Wal-Mart is the new General Motors for the Middle Class

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

The left hates Wal-Mart.  Because they are nonunion.  And their low prices make it difficult for small mom & pop shops to stay in business charging their customers higher prices.  But being nonunion lets them hire more people.  And their low prices allow people to buy more with their paychecks.  Good things.  Yet the left hates Wal-Mart.  Because they would rather have union jobs even if it means fewer jobs.  And higher prices.  Despite Wal-Mart being the best thing for the middle class since General Motors (see Walmart and the middle class, sinking together by Rick Newman posted 2/21/2014 on Yahoo! Finance).

It was once General Motors (GM) whose fortunes reflected those of the middle-class Americans who bought its products. Now, that bellwether Goliath is Walmart (WMT)…

A chronically weak job market is pinching lower-income consumers — some of whom can’t even afford to shop at Walmart anymore.

The digital revolution has left Walmart at a disadvantage against etailers such as Amazon (AMZN), which has 7 times’ Walmart’s online revenue, and a much smaller physical footprint to manage.

With Walmart tied so closely to the fortunes lower-middle-class Americans, it’s no exaggeration to say that, as goes Walmart, so goes America. And vice versa…

A century ago, Henry Ford famously doubled the pay of his workers — to $5 per day — to reduce turnover and make his production lines more efficient. That move had the added benefit of raising living standards for Ford workers and helping establish the modern middle class.

Even though Walmart is the nation’s largest employer — with 1.3 million U.S. workers — it seems highly unlikely it could achieve anything similar to what Henry Ford did. Global competition gives retailers little room to raise costs without giving away pricing advantages. And fading demand for lesser-skilled workers lacking a college degree leaves few companies with a real incentive to raise wages, aside from earning a bit of public goodwill. Before Henry Ford doubled wages, his workers often left for other blue-collar jobs in a booming industrial economy. Most Walmart workers lack such options.

Amazon is nonunion, too.  But Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, donated $2.5 million to support gay marriage in Washington State.  Donates primarily to Democrat candidates.  And supports an Internet sales tax (see What Are Jeff Bezos’s Political Leanings, and How Might They Shape the Washington Post? by David A. Graham, The Atlantic, posted 8/5/2013 on the National Journal).  So there are things the left likes about Amazon.  But they only have about 100,000 employees to Wal-Mart’s 2.2 million.  Which is why the left has an all out assault on Wal-Mart.  Because they want to unionize those 2.2 million.  For 2.2 million people would provide a lot of union dues.

Unionization or a higher minimum wage does not build a strong middle class.  A strong economy does.  That’s what helped Henry Ford raise his wages.  To keep his best workers from quitting so they could take higher paying jobs elsewhere.  Which is how people earn more money.  When an economy is so robust that there are more jobs than people to fill them.  Requiring employers to pay more to attract workers.  Not by forcing employers to pay more.  Especially during a weak economy.  When a business’ margins couldn’t be thinner.  Leaving them unable to raise wages without cutting workers.  Which the left will be glad to see.  Lost jobs.  As long as those remaining are union jobs.

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Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Westinghouse, Boeing, Gates and Tariffs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 10th, 2013

History 101

Ford brought the Price of Cars down and Paid his Workers more without Tariff Protection

Andrew Carnegie grew a steel empire in the late 19th century.  With technological innovation.  He made the steel industry better.  Making steel better.  Less costly.  And more plentiful.  Carnegie’s steel built America’s skylines.  Allowing our buildings to reach the sky.  And Carnegie brought the price of steel down without tariff protection.

John D. Rockefeller saved the whales.  By making kerosene cheap and plentiful.  Replacing whale oil pretty much forever.  Then found a use for another refined petroleum product.  Something they once threw away.  Gasoline.  Which turned out to be a great automotive fuel.  It’s so great that we use it still today.  Rockefeller made gasoline so cheap and plentiful that he put the competition out of business.  He was making gasoline so cheap that his competition went to the government to break up Standard Oil.  So his competition didn’t have to sell at his low prices.  And Rockefeller made gasoline so inexpensive and so plentiful without tariff protection.

Henry Ford built cars on the first moving assembly line.  Greatly bringing the cost of the car down.  Auto factories have fixed costs that they recover in the price of the car.  The more cars a factory can make in a day allows them to distribute those fixed costs over more cars.  Bringing the cost of the car down.  Allowing Henry Ford to do the unprecedented and pay his workers $5 a day.  Allowing his workers to buy the cars they assembled.  And Ford brought the price of cars down and paid his workers more without tariff protection.

