"Invest in America – but Savings Bonds." I grew up seeing those signs. Of course, I'm over 50. They came from the World War era, when America asked people to buy "war bonds" to pay for involvement. At the time, pre-Bretton Woods, America was still on a gold standard. The country couldn't tust print all the money it wanted. To pay for war goods, Americans were asked to buy bonds. Not for the rate of return – nor even for the eventual gain on principle. It was pure patriotism. Buy bonds to pay for the war. As the clock turned, this patriotic thinking migrated to buying government bonds to help pay for highways, bridges, dams and other projects to help grow America.
I was reminded of this when I saw the Marketwatch.com headline "Ford raises $1.4billion in stock offering". I thought to myself, why would anyone on earth buy newly issued shares in Ford? It's hard to conceive of buying shares in the company as it exists, what with its very long history of weak profits, tepid product lines, limited innovation and lack of attachment to market trends. But to give the company new money, in form of equity with guarantee of a return on or of your principle…. Why that is simply befuddling. This money is not intended to go for new products or improving the company's links to customers. Rather, it all is intended to pay for part of a health care trust that might assuage growing total labor costs. Sort of like paying for part of a clean up on a previous toxic spill. Not something that makes money.
Ford is a company in the Whirlpool. It's odds of surviving are low. It's odds of making high rates of return and being globally competitive are almost nonexistent. Ford wants people to help management defend its past actions – which won't even extend past horrible perfornce – much less improve it. None of this mone is for White Space to do anything new. There is nothing in this offering to make you think Ford will ever be able to repay your investment – or even ever pay a dividend on it.
So I was left thinking that I guess you could buy this offering because you are patriotic. Sort of "Defend America by Defending Ford" and it's management ability to keep running a company that doesn't meet customer, investor or employee expectations. Henry Ford advanced civilization with his ideas for automation and how he applied them at his company – so we need to keep his namesake company alive, I guess (and conveniently forget he was opposed to civil rights, opposed to women's rights and opposed to all forms of organized labor.) And perhaps you want to invest in defending & extending America's involvement in auto production – even though we have a long history of being #1 in making something before exiting it - like shipbuilding, steelmaking and television set production. And maybe you just feel like its your duty to give money to Ford because it represents a great American brand – like RCA, Woolworth's, Studebaker and Hotpoint once did.
Or we can realize this is simply an investment intended to keep Ford alive for another year or two. A form of corporate life support hoping something new comes along to save the patient. For most of us, we're better off with the mattress. There are pension funds out there that receive cash quarter after quarter. They are always looking for investments. Some have billions of newly arrived dollars to invest. And for many, investing that money is done by "rules" rather than analysis. They have to invest x% in equities, and that's allocated Y% and Z% and A% into specific categories. And they will probably buy these shares, after their fund managers have some greatly expensive steak dinnbrs courtesy of the underwriters. Unfortunately, that doesn't make our pensions funds any healthier – but we have little or nothing we can do to affect those decisions.
Keep your money in companies that have White Space. Companies that don't fear Disruption in order to keep themselves aligned with market shifts. Invest in companies that talk about the future, and how their new products will open new opportunities for their customers to accomplish new things. Pay attention to those with long track records of above-average performance – like Google, Apple, Cisco – or Nike, GE and Johnson & Johnson. Invest in the Disruptors that are going to grow the new economy, not those hoping to suck off its benefits with no innovation or other contribution. That will more likely get your 401K back where you want it.
PS – for regular readers – I opologize for being offline without comments for a few days. Computer gremlins attacked me and it's been a struggle to regain control of the machine. Hopefully I'm back on track.