Some say money makes the world go round. Saint Paul advised that “love” of money is the root of all evil. I would say that prices create transactions, transactions create markets and markets create wealth.
So, depending on price, the world gets richer and people get or don’t get what they need or want (and if prices are too high, transfer payments of one kind or another are necessary to empower those without money so that they can access goods and services).
I recently read that the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review uses a novel way to set a price for expensive drugs. It puts a dollar figure (an assumption) on a year of healthy life, calculated how much health a drug restores to a sick person and then prices the drug according to the benefit bestowed on the patient. This method, said Dave Lennon, President of a Novartis unit, brings uniformity and transparency to drug prices, reducing the rent extraction available to makers due to their IP rights. Drug company prices can be compared to the computed “benefit” price.
But, how does one put a dollar amount to a year of my life – say, at age 36 or at 55 or at 87?
The intangibles of a life well-lived seem hard to evaluate in market terms.
Secondly, the Saudi state oil company, Saudi Aramco, launched its first public offering of shares, some 2% to 5% of its total shares. What is a share of Aramco worth today? What factors should be taken into account in coming up with a cash figure? The shares will first be sold domestically in Saudi Arabi and then internationally. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has valued the company at $2 trillion, but market-savvy advisors don’t agree that potential purchasers will want to pay that much per share. They estimate buyer acceptance in the $1.6 to $1.8 trillion range.
Thirdly, the value of shares in still privately held, high-tech start-up companies is uncertain. Many mutual funds which invested in high-tech start-ups saw the value of their shares drop after the companies went public. Investors did not accept the valuations previously put on the prospects of such companies by their initial owners. Multiple funds valued Uber before a public sale of shares at $56.02 per share. Its initial offering price was only $45 and its share prices dropped after that.
The collapse of the initial public offering of We Company, the parent of WeWork, was a second notable example of mispricing by early owners of the company.
Mutual funds have invested $6.7 billion in unicorn companies – privately held start-ups estimated to be worth $1 billion or more. Mutual funds carried these investments on their balance sheets at estimated values, as they have to value their holdings daily. Thus, fund managers must write down the estimates and so take a theoretical loss in the value of their holdings.
The We Company saga of misvaluation was dramatic. WeWork’s estimated value plunged from $47 billion in January 2019 to $8 billion in October. An initial owner and promoter, SoftBank’s Venture Fund led by Rajeev Misra, had to step in with $10 billion to restructure the company and so forestall greater losses. The founder, Adam Neumann, agreed to leave and give up his voting rights in return for $1.7 billion – a nice price for one man’s human capital.