It has been repeatedly suggested that GM should use its ample profits to buy back the shares held by the U.S. government (don’t forget the Canadians.). Finally, GM listens to reasons. Or, possibly, strong suggestions from Washington. GM will purchase 200 million shares of GM common stock held by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for $5.5 billion, or $27.50 per share, the company said in a statement The share buyback is part of the Treasury’s plan, also announced today, to fully exit its entire holdings of GM stock within 12 to 15 months, subject to market conditions. (Read More…)
The Daily Caller says it has emails that prove that the pensions of 20,000 salaried retirees at Delphi were terminated “solely because those retirees were not members of labor unions.”
The emails, says the conservative website “contradict sworn testimony, in federal court and before Congress, given by several Obama administration figures. They also indicate that the administration misled lawmakers and the courts about the sequence of events surrounding the termination of those non-union pensions, and that administration figures violated federal law.” (Read More…)
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.
With GM’s share price slipping below $30, the cries are going up again around the internet about the government’s stake in the bailed-out automaker. Thus far the Treasury has remained mum on its exit strategy, only indicating that it would emphasize speed rather than maximum return as it charted the course for its sell-off. But now, Reuters reports that “a big chunk” of the government’s 33% remaining stake in GM could be sold “in the summer or fall.” With the government’s shares “locked up” until May 22, that could mean the government is bailing as quickly as possible at a time when GM’s stock is hitting post-bankruptcy lows, and its CEO offers little in the way of explanations beyond blaming the Japanese tsunami and rising fuel prices. The Wall Street Journal figures taxpayers would lose $11b on its “investment” in GM equity if the government sold at today’s prices (the stock must hit $53 for break-even), but reports that political motivations outweigh fiscal considerations. The White House does not want “Government Motors” to be an issue in the next election.
Ever since it became clear that the government would rescue General Motors and Chrysler, the Treasury Department has made it clear that it would stay out of “day to day” decision making at the rescued automakers. Allowing the rescued firms to operate independently was a political calculation based on the desire to keep politics from affecting sales at the two rescued automakers, but according to a Reuters special report, Treasury has not been able to keep its hands completely out of important decisions concerning the future of the two firms. Particularly in terms of setting up GM’s Initial Public Offering, Reuters found that the Treasury made important decisions affecting
its speed and size, the fees paid to the bankers and the potential involvement of offshore investors
Though this has kept the IPO out of election season and all of its potential for political problems, there is some downside to the Treasury’s involvement, particularly because it will not be exiting its equity position in GM until about 18 months after the IPO. As a result, analysts predict problems securing investors in a firm that may still be subject to ongoing government control. Morningstar’s David Whiston tells Reuters
I’m sure that there will be some institutional investors, and even some individual investors, that it scares away
While some have questioned why TARP was used to support the automotive industry, both the Bush and Obama Administrations determined that Treasury’s investments in the auto companies were
consistent with the purpose and specific requirements of EESA. Among other things, Treasury
determined that the auto companies were and are interrelated with entities extending credit to
consumers and dealers because of their financing subsidiaries and other operations, and that a
disruption in the industry or an uncontrolled liquidation would have had serious effects on financial
market stability, employment and the economy as a whole.
Translation: credit dependence killed the car companies. And from the 0% Red Toe Tag Sales to GM Daewoo’s $2b currency gambling loss, the glove fits. It’s a lesson that isn’t brought up often enough, and it’s one of the only passages of note in the Auto Industry Financing Program section of Treasury’s two-year TARP retrospective [PDF here]. Otherwise, the document is swallowed up in accounting for the billions spent on banks, despite the fact that
We now have recovered most of the investments we made in the banks. Taxpayers will likely earn a profit on the investments the government made in banks and AIG, with TARP losses limited to
investments in the automobile industry and housing programs.
