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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LESSONS LEARNED #43: “If business ain’t selling, business ain’t hiring.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 9th, 2010

Before Competition, the Big Three were Living Large

President Obama bailed out GM and Chrysler in 2009.  And why did they need financial help?  The same reason any company needs financial help.  They weren’t selling enough.

I had a finance professor who said few companies have a debt problem.  Companies struggle because they have a revenue problem.  They’re simply not selling enough.  And when a company goes into bankruptcy reorganization, they emerge with the same revenue problems.  Which is why so many still fail after reorganizing and slashing their debt costs.

For decades, the Big Three had a monopoly on the automotive market.  Wherever you lived in the world, if you wanted a car you bought a Ford, GM or Chrysler product.  So the Big Three could charge whatever they wanted for their cars.  That is, until the Japanese entered the market.

Unskilled Line Workers Living Better than Doctors

It was their great success that led to their downfall.  Selling cars with fat profits allowed the Big Three to pay fat wage and benefits.  And they did.  Then the UAW got greedy.  An unskilled line worker could own two houses, a boat, 2 new cars, take expensive vacations, own the latest in toys, etc.  They lived better than doctors.  And doctors were highly skilled.  They spent 8 years in medical school.  And spent a decade of their life paying off the debt from that medical school.  And to add insult to injury, doctors worked 80+ hours per week during that decade when they lived like paupers.  Line workers worked only 40.  And lived like kings.

It was nice work if you could get it.  And many did.  Before the Japanese.  But it all started to come apart in the 1970s.  When the Big Three were selling junk.  Cars that rusted out in a few years.  Unreliable.  Ugly.  These just screamed “we just don’t give a damn anymore.”  More money went to the workers.  Less into making quality cars people wanted.  No problem for the UAW.  I mean, who else were you going to buy a car from?

Hello, what’s this?  Honda?  What’s that?  I’m not sure but it costs less.  And looks pretty good.  Nice quality.  So why should I continue to pay more for less and buy this junk from the Big Three?  Or so went the thinking.  Yes, the Japanese had arrived.  And they were selling something the people wanted.

Fat Wage and Benefit Packages come back to Bite the Big Three in the Ass

So that was the beginning of the end.  Those fat wage and benefit packages for unskilled labor required higher sticker prices than the market was willing to pay.  So they sold fewer cars.  And the Japanese (and, in time, the other imports) sold more.

But it got worse.  Not only were their revenues falling, but their costs were rising.  The Big Three were around for awhile.  They had an aging work force that was retiring.  And getting sick.  Pension and health care costs soared.  Costs per car soared.  While the Japanese were enjoying economies of scales (the more you sell the less each unit costs to make), the Big Three were bleeding red ink all over their balance sheets.

I was in a meeting one time on the floor of an assembly plant.  I was staring at the part of the line where a worker threw insulation into the bottom of the trunk.  She threw in a pad.  Walked over to her coworker at the next station.  Chatted a bit.  Walked back to her station.  Talked to someone else.  Then threw a pad into the next car on the line.  I could just see the red ink bleed.

The Big Three screwed themselves.  In order to cover those fat wage and benefit packages for their unskilled workers, they have to sell cars for a whole lot more than their competition was.  And they couldn’t.  Imagine McDonald’s workers receiving the same wage and benefit packages as the UAW.  And cooking hamburgers at the same pace.  You’d have to wait in line for 45 minutes for your burger.  And you’d pay over $20 for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Buying American is not Necessarily American

I often see those bumper stickers that ask, “Unemployed?  Keep buying foreign.”  Or something like that.  What these people don’t understand, or choose not to understand, is that more people buy cars than make cars.  Paying more for less helps the few people that build cars.  While they enjoy a very good life, the greater number of buyers of those cars have to get by on less.  So the economy as a whole gets worse.  To help a group of unskilled workers live a better life than our own.

Is that fair?  Making the majority subsidize a minority elite?  Unless you live in North Korea or Cuba, the answer is, of course, ‘no’.  So we choose to buy what gives us the most value for our money.  Which is why the Japanese upstart Toyota would see the day when they would sell more cars than GM.  And why did they reach this remarkable milestone?  Because they were selling what people were willing to buy.

Interestingly, the GM and Chrysler bailouts were not your run of the mill reorganizations.  By the power the government gave itself, they walked all over the Rule of Law.  These companies didn’t have a debt problem.  Not anymore, at least.  Because the government screwed the bondholders.  And who did they reward?  That’s right, those unskilled UAW line workers.  The reorganization gave them shares in the new company for no other reason other than being politically loyal to the Democrat Party.  They weren’t even in the line of secured creditors, but that didn’t stop them from jumping to the head of that line.  Remarkable, really.  The Rule of Law had become merely a suggestion.

And when the union sold those ‘gift’ shares of stock they funded their unfunded pension liabilities.  While retirees who invested their life savings into GM bonds lost everything and had to get a job at McDonald’s.  Because McDonald’s is always hiring.  Because they are always selling something people want to buy.

McDonald’s can still Hire during Bad Economic Times

Like my finance professor said, no company fails because of a debt/cost problem.  A debt/cost problem happens when something happens to revenue.  And the biggest reason a business has a revenue problem is because of competition.  Someone somewhere is selling more for less.  Giving the people more bang for the buck.

During bad economic times, revenue problems quickly turn into cost problems.  For some.  Auto manufacturers may idle a shift at an assembly plant, laying off hundreds.  Because there’s no point in making cars no one is buying.  And these manufacturers simply cannot afford to pay these fat wage and benefit packages if they’re not selling cars.

But not everyone has the same financial problems during a recession.  Some still hire during bad economic times.  McDonald’s for one.  Why?  A couple of reasons.  Their workers don’t belong to the UAW.  Because of this we can still call McDonald’s fast food.  And your typical McDonald’s worker doesn’t own two houses, two cars and a boat.  So we don’t have to pay $37.50 for a #2 combo meal. 

We’re buying what McDonald’s is selling.  So they can hire people.  Even during bad economic times.

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