Tag: chrysler

An Insider’s Account of the White House’s Unseemly Tactics in the Chrysler Bailout

A Wall Street Journal editorial this morning points out that Indiana Republican Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock is getting pounded by his Democratic rival for having opposed the Chrysler bailout.

Mourdock opposed the bailout on principle, but at that time he was also the Indiana state treasurer and fiduciary for several state pension funds, including two holding the retirement resources of Indiana police officers and school teachers, which owned about $42 million dollars of “secured” Chrysler debt in 2009. When Mourdock rejected the administration’s offer of $0.29 for each dollar of debt held, his position was publicly excoriated by President Obama as greedy, unpatriotic, and reflecting and unwillingness to ”sacrifice for the greater good.”  There’s much more to this story.

If you are interested in a first hand account of the strong-arm tactics, threats, and intimidation employed by the White House to get its own Chrysler bankruptcy plan rubber stamped through the process in 2009, you will want to see this video of Mourdock speaking at a Cato event.  It is truthful and chilling.

Details of the Auto Bailout You Won’t Hear in Charlotte

The central economic selling point of the Obama reelection team is that the president saved the U.S. auto industry. That such a contestable proposition serves as the administration’s economic headline does more to underscore its abysmal record than to inspire confidence in its continued economic stewardship.

The administration didn’t save the auto industry. The stronger case is that it damaged the auto industry along with several important institutions vital to capitalism’s proper functioning. However, it should be granted that President Obama’s commandeering of GM’s and Chrysler’s bankruptcy process saved jobs at those companies and elsewhere in their supply chains (and provided an opportunity to dole out spoils for politically favored interests). How many jobs were saved is impossible to determine because it’s not clear what would have happened to GM’s and Chrysler’s assets had a normal, non-political bankruptcy process been allowed to unfold.

Yes, jobs were saved for the time being in Michigan, Ohio, and a few other industrial states in the Midwest. That is what can be seen. And politicians are hardwired to tout the benefits—and only the benefits—of their policies.

But an informed citizenry should insist on a proper accounting of the costs of those policies, as well—not just the losses put on the taxpayers’ tab (right now taxpayers’ “investment” in GM is $27 billion, but the public’s 500 million shares of GM stock is worth only $10 billion), but the unseen costs.

Sure some jobs were preserved in some locations, but what about the less visible consequences and ripple effects? What isn’t so easily seen, but is every bit as important to assessing the auto interventions is the effects on the other auto companies and their workers (i.e., the majority of the U.S. auto industry). Will the public remember or know enough to attribute layoffs of American workers at Ford or Toyota or Kia during the next downturn in auto demand to the fact that a necessary reckoning on the supply side was precluded by the interventions of 2009?

The auto industry is plagued with overcapacity, which is a problem that demands a thinning of the herd. GM and Chrysler, through their own relatively poor decisions with respect to labor relations, product offerings, and quality management were failing by the market’s judgment and were the rightful candidates to be thinned. But that process was forestalled. In 2013, auto workers in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Indiana, and even Michigan and Ohio may lose their jobs because GM and Chrysler workers’ jobs were spared in 2009.

That is only one of the many unseen or under-rug-swept costs of the auto bailouts. The following passage from congressional testimony I gave last year identifies several others:

It is galling to hear administration officials characterize the auto bailouts as “successful.” The word should be off-limits when describing this unfortunate chapter in U.S. economic history. At most, bailout proponents and apologists might respectfully argue — and still be wrong, however — that the bailouts were necessary evils undertaken to avert greater calamity.

But calling the bailouts “successful” is to whitewash the diversion of funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program by two administrations for purposes unauthorized by Congress; the looting and redistribution of claims against GM’s and Chrysler’s assets from shareholders and debt-holders to pensioners; the use of questionable tactics to bully stakeholders into accepting terms to facilitate politically desirable outcomes; the unprecedented encroachment by the executive branch into the finest details of the bankruptcy process to orchestrate what bankruptcy law experts describe as “Sham” sales of Old Chrysler to New Chrysler and Old GM to New GM; the costs of denying Ford and the other more deserving automakers the spoils of competition; the costs of insulating irresponsible actors, such as the United Autoworkers, from the outcomes of an apolitical bankruptcy proceeding; the diminution of U.S. moral authority to counsel foreign governments against similar market interventions; and the lingering uncertainty about the direction of policy under the current administration that pervades the business environment to this very day.

In addition to the above, there is the fact that taxpayers are still short tens of billions of dollars on account of the GM bailout without serious prospects for ever being made whole. Thus, acceptance of the administration’s pronouncement of auto bailout success demands profound gullibility or willful ignorance. Sure, GM has experienced recent profits and Chrysler has repaid much of its debt to the Treasury. But if proper judgment is to be passed, then all of the bailout’s costs and benefits must be considered. Otherwise, calling the bailout a success is like applauding the recovery of a drunken driver after an accident, while ignoring the condition of the family he severely maimed.

