Have you noticed a curious thing about this Administration?Â OK, thatâ€™s a stupid question, of course you have.Â Probably lots of them.Â But Iâ€™m talking about one specific thing that theyâ€™ve done with incredible consistency.Â Â Every fiscal report theyâ€™ve published is revised at least once, sometimes multiple times, and every revision makes the report look worse.Â They report quarterly GDP numbers and then a month later, on a Friday, they downgrade them. Â I donâ€™t follow VegasÂ odds, but Iâ€™d be surprised if they donâ€™t have some kind of over-under on the GDP revisions.Â Oh well.
Given that auspicious start, letâ€™s talk about one of the early highlights of the Obama Administration, the auto industry bail out.Â Weâ€™ll start a an annotated history.Â GM, Ford and Chrysler have, since the 50s, been engaging in a practice with the UAW that should have caught the attention of a RICO prosecutor along the way.Â Itâ€™s called â€œpattern bargainingâ€.Â In simple terms, in order to avert strikes, the â€œBig 3â€ agreed to rotate the company that would be negotiating with the UAW each time the contract was up.Â That one company would reach a general agreement that would be adhered to by the other two.Â In any other industry that would be called â€œcollusionâ€.
Pattern bargaining is foundation of the problems the US based part of the auto industry has faced for the last three decades.Â The problem here should be obvious, the Big 3 had no need to actually â€œnegotiateâ€ with the UAW because the companies understood that the labor component of their cost would stay relative no matter what they agreed to and they could just pass the increased labor component along to the American car buyer.Â After all what were they going to do about it?Â The Big 3 controlled about 95% of the North American automotive market, and everybody knew that was never going to change.
Well, that assumption turned out to be an oopsie when, in the early 60s, a renegade German car company started bugging the Big 3.Â Sure they only sold a handful of cars their first year, but before long the cute little inexpensive VW Bug caught on.Â The auto executives, and the union executive, were arrogant enough to make fun of the little car and ignore the obvious â€“ the American consumer was tired of big, overpriced, poorly made cars.Â Enter the Japanese in the 70s.Â You know the rest of the story.Â The Big 3 went from a 95% market share (GM had 60% by themselves), to begging for help from the government to stay in business.Â But two things remained, the total arrogance of the auto and union executives and pattern bargaining.
The Big 3 one day woke up and discovered they had a problem their foreign (although the Japanese were building their cars in the US) competitors didnâ€™t have.Â An element in the cost component called â€œlegacy costâ€.Â The cost of providing their retirees incredible benefits, guaranteed by the contracts that had been cranked out under pattern bargaining.Â Combined with the cost of benefits to their current employees, the Big 3 had become the Bloated 3.
Enter what was announced as the â€œend of an eraâ€ in 2008.Â It looked like GM and Chrysler would have to file for bankruptcy protection.Â And, the UAW finally got serious about their position and the fiscal insanity of their contracts.Â They got serious because they understood a basic fact.Â If the auto makers filed a BK the first thing the federal court would do is void their contracts and oversee the negotiation of a new contract that would put the manufacturers in a competitive position in the marketplace.Â Gone would be the â€œlegacyâ€.
The executives at the UAW did what you would expect union executive to do when face with doom.Â They called in their chit.Â They called Barack Obama and reminded him that theyâ€™d just been instrumental in getting him elected President and it was payback time.Â Mr. Obama didnâ€™t blink, he knew where his loyalties lie.Â Over the next few months, the federal government installed an â€œauto czarâ€, got a federal judge â€“ one Ruth Bader Ginsberg â€“ to rule that in a structured bankruptcy that would be funded by the federal government secured bonds could be written off and the union contracts could be untouched, and finally Mr. Obama wrote a check out of your account for about $80B.Â The unions gave in a little on new hires but got to keep the contracts that had destroyed the auto manufacturers, and they also got effective control of the Board of Directors of GM.Â GMâ€™s stock price went to zero, â€œold GMâ€ went out of business, the institutional pension funds that held the bulk of GMâ€™s stock got hammered, bond holders got hammered and the UAW made out like bandits.Â Literally.
As Investorâ€™s Business Daily noted in a November 19,2011 editorialâ€¦
A year or so ago, about the time of GM’s post-bailout IPO, President Obama said that “American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM.”
That promise was reiterated last month when White House economist Gene Sperling, who called the bailout a “very, very positive story,” told CNN’s Erin Burnett that “the taxpayer is making a profit.”
