Category Archives: President’s Corner

President’s Corner – Technology

Americans are infatuated with technology. E-mail and texting has made communication faster and more efficient, even if some of our kids fail to reply to the text, “Where are you, and when are you coming home?” Technology has made shopping easier; buying tickets to the opera, sporting events, and theme parks effortless; and even most recently put the Kardashians’ clothing store out of business. The Yelp app can help find the perfect restaurant, and the flashlight app is great to read the menu in that poorly-lit but otherwise perfect restaurant.

Technology has changed the perception of commerce. It appears much faster to order clothes than drive to the mall, get a coffee, take a detour to the sports store (OK, I would do that, but not most people), find the clothing store, try on the clothes, pay, and drive home. With online shopping, it’s scan, click, and pay. That may sound more cost-effective, but is it really? Are online purchases less expensive than the old fashioned way? Now that clothing and the Kardashians have been technologically disrupted, banking is next. The apps include slick advertising with promises of total financial freedom.

Anyone who watches TV or their smartphone has seen ads for SoFi, which positions itself in the marketplace as the leader in student loan refinances, but their website says they are “a new kind of finance company taking a radical approach to lending and wealth management.” In other words, it’s not just about student loans. They want an individual’s entire financial relationship – mortgages, personal loans, investments, and even life insurance. Their management team is not comprised of junior Mark Zuckerbergs inventing a cool new app in their college dorm rooms. They are long-time mega banking veterans who take no prisoners, which means it is all about their bottom line and not about saving money for consumers. SoFi also is not required to follow all the consumer protection laws your Credit Union must abide by.

Rocket Mortgage, a division of Quicken Loans which is owned by Intuit which also owns Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax, touts “super hero levels of confidence” with their mortgage products in their very slick commercials. This year, Rocket became the largest mortgage lender in the U.S., surpassing Wells Fargo. Generally, when homeowners and prospective homeowners are shopping for loans, they will first ask for rates. With Rocket, the rates are not disclosed until after the application has been completed. Most borrowers probably would not bother looking around so as to not have to spend more time on paperwork. The facts are that the process is not faster, the rates are not better, and the costs are not less. The benefits are, at best, minimal.

Perceived speed does not always equal better.

When Bud Fox’s father Carl (played brilliantly by Martin Sheen) confronted the infamous corporate raider Gordon Gekko in the 1987 classic movie Wall Street, Mr. Fox disputed Gekko’s argument that selling Bluestar Airlines, where Fox worked, to Gekko was good for the employees. “There came into Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know…The rich have been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time. The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn’t allow unions. I know what this guy is all about, greed. He don’t give a damn about Bluestar or the unions. He’s in and out for the buck, and he don’t take prisoners.” Meet the new economy, same as the old economy; we don’t get fooled again (apologies to The Who).

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – Vandalay Industries

During an early episode of the TV sitcom classic Seinfeld, George Costanza developed his alter ego Art Vandelay. Among Mr. Vandelay’s professions was that of an importer/exporter. While researching the importer/exporter profession, I found the website Glassdoor that is utilized by primarily former employees to find jobs and review and evaluate their previous companies. While scrolling through importer/exporter, I found one familiar company – “Vandalay Industries.” The site had a picture of Vandalay’s office lobby, coffee cup with the company logo, and even a staff picture. Apparently, the Glassdoor staff does not get the joke.

The latest economic fear is a possible trade war between the United States and the rest of the world. Foreign trade is a pretty simple equation. The difference between American imports and exports is a trade imbalance. Trade almost never balances. Either imports exceed exports, or exports exceed imports. According to CNN Money, the U.S. trade deficit, in other words imports exceeding exports, is $566 billion.

While the trade equation appears simple, the economics of trade is anything but straightforward. While the deficit sounds high, the U.S. economy has never been healthier based on the numbers. Obviously, not everything is rosy, but unemployment is at a 40-year low, and the Gross Domestic Product, which measures the market value of all final goods and services, is steady, if not spectacular.

On the other hand, a net export position does not necessarily imply economic success. The last time exports exceeded imports was during President Ford’s administration. The 1973-75 recession was marked by high inflation, gas shortages, and economic stagnation and which led to Ford’s loss to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election.

