Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney published an op-ed in the Detroit News calling the auto bailout “crony capitalism on a grand scale.” Boasting of his Michigan roots, Romney takes the Obama administration and the UAW to task for what he suggests is a symbiotic relationship between the two that allowed the union to get stakes in GM and Chrysler. In short, nothing new from the man who is running an election that is a referendum on Obama’s presidency.
Starting in March, the Chevrolet Volt will be eligible to use the HOV lane on California highways. The catch? You have to buy a new Volt to use the carpool lane.
Ford’s Australia branch is getting $34 million AUD (roughly $35 million U.S. dollars) plus an unspecified contribution from the government of Victoria (an Australian state), to sustain a Ford plant in Melbourne. Total investment is said to be roughly $105 million USD. Holden, GM’s Australian division, is looking for some government funds too, and its raising questions about the viability of Australia’s domestic car industry.
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Reasonable minds can disagree about the wisdom of the auto bailout, but according to analysis by the EPA and Department of Transportation (based on data from the Department of Energy and auto forecasters CSM), the Government’s rescue of GM and Chrysler may not have been the best idea (at least from a market perspective). According to data buried in the EPA/DOT proposed rule for 2017-2025 fuel economy standards [PDF here], Fiat-Chrysler is predicted to be the sick man of the auto industry by 2025, losing over half of its 2008 sales volume, while GM is expected to improve by only 3%, the second-worst projected performance (after Aston-Martin). In terms of percentages, even lowly Suzuki and Mitsubishi are projected to grow faster than The Mighty General. Ouch.
On the other hand, the proposed rule notes that data will be finalized before the final rule comes out. Besides, the agencies appropriately admit (in as many words) that projecting auto sales so far into the future is one hell of a crapshoot. Still, with the obvious exception of “Saab-Spyker” and with some skepticism about the projection’s optimism about overall market growth aside, these are not the craziest guesses I could imagine. Who knows what the future holds, but it certainly is a bit troubling that the government’s own data suggests the two automakers it bailed out may well have some of the weaker performances of the next 14 years. At least the Treasury could have sold off their remaining GM stock before this report was released…
One of the great mysteries to many inside the auto industry is why is GM’s stock price so low? Though the company had a weak third quarter, its stock price has been stuck well below its IPO price for much of the last year, despite a return to profitability. Though GM faces challenges, few inside the auto industry understand why its stock price remains so low. One theory: the government’s mere continued presence as a major stockholder creates uncertainty around the company. If this is the case, it creates something of a vicious cycle: the lower the stock price, the less likely the government is to sell its shares, leaving it lingering with no exit strategy, in turn driving the stock lower. Though that’s not likely to be the whole story, one thing is certain: the government has been forced to increase its loss estimate for the GM bailout. The Detroit News reports that the Treasury’s losses on GM are now estimated at $23.6b, up from $14.4b. And with an election looming, it seems likely that the White House will sell within the next six months. But will the government’s desire to protect itself politically trade off with GM’s PR? After all, whatever the Treasury’s final loss is, that number will be pinned to GM as a symbol of what it owes the American people. On the other hand, with most analysts insisting that GM stock is undervalued, another year of government ownership could convince investors to bid up the price, greatly reducing GM’s public debt. Too bad electoral politics will probably prevent that from happening….
Today’s Rasmussen poll results, which show that Americans are arguably less likely to buy from a bailed-out automaker, raise some interesting questions. Like, does receiving a bailout constitute an inviolable black mark on an automaker? Do the size of the bailout, and the amount the government recovers make a difference? With a presidential election looming, these factors are worth knowing: after all, the government still has the choice of when to divest its shares in GM. And with GM’s stock down over 40% from its $33 IPO price last November, the government is looking at a significantly larger loss than it would have endured had it divested immediately aftter the IPO. So, should the government dump now, anticipating larger losses in the near future, or should it hang on in hopes of a rebound, increasing the risk that “Government Motors” will become a political hot potato going into 2012? The latest clue, via CNBC, remains as cryptic as ever…
Whether or not the White House pressured or even contacted Ford Motor Company after the company released their recent ad appealing to anti-bailout sentiments we’ll probably never know. We’ll also probably never know if this was all just a symphony of leaks and disclaimers orchestrated by Ford. What we do know, thanks to a Rasmussen opinion poll [Sub. required, some data here], is that Ford had good reason to stoke American consumers’ resentment against it’s domestic competitors because they were bailed out by the government. The poll shows that the bailout is clearly a factor, sometimes an overriding one, in automobile purchase decisions. Not only did nearly one in five recent Ford buyers say that they or family members specifically chose Ford products because they didn’t take a government bailout, about half of all consumers surveyed said that they were more likely to buy Fords than GM or Chrysler products specifically because Ford didn’t get bailed out. [Note: Yes, Ford took Dept. of Energy loans and other government funds, but this survey was looking at people’s opinions, not facts.]
The Detroit News reports that the only Republican in Washington with subpoena power, Rep Darrel Issa has written a letter asking Ford CEO Alan Mulally for “a full and complete explanation of Ford’s decision” to stop running an advertisement that was critical of the TARP-funded auto bailout.
In a letter, Issa asks Ford if any White House, Treasury or other federal employee discussed the ad with any Ford employee “at any time via any manner of communication” and asks the automaker to turn over any documents connected to any discussion by Oct. 12.
Spokeswoman Meghan Keck said Ford will cooperate, but reiterated that the White House didn’t pressure the Dearborn automaker.