George Westinghouse decreased the Cost of Electric Power without Tariff Protection

George Westinghouse gave us AC power.  Thanks to his brilliant engineer.  Nikola Tesla.  Who battled his former employer, Thomas Edison, in the Current Wars.  Edison wanted to wire the country with his DC power.  Putting his DC generators throughout American cities.  While Westinghouse and Tesla wanted to build fewer plants and send their AC power over greater distances.  Greatly decreasing the cost of electric power.  Westinghouse won the Current Wars.  And Westinghouse did that without tariff protection.

After losing out on a military contract for a large military transport jet Boeing regrouped and took their failed design and converted it into a jet airliner.  The Boeing 747.  Which dominated long-haul routes.  Having the range to go almost anywhere without refueling.  And being able to pack so many people into a single airplane that the cost per person to fly was affordable to almost anyone that wanted to fly.  And Boeing did this without tariff protection.

Bill Gates became a billionaire thanks to his software.  Beginning with DOS.  Then Windows.  He dominated the PC operating system market.  And saw the potential of the Internet.  Bundling his browser program, Internet Explorer, with his operating system.  Giving it away for free.  Consumers loved it.  But his competition didn’t.  As they saw a fall in sales for their Internet browser programs.  With some of their past customers preferring to use the free Internet Explorer instead of buying another program.  Making IE the most popular Internet browser on the market.  And Gates did this without tariff protection.

Tariff Protection cost American Industries Years of Innovation and Cost Cutting Efficiencies

Carnegie Steel became U.S. Steel.  Which grew to be the nation’s largest steel company.  Carnegie had opposed unions to keep the cost of his steel down.  U.S. Steel had a contentious relationship with labor.  During the Great Depression U.S. Steel unionized.  But there was little love between labor and management.  There were a lot of strikes.  And a lot of costly union contracts.  Which raised the price of U.S. manufactured steel.  Opening the door for less costly foreign imports.  Which poured into the country.  Taking a lot of business away from domestic steel makers.  Making it more difficult to honor those costly union contracts.  Which led the U.S. steel producers to ask the government for tariff protection.  To raise the price of the imported steel so steel consumers would not have a less costly alternative.

During World War II FDR was printing so much money to pay for both the New Deal and the war the FDR administration was worried about inflation.  So they put ceilings on what employers could pay their employees.  With jobs paying the same it was difficult to attract the best employees.  Because you couldn’t offer more pay.  So General Motors started offering benefits.  Health care.  And pensions.  Agreeing to very generous union contracts.  Raising the price of cars.  Which wasn’t a problem until the imports hit our shores.  Then those union contracts became difficult to honor.  Which led the U.S. auto makers to ask the government for tariff protection.  To raise the price of those imported cars so Americans would not have a less costly alternative.

These two industries received their tariffs.  And other government protections.  Allowing them to continue with business as usual.  Even though business as usual no longer worked.  So while the foreign steel producers and auto makers advanced their industries to further increase quality and lower their costs the protected U.S. companies did not.  Because they didn’t have to.  For thanks to the government they didn’t have to please their customers.  As the government simply forced people to be their customers.  For awhile, at least.  The foreign products became better and better such that the tariff protection couldn’t make the higher quality imports costly enough to keep them less attractive than the inferior American goods.  With a lot of people even paying more for the better quality imports.  Losing years of innovation and cost cutting efficiencies due to their tariff protection these American industries that once dominated the world became shells of their former selves.  With General Motors and Chrysler having to ask the government for a bailout because of the health care and pension costs bankrupting them.  Something Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Westinghouse, Boeing or Gates never had to ask.

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Cost-Benefit Analysis and Health Insurance

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2013

Economics 101

We do a Cost-Benefit Analysis before making a Buying Decision

We make decisions everyday comparing costs to benefits.  Any time we go to a store.  Any time we make a buying decision.  We ask ourselves how much are we willing to pay to enjoy the benefit of the thing we’re thinking about buying.

For example, people love boats.  For there is nothing like being on a boat on a beautiful summer’s day.  Especially if you’re a guy.  Because bikini-clad women love sunning themselves on boats.  You could even say that a boat is a magnet for beautiful, bikini-clad women.  But how much are you willing to spend to enjoy that benefit?  Being around beautiful, bikini-clad women?  For owning a boat is very costly.  Especially if you live in a northern clime with a short boating season.

First of all, buying a boat is very costly.  It could determine the size of your house or where you live if you’re making a boat payment.  Then there’s insurance.  Fuel costs.  Transportation costs.  And inconvenience.  Of the time, effort and wear & tear on your vehicle to haul your boat to and from the water.  Or you can spend even more money to dock your boat at a marina.  And dry-store it over the winter.