The recent tariffs announced by President Trump throws a monkey wrench into the trade equation. Basically, a tariff is a tax added to particular classes of imports or exports. The first announced tariff was to be placed on steel and aluminum exports to protect our national security as well as steel and aluminum workers. Clearly, based on the stock market’s volatility, investors do not like it. It is also bad for consumers and hence bad for the nation’s economy.

Many of the countries that could be affected by tariffs buy U.S. Treasury securities. If those countries stop buying our Treasuries to retaliate against the tariffs, who then will buy our debt? The U.S. government would then be forced to raise interest rates faster to sell those securities which, based on history, will result in inflation. The combination of tariffs, huge federal debt, currently estimated at $21 trillion, and high interest rates could put us in another serious recession that could be worse than the so-called Great Recession ten years ago.

It is difficult to broadcast bad news that has not yet happened. The proverbial rubber band has been stretched to its limit and is about ready to break. We can only hope someone in charge sees this scenario and makes the appropriate adjustments, the most obvious one being getting rid of the tariffs. Otherwise, our government balance sheet will be as fanciful as Vandalay Industries.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – The Moment’s Over

After Ebby Calvin (“Nuke”) LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins) pitched a perfect inning for the minor league Durham Bulls baseball team in 1988’s Bull Durham, he sat next to his catcher, Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner), and they had the following conversation:

Nuke : That was great, huh?

Crash : Your fastball’s up, your curveball’s hanging. In the Show, they would’ve ripped you.

Nuke : Can’t you even let me enjoy the moment?

Crash : The moment’s over.

“The moment’s over” is the way many investors feel about now. After an unprecedented bull market following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1929, the stock market came crashing down faster than an old Las Vegas hotel. During one February week, almost $1 trillion of market value was wiped away.

The usual self-described stock market gurus showed up on every news and business channel to give their reasons for the “market correction.” Some of the reasons given included major shareholder selling, negative economic news, high profile corporations failing to meet unofficial estimates (referred to as “whisper numbers”), declining Gross Domestic Product, revised tax policy, a new administration in the White House, and impending armed conflicts around the world.

There have always been short-term spurts of wild variances in the market, but at no time have we seen more of these wild highs and lows in the history of stock trading. The biggest factor that few talk about is automated trading systems. These systems allow mostly institutional traders to establish specific rules for buying the selling stock automatically executed via a computer. When a stock price gets to a certain price or a technical indicator reaches a specific level, the automated system will simultaneously trigger a trade.

The main advantage to such a system is that it minimizes emotions so that the trader cannot hesitate or question the trade. Secondly, the systems are consistent because the computer is executing the programmed trades. Thirdly, the order entry is made at the same time trade criteria are met, minimizing possible trading losses. Finally, the automated systems can spread risk over various investment instruments while creating a hedge against losing positions. This would be incredibly challenging for a human to accomplish this level of efficiency in a matter of milliseconds.

The biggest disadvantage, other than mechanical failures, is the oversubscription of programmed trades. In other words, if too many trades are automated, it creates larger and potentially more volatile swings in the market as we have recently experienced. According to Wikipedia, as of 2014, more than 75% of stock shares traded on U.S. exchanges originate from high-frequency programmed trading system orders.

That seems like a very big, to the point of being unwieldy, number. For those 25% who trade the old-fashioned way, well, the moment’s over. By the time those trades are made, the market will have significantly shifted. That shift could mean the difference between trading at a profit or at a large loss.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which regulates stockbrokers, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which regulates publicly held companies, have instituted some restrictions of automated trading to minimize market fragility and volatility, but more needs to be done to keep up with the advancing technology in this area.

One simple thing average investors can do to minimize their downside risk is rather than invest in individual stocks, they can invest in mutual funds that already utilize programmed trading and automated portfolio rebalancing which is simple and effective. These steps can help reduce the “The moment’s over” time by at least a few moments.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – Necessary Change

Jake Blues (played by John Belushi in the 1980 classic movie “The Blues Brothers”) was covered in mud after a burst of gunfire from his former fiancée (played by the late Carrie Fisher) while he was trying to explain to her why he left her at the altar.

“I ran out of gas. I got a flat tire. I didn’t have change for cab fare. I lost my tux at the cleaners. I locked my keys in the car. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT!…”

Sometimes, we look for excuses or scapegoats when things do not go our way. Since our charter conversion and name change two years ago, a few of our members would say after not getting the answer they wanted, “Service was better before 1st Nor Cal took over our Credit Union.”