Ford took the ad off of Youtube after “individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008,” according to Daniel Howes of the Detroit News. The same day Ford restored the video, and denied that White House pressure led to the takedown. Color us curious as to how Mulally is going to explain this little episode…
UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Plum Line reports
I just got off the phone with Detroit News managing editor Don Nauss. “We stand by our column,” he told me. “It was based on multiple sources. It’s written by a busines columnist who can draw conclusions based on the reporting that they do.”
The story contains no attribution for the central charge of White House calls to Ford. Asked about this, Nauss declined to comment.
Asked to clarify if the column was alleging any White House pressure on Ford (the story hints at it up top but quotes someone later saying there was no pressure), Nauss declined to say. “The story speaks for itself,” he said.
When contacted about his column, Howes referred me to Nauss’s comments above.
As I noted in the comments of this morning’s piece on the Ford Bailout ad controversy, if the White House did contact Ford about the ad and the company did take down the video in response to the pressure, it certainly wouldn’t admit as much. After all, the whole point of caving to White House pressure would be to defuse, not inflame, a political standoff. And sure enough, one hour ago, Ford reposted the video (currently with around 300 views) and shared it on its Facebook account. Ford says the ad “ran as part of a planned rotation and continues to run online,” predictably avoiding any reference to reports of White House concern. And though the low view count proves that Ford took down, then reposted the video, a Youtube message to the uploader of what earlier today was the only remaining version on Youtube reveals that mainstream media news reporters were unable to find other copies of the ad.
The White House has not yet commented on the situation, but hit the jump for more details on Ford’s curious response…
One of the legacy costs that GM was not able to reduce in the bailout was pension costs, a whopping $128b obligation as of the end of 2010. And though the plan is “only” underfunded by $10.8b at the end of June according to GM, Kenneth Hackel, president of CT Capital LLC (and author of two textbooks on valuing securities) recently told Bloomberg
The financial risk because of [GM’s pension liability] is higher than people understand. The cold reality is if you used a conservative discount rate and you wanted to close out the plans, you would have to raise about $35 billion.
With GM’s market cap sagging into the low-$30b range (currently around $34b), the risk of pension liabilities growing larger than GM’s market capitalization is very real. And as lower interest rates and a weak stock market reduce pension fund returns, the obligations grow, in turn putting pressure on GM’s stock price. And it’s not like nobody saw this coming: a GAO report released in April 2010 issued dire warnings about the state of GM and Chrysler’s pension obligations. Now, according to the ace reporters at Reuters, GM and the UAW have hashed out a buyout deal giving workers the option of being bought out of their pensions. Which has us dying to know: what’s a UAW pension worth in cash?
[UPDATE: Ford has restored the video to Youtube. More details here.]
Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes reports in a column that Ford has pulled its controversial “bailout ad” after the White House asked “questions” about it. And apparently the take-down decision makes this a threatened piece of footage: in addition to yanking the spot from the airwaves, the version of the video we posted two weeks ago has been taken down from YOutube as well [a home recording of it can still be found here]. So what happened that Ford would throw its most popular ad in ages down the memory hole? Howes is cryptic…
Ford pulled the ad after individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early ’09 and again when the ad flap arose…
With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can’t have that.
At the height of “bailout fever,” after TARP had been instituted but before the automakers had been completely bailed out, one argument that we heard a lot of from Detroit’s defenders was “how can you begrudge the manufacturing base a few billion when speculators at the banks are receiving far more support?” At the time, the argument seemed to me like a convenient way to shift attention away from Detroit’s failures and undercut the argument that consumers, not a credit crunch, were responsible for killing off GM and Chrysler… but at least then it still had some validity. Fast forward to today, and history has stripped it of all relevance, as it turns out the banks will likely be picking up the automakers’ bailout tab.
“Chris” from Ford’s “Press Conference” commercial, which has received extensive media play recently from TTAC to Fox News, has uploaded a Youtube video in order to give his own, non-Ford-approved perspective on the controversy. He claims to be “just a guy who loves his F-150,” and insists that the commercial wasn’t staged or intended to be about the bailout. And based on his spontaneous thoughts in this video, the ideological component of his views do seem genuine. But don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives want to halve the balance of a U.S. government loan fund established to help the auto industry make more fuel efficient cars and trucks.
If plans to shift some $1.5 billion from the Energy Department advanced technology fund to disaster assistance are carried out, serious questions would be raised about Chrysler’s ability to fully capitalize on its bid for new financing.
That the DOE loan program is under attack comes as no surprise: it’s been savaged by both the GAO (twice) and the Center for Public Integrity for a lack of clear goals, weak oversight, misappropriation, and political patronage (more on the patronage bit here). And with the Solyndra DOE loan scandal blossoming, it’s no surprise to see ATVM going under the axe (although Rep Steny Hoyer is leading the Democrat pushback). What’s worrying about this development, however, is that Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that the DOE loan was “a crucial part” of negotiations over its recent Wall Street bailout loan refinancing. When GM quit the program earlier this year, Marchionne also said that
I have neither the arrogance nor the cash to show any disdain toward the DOE process.
Chrysler also cites its ability to secure the DOE loans as a major risk factor in its latest 10-Q SEC filing. And with only about $10.2b in cash and equivalents on hand at the end of June, there’s a chance that this attack on the ATVM loan program could deal a body blow to Chrysler’s finances. Here’s hoping Sergio has kept the runt of the bailed-out automaker litter from dependence on this apparently corrupt, and politically vulnerable loan program.