Japanese car manufacturer. Capstan's owner, Sidney Capstan, attributed
much of the business's success to its no-frills policy of
competitive pricing and immediate cash payment. The business
was basically a simple one-the firm imported cars at the beginning
of each quarter and paid the manufacturer at the end of the
quarter. The revenues from the sale of these cars covered the payment
to the manufacturer and the expenses of running the business,
as well as providing Sidney Capstan with a good return on his equity
By the fourth quarter of 2009 sales were running at 250 cars a
quarter. Since the average sale price of each car was about $20,000,
this translated into quarterly revenues of 250 Ã� $20,000 = $5 million.
The average cost to Capstan of each imported car was
$18,000. After paying wages, rent, and other recurring costs of
$200,000 per quarter and deducting depreciation of $80,000, the
company was left with earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of
$220,000 a quarter and net profits of $140,000.
The year 2010 was not a happy year for car importers in the
United States. Recession led to a general decline in auto sales,
while the fall in the value of the dollar shaved profit margins for
many dealers in imported cars. Capstan more than most firms foresaw
the difficulties ahead and reacted at once by offering 6 months'
free credit while holding the sale price of its cars constant. Wages
and other costs were pared by 25 percent to $150,000 a quarter, and
the company effectively eliminated all capital expenditures. The
policy appeared successful. Unit sales fell by 20 percent to 200
units a quarter, but the company continued to operate at a satisfactory
profit (see table).
The slump in sales lasted for 6 months, but as consumer confidence
began to return, auto sales began to recover. The company's
new policy of 6 months' free credit was proving sufficiently popular
that Sidney Capstan decided to maintain the policy. In the third
quarter of 2010 sales had recovered to 225 units; by the fourth
quarter they were 250 units; and by the first quarter of the next year
they had reached 275 units. It looked as if by the second quarter of
2011 the company could expect to sell 300 cars. Earnings before
interest and tax were already in excess of their previous high, and
Sidney Capstan was able to congratulate himself on weathering
what looked to be a tricky period. Over the 18-month period the
firm had earned net profits of over half a million dollars, and the
equity had grown from just over $1.5 million to about $2 million.
Sidney Capstan was first and foremost a superb salesman and
always left the financial aspects of the business to his financial
manager. However, there was one feature of the financial statements
that disturbed Sidney Capstan-the mounting level of debt,
which by the end of the first quarter of 2011 had reached $9.7 million.
This unease turned to alarm when the financial manager
phoned to say that the bank was reluctant to extend further credit
and was even questioning its current level of exposure to the
Mr. Capstan found it impossible to understand how such a successful
year could have landed the company in financial difficulties.
The company had always had good relationships with its bank,
and the interest rate on its bank loans was a reasonable 8 percent a
year (or about 2 percent a quarter). Surely, Mr. Capstan reasoned,
when the bank saw the projected sales growth for the rest of 2011,
it would realize that there were plenty of profits to enable the company
to start repaying its loans.
Mr. Capstan kept coming back to three questions:Was his company
really in trouble? Could the bank be right in its decision to
withhold further credit? And why was the company's indebtedness
increasing when its profits were higher than ever?
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