As we explained in numerous communications to our members before, during, and after the conversion that we were not taken over by a larger credit union or some out of town corporate entity in which we know neither their names nor faces. If that were the case, the Board of Directors would have been replaced, and I certainly would no longer be here. Most of the staff would have been paid a small incentive to leave or laid off altogether.

Nevertheless, here we are, two years later. The Board is intact, and I am still the President and CEO. All of our staff stayed, save a few subsequent terminations, which is normal for any business. In fact, I am very proud of the fact that even in my 26th year at Contra Costa/1st Nor Cal, there are still eight staff members who have more seniority than I. That is highly unusual and almost unheard of for an organization of our size. The low turnover rate is a testament to the high quality and loyalty of our staff. It also means members are being serviced by the same people as before the name change.

We made it a point to keep everything as much the same as possible, but change, which few people like, is necessary. We changed our name to be attractive to our members’ neighbors and local companies they do business with in Solano and Alameda Counties. Later this year, we will be closing our Pittsburg branch, which we inherited after acquiring the Pittsburg Employees Federal Credit Union, because members complained the lobby was too small and our Antioch branch because the members complained the surrounding neighborhood has changed for the worse. In its place, we are constructing a larger branch at the Century Plaza Shopping Center right next to Target on the Pittsburg/Antioch border that will more than accommodate members visiting the two current offices.

There will be other changes as well. We are looking at an office in Brentwood that is slated to be our first “1st Nor Cal Express” that will have most of the same services as the other branches. These smaller outlets will allow us to build more physical presence in the three-county East Bay Area.

One thing that has not changed since the Credit Union was founded in 1949 is our superior member service. We do everything we can to give members the financial services they need but admit we do not make every member happy all of the time. However, we promise to try to find a suitable solution to enhance our members’ financial lives. We also promise no locusts.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – New Tax Plan and Non-Profits

The year 2017 had no shortage of drama and debate in business, politics, or pop culture. My favorite moment last year happened at the very end of the year and was predictably sports-related. In the last game of the NFL regular season, Andy Dalton, the oft-maligned quarterback of the perennially woeful Cincinnati Bengals threw a touchdown pass to beat the Baltimore Ravens. Neither team made the playoffs, but the Bengals’ win sent the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Usually, that does not elicit much of a response among fans or players. But in this case, Bills fans took their joy to another level. To show their appreciation, 15,000 Buffalonians flooded the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation with more than $350,000 in donations, many of which in $17 increments representing every year of the Bills’ postseason drought. The morning of the Bills playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the foundation received donations at a rate of 25 per minute. The money was supplemented by 1,440 chicken wings and nine gallons of wing sauce donated by Buffalo-based Duff’s Famous Wings and delivered to Autism Services at the Children’s Home of Cincinnati.

I bring this up because of the new federal tax plan beginning in 2018. The standard deduction has doubled which will effectively eliminate the charitable donation deduction on most of our tax returns. According to the IRS, only about 30% of taxpayers itemize their deductions. Some tax experts estimate that fewer than 10% will continue to itemize under the new law. Americans are by far the most generous people in the world, but the possibility exists that the tax rules going into effect will put a damper on charitable donations. In a high tax state such as California, the loss of the charitable contribution deduction will leave middle-income taxpayers less to donate.

As discretionary government services are being cut to the bone, the roles of nonprofits and foundations are filling holes in the social safety net. Charities have stepped up to provide emergency relief and long-term aid to victims of the California wildfires, the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rican floods and hurricanes, and the Las Vegas and Texas mass shootings. Routinely, these agencies work with immigrants, homeless people, abused women, hungry children, and disabled individuals.

I was on the board of directors of a social service nonprofit and experienced first-hand how difficult it is for those entities to maintain their funding or receive grants from other foundations. It will be more difficult to provide necessary services as the less successful nonprofits disappear because of lack of funding.

I have pledged to donate to charities at a greater rate than last year. I will not receive a tax deduction, but in return, I hope I can make my little corner of the world a little bit better place to live.

