But I don’t know how anyone thought a bankster–and particularly this bankster–could say this and still wield any credibility.
From Washington’s point of view, divesting its remaining shares will end an uncomfortable and distinctly un-American period of government ownership in a major industrial company.
Sure. Rattner places this sentiment in “Washington’s point of view.” Still, consider the messenger.
After all, he barely mentions here–as he did in his book–that this was not just a bailout of some industrial companies. It was also a bailout of two finance companies, Chrysler Finance and GMAC (he mentions that the government still owns Ally/GMAC, but still calls the scorecard, “nearly complete”). As such, it was also the bailout of the Private Equity firm, Cerberus, that had spent the previous years stripping Chrysler in the hopes of retaining just the finance arms.
He also neglects to mention that the government still pursues the un-American policy of treating banks according to a different set of rules, not only providing them free money, but seemingly exempting them from all laws.
Finally, he shows no self-awareness of his own history, including paying kickbacks so his firm could make big money off of New York State (for which he, like all banksters, got a mere wrist-slap).
I’m not saying the government should hold onto its GM stake forever (though unlike Rattner, executive compensation is the last reason I’d cite to applaud this sale). But having someone like Rattner call government intervention in purportedly capitalist companies un-American only perpetuates the idea that industrial companies should have to abide by so-called rules of capitalism that the titans of capitalism, the banksters, have all but discarded.
It has come to this. Cerberus–the private equity firm full of well-connected Republicans like John Snow and Dan Quayle–has decided it can no longer continue to invest in Freedom Group, the maker of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook.
In its statement announcing the decision, it attempts to absolve itself of responsibility for killing 20 children.
In 2006 affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. made a financial investment in Freedom Group. Freedom Group does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, through gun shows or otherwise. Sales are made only to federally licensed firearms dealers and distributors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition.
It then couches its decision to sell Freedom in fiscal responsibility, not moral complicity.
It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level. The debate essentially focuses on the balance between public safety and the scope of the Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment. As a Firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers. Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals. It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators.
There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group. [my emphasis]
But that mention of its clients, including teachers pension plans, is the real tell. As CNN suggests, it was likely pressure from the California Teacher’s pension fund that prompted this decision.
Yesterday we reported that one of the largest investors in Cerberus private equity funds was the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which subsequently said it would review its indirect investment in Freedom Group (it made no such pledge following the Aurora shooting, where a Bushmaster rifle also was used).
In any case, having made the decision to sell Freedom, things will now get interesting for Cerberus, as the sharp decline in gun stocks will force Cerberus to sell Freedom at a big loss.
Often when something like that happens–most spectacularly when Cerberus decided to sell Chrysler–it asks for a bailout. Will John Snow and Dan Quayle orchestrate a federal bailout for themselves again, as they did with the auto bailout?
I’ve been a bit tardy in responding to Mitt’s latest cynical ploy, to pretend that rather than expanding production and jobs in both OH and MI, Chrysler is outsourcing production to China.
But there’s an angle on Mitt’s claims that has been missed. His ad says,
Obama … sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps, in China.
As Shepardson notes, Chrysler used to build Jeeps in China for the Chinese market. Ford builds cars in China for the Chinese market. GM builds cars in China for the Chinese market (GM also exports Chinese-built subcompacts to Latin America). Chrysler’s return to the world’s largest car market is smart business, something any viable global brand needs to do.
If it’s a moral failing for Presidents to preside over private car companies trying to compete in China, then Mitt has a problem with St. Reagan, during whose Administration Jeep first made groundbreaking entries into the Chinese market.
And if Mitt has a problem with Chrysler (or Ford or GM) building cars in China to sell in China, then he had better prepare to get far tougher with China than he has threatened to do so far. China still slaps huge tariffs on cars made outside of the country, so to be viable in the world’s largest automotive market, you have to build in China. That is the crux of the argument American car companies (and Midwestern politicians) have been making for decades: while the US allows imports from all countries, Japan and Korea and now China make it very difficult to export to those countries. This is not fair trade.
But I’m most offended by Mitt’s insinuation that selling Chrysler to an Italian company–he doesn’t mention Fiat by name–was disloyal.
