After three separate bailouts totaling over $17b, Congress is beginning to wonder if keeping auto-finance giant GMAC alive was worth it. Forbes reports that the Congressional Oversight Panel reckons at least $6.3b of that money could be gone forever, as GMAC flounders towards barely breaking even. And like the rest of the bailouts, the fundamental problem is that the influx of federal cash has allowed GMAC to pretend like it’s not struggling for survival. The panel report [full document in PDF format here] notes [via Automotive News [sub]]
Treasury’s previous and current support is not underpinned by a mature business plan. Although GMAC and Treasury are working to produce a business plan, Treasury has already been supporting GMAC for over a year despite the plan’s absence. Given industry skepticism about GMAC’s path to profitability and the newness of the non-captive financing company model, it is critical that Treasury be given an opportunity to review concrete plans from GMAC as soon as possible.
Having recently posted a nearly $5b loss, bailed-out auto finance giant GMAC says it needs more help from automakers to remain competitive. Automotive News [sub] reports that GMAC CEO Mike Carpenter told reporters that “the success of GMAC Financial Services hinges on more loan and lease subsidies from General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group,” and that “GMAC requires additional marketing funds from the automakers to provide competitive loans and leases to the GM and Chrysler dealer networks.” GMAC’s Chrysler business has nearly doubled in the last quarter of 2009, now providing about 26 percent of Chrysler’s retail financing and about 30 percent of GM’s.
The TARP bailout of GM finance partner GMAC is being criticized by a congressional oversight panel [full report in PDF format here], reports the Detroit Free Press. The panel alleges that the Treasury
has not yet articulated a specific and convincing reason to support the company… It has never stated that a GMAC failure would result in substantial negative consequences for the national economy. If Treasury has made such a determination, then it should say so publicly.
The underlying cause of GMAC’s failure was no different than so many other American financial institutions: giant bets on risky mortgages at the height of a real estate bubble. And though that error alone would have qualified GMAC for a bailout rescue along with the other failed banks, The WSJ reports that the ongoing support for GMAC is “reflects the troubled company’s importance to the revival of the auto industry.” And man, it had better be important. The GMAC bailout has been one of our least-favorite of the season, rewarding poor practices in auto and mortgage lending, and exposing taxpayers to inordinate risk. But, as TTAC warned back in the pre-bailout days, once the camel gets a nose into the tent, good luck getting it out. And so, GMAC will be receiving another $3.8b in TARP support, on top of the $12.5b it has already received. As a result, the US taxpayer’s stake in GMAC is expected to rise above the current 35 percent stake, just in time for more write-downs planned for the next week. The cash injection is said to prime GMAC for a profitable Q1 2010, erasing some giant losses in the bank’s ResCap mortgage unit. And of course the move will help GMAC continue to underwrite the leases that Chrysler and GM so desperately need, but can’t afford due to plummeting resales. GMAC’s bailout often doesn’t get marked up in the auto industry bailout tally, but at over $16b so far, it’s one of the crucial pieces keeping the zombie automakers shambling along. Now, about repayment…
Well, we’ve been here before… about this time last year, to be exact. The Freep reports that Chrysler, which had to quit leasing for much of last year due to falling resale values and the credit crunch, is reinstating subsidized leasing for its 26,000 qualifying retirees. Under the terms of the plan, retirees could lease up to two 2010 Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep products with no down payment and free scheduled maintenance. The 36-month leases run from December 9 through June 30, 2010. According to the Freep, retirees will pay $100 per month less on average than Chrysler employees who have access to two-year leases. GMAC, which is financing the leases, is set to receive another government bailout of “less than” $5.6b on top of the $13.5b it has already received from the TARP program.
