Here’s How the U.S. Can Return to Economic Greatness
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is considered the quintessential innovation company. After all, if you flip over an iPad or an iPhone it will clearly state, “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is just too busy innovating to worry about dirtying their hands by assembling products – they can simply outsource that work. Many people have a problem with the millions of manufacturing jobs moving offshore, but if I am the self anointed “Innovation Czar” for the United States, I definitely favor keeping the $120,000 Apple engineering jobs over the low-cost $2 per hour jobs being lost to China (or cheaper developing country). Oh sure, I would prefer keeping both workers, but if push comes to shove, I much rather keep the six-figure job. The bad news is the displaced American iPhone/iPad assembler must find an alternative lower-skilled employment opportunity. The good news is there are plenty of service-based jobs that will NOT get outsourced to the Chinese. If displaced workers are unhappy serving lattes at Starbucks or changing bedpans at the local hospital (or other unglamorous service-based job), then they can choose to retool their skills through education, in order to land higher-paying jobs not getting outsourced.
Bass Ackwards Job Assessment
While I may agree with many points made by Time Magazine’s Fareed Zakaria in his article, The Future of Innovation: Can America Keep Pace?, I think Zakaria is looking at the job trade-off a little backwards. Here is what says about Apple-created job losses in a CNN (NYSE:TWX) blog post:
“Apple has about $70 billion in revenues. The company that makes Apple’s products called Foxconn is in China. They have about the same revenue – $70 billion dollars. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) employs 50,000 people. Foxconn employs 1,000,000 people. So you can have all the innovation you want and tens of thousands of engineers in California benefit, but hundreds of thousands of people benefit in China because the manufacturing has gone there. What does that mean? America needs to innovate even more to keep pace.”
Wow, that’s very altruistic of Apple to create thousands of jobs for Foxconn in Asia, but that $70 billion in Apple revenues likely generates close to 10 times the profits that Foxconn creates (Apple had 24% net profit margins last quarter versus probably a few percent at Foxconn). As Innovation Czar, I’ll gladly take the $20 billion in Apple profits added to the U.S. economy over the last 12 months versus the $2-3 billion profits at Foxconn (my estimate). Let’s be clear, profitable companies add jobs (Apple added over 12,000 employees in fiscal 2010, up +35%) – not weak or uncompetitive companies losing money.
Although the U.S. is losing low-skilled jobs to the likes of Foxconn, guess what those $120k engineering jobs at Apple are creating? Thos positions are also generating lots of $12/hour service jobs. When you are paying your workers billions of dollars, like Apple, a lot of those dollars have a way of recirculating through our economy. For instance, if I am a six-figure employee at Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), I am likely funding leisure jobs in Tahoe for family vacations; supporting jobs at Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ:CAKE) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) because my demanding schedule at Apple means more take-out meals; and creating jobs for auto workers at Ford (NYSE:F) thanks to my new SUV purchase.
Margin Surplus Redux
The same arguments I make in the Apple vs. Foxconn comparison are very similar to the case I wrote about in Margin Surplus Retake, which compares the profit and trade deficit dynamics occurring in a $1,000 Toshiba laptop sale. Although Toshiba and its foreign component counterparts may recognize twice the revenues in a common laptop sale as American suppliers (contributing to our country’s massive trade deficit), Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) generate six times the profits as Toshiba and company. The end result is a massive profit or margin surplus for the Americans – a better barometer to financial reality than stale government trade deficit statistics.
There are obviously no silver bullets or easy answers to resolve these ever-growing economic issues, but as political gridlock grinds innovation to a halt, globalization is accelerating. The rest of the world is racing to narrow the gap of our innovative supremacy, but our sense of entitlement will get us nowhere. Zakaria points out that by 2013, China (NYSE:FXI) is expected to overtake the U.S. as the leading scientific research publisher and after we held a three-fold increase in advanced engineering and technology masters degrees in 1995, China surpassed us in 2005 (63,514 in China vs. 53,349 in the U.S.). China may not be home to Facebook (NYSE:GS) or Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), but Baidu Inc. (NASDAQ:BIDU) is headquartered in China with a market capitalization of $43 billion and Tencent Holdings is valued at more than $50 billion (not to mention Tencent has roughly the same number of users as Facebook – more than 600 million).
The jobless recovery has been painful for the 14 million unemployed, but there is hope for all, if innovation and education can create more six-figure Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) jobs to offset less valuable jobs lost to outsourcing. In order to narrow the chasm between rich and poor in our country, Americans need to climb the labor ladder of innovation. Contrary to Fareed Zakaria’s assertion, swapping quality job gains with crappy job losses, is an economic trade I would make every day and twice on Sunday. If the country wants to return to the path of economic greatness and sustainable job creation, the country needs to embrace this idea of outsourced creative destruction.
Wade W. Slome is a CFA and CFP® at Sidoxia Capital Management.
Disclosure: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AAPL, and GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Foxconn, Facebook, MSFT, INTC, CAKE, CMG, F, BIDU, Tencent, Toshiba, or any other security referenced in this article.
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