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7.1: Business organization

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    Suppliers of goods and services to the marketplace come in a variety of forms; some are small, some are large. But, whatever their size, suppliers choose an organizational structure that is appropriate for their business: Aircraft, oil rigs, social media and information services are produced by large corporations; dental services and family health are provided by individual professionals or private partnerships.

    The initial material of this chapter addresses organizational forms, their goals and their operation. We then examine why individuals choose to invest in firms, and illustrate that such investment provides individual investors with a means both to earning a return on their savings and to managing the risk associated with investing. Uncertainty regarding the future is a central consideration.

    Understanding the way firms and capital markets function is crucial to understanding our economic history and how different forms of social and economic institutions interact. For example, seventeenth-century Amsterdam had a thriving bourgeoisie, well-developed financial markets, and investors with savings. This environment facilitated the channeling of investors' funds to firms specializing in trade and nautical conquest. This tiny state was then the source of some of the world's leading explorers and traders, and it had colonies stretching to Indonesia. The result was economic growth and prosperity.

    In contrast, for much of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union dominated a huge territory covering much of Asia and Europe. But capital markets were non-existent, independent firms were stifled, and economic decline ultimately ensued. Much of the enormous difference in the respective patterns of economic development can be explained by the fact that one state fostered firms, capital markets, and legal institutions, while the other did not. In terms of our production possibility frontier: One set of institutional arrangements was conducive to expanding the possibilities; the other was not. Sustainable new businesses invariably require investors at an early point in the lifecycle of the business. Accordingly, financial and legal institutions that facilitate the flow of savings and financial investment into new enterprises perform a vital function in the economy.

    Businesses, or firms, have several different forms. At the smallest scale, a business takes the form of a sole proprietor or sole trader who is the exclusive owner. A sole trader gets all of the revenues from the firm and incurs all of the costs. Hence he may make profits or be personally liable for the losses. In the latter case his business or even personal assets may be confiscated to cover debts. Personal bankruptcy may result.

    Sole proprietor is the single owner of a business.

    If a business is to grow, partners may be required. Such partners can inject money in exchange for a share of future profits. Firms where trust is involved, such as legal or accounting firms, typically adopt this structure. A firm is given credibility when customers see that partners invest their own wealth in it.

    Partnership: a business owned jointly by two or more individuals, who share in the profits and are jointly responsible for losses.

    In order to expand and grow, a firm will need cash, perhaps partners, and investors. Providers of family health and dental services rely primarily on human expertise, and therefore they need relatively little physical capital. Hence their cash start-up needs are limited. But firms that produce aircraft, or develop software and organizational systems, need vast amounts of money for capital investment; pharmaceuticals may need a billion dollars worth of research and development to bring a new drug to the marketplace; ride-sharing companies need billions in order to establish their business globally. Such businesses must form corporations – also known as companies. Not all corporations are public; some are privately held, but relatively few large corporations are not publicly traded.

    Large organizations have several inherent advantages over small organizations when a high output level is required. Specialization in particular tasks leads to increased efficiency for production workers. At the same time, non-production workers can perform a multitude of different tasks. If a large corporation decided to contract out every task involved in bringing its product to market, the costs of such agreements would be prohibitively high. In addition, synergies can arise from teamwork. New ideas and better work flow are more likely to materialize when individuals work in close proximity than when working as isolated units, no matter how efficient they may be individually. A key aspect of such large organizations is that they have a legal identity separate from the managers and owners.

    Corporation or company is an organization with a legal identity separate from its owners that produces and trades.

    The owners of a corporation are known as its shareholders, and their object is usually to make profits. There also exist non-profit corporations whose objective may be philanthropic. Since our focus is upon markets, we will generally assume that profits form the objective of a typical corporation. The profits that accrue to a corporation may be paid to the shareholders in the form of a dividend, or retained in the corporation for future use. When large profits (or losses) accrue the value of the corporation increases (or decreases), and this is reflected in the value of each share of the company. If the value of each share in the company increases (decreases) there is a capital gain (loss) to the owners of the shares – the shareholders. In any given year shareholders may receive a dividend and also obtain a capital gain (or loss). The sum of the dividend and capital gain represents the return to owning corporate stock in that year. When this sum is adjusted for inflation it is termed the real return on corporate stock

    Shareholders invest in corporations and therefore are the owners.

    Dividends are payments made from after-tax profits to company shareholders.

    Capital gains (losses) arise from the ownership of a corporation when an individual sells a share at a price higher (lower) than when the share was purchased.

    Real return to corporate stock is the inflation-adjusted sum of dividends and capital gain (or loss).

    A key difference between a company and a partnership is that a company involves limited liability, whereas a partnership does not. Limited liability means that the liability of the company is limited to the value of the company's assets. Shareholders cannot be further liable for any wrongdoing on the part of the company. Accordingly, partnerships and sole traders normally insure themselves and their operations. For example, all specialist doctors carry malpractice insurance, and engineers insure themselves against error.

    Limited liability means that the liability of the company is limited to the value of the company's assets.

    Corporations use capital, labour, and human expertise to produce a good, to supply a service, or to act as an intermediary. Corporations are required to produce an annual income statement that accurately describes the operation of the firm. An example is given in Table 7.1.

    Table 7.1 The Regal Bank of Toronto, 2025
    Total Revenue $ 32.0b
    Net income post tax $ 4.80b
    Shares outstanding 640m
    Net income/share $ 7.50
    Dividends/share $ 2.50
    Share price $ 72.0
    Market capitalization $ 46.08b

    The data in Table 7.1 define the main financial characteristics of an imaginary bank: the Regal Bank of Toronto in the year 2025. "Net income post-tax" represents after-tax profits. There are 640 million shares outstanding, and thus each share could be attributed a profit of img229.png. Of this amount, $2.50 is distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends per share. The remainder is held by the Corporation in the form of retained earnings - to be used for future investment primarily. Each share traded at a price of $72.00. Given that there were 640 million shares, the total market valuation of the corporation at that time stood at $46.08 billion (img230.png).

    Such information is publicly available for a vast number of corporations at the 'finance' section of major search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

    Retained earnings are the profits retained by a company for reinvestment and not distributed as dividends.

    In Canada, the corporate sector as a whole tends to hold on to more than half of after-tax profits in the form of retained earnings. However there exists considerable variety in the behaviour of corporations, and most firms establish a pattern of how profits are allocated between dividends and retained earnings. In the Table 7.1 example, one third of profits are distributed; yet some corporations have a no-dividend policy. In these latter cases the benefit to investing in a firm must come in the form of capital gain to the owners of the shares.

    This page titled 7.1: Business organization is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Douglas Curtis and Ian Irvine (Lyryx) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.