Posted tagged ‘GM’

Economic Report Card: Fail, Fail, Fail, Fail

June 5, 2009

Fail, Fail, Fail, Fail
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

How about a bit of reality? Not the ridiculous promises from Washington, the absurd talk of “green shoots” while unemployment soars and investment falls, the silly guarantees that GM has a bright future even as its stock price falls to less than the price of a Snickers bar, the nonsense about how if we spend more and inflate more, recovery will come tomorrow morning.

The war on recession is a flop. Fail, fail, fail.

The full-scale war on recession began in January 2008. Unemployment was climbing and house prices were falling, and George Bush, whose entire persona was the war mode since 2001, decided he wouldn’t tolerate declining economic conditions.

That’s when the Fed started pushing down interest rates to ridiculous lows and started gunning the money supply as much as possible. Bush put on his solemn/determined face and started talking to the American people about how he was going to destroy this recession monster in its crib.

Now, there are things politicians can do in the face of trends they don’t like. If kids aren’t learning to read, bureaucrats can cobble together carrots and sticks and gin up the scores a bit for a while. They can have their hirelings shoot consumers of illegal substances and bomb foreigners who don’t love America. They can pass out goodies to friends and take them away from enemies. From time to time, they can experience moderate success in these actions.

But the economy? Now, here is a force too big even for the biggest government in the history of the world, which is the U.S. government. That’s because economic trends are embedded in the structure of the material world and operate according to laws akin to gravity. They are social laws, if you will, features of the world that operate in all times and all places, and they are generated by the implacable fact of scarcity and the need for a system of production and allocation.

In other words, economic trends are finally beyond the control of the political class. This is the great lesson that economics has been teaching for some 700 years, generation after generation.

As Bastiat wrote, economic laws “act on the same principle whether we take the case of a numerous agglomeration of men or of only two individuals, or even of a single individual condemned by circumstances to live in a state of isolation.”

They are unavoidable features of the world, ones which the political class is forever attempting to override. The economy had been on a false foundation for some years, and the housing sector in particular had become wildly overbuilt and rested on bad debt. What can politicians do about this? Absolutely nothing. Economic foundations are built by private investment. Government has no resources of its own to build a foundation. It can only rob people of their property and thereby divert resources from where they belong to where they ought not to be.

When prices of houses started falling, we began to see only the most conspicuous sign of the rot underneath it all. But the political class blamed the symptom instead of the disease, and started trying to prop up prices, which is probably the stupidest thing these birds could ever attempt. It is utterly futile to attempt to change the direction of prices. It is about as successful as attempting to replace the water in one ocean with another or rearranging the order of the planets. It is beyond their capacity.

Bastiat said of the attempts of his time: “Modern reformers! when I see you desiring to replace this admirable natural order by an arrangement of your own invention, there are two things (although they are in reality one and the same) that confound me – namely, your want of faith in Providence, and your faith in yourselves – your ignorance, and your presumption.”

It’s not just that the attempt to undo economic law doesn’t work. It ends up mucking up the system even more, and prolonging the suffering. That is precisely what has happened. There can be no question that we would have been out of this recession by now had the politicians not intervened. But an election was coming and Bush tried to rig the system. Not only that, but after seven years of ridiculous marauding around like King of the Universe, he was flush with power and arrogance.

Bush attempted to reverse the economic river by waging a war on recession, about which I was writing back in March 2008: “All this nonsense about digging ourselves out of recession through government intervention began with the New Deal. But here is the amazing fact: not once has this strategy worked.”

By the fall and winter, it became clear that the War on Recession was not working and the economy was sinking further. Rather than give up, Bush pushed so hard that he managed to throw us all in the arms of a socialist who knows nothing about economics and has surrounded himself with big shots who affirm him in his ignorance – people like Paul Krugman, who are wedded to antique mythologies about the glories of government power.

And so we live through it again. We see the fools trying this and that with our lives and liberty, promising glorious results around the corner. Well, by now, we’ve been around the corner, the next one and the next one, and it gets worse with each turn. These people are driving us right into the abyss, and let’s be clear that this is not the fault of private investors or savers or foreigners or stock jobbers. It is the fault of the managers of this recession: the government, whoever is or has been in charge, and the Fed that operates on government authority.

They are strangling free enterprise just as surely as a mugger chokes his victim, and with it the capacity for the American worker and producer to do the hard work of restoring prosperity.