Many of the Bills fans’ donations to Andy Dalton’s foundation were most likely non-tax deductible. However, what is encouraging is that at that moment in time those fans/citizens/taxpayers did not care about how much taxes they may have to pay this year and in future years. They were changing lives, $17 at a time.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – FOMC, Inflation, and the GDP

My younger nephews, ages 11 and 10, are prime consumers. It did not used to be that way. In the olden days of the late 1960s when I was that age, the actual consumer parents analyzed the cost of kids’ toys and clothes and purchased items based on that analysis, which consisted of driving to the mall or department store and comparing prices.

Today, the kids perform that analysis themselves with the click of a mouse. The main difference is that kids are completely price inelastic. That means that no matter how much the price of an item changes, kids will still want it; in economic terms, demand remains constant.

This sea change is important because of the challenges facing the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). This austere group is comprised of members of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and a rotating group of the eleven Reserve Bank presidents who serve one-year terms. The FOMC reviews economic and financial conditions, determines monetary policy, and assesses the risks of price stability and sustainable economic growth.

The FOMC is currently debating how fast to increase interest rates (In reality, the committee only determines the federal funds, or overnight rate, while the longer-term rates are determined by the marketplace.) The committee’s current stance is to increase the overnight rate when the inflation rate exceeds 2%. Through October, the average inflation rate this year checks in at 2.1%.

Sounds good, right? Here’s the dilemma. In the ten years following the Great Recession, the average inflation rate is 1.7%. During that same period, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which calculates our economy’s growth by measuring the value of all goods and services produced, only grew 1.4%. Typically, GDP grows at approximately 4% per year. Today’s ratios would be considered anemic by historical standards.

The media breaks up the various pieces of the economy into small discrete bites and ignores the relationship between inflation, GDP, the money supply, demand, production, and supply. One of the biggest political issues being debated in the blogosphere (that’s for people who spend their entire day on the Internet) is wage disparity. What is not discussed is the interrelationship between wages, GDP, and inflation. It has been proven over time that an increase in wages results in more consumer spending, which in turn increases production that increases inflation and hence interest rates. Tax policy, which is currently but which always seems to be a hot topic, may affect on whether employers will increase salaries but does not alter spending behavior at the individual taxpayer level.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of my beginning economics professor during my freshman year in college. He was an economist as well as the dean of the Graduate School of Education and was the founding president of an economic think tank. He was very influential in my thinking about the relationships between the many economic pieces. The professor also taught me a lesson on high finance for college students. In those days, students were able to sell their used books back to the student bookstore at the end of the term. Unfortunately, he elected not to teach the class again, and I was stuck with an expensive used Economics textbook. I do not recall Milton Friedman, John Maynard Keynes, or even Adam Smith addressing the economics of college textbook buybacks. Oh well, live and learn.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – Nobel Prize in Economics

Every year at this time, the Nobel Prize winners are announced. These prestigious honors, which are worth about $1 million to the winners, are awarded in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Economic Sciences, and Peace. Alfred Nobel established a foundation upon his death to recognize outstanding achievements in these disciplines, sort of an Oscar for brainiacs.

Dr. Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago is this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Usually, this particular Nobel Prize goes to someone who developed a complex economic theory. Recent winners tackled the rarefied subjects of contract theory, empirical analysis of asset prices, cause and effect in the macro economy, and markets with search friction. Dr. Thaler’s subject earned his Nobel Prize for his contributions to behavioral economics. His body of work is a little less Econ 101 and a little more Psych 10, which was the basic survey course at my alma mater. This is not to denigrate Dr. Thaler’s research, but rather distinguish it from past honorees.

Dr. Thaler’s hypothesis is known as limited rationality, which theorizes how people make financial decisions by focusing on the impact of the individual decision rather than its overall effect. In other words, people make bad financial decisions using only a limited amount of information which usually means thinking short-term instead of long-term. For example, an investor will sell a strong stock to feel they made money instead of a weak stock which they hold to hopefully make their money back. “Buy low and sell high” looks good on a billboard and sounds nice in theory but rarely is utilized in practice.

This theory is nothing new to anyone who works or has worked in a credit union, bank, securities brokerage, or financial planning company and is something we’ve known and I’ve mentioned in this column for many years. For whatever reason – family history, preconceived notions about investing, or trying to “time the market” – economic decisions are made on a human level and are not made strictly rationally. Human behavior is the reason why we buy a shirt at Nordstrom instead of the exact same but cheaper shirt at J.C. Penney, why people buy a Lexus instead of the lower-priced Toyota (it’s all the same under the hood), and why amateur investors think they will be millionaires by day trading.