On October 13th of last year, when TTAC’s Bailout Watch clocked in at a mere 115 entries, GM’s then-CEO Rick Wagoner and board members Erskine Bowles and John Bryan approached the Treasury for a “temporary” bailout. Not that we knew it at the time. “In this period of continued uncertainty in the markets, you really can’t rule out anything,” said GM spokesfolks at the time. “Stand by for another big public investment in a failing firm,” warned TTAC. As subsequent events proved, the rush to bailout had already begun. Funny then, that we’re only now learning some of the most crucial details of the chaotic maneuvering of late 2008, thanks to a Detroit News investigation. Though the industry’s disastrous hearings before congress nearly derailed the deal, the initial strategy of approaching the White House would prove to be the key to the eventual bailout. In fact, President Bush was ready to provide $25b to GM, Chrysler, GMAC and Chry-Fi on December 19, only to have talks with the two finance firms break down. Instead, GM and Chrysler were given $9.4b and $4b respectively, with GMAC getting $7b 10 days later and Chrysler receiving $1.5b in January.
This according to the National Taxpayer’s Union report “The Auto Bailout: A Taxpayer Quagmire,” authored by Rochester Institute of Technology Professor of Economics, Thomas D. Hopkins. That number includes the $52.9b taxpayer “investment” in General Motors, as well as GM’s portion of the GMAC bailout, which brings GM’s taxpayer tab to over $60b. Chrysler’s GMAC-inclusive bailout bill totals $17.4b, or $7,600 per vehicle, based on estimated 2009/2010 sales. Don’t believe that GM or Chrysler will match their projections over the next twelve months? The NTU estimates that total government support for the auto industry comes out to $800 per taxpaying American family. These numbers do not include the Cash for Clunkers program, likely future bailouts of GMAC (projected at a further $2b), or Department of Energy retooling loans (ATVML). These numbers also do not reflect the very real possibility that GM, Chrysler and GMAC could continue to drain taxpayer money post-2010. “For each year of survival beyond 2010,” the report warns, “the burden per vehicle would decline [Ed: but not disappear] – so long as no additional government funding is provided.”
“I don’t see anyone bleeding to death,” Sergio Marchionne told reporters and analysts a week ago, when asked what he thought of Chrysler’s current dealer body. He might be about to change his tune. The US Treasury will stop guaranteeing GMAC’s floorplan loans to Chrysler Group dealers on the 21st of this month, and the bailed-out lender has marked over 100 dealers to be cut off. According to the Detroit Free Press, these dealers had all survived Chrysler’s dealer consolidation efforts in bankruptcy, indicating that their sales business is relatively steady. But because of huge investments made with Chrysler Financial loans at the height of the real estate market, these dealers owe more than their dealerships are worth. Chrysler Financial is winding down its business, and it refuses to give up the first right to the property as collateral. Because GMAC is now a bank holding company and requires more collateral on loans than it previously did, it wants land and buildings put up as collateral that are already securing old Chrysler Financial loans. Of course those old loans were for renovations made as part of Chrysler’s “Project Genesis,” which dealers had little choice but to participate in. If those Chrysler-mandated investments meant certain dealers were not going to qualify for floorplanning, they should have been culled during bankruptcy. Which is why NADA is appealing to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on behalf of the threatened dealers. And maybe if Marchionne takes a look into this meatgrinder, he’ll see a few dealers stuck between giant, bailed-out businesses, bleeding to death.
An increasing number of media reports are indicating that instead of a single “car czar,” Obama will appoint a team to oversee the auto industry turnaround effort. Current reports indicate that Democrat fundraiser Steve Rattner will likely take the top oversight position, but his total lack of (non-political) qualifications for the job is considered an issue. Which is where Stephen Girsky comes in. “They clearly need an adviser who knows the industry,” former Chrysler president Thomas Stallkamp tells Bloomberg. “Girsky certainly knows the industry, and he was close to both GM and the union.” And though I have questioned whether Girsky’s UAW affiliations are best described in the past or present tense, this 2004 presentation (PDF) to Original Equipment Suppliers Association is decidedly prescient. Especially for 2004. And this December 2008 presentation to UAW Local 14 seems to indicate that his recent advising stint with the UAW was a mission of truth and reconciliation rather than one of conniving and obfuscation.