Young, Healthy People do not buy Health Insurance because it has no Immediate Benefit for the High Cost

It takes a pretty healthy income to enjoy the benefit of boat ownership.  Something business owners can afford.  Because they earn a decent income.  But they earn that income because they put in a lot of hours.  So many that their boat may sit in their yard for most of the summer.  Or in storage.  So while a boat owner continues to pay the costs for the benefits of boat ownership he or she rarely enjoys those benefits.  Especially if they get married.  And the spouse gets seasick.

In an honest cost-benefit analysis few would buy a boat other than a business that needs a boat to do their business.  Like a fishing boat.  Or a harbor tug.  For these people there is a financial benefit that comes from boat ownership.  Income.  Unlike earning enough money to be able to afford a boat these people use their boat to provide an income.  Making the cost-benefit analysis completely different.  Instead of rationalizing the value of having fun they look at the revenue their boat will be able to provide.  And if it’s greater than the costs of owning that boat they will go ahead and buy that boat.

Sometimes we make these decisions based on impulse or desire instead of objective analysis.  Buying a more costly car when a less costly one would do.  But there are times when some go too far in the other direction.  Deciding not to buy something because they can’t see or enjoy the benefit.  Such as car insurance.  Or health insurance.  Things that have no benefit unless something bad happens.  And a lot of those going happily through life see no reason to spend a lot of money for something that brings them nothing good now.

Obamacare and the Individual Mandate make Generational Theft Law

This is why health insurance is so expensive.  Because FDR broke the health care system.  At least, the money-side of it.  When the FDR administration put in wage caps General Motors started offering a health insurance benefit.  This got around FDR’s wage cap and allowed them to offer more to the best workers to get them to come and work at General Motors.  And ever since we looked at health insurance as an employer benefit now instead of another cost in our everyday life.  Like food and housing.

After this our employment decisions changed.  People chose a job not based on what they would enjoy doing in life but by the size of their health care benefit.  The owner-provided health insurance.  At first the sky was the limit.  Because the U.S. automotive industry could charge whatever they wanted for a car.  And the price of cars began to climb to cover those very generous benefit packages.  Undoing what Henry Ford had done.  As the benefits pushed the cost of a car higher and higher it soon was not available to the average working man.  As they could only be afforded by the upper middle class and above.  Until competition entered and provided a lower-cost car that the less wealthy could afford.  As the U.S. automotive industry lost market share their sales declined.  So a smaller revenue had to pay for a growing number of pension and health care expenses of retired GM workers agreed to during the glory years.  Who were living longer into retirement than originally assumed.  And consuming a lot of medical services in those later years.  All paid for by the health insurance companies.  Causing health insurance costs to soar.

Young people are healthy people.  They rarely go to the doctor.  So when it comes to buying very expensive health insurance (to pay for the older generation consuming the bulk of health care services) they choose not to.  Because of an objective cost-benefit analysis.  Young, healthy people, today, are getting little benefit from paying an enormous amount of money for a health insurance policy.  Their parent’s generation (or their grandparent’s) is getting the benefit.  So they make a rational decision and NOT buy health insurance.  Which raises the cost of health insurance for those who do.  For today health insurance is not insurance.  It’s generational theft.  Stealing from the young to pay for the old because of FDR’s decision that made health care an employee benefit.  And an aging population makes it worse.  Enter Obamacare and the individual mandate.  Which made this generational theft law.  Forcing the young to pay for the old against their will.  Leaving little for them on their meager incomes to support or start a family of their own.  Preventing them from buying a new car.  While the thought of owning a boat is now a distant dream.

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Trend Analysis GM and Toyota 2005—2008

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 29th, 2013

History 101

GM’s Problems were caused by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Ceiling on Wages

The GM bailout is still controversial.  It was part of the 2012 campaign.  It was why we should reelect President Obama.  Because Osama bin Laden was dead.  And General Motors was alive.  But the bailout didn’t fix what was wrong with GM.  Why it went bankrupt in the first place.  The prevailing market price for cars was below their costs.  And what was driving their costs so high?  It was labor.  It was the UAW wage and benefit package that made it impossible for GM to sell a car profitably.

GM’s problems go back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The country was suffering in the Great Depression with double-digit unemployment.  He wanted to get businesses to hire people.  To reduce unemployment.  And pull us out of the Great Depression.  So how do you get businesses to hire more people?  Hmmm, he thought.  Pay people less so businesses have more money to hire more people.  It was brilliant.  So FDR imposed a ceiling on wages.  Why did FDR do this?  Because he was from a rich family who didn’t understand business or basic economics.

Of course there was one major drawback to this.  How do you get the best talent to work for you if you can’t pay top dollar?  Normally the best talent can go to whoever pays the most.  But if everyone pays the same by law you might as well work at the place closest to your house.  Or across from the best bars.  No, if a business wanted the best workers they had to figure out how to get them to drive across town in rush hour traffic and sit in that traffic on the way home.  A real pain in the you-know-what.  So how to get workers to do that if you can’t pay them more?  You give them benefits.

