Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Modernization wouldn't do what the consumer wants -- Part II

Today we are going to look at some other parts of so called “modernization;” increasing the licensee discount from 10 to 18% and variable pricing.  Notice that there is nothing mentioned for the consumer, even though they spend 2.8 times as much as licensees. Why?  Because licensees contribute larger sums than regular people, and since they don’t complain too much, you don’t have to pay as much attention as you do to what the citizens want. Pretty much saying, “to hell with standard practice, no case discounts for you!”

Based on last year’s PLCB sales numbers to licensees, an additional 8% discount would come to around $24,250,000. Where does that money come from?  It isn’t taxes since they are added in before the discount. Everything else stays the same since the discount doesn’t affect inventory or salaries or other it has to come from what the PLCB calls "profit" (what we know to be taxes that they just hadn’t happened to spend yet). Let’s look how that $24 million ties into the big scheme of things. To do that we have to do some math.

The PLCB had “profits” of $128,356,057.00 after the transfer to the PA State Police, but before the General Fund transfer. I'll be rounding the numbers from here on so they may not match exactly.
According to the PLCB talking heads “modernization” will increase this amount by $75-125 million depending on who you listen to.  Since there is a 66% difference between those two numbers, I’m not sure how accurate their guesswork is. In any case, let's use $100 million and add to that the $24 million that has to be made up from the proposed additional discount for the licensees to bring it to almost as much as they make now. The new total for operating income after PSP transfer is $252.4 million. Add to that number $387.6 million in operating expenses and you get $640 million in gross revenue from sales needed if this happened this year. 

But it didn’t happen this year so let us estimate what next year might look like.  I’ll say that sales will increase 5% to $2.28 billion which means that Sales Tax and Local Taxes will be about $135.8 million leaving $2.14 billion.  From that the 18% liquor tax ($327.2 million) will come out giving us $1.82 billion as sales net of taxes.  Historically cost of goods sold is about 69.5% so I’ll use that. COGS would be $1.26 billion leaving us with $554 4 million

However we needed
$640 million leaving us $85.6 million short and I’m being generous since I didn’t put in any increase for expenses. Now the PLCB just can’t raise prices of X number of products by $85 million and call it even.  They have to raise prices enough so that after all expenses and taxes come out they have $85 million extra left over. Remember they had to sell almost $2.2 billion last year to get $128 million, so working off of that, they need to sell $3.8 billion worth of product to get to $252 million and we know that isn’t going to happen. They could raise the markup 65% or they could reduce costs by closing 25% of the stores and I don’t see that happening either. So they have to get the money from somewhere and “Variable Pricing” is one of the places they say it will come from. Not all of it but certainly a large portion.

Just what is the PLCB version of variable pricing?  Unlike a pure model the PLCB has to keep the prices the same state wide instead of regionally, by neighborhood or even by store. Also, unlike other variable pricing models of commodities, the consumer has no negotiating power other than to drive to New Jersey (which they probably should have done to begin with). Think Airline tickets if you need another example of variable pricing.  The price changes by demand, time of day, competition and other factors so while you may pay $200 for that round trip to Orlando, the next person could pay more or less.  

Now I don’t give the PLCB credit for being able to change pricing in real time as the airlines do.  They don’t have a good history with computerized things. The intent is the same though.  Lower prices on slow moving items to get them out or move a specific volume of items, and stores may strategically raise prices on more popular or high demand items when possible to increase profits.  A good overview is here. Something the PLCB should pay attention to: “When variable pricing can be tied to differences in costs of doing business, different prices can be justified; otherwise, brands run the risk of being seen to be opportunistic and unfair, likely damaging their reputations.”

I don't have any idea how many or how much prices will have to go up to get near that magical $85 million extra (and I don't think Senator Ferlo really does either), but it isn’t a small amount, considering that the PLCB only clears an average of 92 cents per bottle and it would have to go up to $1.80 per bottle if applied evenly and we know it isn't going to be applied evenly. Maybe some other things will reduce that or maybe not.  I’ll look further into some other “modernization” statements in another installment.

Privatization IS Modernization, accept nothing less.

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