But this doesn’t mean people can’t change their behavior. With apologies to Dr. Thaler, people’s mindsets can change from wants to needs. If a consumer focuses on their needs instead of wants, they will look for the best price for a product or not even buy that product and save the difference. For instance, Walmart, for better or for worse, has changed the way consumers shop for everyday goods. Online shopping has also changed consumer behavior but has turned out to be a convenience rather than cost saving.

The Nobel Prize for Economics is a relatively new award, starting nearly 70 years after the other disciplines started to be awarded. As a result, some doubt Nobel winners in Economics are the equal to the other winners. However, Dr. Thaler brought humanity to the forefront of an otherwise pretty dry and statistics-heavy subject. The good doctor himself brought some humor into his award when he replied to the question of how he will use his award winnings, “I will say that I will try to spend it as irrationally as possible.” He also expressed disappointment for not being considered for a real Oscar for playing himself in the 2015 film “The Big Short.” Yes, economists are humans, too.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – Bitcoin

I jumped on Jamie Dimon pretty aggressively earlier this year when he proclaimed in JPMorgan Chase’s recent annual report that a failure of any of the “too big to fail” banks would not harm the U.S. economy. The top ten U.S. banks hold almost $12 trillion in assets. The top five banks (Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and U.S. Bank) make up nearly half of the total assets in all financial institutions. Credit unions, by the way, represent 7% of all financial assets. His argument is tenuous at best.

According to Reuters, Mr. Dimon, Chase’s CEO, has spent much of his summer vacation in Washington, D.C. opining on everything from immigration to criminal justice reform. He even has occasional flashes of humor. One day, he spotted Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, no friend of the banks or credit unions, at a non-Chase ATM. He approached the senator from behind and wisecracked, “We welcome competition.”

The Guardian reported Mr. Dimon said recently bitcoin is a fraud that will ultimately blow up because the digital currency was only fit for use by drug dealers, murderers, and people living in places such as North Korea. I thought this might be an example of Mr. Dimon’s sarcastic sense of humor, but he added that he would fire “in a second” anyone at his bank found to be trading bitcoin “…for two reasons: it’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous…It’s worse than tulip bulbs. It won’t end well. Someone is going to get killed.” I’m quite certain he meant that figuratively (I think.)

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that emerged after the Great Recession. It transcends all national borders, but no country has adopted it. Bitcoin is traded like stocks but can be used to purchase goods and services from merchants which accept the currency. Several British apartment complexes accept rent payments in bitcoin, which has approximately $70 billion in total market capitalization as of last month.

The problem is that while the thought of a digital currency not controlled by a government entity sounds idyllic, it also means there are no rules. The lack of rules, especially when associated with money, attracts the worst our society has to offer, like drug dealers, murderers, denizens of the “dark web,” and rogue countries.

The other problem is that bitcoin is subject to the whims of the investment market. When a high profile investment gets a lot of airplay in the media, the amateur know-it-alls come out of the woodwork. After Mr. Dimon’s “tulip bulb” comments, bitcoin’s value dropped 9% in one day and 31% in a recent two-week period. In the movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) explains to Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen) the price of anything is not determined by its intrinsic value but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of buyers and sellers. Gekko is showing Fox a painting and says, “I bought it ten years ago for $60,000. I could sell it today for $600,000. The illusion has become real, and the more real it becomes, the more desperate they want it. Capitalism at its finest.”

On this subject, I agree with Mr. Dimon and admire his directness and brutal honesty. The world’s central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, aren’t perfect, but it’s the best we have now. If someone comes up with a better mousetrap, then I’m all for it. I’m not sure bitcoin is that mousetrap.

Mr. Dimon and I still don’t hang out together, but some of our views are a little more closely aligned than even I originally thought. But, I’ve still never had the shrimp cocktail at Nobu.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – Personal Finances

Married members came into our office recently to consolidate their debts into a second mortgage loan. They wanted to amortize the loan over fifteen years, but we felt a second mortgage loan based on old debts should not have a term more than five years. We explained to the couple that in order to get rid of their debt as soon as possible at the smallest possible cost to them, they would have to accept the lower term. We showed them how much less interest they would pay with a five-year term versus a fifteen-year term, and they could afford the monthly payment on a five-year loan.