Toyota doesn’t have the Legacy Costs that Bankrupted an Uncompetitive GM

And this was, is, the root of GM’s problems.  Those generous pension and health care benefits.  Things we once took care of ourselves.  Before our employers started providing these.  And the UAW really put the screws to GM.  Getting great pay, benefits and workplace rules.  For both active workers.  And retirees.  Even laid-off workers.  Such as the job bank.  Where GM paid workers who had no work to do.  It’s benefits like this that have bankrupted GM.  Especially the pensions and health care costs for retired workers.  Who outnumbered active workers.  Those people actually assembling the cars they sell.

It’s these legacy costs that have made GM uncompetitive.  Toyota, for example, didn’t suffer the FDR problem.  So their costs for retired workers don’t exceed their costs for active workers.  In fact let’s compare GM and Toyota for the four years just before GM’s government bailout (2005-2008).  We pulled financial numbers from their annual reports (see GM 2005 & 2006, GM 2007 & 2008, Toyota 2005 & 2006 and Toyota 2007 & 2008).  We’ve used some standard ratios and plotted some resulting trends.  Note that this is a crude analysis that provides a general overview of the information in their annual reports.  A proper analysis is far more involved and you should not construe that the following is an appropriate way to analyze financial statements.  We believe these results show general trends.  But we offer no investment advice or endorsements.

GM Toyota Current Ratio

We get the current ration by dividing current assets by current liabilities.  These are the assets/liabilities that will become cash or will have to be paid with cash within 12 months.  If this ratio is 1 it means current assets equals current liabilities.  Meaning that a business will have just enough cash to meet their cash needs in the next 12 months.  If the number is greater than 1 a business will have even a little extra cash.  If the number is less than 1 a business is in trouble.  As they won’t have the cash to meet their cash needs in the next 12 months.  Unless they borrow cash.  Toyota’s current ratio fell slightly during these 4 years but always remained above 1.  Falling as low as 1.01.  Whereas GM’s current ratio was never above 1 during these 4 years.  And only got worse after 2006.  Showing GM’s financial crash in 2008.

The GM Bailout did not address the Cause of their Bankruptcy—UAW Pensions and Health Care Benefits

There are two basic ways to finance a business.  With debt.  And equity.  Equity comes from outside investors (when a business issues new stock).  Or from profitable business operations.  Which typically accounts for the majority of equity.  Profitable business operations are the whole point of running a business.  And it’s what raises stock prices.  To see which is providing the financing of a business (debt or equity) we calculate the debt ratio.  We do this by dividing total liabilities by total assets.  If this number equals 1 then total assets equal total liabilities.  Meaning that 100% of a business’ assets are financed with debt.  And 0% with equity.  Lenders do not like seeing this.  And will be very reluctant to loan money to you if your business operations cannot generate enough profits to build up some equity.  And that was the problem GM had.  Their business operations could not generate any profits.  So GM had to keep borrowing.

GM Toyota Debt Ratio

GM went from bad to worse after 2005.  Their debt ratio went from 1.02 in 2006.  To 1.24 in 2007.  And to 1.94 in 2008.  Indicating massive borrowings to offset massive operating losses.   And how big were those losses?  They lost $17.806 billion in 2005.  $5.823 billion in 2006.  $4.309 billion in 2007.  And in the year of their crash (2008) they lost $21.284 billion.  Meanwhile Toyota kept their debt ratio fluctuating between 0.61 and 0.62.  Very respectable.  And where lenders like to see it.  As they will be more willing to loan money to a company that can generate almost half of their financing needs from profitable business operations.  So why can’t GM?  Because of those legacy costs.  Which increases their cost of sales.

GM Toyota Cost of Sales

GM’s cost of sales was close to 100% of automotive sales revenue these 4 years.  Even exceeding 100% in 2008.  And it’s this cost of sales that sent GM into bankruptcy.  Toyota’s was close to 80% through these 4 years.  Leaving about 20% of sales to pay their other costs.  Like selling, general and administrative (S,G&A).  Whereas GM was already losing money before they started paying these expenses.  Thanks to generous UAW pay and benefit packages.  The job bank.  And the even greater costs of pensions and health care for their retirees.  It’s not CEO compensation that bankrupted GM.  It was the UAW.  As CEO compensation comes out of S,G&A.  Which was less than 10% of sales in 2007 and 2008.  Which was even less than Toyota’s.

GM Toyota S G and A

GM’s costs kept rising.  But they couldn’t pass it on to the consumer.  For if they did the people would just buy a less expensive Toyota.  So GM kept building cars even though they couldn’t sell them competitively.  And sold them at steep discounts.  Just to make room for more new cars.  So the UAW could keep building cars.  Incurring massive losses.  Hoping they could make it up in volume.  But that volume never came.

