Secular Stagnation (Or Corporate Suicide?)

Robert Ayres and Michael Olenick, INSEAD
INSEAD WORKING PAPER

 Abstract

We advanced the null hypothesis that stock buybacks will have a positive impact on the market value of a business over a five-year horizon. We find that there is a negligible chance for this to be true (with a two tail heteroscedastic p=.000023).

We find that the more capital a business invests in buying its own stock, expressed as a ratio of capital invested in buybacks to current market capitalization, the less likely that company is to experience long-term growth in overall market value.

Our findings, for US firms worth more than $100 million, suggest that long-term investors, such as pension funds, should be wary of investing businesses that have engaged in significant cumulative stock repurchases (i.e. 50% or more of current market cap.)

We find that excessive buybacks in the past decades are a significant cause of secular stagnation, inasmuch as they effectively reduce corporate R&D while contributing, instead, to an asset bubble that creates no value.

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On EROI, as a measure of what’s left in the barrel

RUA EROI

Source; Mason Inman. Scientific American. April. 2013. http://goo.gl/n57ZKG

This paper makes several points about the use of EROI as an indicator of future potential.

First, for comparability it is important to limit comparisons to specific end-use a products, such as gasoline for cars or electricity for the grid, or perhaps hydrogen for fuel cells. Comparisons between different end-uses are very dubious.

Second, it is important to avoid comparing EROIs for fossil fuels stored by geochemical processes in the Earth’s crust vs nuclear power (based on a single element, uranium) vs technologies based on energy directly or indirectly from the sun.

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