We are a generation that proudly shows off its accomplishments in all areas of science, and we preen about our love of facts and our detachment from mythology. Yet our culture is imbued with the most ridiculous faith in government to turn stones into bread, to accomplish miracles with a printing press before our very eyes. This is the age of folly.

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March Economic Picture

April 4, 2009

Let’s start with the good (?) news.

Stock Market

The stock market rallied at the end of March. The Dow had its worst January ever and worst February since the Depression, then, in March, turned in its best month in six years.

On March 23, 2009, Joe Weisenthal at Clusterstock wrote:

On the day when Geithner first announced the non-details of his bank plan, the stock market began a hard tumble.

Today, as the government confirms that taxpayer money will be used to replenish bank coffers and help hedge funds make huge profits, stocks are soaring.

Continue reading…

Naturally, some “experts” like Doug Kass and Jim Cramer were quick to call the bottom.  But let’s see where we really are.

four-bears-large1

Judging by dshort.com‘s “Four Bad Bears” chart, it looks like the bottom callers are being a bit hasty. They just may end up on a modern version of the “1927 – 1933 Chart of Pompous Prognosticators“, especially considering that Nouriel Roubini is still predicting an L-shaped recovery.

Banking

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reported in March that banks lost $9.2 billion in derivatives trading losses in the 4th quarter.

Citigroup saw its shares drop below $1.00 and hover there for much of March.

Five banks were added to the FDIC ‘s failed bank list.

But good news (for banksters anyway) came from the Financial Accounting Standards Board when it relaxed the “mark to market” rule for bank assets on April 2. With banks no longer required to value assets based on reality, April at least will probably be a good month for banks.

Retail

retailyoyfeb2009

February Retail Sales Chart from Calculated Risk

Retailers reported continued sales declines in February, though not quite as steep as those seen in January.

Call me a doom-and-gloomer, but I suspect most sales increases seen in February and perhaps March (we should see those numbers soon) are due primarily to people getting – and spending – tax refunds. Let’s wait and see what the reports look like later this spring before we get too optimistic.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand, showed February growth of approximately 5% (about twice what was expected). Wal-Mart is doing so well, that on March 19, it announced $2 billion in bonuses to be given to hourly employees:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is awarding approximately $2 billion to its U.S. hourly employees through financial incentives, including handing out $933.6 million in bonuses on Thursday, after the world’s largest retailer gained market share amid a recession.

In a memo distributed to Wal-Mart employees and obtained by Reuters, Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke said the retailer is awarding roughly $2 billion to U.S. hourly employees, which includes $933.6 million in bonuses, $788.8 million in profit sharing and 401(k) contributions, millions of dollars in merchandise discounts, and contributions to its employee stock purchase plan.

Continue reading…

And now the not so good news.

Unemployment

Unemployment Claims Chart from Calculated Risk

Unemployment Claims Chart from Calculated Risk

697,000 jobs were cut in February and 742,000 were cut in March. The total number of people claiming unemployment benefits is currently about 5.56 million – the highest number since May 1983.

Broader measures showed the February unemployment rate at 14.8%, or 1 out of 7 Americans unemployed. This figure includes the “discouraged” job seekers and those working part-time jobs who want full-time work.

Unemployment rates rose in all US metro areas in February, with 7 states reporting rates at or above 10%.

Recent photo taken in San Diego. Click for source.

Recent photo taken in San Diego. Click for source.

I keep hearing that unemployment is a “lagging indicator” of the overall economy. Maybe I didn’t get enough government sponsored education, but it seems to me that a real recovery can’t happen until people are working again, earning money they can then spend. When the unemployment rate starts dropping instead of increasing by such huge amounts every month, that is when I’ll start to believe the recovery has begun.

Housing and Personal Finance

With so many unemployed, you know there is nothing good happening in housing and personal finance.

Case Shiller House Prices for January Chart from Calculated Risk

Case Shiller House Prices for January Chart from Calculated Risk

Home prices are still falling.  “The national peak-to-trough decline is now 27%, and it will likely exceed 40% before we hit bottom.  If there’s any good news here, it’s that the rate of decline appears to be stabilizing.

While this is certainly bad news for individual homeowners, it’s actually good news for the economy in general. It is evidence that in spite of all the doomed efforts being made by the government and the Fed to reinflate the bubble, the market is doing its job and the necessary correction is proceeding quite well.

The January drop in home prices is record setting, however, and it does contribute to severe financial problems for individuals. A study released early in March showed one in five US mortgages to be underwater.