Recall Chrysler’s recent history. Chrysler’s most recent strong point was the early 2000s, when it succeeded in developing nifty (albeit gimmicky) cars with shortened development cycles (think PT Cruiser). But as Daimler took more control over Chrysler, it invested less in the brand. GOP Private Equity firm Cerberus bought its first 80% of the company in 2007 and picked up the rest in 2009.
Cerberus had no intention of bringing Chrysler back to its former strength. Rather, it wanted to strip out the finance side of the company (it was investing in GMAC at the same time) and sell off the rest. But with the impending financial crisis, it never managed to pull off the trick (though it did get a bank bailout in the very last days of the Bush Administration). Meanwhile, it virtually put the Chrysler model development on autopilot while it tried to find a way to cut its losses.
Thus, when it came time for bailouts, there didn’t seem much to bail out at Chrysler. Unlike GM, which really had started making a turnaround, Chrysler had no product in the pipeline to suggest it would be worth bailing out (though it did have a few super efficient factories in the US).
Choosing to bailout Chrysler was the most difficult decision Obama made during the auto bailout. I’m not even sure I would have chosen to bail it out. And it was difficult precisely because a bunch of Republican vulture capitalist types–people like former VP Dan Quayle and former Treasury Secretary John Snow–had stripped the company.
In came Fiat and its Steve Jobs-like CEO Sergio Marchionne. Continue reading
So Mitt is still trying to dig himself out of the hole he created when he declared, “Let Detroit go bankrupt”?
I suspect most of the commentary on this ad will focus on the irony that, had Mitt had his way, all of GM’s dealers would have gone under, and without the buyout deals they ultimately got.
Me, I’m a bit surprised that Mitt didn’t choose an IN Chrysler dealer. Not only did Chrysler offer its dealers a much stingier package, but some dealers from IN fought losing their franchises all the way to SCOTUS, and some are still suing over “takings.”
But I’m most surprised by the sparse language used here to portray a dealer closure: “I received a letter from General Motors: they were suspending my credit line.”
Credit lines?!?!? Mitt wants to tug at heart strings and hit Obama with an attack akin to the Bain attacks that are working so well in swing states by invoking credit lines?!?!? Really?
Yes, it is true that at the heart of any car dealer is a credit line. But by including that in this ad, it seems to me, Mitt does several things. It reminds everyone who knows what role a credit line plays in a car dealer that the precipitating cause of the auto crash was the credit crash. It reminds viewers that the banksters, in killing their own industry, also killed the car industry. And not just any banksters, either. In GM’s case, the bankster in question was 51% owned by Cerberus Capital, a bunch of high profile Republicans (Dan Quayle and John Snow, among others) who were trying to do what Mitt got rich off: looting companies (in Cerberus’ case, including Chrysler) while profiting from the financialization that such looting offered. Only they were so bad at it, they effectively had to be bailed out by the taxpayers along with GM and Chrysler.
Thus, the villain in this ad–at least as described by the dealer–is someone just like Mitt, only stupider. The villain in the ad is not Obama–not to people who know how the auto industry works. It’s Mitt’s stupid Republican friends.
He probably shouldn’t have, seeing as how some of his evidence against Wagoner is that “he wasn’t able or willing to cull failing brands like Pontiac, for example, or get his arms around out-of-control legacy costs.” Steven Rattner himself admits, of course, that Wagoner’s the one who negotiated VEBA with the UAW and got the legacy costs of retiree health care off of GM’s books, even if he doesn’t emphasize that point.
But what’s most hysterical is that Sorkin’s defense of private equity guys…
Indeed, the private equity industry and its many lobbyists have been fighting for years to prove their value to the public, producing all sorts of studies and white papers to back up their claims.And yet, Mr. Gladwell gets to the nub of the image problem confronting the industry in the blink of a sentence (pun intended): “The mythology of the business is that the specialists who swoop in from Wall Street are not economic opportunists, buying, stripping and selling companies in order to extract millions in fees, but architects of rebirth.”
He’s right: the GM turnaround is ultimately an act of financial engineering. While “financial engineering” has become an expletive of sorts, in this case it is actually a good thing. Indeed, G.M.’s turnaround should become a case study for when and why the private equity and restructuring business can work.
But for certain companies — and only in certain circumstances — there is something to be said about bringing in an outsider with this credential on the résumé: financial engineering experience.
… doesn’t once mention that other company that got bailed out by Team Auto: Chrysler Cerberus.