Here is the entirety of that testimony, and few other articles, op-eds, and blog posts on the topic.

Whitewashing the Auto Bailouts

With his appearance at a Toledo factory today, President Obama seems to want to make the auto bailout a campaign issue. Let’s welcome that. Americans should understand what transpired.

Fancying himself “Savior of the Auto Industry,” the president deserves credit only for choosing to insulate two companies (and the UAW) from the consequences of their decisions. But with that credit he must accept responsibility for sluggish U.S. business investment, limited job creation, and the anemic economic recovery, which is due in no small measure to the regime uncertainty that descends from his intervention in the auto industry.

The administration suggests that the entire cost of the auto bailout is captured by the outlays that haven’t or won’t be returned. Despite much smaller claims from the administration, that figure will be about $5.5 billion in Chrysler’s case (the administration is overlooking $4 billion written off when New Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy) and somewhere from $7 to $15 billion in GM’s case (depending on average share price for 500 million shares). Should that loss have to be reported to the FEC on a dollar-per-auto-worker-vote basis?

But the costs are much greater than these outlays.

The most compelling objections to the bailout were not rooted in the belief that the government couldn’t use its assumed power to help Chrysler and GM. On the contrary, the most compelling objections were over concerns that the government would do just that. It is the consequences of that intervention — the undermining of the rule of law, the confiscations, the politically driven decisions, and the distortion of market signals — that animated the most serious objections. Ford never publicly objected to the interventions to rescue its rivals. Do you think Ford may feel entitled to a future bailout if needed, having foregone the recent one? Does Ford think it has a pretty good insurance policy if it takes excessive risks that go awry?  This is a cost that’s tough to measure, but an important cost nonetheless.

Any verdict on the outcome of the auto industry intervention must take into account, among other things, the billions of dollars in property confiscated from the auto companies’ debt-holders; the higher risk premium built into U.S. corporate debt as a result; the costs of denying the other, more successful auto producers the spoils of competition (including additional market share and access to the resources misallocated at Chrysler and GM); the costs of rewarding irresponsible actors (like the UAW) by insulating them from the outcomes of what should have been an apolitical bankruptcy proceeding; the effects of GM’s nationalization on production, investment, and public policy decisions; the diminution of U.S. moral authority to counsel foreign governments against market interventions that can adversely affect U.S. businesses competing abroad; and the corrosive impact on America’s institutions of the illegal diversion of TARP funds to achieve politically desirable outcomes.

Let’s make the auto bailout a campaign issue and see if we can’t reconcile all of its costs.

Supreme Court Erases Legal Precedent for Auto Bailout

On Monday the Supreme Court released its last orders for the calendar year. Of particular note – apart from the non-release of the long-awaited decision in the Citizens United campaign finance case – the Court dismissed the cert petition in Indiana State Police Pension Trust v. Chrysler LLC as moot and vacated the underlying Second Circuit opinion. While this is not the ideal outcome – particularly for the Indiana creditors – it is in its own way an important decision preserving the integrity of bankruptcy law.

To recap: In January, Chrysler stood on the brink of insolvency. Purporting to act under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the Treasury Department extended the car company a $4 billion loan using funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Still in a bad financial situation, Chrysler initially proposed an out-of-court reorganization plan that would fully repay all of Chrysler’s secured debt.

The Treasury rejected this proposal and instead insisted on a plan that would completely eradicate Chrysler’s secured debt, hinging billions of dollars in additional TARP funding on Chrysler’s acquiescence. When Chrysler’s first lien lenders refused to waive their secured rights without full payment, the Treasury devised a scheme by which Chrysler, instead of reorganizing under a chapter 11 plan, would sell its assets free of all secured interests to a shell company, the New Chrysler.

Chrysler was thus able to avoid the “absolute priority rule,” which provides that a court should not approve a bankruptcy plan unless it is “fair and equitable” to all classes of creditors. The forced reorganization amounted to the Treasury redistributing value from senior, secured creditors to debtors and junior, unsecured creditors. The government should not have been allowed, through its own self-dealing, to hand-pick certain creditors for favorable treatment at the expense of others who would otherwise enjoy first lien priority.

While the Court’s ruling prevents the creditors from collecting what would have otherwise been considered their rightful portion of the liquidation, it also erases a terrible precedent from the federal judiciary’s books and reaffirms years of settled bankruptcy law. A decision upholding the Second Circuit’s ruling would have undercut the established practices of bankruptcy and introduced even more uncertainty into a still-uneasy market.