So, why not explain why projected auto rescue losses were reduced to $17b with more than just a footnote? [#2 on Figure 2-B shown above]
In response to Senator Chuck Grassley’s concern that GM’s claim to have paid back taxpayer loans was misleading, the US Treasury is now saying that it has no problem with The General’s statements. According to the Freep, a Treasury letter to Grassley explains that:
GM’s decision to pay off the loan signaled the automaker did not face “extraordinary expenses,” and that Treasury approved the loan payoff.
“The fact that GM made the determination and repaid the remaining $4.7 billion to the U.S. government now is good news for the company, our investment and the American people,” said Herbert Allison, assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability.
Strictly speaking, GM’s claim to have paid back all US Government loans is correct. The only issue is that GM’s ad touting the payback makes no reference to the fact that it still owes the Treasury upwards of $40b. If that misleads folks, well, apparently the Treasury Department isn’t going to do anything about it.
Last week’s announcement that had Chrysler turned a Q1 profit and GM had “repaid” taxpayer loans brought a flurry of political posturing about the success or lack thereof of the auto bailout. With Republicans laying into the auto bailout from several angles, President Obama dedicated his weekly address to a defense of industry assistance. Obama still frames the bailout as an unpleasant necessity, but argues that last week’s news means the chances that taxpayers will recoup their “investment” are improving. And apparently the Treasury agrees. According to the Detroit News, Treasury has revised its estimate of auto bailout losses (not counting GMAC) downwards, from $30.6b to $28b. Progress, sure, but hardly a sign that taxpayers can expect full payback from its state-owned automakers.
While the White House and most of the media spent the last two days parroting GM’s claim that it “paid back” taxpayers, Senator Chuck Grassley was busy writing a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury [letter available in PDF here]. The three-page note opens:
Dear Secretary Geithner:
General Motors (GM) yesterday announced that it repaid its TARP loans. I am concerned, however, that this announcement is not what it seems. In fact, it appears to be
nothing more than an elaborate TARP money shuffle.
No surprises there: TTAC has been all over this ruse for months now. Grassley does sum the situation up nicely, stating that “A debt-for-equity swap is not a repayment,” but the most interesting part of his letter is his theory for why GM and the Administration approved the tax-money reshuffle. Thus far, we’ve assumed that PR was the driving concern in this transparent deception. According to Grassley though, there may be another reason…
My commitment is to the American taxpayer. My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed… We want our money back and we’re going to get it.
Without even getting into the politics of President Obama’s proposed “financial crisis responsibility fee,” it’s easy to see that the initiative holds a wealth of implications for America’s TARP-recipient automakers. In Obama’s new rhetoric, taking TARP money put businesses in a new category of special obligation to the taxpayers. Though the fee is targeted at financial institutions, the principle applies just as much to Detroit.
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.”
According to GM’s 3rd Quarter financial results announcement:
GM plans to repay the United States, Canadian and Ontario government loans in quarterly installments from escrowed funds, beginning next month with an initial $1.2 billion payment to be made in December ($1.0 billion to the UST and $192 million to the EDC), followed by quarterly payments. Any escrowed funds available as of June 30, 2010 would be used to repay the UST and EDC loans unless the escrowed funds were extended one year by the UST. Any balance of funds would be released to GM after the repayment of the UST and EDC loans.
Though this sounds like positive news, don’t let it fool you. GM’s financials only acknowledge $6.7b in government debt, a sum that barely scratches the surface of the taxpayer “investment” in The General (let’s use $52b as a baseline). The escrow fund in question contains $13.6b of the final $30b GM was given as it exited bankruptcy. Having burned through nearly half of that princely sum, GM now plans on using at least part of the rest to pay off the “outstanding $6.7b.” The escrow account expires in June 2010, at which point whatever is left unpaid of the $6.7b will be returned to the government, and GM will keep the rest. GM will then declare victory and pretend like it has squared up with the tax paying public, when in fact the public will have merely paid itself back a paltry fraction of what GM actually owes. This “repayment” will then be dutifully reported without question by the mainstream media, and the stain of bailout will be symbolically lifted. Except, of course, it won’t. GM and the government are playing a classic shell game, taking advantage of the public’s inability to keep the billions straight. Shameful.