For what it’s worth, I am willing to concede (and have) that it makes sense to bring in guys with “financial engineering” experience to revamp failed businesses (though just as critical is having someone with basic business expertise from outside of the culture of the industry in question).
But one of the biggest differences between Cerberus’ spectacular failure with Chrysler and Team Auto’s initial success with Chrysler Cerberus and GM is that Team Auto was not trying to suck the last bits of value out of a company (as Cerberus was trying to extract the finance part of Chrysler while screwing the manufacturing side).
An astute journalist probably would have acknowledged that point.
Update: This post originally called Sorkin “Aaron,” not “Andrew. Apologies to Aaron Sorkin and thanks to pdaly for pointing out my mistake.
I’m going to have a few follow-up posts about Steven Rattner’s Overhaul generally and Saturday’s book salon on it. But for the moment, I wanted to add something to two excellent reviews of it by Malcom Gladwell and Felix Salmon. Together, they both distinguish between the product GM makes and the debt it had. Here’s Salmon:
That Rattner’s team managed not one but two insanely complex bankruptcies in a hitherto unimaginably short timeframe is a real and noteworthy achievement of the Obama administration. Rattner is right about that. But Gladwell’s got a good point too. This kind of biz-school restructuring is easy to show off about. What’s hard is making millions of cars which are so good that the picky US consumer will buy them rather than the incredibly well-made competition — and making a profit by doing so. Eliminating GM’s monstrous debt burden by sending it through bankruptcy was a necessary step in getting there. But it’s not at heart what managing a company like GM is or should be about.
And here’s Gladwell making a point bmaz and I argued, that Rick Wagoner, whatever his faults, had done significant work to fix GM before the overhaul.
Wagoner was not a perfect manager, by any means. Unlike Alan Mulally, the C.E.O. at Ford, he failed to build up cash reserves in anticipation of the economic downturn, which might have kept his company out of bankruptcy. He can be faulted for riding the S.U.V. wave too long, and for being too slow to develop a credible small-car alternative. But, especially given the mess that Wagoner inherited when he took over, in 2000—and the inherent difficulty of running a company that had to pay pension and medical benefits to half a million retirees—he accomplished a tremendous amount during his eight-year tenure. He cut the workforce from three hundred and ninety thousand to two hundred and seventeen thousand. He built a hugely profitable business in China almost from scratch: a G.M. joint venture is the leading automaker in what is now the world’s largest automobile market. In 1995, it took forty-six man-hours to build the typical G.M. car, versus twenty-nine hours for the typical Toyota. Under Wagoner’s watch, the productivity gap closed almost entirely.
Most important, Wagoner—along with his counterparts at Ford and Chrysler—was responsible for a historic agreement with the United Auto Workers. Under that contract, which was concluded in 2007, new hires at G.M. receive between fourteen and seventeen dollars an hour—instead of the twenty-eight to thirty-three dollars an hour that preëxisting employees get—and give up all rights to the traditional retiree benefit package. The 2007 deal also transferred all responsibility for paying for the health care of G.M.’s retirees to a special fund, administered by the U.A.W. It is hard to overstate the importance of that second provision. G.M. has five hundred and seventeen thousand retirees. Between 1993 and 2007, the company paid out a hundred and three billion dollars to those former workers—a burden unimaginable to its foreign competitors. In the 2007 deal, G.M. agreed to make a series of lump-sum payments to the U.A.W. over ten years, worth some thirty-two billion dollars—at which point the company would be free of its outsized retiree health-care burden. It is estimated that, within a few years, G.M.’s labor costs—which were once almost fifty per cent higher than the domestic operations of Toyota, Nissan, and Honda—will be lower than its competitors’.
In the same period, G.M.’s product line was transformed. In 1989, to give one example, Chevrolet’s main midsize sedan had something like twice as many reported defects as its competitors at Honda and Toyota, according to the J. D. Power “initial quality” metrics. Those differences no longer exist. The first major new car built on Wagoner’s watch—the midsize Chevy Malibu—scores equal to or better than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. G.M. earned more than a billion dollars in profits in the last quarter because American consumers have started to buy the cars that Wagoner brought to market—the Buick Regal and LaCrosse, the Envoy, the Cadillac CTS, the Chevy Malibu and Cruze, and others. They represent the most competitive lineup that G.M. has fielded since the nineteen-sixties. (Both the CTS and the Malibu have been named to Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best Cars” list.)