GM Toyota Automotive Sales as percent of 2005

Toyota continued to increase sales revenue year after year.  But GM’s sales grew at a flatter rate.  Even falling in 2008.  It was just too much.  GM was such a train wreck that it would have required a massive reorganization in a bankruptcy.  Specifically dealing with the uncompetitive UAW labor.  Especially those pensions and health care benefits for retirees.  Which the government bailout did not address.  At all.  The white collar workforce lost their pensions.  But not the UAW.  In fact, the government bailout went to bolster those pension and health care plans.  So the underlying problems are still there.  And another bankruptcy is likely around the corner.

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U.S. Tax Dollars being Invested to Create Jobs in China

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2012

Week in Review

The U.S. government bailed out GM.  Instead of letting them go through a normal bankruptcy proceeding that would make GM competitive again so they could sell cars in the U.S. again.  Instead, the government gave GM taxpayer money to fund their pension and retiree health care costs.  Which will do nothing to improve their competitiveness.  Or create new jobs in the U.S.  So what will that massive government investment do for GM?  Allow them to expand and create jobs…in China (see GM Chinese venture to build $1 billion plant in Chongqing by Ben Klayman posted 11/28/2012 on Reuters).

General Motors Co (GM.N) and its Chinese joint-venture partners said on Wednesday they plan to build a $1 billion auto assembly plant in the city of Chongqing as the GM group bids to remain the leader in the world’s largest auto market…

Earlier this month, GM and its Chinese partners opened a plant in the southern city of Liuzhou for its low-cost Baojun brand. That plant will also eventually have an annual production capacity of 400,000 vehicles…

In September, GM opened a large vehicle test track west of Shanghai. GM and its partners invested $252 million to build what officials called the country’s largest proving ground.

In addition to Liuzhou, the joint venture currently operates a plant in Qingdao. GM and SAIC, through a different joint venture, also have a plant in Shanghai, and several more in northeast China.

This is not helping the U.S. economy.  Building plants and creating jobs in China.  All this is doing is allowing GM to make money like Wall Street makes money.  By investing money.  And getting a return on their Chinese investments.  Government Motors, I mean, General Motors is doing the very thing the Democrats hammered Mitt Romney for doing during the 2012 election.  Creating jobs in China.  The only difference, of course, is that Romney didn’t use U.S. tax money to create any of his jobs.

So the government bailout of General Motors didn’t help anyone but the UAW whose high costs were making them uncompetitive (the source of all of GM’s problems).  And the Chinese.  It didn’t create any new jobs in America.  And it didn’t help GM become more competitive.  Forcing them to rely on their Chinese job growth because their cost structure just won’t let them sell more cars or add more jobs in the United States.

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GM doing well in China after the Taxpayer-Funded Obama Administration Bailout

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

President Obama saved General Motors (GM).  He bailed them out.  Instead of letting them go through normal bankruptcy proceedings where the creditors are protected and contracts are rewritten so the company can become competitive again.  The Obama bailout didn’t follow normal bankruptcy proceedings.  Nor contract law.  Secured creditors became unsecured by presidential decree.  They transferred ownership to the UAW.  And billions of taxpayers’ money propped up the UAW pension fund.  None of which improved GM’s competitiveness.  And the Obama administration poured more money into the Chevy Volt that no one wanted and few are buying.

But the president did all of these things to save US jobs.  Even though normal bankruptcy proceedings would have made GM more competitive and actually created more jobs.  In fact, under normal bankruptcy proceedings those new jobs would probably have been in the US (see GM opens China test track in effort to remain market leader by Ben Klayman posted 9/21/2012 on Reuters).

General Motors Co(GM.N) opened a new, large vehicle test track west of Shanghai on Saturday as part of its push to retain its leading market share in the world’s largest auto market.

The No. 1 U.S. automaker and its joint venture partners, including SAIC Motor (600104.SS), invested about $252.5 million to build what GM China President Kevin Wale called the country’s largest proving ground…

GM invests $1.5 billion annually in China.

The government still owns GM stock.  So that investment in China was technically made by a company the US government partially owns.  And some of those dollars invested in China were US taxpayer dollars.  So the Obama bailout of GM has allowed GM to invest in China.  And to create jobs in China.

GM is making the investment despite a slowing in the Chinese auto market because it is focused on the long-term growth prospects, Wale said…

GM, whose joint venture in China began building vehicles in 1999, sells under the Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Opel, Wuling, Baojun and Jiefing brands. Wale said GM had to continue to roll out new products as the market grows, including adding products in the SUV and luxury car segments.

