Falling Interest

Last week, we discussed the marginal productivity of debt. This is how much each newly-borrowed dollar adds to GDP. And ever since the interest rate began its falling trend in 1981, marginal productivity of debt has tightly correlated with interest. The lower the interest rate, the less productive additional borrowing has in fact become.
Let’s look at a recent event: the Ikea acquisition of TaskRabbit. You might wonder, why does a home goods company need to own a freelance labor company? Superficially, it seems to makes sense. Ikea products notoriously come in flat packs, but consumers don’t want to fuss with all the little parts. They just want finished furniture. Ikea has been using TaskRabbit to hire people to assemble it in their homes.
Isn’t this like that caricature of the billionaire who buys, say, the Planters Peanut company because he likes to eat salted nuts? Ikea could be a customer of TaskRabbit, hiring its temporary workers as needed, without owning the company. In fact, it had been doing that for years.
The acquisition price was not disclosed, however, we can guess that it was high. TaskRabbit was a Silicon Valley darling with a bright future. Its value proposition is right for this economy. It had raised $50 million, presumably at rich valuation multiples.
How much would Ikea be willing to pay? We don’t know how many dollars TaskRabbit was earning, so we will have to pass on total price. However, we can ask how much Ikea would be willing to pay for each dollar of earnings. There are two metrics to help answer this question.
One, Ikea can compare to the price that its own investors are willing to pay for a dollar of Ikea earnings. If it can buy a dollar of earnings via TaskRabbit for less than the market pays for a dollar of Ikea earnings, then it’s a good deal. Ikea is not publicly traded (but we suspect management has an accurate internal estimate of enterprise value).

This post was published at GoldSeek on 23 October 2017.