Our members hemmed and hawed but eventually accepted the loan. Before the ink on the documents had a chance to dry, however, they took out a cash advance on their Credit Union credit card for $6,000.00. To quote Captain Jack Ross (played brilliantly by Kevin Bacon) after giving his opening statement during the murder trial in the 1992 classic “A Few Good Men,” “These are the facts in the case, and they are undisputed.”

Why did our married members advance on their credit card? Was it to buy a new refrigerator? Could it have been a down payment on their child’s college tuition? Or, as I suspect, was it to show the Credit Union that they thought they knew best when it came to their finances?

This scenario happens much too often. I’ve thought about why some people are frugal with their money, while others can’t wait to spend it? I watched my parents manage money growing up and came to the conclusion they did it the right way. I certainly did not get everything I thought I wanted. Mom and Dad took a lot of nice vacations, both with and without my brother and me. I did not attend a private college but was fortunate an excellent university was close by. When Dad passed away, I helped Mom with her finances and was pleasantly surprised at how much Dad squirreled away. Mom is living a stress-free life because she doesn’t have to worry about money. According to her financial advisor, she can live well into the ripe old age of her early three figures.

However, many people struggle in their later years because they did not prepare earlier in life. They saw their parents struggle with money but did not make any adjustments to their own finances. I understand what parents say can influence one’s life. Mom once told me that croutons were bad because they were just fried bread. Croutons are actually sautéed or baked, but the fact that Mom said they were fried stuck in my head.

Croutons haven’t changed much over the years, but personal finances have changed substantially. I receive an annual “checkup” from the same financial advisors. Second opinions are always encouraged with medical issues and would seem to be fitting with finances as well. Mom and Dad may be great resources but may not always be right, especially about croutons.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802

President’s Corner – Mr. Musk

“You have to spend money to make money.” We’ve all heard that well-worn phrase. To a business owner, that means investing funds for supplies, product, advertising, staff salaries, and other operating expenses. For entrepreneurs trying to get a business idea off the ground, spending money with no revenue is difficult without borrowing from friends, family, their financial institution, or if really lucky, a venture capitalist willing to take a risk.

Imagine the difficulty Elon Musk has trying to create an automobile company with new technology. Mr. Musk started off slowly by building a few cars at a time and selling them at a very high price which built up some cash reserves. Later on, the company went public, and more cash from stock issuances came in.

Then came the hard part. Stockholders are patient with new companies for a short time but then expect a reasonable return on their investment, either by a higher stock price or high dividend rate. Mr. Musk’s response was to transform Tesla from a niche product to a mass-market vehicle in less than two years. That requires a whole lot of new capital.

There are several ways for Tesla to bring in new money. They can offer more stock, float bonds, ask Mr. Musk to chip in some of his own funds, raise the price of their cars, or a combination of all of them. Each scenario carries its own level of financial risk. While the stock price continues to climb, it makes additional issuance more expensive and dilutes Mr. Musk’s stake in the company. Former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan feels we’re in a bond bubble ready to burst. Mr. Musk reducing his personal net worth is something the average consumer deals with daily. Finally, raising the price of the cars can put a damper on sales.

Tesla’s biggest problem at the moment may be Mr. Musk himself. Entrepreneurs by nature are always looking toward the next big thing. He still has an interest in creating commercially-viable space vehicles and colonizing Mars. Company founders are typically not good at managing people and systems. It may be time for Mr. Musk to clear the way for a professional manager to lead the transition of Tesla to a full-scale auto manufacturer.

The latest count is that approximately 450,000 individuals have paid a $1,000 deposit to purchase the mass-market Model 3. The company expects to reach a production rate of 5,000 cars per week by the end of this year and 10,000 per week by the end of 2018. Will consumers at the end of the line wait that long for their car? Given many consumers’ needs of wanting things immediately, this will no doubt be an interesting experiment in 21st century economics.

By the way, Plautus, the Roman playwright during the third century BC, was credited with the quote, “You have to spend money to make money.” He’s also known for creating the joke pattern used for “knock knock” jokes. From personal experience, anyone managing a business, especially one that markets to the public, needs a sense of humor.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802