The government has raised fuel economy standards and pushed the Chevy Volt.  So we would stop buying the cars we want to buy.  And start buying the cars they want us to buy.  Like the Chevy Volt.  While the Chinese are expanding the SUV and luxury car segments.  Making it easy for the Chinese to buy the cars they want to buy.  Thanks to that taxpayer-financed government bailout.

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The 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami both Helped GM and Hurt the Economy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2012

Week in Review

Sadly for President Obama and GM the Japanese have recovered from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  And GM has to face some formidable competition once again (see More Bad News for Obama: A Slump at GM by Rick Newman posted 8/2/2012 on U.S News & World Report).

The downshift seems to have scotched any notion of the government selling its stake in the company prior to the November elections, since that would amount to a taxpayer loss of roughly $17 billion, and a major embarrassment for Obama. The government can hold onto its shares as long as it likes, and sell when the price is high enough to get all its money back. But the stock would have to hit about $53 for Uncle Sam to break even—a threshold that seems a long way off…

One reason GM has lost market share this year has been the resurgence of Toyota, Honda and Nissan, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disrupted production and temporarily boosted the market share of Japan’s competitors…

Funny.  For the 2011 earthquake and tsunami was responsible for America’s lingering recession.  According to President Obama.  And here it was propping up GM and all the economic activity it generated.  Which was why the government bailed out GM.  To save jobs.  And all of that economic activity GM created.  So if the 2011 earthquake and tsunami was responsible for propping up GM why didn’t it prop up the rest of the economy?  Like Japan’s Lost Decade helped Bill Clinton’s economy during the Nineties?  Simple.  Because President Obama’s economic policies are just that bad.

GM will probably regain some momentum in 2013, when it rolls out its next generation of large SUVs, which are usually highly profitable. Meanwhile, Cadillac is on a roll, thanks to the new ATS compact, the XTS large sedan, and improving quality ratings. Chevrolet has three new models out or on the way—the Malibu and Impala sedans and the Spark subcompact—and a refreshed version of the popular Traverse crossover is coming next year as well…

Nobody would like to see the government sell its stake in GM more than GM. CEO Dan Akerson has complained about the company’s unhappy status as a political football, and the toll that takes on sales and morale. But he’s probably going to have to put up with it for a good while longer.

The car President Obama wanted Government Motors, I mean, General Motors to build is not even mentioned in this article.  The Chevy Volt hybrid.  Which is conspicuous by its absence.  Instead they mention the things his administration opposes.  SUVs.  And large sedans.  Vehicles the American people want to buy.  Perhaps encouraging GM to build something the American people didn’t want to buy also had something to do with GM’s falling stock price.

Perhaps it would be best for the government to sell its shares now.  Even at a loss.  So GM can run the car company.  And not politicians who don’t know the first thing about running a car company.  Ending his war on the stuff that makes these cars run, refined petroleum, would help, too.  A lot.  By bringing the cost of gasoline down.  Helping GM to sell more of the vehicles people want to buy.  Doing these things would help the economy more than 2011 earthquake and tsunami helped it.  Now that would be smart government.  Sadly, something we just don’t see much of these days.

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FT100: “Benefit recipients agree that responsible governing should start AFTER they get theirs.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 13th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Legacy Health Care (and Pension) Costs Bankrupted GM

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruined General Motors (GM).  And created the health care crisis.  How?  With price controls.  By interfering with market pricing mechanisms.  In a misguided effort to fix the economy he instituted a maximum wage.  Meaning companies couldn’t compete for good workers by offering them a higher wage.  So to compete for good workers they started us down a path that is destroying our economy.  Instead of higher wages (which were illegal) they offered benefits.  And the United States would never be the same.

Health care.  Before FDR, we paid for our health care.  After FDR, other people paid for our health care.  And we demanded more because we weren’t paying the bill.  It worked well for awhile.  When there was an expanding population.  When there were always more younger workers than older workers.  And retirees.  But the population aged.  Thanks to birth control.  And abortion.  During FDR’s time it was common for a family to raise 10 children.  Now it’s closer to 2 or 3.  Which means a generation or two later there were no longer more younger workers than older workers and retirees.  And what does this mean?  Well, older workers and retirees consume more health care than younger workers.  So the cost of health care soared for business.

This is what bankrupted GM.  These legacy health care (and pension) costs.  Instituted during a time when they were cheap and easy to provide.  But they became unsustainable.  Because of that declining population growth rate.  Union contract after union contract discussed these legacy costs.  But the way the rank and file felt was that it was their turn.  The system may be flawed.  But it worked before them.  So let them have their benefits they say.  And fix the system after they get theirs.

