of money from the Federal Reserve, which was mainlined into equities via low interest rates and was no real vote of confidence in the economy. Interestingly, or ominously, gold stayed above $1,300.
March 24, 2010 at 10:00 AM
With its announcement of a 10-cents-per-share dividend, Starbucks would seem to have crossed the Rubicon from being a sweet young “growth” stock to accepting its position as a mature, even a “value,” stock.
In the American economy that once existed, this would be a good thing. Shareholders accepted their responsibility as owners, not temporary squatters awaiting the next opportunity to sell or enjoy the quick profits from a job-destroying merger. They invested for the long haul and played a critical role in ensuring good corporate governance. Dividends were their reward. Companies were allowed a longer-term view, reinvesting in productive activity, research and sharing wealth with workers.
Not coincidentally, this state of affairs, which existed from the 1940s through the 1970s, built the greatest economy in history based on a universe of stable, well-run and growing companies. Scandals were rare and panics nonexistent. Bad deals (think Penn Central) were quickly punished and cleansed from the system. Income inequality was low. Seattle benefited from companies that stayed and grew, from Boeing to Microsoft, rather than being started and quickly sold.
Today’s financialized, speculative-driven economy is very different. Starbucks decision is inevitable and prudent. It may take off some of the heat to show spectacular profit margins. But not by much. Shares rose modestly today, but probably driven by hot money — the huge pool of cheap dollars out there — going in to get the dividend, then shoot out again.