Category Archives: complexiy

Eskom, inflation and early onset dementia

Everyone has totally lost the plot.

The proportion of people who speak sense has declined to the lowest level recorded since ever.

“If Eskom puts up its prices too high we’ll have higher inflation. Inflation is bad therefore Eskom shouldn’t put up electricity prices so much.”

Oh really? What happens to the cost of producing electricity when Eskom puts up its prices by 16% rather than 8%? Nothing. Well actually the cost goes down, but then I’m being sneaky – raising the price will reduce consumption, which in turn will decrease the total amount of electricity produced, thus reducing the aggregate cost of electricity production. Yes, it’s sneaky because we all knew I meant the “cost per unit” of electricity.

But wait, if we consume less electricity, Eskom presumably would have to use less gas-turbine powered emergency and oh-so-very-expensive sources of electricity to fill in at peak times. So just maybe the cost per unit of electricity would go down if Eskom were allowed to raise it’s prices by 16% and not 8%.

Another good way to lower inflation would be for government to add a 1% subsidy on everything this year. Everything will be 1% cheaper because you mail (fax?) your receipts to Pravin and Government will mail you a postal order for 1% of the value back in.  Instantly effective prices are 1% lower and inflation is more under control.

Hell, why stop at 1%? Let’s have a 2% reduction.  And a further 2% next year and so on.

Credit Suisse annual update on market performance

Credit Suisse has for several years now put out an annual Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook 2013 is out now.

It’s worth reading in its entirety for the insights. I don’t agree with everything there, and I certainly don’t agree with the widely held view (not among the authors) that the universe of countries included in the survey is supposed to be somehow representative of the world.

The countries chosen have an absolutely clear bias in their selection. They are successful economies with successful financial markets. They are included by virtue of their long-term success and capital growth and returns for investors.

The authors know this, but many readers don’t.  The returns per this survey are an overly rosy view of possible future returns.

Does being richer make you feel better than being cooler?

Economists (and actuaries) like to measure things.

The easier to measure and the more reliable the measure, the more we like to measure it. This is not unlike the drunk looking for his keys under the street lamp because that’s where the light is even if it isn’t where he dropped the keys.

Sometimes the most important things to measure are very difficult to measure reliably. Happiness is one of these things.  Economists have been trying to measure this for decades with interesting, counter-intuitive and sometimes contradictory results.

Recent research suggests that maybe money does make people happier after all.

Finally, something newsworthy on Eskom and electricity prices

The typical quality of conservation around electricity prices in South Africa is so low as to be worthless. Cry after cry about it being “unfair” or “it will drive inflation” or any number of issues, while all the time disregarding that if Eskom doesn’t make money, we pay for it through taxes in any case. It’s become so frustrating and, frankly, boring that I haven’t blogged much about it in a while.

Until I read this article summarising Brian Kantor’s evaluation of the return on assets Eskom is achieving compared to international norms and how low their gearing is becoming compared to international norms for an ultra-low risk business.  Both of these elements work in the same direction.  Higher gearing will result in a higher return on shareholder equity for the same return on assets, and a lower hurdle rate for return on equity will allow for a lower return on assets which will then require less profit to achieve.

The view presented here is that Eskom is trying to make too much money and simply charging too much as a result. I hope this gets a lot more air-time.

Different types of predictions

As part of the run-up to my overview of my own predictions for 2012, I thought i should highlight why I bother at all.
Most predictions, most of the time, will be wrong. Crystal balls aside, it is nearly impossible to reliably, accurately predict future complex events. However, the process of rigorously considering what might happen, what could go wrong, what the drivers of change are – all of those are really useful.
But why then bother making ultimate predictions if the “process” is where the value is? As it turns out, making the final prediction is part of the process. Paying poker without money at stake is a pointless exercise; there are no consequences to poor play (be it luck or skill that was lacking).
Making that firm and final prediction is important to ensure the process was rigorous and not an off the cuff guess.
Finally, evaluating part performance can’t suggest whether the predictions are improving, whether they are consistently biased or whether the system is working.
So, most predictions are wrong, but some are useful.