Social Security and Public Sectors have the same Problems GM Had

Social Security has the same problem.  That declining population growth rate is forcing fewer and fewer workers to support a retired worker.  And they’re living a lot longer than FDR’s actuaries ever calculated thanks to better and better health care.  Which just compounds the problem.  Social Security is a pyramid scheme gone bad.  The top is far wider than the base.  There are more benefit recipients than benefit contributors.  And it will follow GM into bankruptcy.  It’s just a matter of time.

There’s been a lot of talk about privatizing Social Security to prevent its collapse.  But it always meets fierce resistance.  Especially from the elderly and retirees.  Who are stuck in the system never having provided for their own retirement because they believed in the Ponzi scheme that is Social Security.  They say the system may be flawed.  But it worked before them.  So let them have their benefits they say.  And fix the system after they get theirs.

If you combine the rising health care costs and the rising pension costs inherent with a declining birth rate we come to the public sector.  Who have always enjoyed far better benefits than those in the private sector.  But that aging population is requiring ever higher taxes to support these most generous benefits.  And the taxpayers simply can’t sustain them any longer.  Those in the public sector know these systems need to be reformed.  But they worked before them.  So let them have their benefits they say.  And reform the system after they get theirs.

This Generation will Always Kick the Can to the Next Generation

That’s the problem with bad public policy.  Everyone can agree that bad policy needs to be reformed.  But what harm could one more generation do?  So kick that can down the road.  We have time.  After all, it took generations to get where we are now.  So another generation won’t ruin the country.  Even though it very well could.  But the important thing for them is that they get their benefits.  And the responsible governing can start after they get theirs.

But that’s the problem.  This generation always wants the following generation to fix things.  They always want to kick that can down the road.  But the problem is that there will always be another generation to kick that can to.  So they always will.  And no one will fix these problems while there’s a chance to fix them.  One generation will just suffer the consequences of all this can kicking.  As will every generation that follows.

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Looking at the Economic Data it’s getting hard to tell who’s President, Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 22nd, 2011

Keynesian Economists’ Poor Forecasts suggests their Keynesian Economics doesn’t Work

More bad news for the housing market.  Not that this is a surprise.  That was a pretty big housing bubble that the Fed created.  With their stimulative low interest rates.  And the bigger they are the harder they fall.  Or pop, as it were.  And as the market corrected the Fed’s damage, it threw a slew of people out of work (see Early Mortgage Delinquencies Rise to Highest in Year as U.S. Economy Slows by Kathleen M. Howley posted 8/22/2011 on Bloomberg). 

The percentage of U.S. mortgages overdue by one month rose to the highest level in a year in the second quarter as homeowners who lost jobs were unable to make their payments…

The gain in early delinquencies signals a slowing economy may increase foreclosures, said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist of the trade group. The unemployment rate in the three months ended June 30 rose to 9.1 percent from 8.9 percent, the first quarterly increase since 2009, according to the Labor Department. Jobless claims jumped to an eight-month high in late April, government data show.

For the quarter ending June 30 unemployment was at 9.1 percent.  Ouch.  Remember why it was so urgent to pass the Obama Keynesian stimulus?  To keep the unemployment rate under 8%.  That was in February of 2009.  That’s two years ago.  Guess Keynesian economics doesn’t work.

The world’s largest economy grew at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said on July 29. That was less than the increase of 1.8 percent forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg. A Federal Reserve report last week showed manufacturing in the Philadelphia region contracted in August by the most in more than two years as orders fell and factories fired workers.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. lowered their forecasts for U.S. gross domestic product last week. The U.S. will expand 1.5 percent this year, down from a previous forecast of 1.7 percent, according to Goldman economists in New York. JPMorgan predicts 1 percent growth in U.S. GDP in the fourth quarter, down from an earlier projection of 2.5 percent, the bank said last week.

And the news just keeps getting better.  And by better I mean worse.  Again another record.  This one for manufacturing.  And actual GDP numbers are coming in under economists’ estimates.  The numbers are so bad these economists are revising their future projections down.  It should be noted that the vast majority of mainstream economists are Keynesian economists.  Which suggests their Keynesian economics doesn’t work very well.

Inflation Growing at a Greater Rate than Wages equals Real Pay Cuts

These mainstream economists said the Great Recession ended by July 2009.  Said that the Obama administration followed their Keynesian advice.  Kicked that recession in the behind.  And launched the recovery with a Recovery Summer.  Yay said the Keynesians.  Everything was going to be all right.  And yet two years later here we are.  Where things are still not right (see Survey: US companies say they’re planning another year of small raises for workers in 2012 by the Associated Press posted 8/22/2011 on The Washington Post). 

After increasing salaries by 2.6 percent this year and last year, companies are planning a 2.8 percent bump in 2012, benefits and human resources consultancy Towers Watson reported Monday.