What Wagoner meant in his testimony before the Senate, in other words, was something like this: “At G.M., we are finally producing world-class cars. We have brought our costs, quality, and productivity into line with those of our competitors. We have finally disposed of the crippling burden of our legacy retiree costs. We have expanded into the world’s fastest-growing markets more effectively than any other company in the United States. But the effort required to bring about that transformation has left our balance sheet thin—and, at the very moment that we need a couple of years of normal economic activity to refill our coffers, auto sales have fallen off a cliff. Do you mind giving us a hand until things get back to normal?” [my emphasis)
Now, FWIW, I’m agnostic about keeping Wagoner on as CEO. Gladwell makes the same points bmaz and I were making. But I am utterly sympathetic to the notion that any CEO getting a bailout should be fired as part of the deal. The best solution, IMO, would have been to keep Fritz Henderson on as CEO. That’s partly based on my impression–developed during my visit to GM’s Tech Center just a few weeks after Fritz took over as CEO–that he had begun to implement the same kind of cultural change that I saw very quickly at Ford after Alan Mulally took over.
But neither Salmon’s nor Gladwell’s review mention two key details that I think are important to this debate. The first is Rattner’s description of learning about the dire straits of the auto finance companies on April 1, 2009.
I entered the byzantine world of the fincos the very next day, April Fool’s Day, as it happened. We faced off in a Treasury Department conference room against an imposing lineup of businesspeople: the top management from Chrysler Financial, GMAC, and Chrysler, plus Steve Feinberg and the guys from Cerberus. They all knew more about automotive finance than we did. We were trying to fly solo without having taken flying lessons, and I hoped we wouldn’t crash and burn.
Pretty quickly I discovered that the fincos posed a bigger problem than I’d imagined. Auto finance companise are a lot like banks, but there is one crucial distinction: Banks rely on deposits form consumers and businesses for most of the money they use for loans. Finance companies have no such depositors unless they happen to own a bank: instead they must depend on larger borrowings from banks and investors for the cash that they lend to car buyers (known as the retail trade) and auto daelers (known as the wholesale or floor-plan borrowers).
I began to understand how the collapse of the financial markets had created havoc for automakers. As a result of the credit crunch, both GMAC and Chrysler Financial had seen their ability to borrow form banks severely curtailed. Continue reading
Eric Kleefield uncovers a heap of hypocrisy in IN Senate candidate Dan Coats’ lobbying record, but he misunderstands what it means.
Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) is running for his old Senate seat, apparently on a platform of opposing government takeover of the private sector. But as it turns out, in 2008 he lobbied the Senate on the TARP bill, on behalf of none other than Chrysler’s parent company.
The NBC affiliate in South Bend quoted Coats early this week, explaining why he was returning to politics. “Well, nobody anticipated that government’s going to try to run auto companies, bank insurance companies, take over the private sector,” said Coats.
However, according to a federal lobbying report for the third quarter of 2008, Coats served as a lobbyist on behalf of Cerberus Capital Management, the firm that owned a majority share in Chrysler.
Coats’s campaign press secretary Pete Seat says that despite what the lobbying filings show, Coats did not seek bailout help for Chrysler. “Dan Coats never lobbied on behalf of Chrysler in pursuing federal assistance. Anything to the contrary is false and pure politics,” Seat told us.
Instead, Seat says, Coats was lobbying for “small business” loan guarantees. Seat says: “Dan’s only related work was on behalf of small businesses – the very lifeblood of our economy – to ensure they could raise the capital needed to increase production, inventory and add jobs. Dan Coats did more for job growth in the third quarter of 2008 than Democrats did in all of 2009.”
Kleefield spends some time talking about Cerberus’ stake in Chrysler, the car company. But he seems unaware of what Cerberus’ big interest was: Chrysler Financial and GMAC–and of what the phrase “small business loan guarantees” means in the auto business.
Cerberus, after all, was really never that interested in the car business, notwithstanding that little Chrysler millstone it had around its neck. Rather, in the years leading up to 2008’s crash, Cerberus was making a big play for finance companies–Chrysler Financial and GMAC. And certainly in 2008, when the auto business was going south, it hoped that it would be able to become the big auto finance company.