Another report said 12% of all mortgages (one in nine) are now delinquent or in some stage of foreclosure. In fact, the rate of foreclosures in February rose 30% over the previous year.

On March 31, an FHA spokesman said FHA loans were “seriously delinquent” at the end of February.

Not surprisingly, foreclosures are especially rising in California.

February New Home Sales Chart from Calculated Risk

February New Home Sales Chart from Calculated Risk

The February new home sales report showed a 4.7% increase, leading many to believe the bottom was in for housing. Not likely, though, since even with the increase the numbers are the lowest sales for February since the Census Bureau started tracking sales in 1963.

Existing home sales also increased slightly in February, though nearly half of those sales were buyers taking advantage of extreme savings on forclosed properties. Many of these buyers, apparently, are foreign investors.

According to a Labor Department report, consumer prices rose 0.4% in February.

The Administrative Office of the US Courts reported bankruptcy filing were up 31% in 2008.

Early in March it was reported that food stamp enrollment had climbed to a record 31.8 million people.

All of which leads to the unsurprising news that consumer confidence is still at nearly record lows and personal savings increased to 5%.

US Auto Industry

The US Auto Industry was all over the headlines again in late March, beginning with a $5 billion bailout for auto suppliers and reports of steep drops in auto sales – 37% in March.

But the biggest headlines appeared when the Obama administration, operating in a weird double standard, forced GM CEO Rick Wagoner to step down – a move that sent GM stocks freefalling to a 74-year low.

GM’s new CEO, Fritz Henderson (former head of GMAC mortgage finance), is apparently more open to the possibility of bankruptcy than Wagoner was.

The Obama administration now plans to take a key role in “reshaping” GM’s board of directors, though Obama also said he has “no intention” of running GM. Good thing, too, since the administration’s  “plan” for the auto industry is pretty lightweight.

A great many comments posted to online articles about the big news at GM boiled down to “if they’re taking government money, the government can do whatever it wants”. Right or wrong, such thinking only highlights the moral hazard of government bailouts of private industry in the first place.

Shortly after the government’s de facto takeover of GM, Ford announced that it would cover car payments for buyers who lose their jobs. GM quickly followed with a similar program.

The Obama administration also announced that the government will guarantee all GM car warrantees (but remember, they’re not running the company). Auto shops run by the DMV maybe? Sounds great!

One last related bit of auto news caught my attention in March. It seems that an increasing number of desperate people, unable to continue making their auto loan payments, are instead setting their vehicles on fire to collect the insurance money.

Federal Government Spending

Early in March, President Obama signed the pork-laden $410 billion government spending bill.

The US Deficit in Global Perspective

The US Deficit in Global Perspective

Also early in March, the national debt hit a record $11 trillion, or about $36,000 for every man, woman and child in America. In the fastest increase of debt in American history, in Barack Obama’s first 50 days as president the Congress voted to spend $1.2 trillion, or “$1 billion an hour”, according to Senator Mitch McConnell.

 

 

In an exclusive interview with the NY Times, Mr. Obama floated the idea of another $750 billion to be given to banks, even though the amount already spent on “financial rescue” is nearly equal to GDP – in other words, the same amount as the value of everything the US produced last year.

All of this was enough to make China worry that the US might not be able to repay its debts. Of course, our dear leader reassured the Chinese that we’re still good for it (even if it means we have to inflate our currency to the moon and back).

Big news was also made in March by AIG and its $218 million executive bonus payments. Taxpayers were outraged (sort of) and Congress moved quickly to pass a 90% tax on “TARP bonuses”.

Signing a retroactive tax would have been a political disaster for the Obama administration, plagued with questions of the “who knew what and when did they know it” variety. Luckily for Obama, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo managed to get the AIG executives to return the money before the 90% tax bill landed on his desk. Instead, the administration will look to limit pay at all businesses receiving government money.

If government is going to dictate employee pay, they need to start with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Freddie asked for another $30.8 billion after losing over $50 billion in 2008. Freddie’s $24 billion Q4 loss breaks down to $3000 per second lost yet Fannie and Freddie plan to pay more than $210 million in employee retention bonuses over the coming year.

And we want to retain these employees, why?

The “Newspaper Revitalization Act” was introduced in the Senate during the last week of March. The mainstream media bailout would rewrite tax law to allow newspapers to operate as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, just as long as they don’t make official endorsements of political candidates. Critics say such a bailout would lead to government control of the news.