That’s somewhat smaller than raises in the last decade. From 2000 to 2006, the year before the Great Recession began, salaries rose an average 3.9 percent for workers who were not executives.

And the modest bump may not help add much buying power for shoppers. In the 12 months through July, prices for consumers have risen 3.6 percent, according to the government’s latest calculations.

Those lucky enough to have a job are taking real pay cuts to keep those jobs.  Inflation is growing at a greater rate than their wages.  Which means as prices go up their pay checks will buy less.  Despite those raises.  High unemployment.  And rising inflation.  The last time the economy saw numbers this bad was during the Seventies.  When we called it stagflation.  And blamed Jimmy Carter.  Who became a one-term president because of it.

Obama Cares enough about the People to Hide from them on the Golf Course

President Obama is aware of the nation’s woes.  He is even thinking about them while on vacation.  On Martha’s Vineyard.  Playground for the uber rich (see President keeps low profile on Martha’s Vineyard by Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein posted 8/20/2011 on the boston.com).   

But it was later, at the Vineyard Golf Course in Edgartown, where the president’s recalcitrance was most evident. Approaching the eighth tee in a golf cart with friend and frequent golfing buddy Eric Whitaker, the president noticed three TV cameras and a Globe photographer across the street. Rather than stop and be photographed teeing off, the president skipped the hole.

That’s how much he cares.  He’ll skip a hole during a round of golf just so we don’t see him living well during these bad economic times.  Talk about sacrifice.  He’s just not playing 17 holes instead of 18.  Skipping that hole may have an adverse affect on his handicap.  He called for fair-share sacrifice.  And he, too, is sacrificing.  Walking it like he talks it.  So think about this noble act before you start bitching about another tax hike.  He skipped a hole of golf.

Obama bailed out General Motors and Chrysler and put Detroit back to Work

But it’s back to work after Martha’s Vineyards.  Just like the rest of us after our vacations.  Though our vacations are a bit more Spartan these days.  And rarely venture farther than our own backyards (see Obama to join unions’ Labor Day festivities in Detroit by Aaron Kessler posted 8/22/2011 on the Detroit Free Press). 

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will join thousands of union members at Labor Day festivities in Detroit, the Free Press has learned,

Obama will deliver remarks at a Labor Day event sponsored by the Metro Detroit Labor Council, according to a White House official with knowledge of the trip.

While no other details were immediately available, it is likely he would again use the opportunity to tout his administration’s role in the rescues in 2009 of General Motors and Chrysler.

So the president is going to Detroit to celebrate Labor Day.  It makes sense.  I mean, he bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, didn’t he?  And put the good people of Detroit back to work.

With 13.7% Unemployment where’s the Summer Recovery in Detroit?

Then again, looking at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it would appear that he has not put the good people of Detroit back to work (see Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary posted 8/3/2011 on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). 

Eleven of the most populous metropolitan areas are made up of 34 metropolitan divisions, which are essentially separately identifiable employment centers. In June 2011, Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla., and Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich., registered the highest jobless rates among the divisions, 13.9 and 13.7 percent, respectively. Nashua, N.H.-Mass., reported the lowest division rate, 5.4 percent, followed by Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md., 5.8 percent. (See table 2.)

No wonder Maxine Waters is so angry.  He skips Detroit on his ‘listening’ bus tour.  And vacations on the very exclusive Martha’s Vineyards.  While the Detroit area is suffering double-digit unemployment.  If he was listening anywhere, it should have been in Detroit.

The Detroit area unemployment rate is 13.7%.  While the national rate is only 9.1% for the same period.  Yes, the national rate is bad.  But it’s not Detroit bad.  And this after the automotive bailouts.  That put the good people of Detroit back to work.  On top of the Obama stimulus.  So where’s the Summer Recovery in Detroit?  What’s happened to the Motor City? 

So this is what a Second Jimmy Carter Term would have been Like 

In a word, Obamanomics.  His Keynesian policies that were supposed to save jobs have killed jobs.  In Detroit.  And across the nation.  Worse, on top of high unemployment these policies have ignited inflation.  Unemployment plus inflation equals stagnation.  Misery.  And malaise

So this is what a second Jimmy Carter term would have been like.  Makes one want to say, “Welcome back Carter.”  But not in that warm nostalgic way like in that Seventies sitcom (Welcome Back Kotter).  Of course you never saw Jimmy Carter living it up like Obama.  So there are some differences.

This economy will not help Obama in 2012.  Worse, the American people will get no relief until after 2012.  For it’s like Ronald Reagan said in his campaign against Jimmy Carter (see President Ronald Reagan – Liberty State Park [Pt. 1] at 5:26).  A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose yours.  And recovery is when Barack Obama loses his.

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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