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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The New Romney on GM

...loan guarantees would have given all the gains to Wall Street...
David and I blogged in 2009 and then many times since on the so-called auto bailouts. (Since when is bankruptcy a bailout? -- there were no winners, all lost something.) From the start we noted that the vertical structure of the industry -- suppliers, assemblers, dealers -- was central, because GM's failure would have taken them all down. This is not a trivial issue: suppliers employ between 2 and 3 people for every "automotive" worker, and dealerships employ fully as many as all of manufacturing. In 2009 all were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Without normal financial markets that would have meant Chapter 7 dissolution, not Chapter 11 restructuring. And let's not forget that the whole industry is woven together in a complex pattern. Most cars are sold today by dealership groups; your GM dealer is also a Toyota dealer. In the strained market of 2008-9, the failure of one would have led banks to foreclose on the other in a rush for repayment. And the supplier to GM is also a supplier to Toyota and to BMW. They would have no more been able than GM to make cars -- or even get repair parts to keep the service bays of their dealers generating revenue. Even in the Great Depression of the 1930s there was never a complete collapse.
Mitt Romney's father may have once been the CEO of American Motors [for those without long memories, the Jeep portion of the old AMC continues to mint money, and to keep Toledo Ohio afloat], but that doesn't mean the son inherited a deep knowledge of the industry. Mitt is ignorant of (or chooses to ignore) this complex structure,
and to pretend that financial markets could have raised tens of billions of dollars in 2009. I'm sorry, at the time banks were cutting their loan portfolios, and investment banks were worried they might be the next Lehman, and had no ability to employ their tricks to issue debt on that scale.
Romney's current stand however is that we should have guaranteed loans. Never mind that banks were cutting their lending, David and I have beaten that dead horse several times. But let's stop and think about the winners and losers under guarantees. If things didn't go well, we the taxpayers would be out a lot of money (but Wall Street would have collected a few tens of millions in fees, and collected interest on top of that). If things did go well, Wall Street would reap all the gains. After 7 years on the campaign trail, Romney is still unable to put himself in the shoes of the American public.
For all his defects, Hank Paulson and crew (among whom we should count Steve Rattner) worked on behalf of the Amerian taxpayer. They structured deals, from AIG to GM, to see that we would share in the upside. At last reckoning, GM's share price is still too low to put us in the black, but on many of the other deals we're in the money, indeed we're making out like bandits, Wall Street style. As a result, by insisting on an equity stake (and on tacking high interest rates on the loans we made, something that gets overlooked), we may not break even in the aggregate. But we're pretty damn close.
If he's elected, maybe Romney will reorient to thinking on our behalf, and not that of his and his buddies. Over the past 7 years he's failed to make that case.
...mike smitka...
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