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Dictionary beginning with C


Eating people is wrong. Eating your own business may not be. FIRMS used to be reluctant to launch new products and SERVICES that competed with what they were already doing, as the new thing would eat into (cannibalise) their existing business. In today's innovative, technology-intensive economy, however, a willingness to cannibalise is more often seen as a good thing. This is because INNOVATION often takes the form of what economists call creative destruction (see SCHUMPETER), in which a superior new product destroys the market for existing products. In this environment, the best course of action for successful firms that want to avoid losing their market to a rival with an innovation may be to carry out the creative destruction themselves.


The amount a company or an economy can produce using its current equipment, workers, CAPITAL and other resources at full tilt. Judging how close an economy is to operating at full capacity is an important ingredient of MONETARY POLICY, for if there is not enough spare capacity to absorb an increase in DEMAND, PRICES are likely to rise instead. Measuring an economy's OUTPUT GAP - how far current OUTPUT is above or below what it would be at full capacity - is difficult, if not impossible, which is why even the best-intentioned CENTRAL BANK can struggle to keep down INFLATION. When there is too much spare capacity, however, the result can be DEFLATION, as FIRMS and employees cut their prices and wage demands to compete for whatever demand there may be.


MONEY or assets put to economic use, the life-blood of CAPITALISM. Economists describe capital as one of the four essential ingredients of economic activity, the FACTORS OF PRODUCTION, along with LAND, LABOUR and ENTERPRISE. Production processes that use a lot of capital relative to labour are CAPITAL INTENSIVE; those that use comparatively little capital are LABOUR INTENSIVE. Capital takes different forms. A firm's ASSETS are known as its capital, which may include fixed capital (machinery, buildings, and so on) and working capital (stocks of raw materials and part-finished products, as well as money, that are used up quickly in the production process). Financial capital includes money, BONDS and SHARES. HUMAN CAPITAL is the economic wealth or potential contained in a person, some of it endowed at birth, the rest the product of training and education, if only in the university of life. The invisible glue of relationships and institutions that holds an economy together is its social capital.

Capital asset pricing model

A method of valuing ASSETS and calculating the COST OF CAPITAL (for an alternative, see ARBITRAGE PRICING THEORY). The capital asset pricing model (CAPM) has come to dominate modern finance.

The rationale of the CAPM can be simplified as follows. Investors can eliminate some sorts of RISK, known as RESIDUAL RISK or alpha, by holding a diversified portfolio of assets (see MODERN PORTFOLIO THEORY). These alpha risks are specific to an individual asset, for example, the risk that a company's managers will turn out to be no good. Some risks, such as that of a global RECESSION, cannot be eliminated through diversification. So even a basket of all of the SHARES in a stockmarket will still be risky. People must be rewarded for investing in such a risky basket by earning returns on AVERAGE above those that they can get on safer assets, such as TREASURY BILLS. Assuming investors diversify away alpha risks, how an investor values any particular asset should depend crucially on how much the asset's PRICE is affected by the risk of the market as a whole. The market's risk contribution is captured by a measure of relative volatility, BETA, which ­indicates how much an asset's price is expected to change when the overall market changes.

Safe investments have a beta close to zero: economists call these assets risk free. Riskier investments, such as a share, should earn a premium over the risk-free rate. How much is calculated by the average premium for all assets of that type, multiplied by the particular asset's beta.

But does the CAPM work? It all comes down to beta, which some economists have found of dubious use. They think the CAPM may be an elegant theory that is no good in practice. Yet it is probably the best and certainly the most widely used method for calculating the cost of capital.

Capital flight

When CAPITAL flows rapidly out of a country, usually because something happens which causes investors suddenly to lose confidence in its economy. (Strictly speaking, the problem is not so much the MONEY leaving, but rather that investors in general suddenly lower their valuation of all the assets of the country.) This is particularly worrying when the flight capital belongs to the country’s own citizens. This is often associated with a sharp fall in the EXCHANGE RATE of the abandoned country’s currency.

Capital gains

The PROFIT from the sale of a capital ASSET, such as a SHARE or a property. Capital gains are subject to TAXATION in most countries. Some economists argue that capital gains should be taxed lightly (if at all) compared with other sources of INCOME. They argue that the less tax is levied on capital gains, the greater is the incentive to put capital to productive use. Put another way, capital gains tax is effectively a tax on CAPITALISM. However, if capital gains are given too friendly a treatment by the tax authorities, accountants will no doubt invent all sorts of creative ways to disguise other income as capital gains.