That would be different, how?

Also, the US Postal Service is going broke (again).

President Obama’s proposed budget was the main topic of a prime-time news conference in March. Fact checking afterwards showed the enormity of this president’s doublespeak capabilities.

Senator Judd Gregg, who turned down the nomination for Commerce Secretary, said “we’ll go bankrupt under Obama’s budget“. Sounds about right.

Obama Deficit in Pictures

Obama Deficit in Pictures

 

The Federal Reserve

With demand for US Treasurys declining, the Fed launched a “bold” plan to dump another $1 trillion into the US economy.

The Financial Times Alphaville blog posted some early reactions including one from Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism calling the Fed’s move “shock and awe” and comparing it to when that phrase was used at the start of the Iraq war.

Following the Fed’s “shock and awe” announcement, Treasurys continued to decline and the dollar fell dramatically against other currencies. It seems that more than a few analysts are certain the Fed’s plan has killed the dollar.

China and Russia are also skeptical, it seems. They are calling ever more loudly for a new reserve currency.

US Treasury

Tim “Tax Cheat” – “Markets won’t solve the crisis” Geithner (finally) announced his plan to resolve make taxpayers pay for banks’ toxic assets.

For a very limited amount of risk, private investors will “partner” with taxpayers to pay over-market-value for banks’ toxic assets, thus re-creating solvency for the banks. If it later turns out the assets really weren’t worth much, the private investors loses only their small (7%) investment in the deal. The taxpayers will be left holding the bag for the rest.

Even if the private investors make money on any of the deals, the taxpayers are still likely to get fleeced.

Here’s a more detailed explanation: Message from Cumberland Advisors.

Even though the Treasury said they don’t know if this plan will work, the stock market was overjoyed with it, closing up nearly 4% and kicking off the recent rally.

Geithner’s plan has been widely criticized by some heavy economic hitters including James Galbraith, Nassim  Taleb, and Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.

And isn’t this plan really just a slightly modified version of the original Paulson-Bernanke plan from September – the one Paulson ended up scrapping, saying it couldn’t possibly work? Yes, actually, that’s just what it is.

Oh, by the way, the NewSpeak term for toxic assets is now “legacy assets“. After all, the only reason nobody wants these things is because we keep calling them “toxic”, right? It has nothing to do with the fact that they are piles of paper representing nearly worthless, defaulted loans. Right?

Last Words

The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson in The Atlantic Magazine is highly recommended. Synopsis:

“The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.”

And finally, if you have not yet seen Daniel Hannan’s heroic March 26, 2009 speech in the EU in which he calls British PM Gordon Brown (to his face) “the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government”, click below and enjoy.

Mr. Hannan’s words could should be repeated to the governments and central bankers of every nation.

Yep, Government Motors It Is

March 30, 2009

car_salesman_sleezyPresident Barack Obama says the federal government is preparing to offer several incentives to get Americans to buy more U.S.-made cars.

In a White House speech, Obama said the IRS will start notifying consumers who purchased cars after Feb. 16 that they can deduct the cost of any sales and excise taxes. The program would remain in effect till year’s end.

Obama says he wants to work with Congress to use parts of the economic stimulus package to fund a program that would allow consumers to get a “generous credit” when they replace an older, less fuel-efficient car and buy a new, cleaner car.

The president says he wants to make the program retroactive starting Monday. It’s meant to boost car sales in the U.S., which have seen their worst decline in 27 years.

Obama also said the government will guarantee warranties on any GM or Chrysler vehicles.

Source

GM CEO Rick Wagoner to Resign at White House Request

March 29, 2009

Big news about General Government Motors!

General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner will step down immediately at the request of the White House, administration officials said Sunday. The news comes as President Obama prepares to unveil additional restructuring efforts designed to save the domestic auto industry.

The officials asked not to be identified because details of the restructuring plan have not yet been made public. On Monday, Obama is to announce plans to restructure GM and Chrysler LLC in exchange for additional government loans. The companies have been living on $17.4 billion in government aid and have requested $21.6 billion more.

Continue reading…

GM lost $31 billion in 2008 ($9 billion in Q4 alone) and more analysts lately have been questioning the viability of the company. This sounds like a job for…..

186-0107161044-superman

SuperObama! Faster than mainstream media’s ability to focus! More powerful than a global economic downturn!. Able to turn a bankrupt company into a profitable enterprise in a single day!

Or not. Details to be announced tomorrow. Stay tuned, kids.