And the GOP-wired company in fact did manage to get into the TARP world by managing to turn GMAC into a bank holding company (though it had to give up much of its 51% stake in the company to do so). Continue reading
Investors in hedge funds run by Cerberus Capital Management LP, whose audacious multi-billion dollar bet on the U.S. auto industry went bust, are bolting for the door, clinching one of the highest-profile falls from grace of a superstar in the investment world.
Clients are withdrawing more than $5.5 billion, or nearly 71% of the hedge fund assets, in response to big investment losses and their own need for cash, according to people familiar with the matter.
"We have been surprised by this response," Cerberus chief Stephen Feinberg and co-founder William Richter wrote in a letter delivered to clients late Thursday.
And while I suggested I would keep my schadenfreude in check until such time as I got to see Cerberus’ Senate defender, Bob Corker, weep, I just couldn’t resist two points.
First, who the hell thought a financial institution in which John Snow, 43’s failed Treasury secretary, and Dan Quayle, 41’s laughable Vice President, had significant management roles would succeed? Sure, having Snow and Quayle on board promised that people like Corker would subvert the national interest in favor of his buddies at Cerberus. But even an institution wired into the best crony network must exhibit some basic competence.
And, too, I take some joy that this model of financialized predation has failed. Yeah, Cerberus is not singlehandedly responsible for Chrysler’s failure. But it is nice to see Cerberus pay for its efforts to suck some value out of a company by extracting its financial wing at the expense of its productive core.
It’s just a damned pity that so many real human beings have suffered in the interim.
As you’ve no doubt heard, Cheney confessed yesterday that Bush punted the auto crisis into Obama’s lap.
CHENEY: Well, I thought that, eventually, the right outcome was going to be bankruptcy. … And the president decided that he did not want to be the one who pulled the plug just before he left office.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
CHENEY: Well, I think he felt, you know, these are big issues and he wouldn’t be there through the process of managing it, but in effect, would have sort of pulled the plug on GM and that was one of the first crises the new administration would have to deal with. So he put together a package that tided GM over until the new administration had a chance to look at it, decide what they wanted to do.
VAN SUSTEREN: But it’s cost us billions to get — I mean, you know —
CHENEY: It has. … And now the government owns a big chunk of General Motors. That bothers me. I don’t like having government own those kinds of major financial enterprises. I think it’s — it does damage to our long-term economic prospects when we get government involved in making those kinds of decisions.
Now, that was pretty clear at the time. That was sort of the subtext of what Bush said at the time:
… there’s too great a risk that bankruptcy now would lead to a disorderly liquidation of American auto companies. My economic advisors believe that such a collapse would deal an unacceptably painful blow to hardworking Americans far beyond the auto industry. It would worsen a weak job market and exacerbate the financial crisis. It could send our suffering economy into a deeper and longer recession. And it would leave the next President to confront the demise of a major American industry in his first days of office.
Bush gave the car companies three months of funding (he claimed), so they would go bankrupt on the 100th day of Obama’s Administration, rather than the first.
But that doesn’t mean Bush was willing to leave all of this mess for his successor. He made damn sure, you see, that he took care of Cerberus before he left office.
He did so in two ways. First, in Christmas week negotiations that no one followed, Bush allowed Cerberus–and not Chrysler–to negotiate the terms of the December loan to Chrysler. And then Bush gave Chrysler just $4 Continue reading
GMAC wins bank status–gains access to TARP.
One of the critical problems in the auto industry is the absence of credit (I’ve heard folks under 750 can’t get a car loan, for example). By making GMAC a bank, you relieve one of the biggest problems in the sickest parts of the auto industry, and thereby stimulate one of the key segments of the economy, and you begin to get to get money the economy moving again.
Dan Quayle and John Snow have an (increasingly limited) ability to suck at the federal teat to make their private profit.
The small print:
GM must now reduce its stake in the auto lender below 10 percent, from 49 percent. GM has three years to sell the rest of its shares, which in the interim will be placed in a trust that the company does not control. The automaker and GMAC also agreed to unwind a number of exclusive agreements, freeing GMAC to offer financing on equal terms to customers of other car companies.
Cerberus and its chief, Steve Feinberg, must reduce their stake below 15 percent, from 51 percent. The private equity fund plans to distribute its GMAC shares proportionally among its investors.