Like every other â€œpromiseâ€ Mr. Obama has sold to the American tax payer, this one â€œChangedâ€ too.Â By the way, â€œHopeâ€ is not a plan.Â Mr. Obama is now running around touting his â€œsuccessâ€ with the auto bailout and citing the â€œmillionsâ€ of jobs he saved with it.Â In fact, that claim is also a pile of [edited].Â There is almost no probability that either GM or Chrysler would have shut down.Â Would a few jobs have been lost?Â Undoubtedly, but given the inefficiencies of the contracts they were working under, that would have been a good thing.Â Â What would have happened is that the UAW would have taken a haircut on their contracts and their retiree benefits and they would still be working, just at a lower cost to the companies.
Keep in mind that Mr. Obama was touting the US taxpayers would â€œmake a profitâ€ on the bailout.Â From an MSNBC report…
A report by the president’s National Economic Council noted that as Detroit automakers rebound, the taxpayers’ loss from the bailout will be about $14 billion, or less than 20 percent of the $80 billion that the Bush and Obama administration used to prop up the companies in 2008. Â The Treasury Department had expected losses closer to 60 percent.
The report was part of a carefully devised strategy by the White House to draw attention to an industry that’s on the mend and whose footprint is most noticeable in key presidential battleground states. In recent days, Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have both promoted the government’s GM and Chrysler interventions as risky moves by President Barack Obama that paid off.
Got that?Â According to the Administrationâ€™s mouthpiece, MSNBC, the Treasury Department was expecting a $48B loss to the taxpayer.
One of two things is going on here.Â Either the President wasnâ€™t listening to the Treasury Department, they werenâ€™t talking to him, or they did mention it in passing and he didnâ€™t hear it, it didnâ€™t register as a big deal or heâ€™s just lying about it.Â Personally, I find any of the above to be credible.Â And also note, â€œThe report was a carefully devised strategyâ€¦â€Â Oh, and who did that strategy pay off for?Â Well, the UAW, they kept everything and got control of GM.Â And the Democratic Party who can expect to reap $100MM plus for their reelection coffers from the forced dues paid by union members.Â The secured bond holders and the taxpayers didnâ€™t make out so well.
Well, that brings us up to November when the Administration fessed up that the hit wasnâ€™t going to be $14B, it was going to be more like $23B because of the drop in GM stock, which sold at $33/share for their IPO and was in the low $20s (closed yesterday at $24.23) and they ratcheted up the estimate by another paltry $175MM or so last week..Â But hey, thatâ€™s not all.Â Reason magazine noted back in Novemberâ€¦
The $23.6 billion represents a 25 percent loss on the feds $60 billion direct â€œinvestmentâ€ in GM. But thatâ€™s not all that taxpayers are on the hook for. â€¦Uncle Samâ€™s special GM bankruptcy package allowed the company to write off $45 billion in previous losses going forward. This could work out to as much as $15 billion in tax savings that GM wouldnâ€™t have had had it gone through a normal bankruptcy. Why? Because after bankruptcy, the tax liabilities of companies increase since they have no more losses to write off.
This means that the total hit to taxpayers, who still own about a quarter of the company, could add up to $38.6 billion.
And my prediction, $38.6B is the tip of the iceberg.Â Reason goes on to note that the government â€“ the far Left leaning bureaucratic part of it â€“ and their environmentalist friends are pressuring, and will ramp up that pressure, GM to move away from SUVs and trucks where they can make money and build more money-losing hybrids and electrics.Â Combine that with GMs huge cost problems in Europe â€“ yes, theyâ€™re labor related and in collusion with the European governments â€“ and as Europeâ€™s economy heads for the tank Europe will turn into a hole to dump money.Â We havenâ€™t seen the last of the fiscal mess at GM.Â â€œWeâ€ still own 500MM shares of GM and in all likelihood those shares wonâ€™t be sold anytime soon given that the stock price is going down and dumping 500MM shares onto the market would even further depress the price.
This is going to be another long and expensive lesson in why the concept of â€œmoral hazardâ€ needs to not be ignored.Â The next time the auto manufacturers, the banks, the Europeans or any one of a dozen blue states come with their hands out, we need to say â€œNOâ€.
Or maybe â€œHell NO.
And just as I was getting ready to publish, lo and behold, USA Today pops this little gem into my inbox…
Despite the bailout money still owned taxpayers, President Barack Obama is going to try to ride his rescue of General Motors and Chrysler to a reelection victory.
Proof? Look no further than his surprise visit to the Washington Auto Show today where he took a close look at some of Detroit’s new models.
The Associated Press says for Obama, the auto bailout is a case study for his efforts to revive the economy…
Not much else I can add to that fairy tale.