Is the government bailing out GM and Ford?
First, the government teamed up with JPMorgan Chase to bail out Bear Stearns. Then IndyMac needed help. This was right around the same time as the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailouts. Leaving moral hazard issues for another day, I at least get all of those moves. When banks fail, the credit market dries up, and the whole economy suffers.
But bailing out the likes of bumblers GM, Ford, and Chrysler? Really?
Bloomberg reports that a Michigan Congressman is seeking to speed up the implementation of a $25 billion loan program for the U.S. automakers. That figure’s eerily similar to the combined quarterly losses reported by GM and Ford recently. Sorry, dad, I crashed the car (company). Can I have money for another?
Okay, I know this plan to help GM et al convert some of their factories over to alternative-fuel vehicle production was put in place back in December. But the U.S. carmakers’ fortunes weren’t so rosy back then, either.
Under the plan, the government would lend $25 billion for up to 25 years at Treasury rates. How much of a discount is that? Well, the market thinks GM debt is so risky that it charges GM almost 13% more than comparable Treasuries. Compare a rate in the high teens to what you pay on your mortgage. Talk about a subprime loan!
It seems like free competition has a very subjective definition these days. While the government has been socializing losses among its chosen children, it took 17 months to allow Sirius and XM to merge into Sirius XM. Unlike these other folks, the satrad guys weren’t asking for a bailout or a handout. They just wanted the government to acknowledge what we all knew – that two companies that are bleeding money while competing against free alternatives (terrestrial and Internet radio) and the mighty Apple does not constitute a monopoly.
I know I'm combining the actions of a lot of different government agencies here, but I can't discern any semblance of an overall game plan. It feels very arbitrary and reactive. As a guy who generally favors more government regulation over financial landmines like derivatives, investment banks, and hedge funds, these latest movements make me wonder how forward-thinking and skillful that regulation would be.
Full disclosure: I own shares in Sirius XM (a candidate for my personal “worst investment ever”).