To put it more broadly, the bankruptcy laws are in place to ensure that debts are paid in an established and fair manner and not at the whim of whatever political actors happen to be in power at the time. Taking away that assurance stifles investment and thereby hurts the economy.

Cato joined the Washington Legal Foundation, the Allied Educational Foundation, and George Mason law professor Todd Zywicki on a brief supporting the creditors’ petition that you can read here.  And you can watch Cato’s policy forum on the auto bailout here.

How to Kill a Company: A Beginner’s Guide (Chapter 1, P. 1.)

As described in the current Cato Policy Report, one of the “Hard Lessons from the Auto Bailout” is that management at GM is likely to be “highly erratic, as the president and Congress wrestle for decisionmaking primacy at this majority taxpayer-owned entity.”  The “dealerships” issue is Exhibit A.

One of GM’s first decisions upon emerging from bankruptcy was to announce closures of a number of dealerships to help reduce costs. Then-nominal-CEO Fritz Henderson explained that the planned closings would save GM about $100 in distribution costs per vehicle–a few hundred million dollars per year when factoring in the millions of units GM expects to produce.

But many of GM’s congressional CEOs cried foul, demanding reconsideration from a company that had taken public funds.  The House of Representatives even passed a bill requiring companies that received federal funds to reestablish terminated dealership agreements, though no action was taken in the Senate.

However, as reported in The Hill today, Congress is fast-tracking legislation to restrict GM’s (and Chrysler’s) closings, by subjecting each decision to an arbitrator, who will “balance the economic interests of the terminated dealership, the car companies and the general public.”  A Senate aide is cited as saying legislators intend to pass this measure before Christmas.

Well, look, EVERY decision GM makes will produce winners and losers in terms of real and opportunity costs.   Hence, EVERY decision is just as worthy of legislative or executive scrutiny, if the dealership issue is the litmus test. 

With 537 CEOs, all but one of whom have bigger priorities than GM’s bottom line, GM’s future will be dictated by splitting differences, political logrolling, and managing by consensus–tactics that will assure GM’s demise.

Defending Obama…Again

I caught a lot of flack from my Republican friends for my post blaming the FY2009 deficit on Bush instead of Obama. Well, I must be a glutton for punishment because I can’t resist jumping (albeit reluctantly) to Obama’s defense again. I’m venting my spleen for two reason. First, FoxNews.com posted a story headlined “Obama Shatters Spending Record for First-Year Presidents” and noted that:

President Obama has shattered the budget record for first-year presidents – spending nearly double what his predecessor did when he came into office and far exceeding the first-year tabs for any other U.S. president in history. In fiscal 2009 the federal government spent $3.52 trillion …That fiscal year covered the last three-and-a-half months of George W. Bush’s term and the first eight-and-a-half months of Obama’s.

This story was featured on the Drudge Report, so it has received a lot of attention. Second, Bush’s former Senior Adviser wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal eviscerating Obama for big budget deficits. Given Bush’s track record, this took considerable chutzpah, but what really nauseated me was this passage:

When Mr. Obama was sworn into office the federal deficit for this year stood at $422 billion. At the end of October, it stood at $1.42 trillion.

I’m a big fan of criticizing Obama’s profligacy, but it is inaccurate and/or dishonest to blame him for Bush’s mistakes. At the risk of repeating my earlier post, the 2009 fiscal year began on October 1, 2008, and the vast majority of the spending for that year was the result of Bush Administration policies. Yes, Obama did add to the waste with the so-called stimulus, the omnibus appropriation, the CHIP bill, and the cash-for-clunkers nonsense, but as the chart illustrates, these boondoggles only amounted to just a tiny percentage of the FY2009 total – about $140 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget.

There are some subjective aspects to this estimate, to be sure. Supplemental defense spending could boost Obama’s share by another $25 billion, but Bush surely would have asked for at least that much extra spending, so I didn’t count that money but individual readers can adjust the number if they wish. Also, Obama used some bailout money for the car companies, but I did not count that as a net increase in spending since the bailout funds were approved under Bush and I strongly suspect the previous Administration also would have funneled money to GM and Chrysler. In any event, I did not give Obama credit for the substantial amount of TARP funds that were repaid after January 20, so the net effect of all the judgment calls certainly is not to Bush’s disadvantage.

Let’s use an analogy. Obama’s FY2009 performance is like a relief pitcher who enters a game in the fourth inning trailing 19-0 and allows another run to score. The extra run is nothing to cheer about, of course, but fans should be far more angry with the starting pitcher. That having been said, Obama since that point has been serving up meatballs to the special interests in Washington, so his earned run average may actually wind up being worse than his predecessor’s. He promised change, but it appears that Obama wants to be Bush on steroids.

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