Opinion

The Great Debate

from Commentaries:

Failing upwards at BofA

goldsteinThe ouster of Bank of America's chief risk officer, Amy Woods Brinkley, should not cause anyone to shed any tears.

Even though Brinkley was one of the few top female executives working on Wall Street, her departure is well deserved and has nothing to with gender inequality in the world of finance as some might suggest.

It's all about failure, and there's been plenty of that at BofA, in light of the more than $150 billion in bailout money and loan guarantees U.S. taxpayers have had to float the nation's largest bank by assets.

Presumably, Brinkley signed off on BofA's disastrous move into collateralized debt obligation underwriting on the eve of the mortgage meltdown.

A case in point is the ill-fated $4 billion CDO that the bank packaged and sold for two Bear Stearns hedge funds a month before the funds' collapse in June 2007.

California, harbinger of hard U.S. choices

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

California’s fiscal train wreck should be watched warily by investors in U.S. Treasuries; as the start of a trend among states seeking bailouts, as a source of pressure on Federal funds and as a harbinger of hard choices at national level.

California voters last week rejected a finance bolstering proposal, setting the stage for billions of dollars worth of  cuts in services, layoffs and a shortened school year.

Transfusions don’t stop the bleeding

lou-lataif

– Louis E. Lataif is dean of the Boston University School of Management and a former Ford executive. The views expressed are his own. —

The federal government now wants to shore up ailing auto suppliers with a $5 billion bailout, despite a rising chorus of criticism against more government bailouts. The public is beginning to see bailouts as “transfusions,” rather than a closing of the wound, and is losing patience with them. The “wound” is falling housing values and toxic mortgage-backed securities which have paralyzed financial markets – not the auto industry.

The hastily approved $787 billion “stimulus package,” including aggressive spending programs unrelated to declining home values or the constricted capital markets, is tantamount to administering repeated, expensive blood transfusions rather than stopping the bleeding. Of course, if the blood flow at the wound eventually coagulates (one day the economy will rebound) then the transfusions can be claimed to have worked. But the delayed cure would have come at a crippling cost to the next generations of taxpayers.

As Big Brother steps up, time for credit

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Want to do well out of the rolling and ever expanding bailouts? Hold your nose, buy corporate credit and try not to read any news for the next five years.

First off, let’s get one thing clear: the prospects for companies in Europe and the U.S. are absolutely awful and many will default, quite probably more than in any post-war recession.

Revival of U.S. automaking awaits if UAW will follow Toyota

morici– Peter Morici is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The views expressed are his own. –

General Motors and Chrysler are on the anvil of history. United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger holds the hammer and will determine whether they emerge more competitive or shattered in pieces and sold to foreign investors.

In December, George W. Bush granted $17.4 billion in temporary loans on the condition those firms convert two-thirds of their debt into equity. Another condition was to persuade the UAW to accept stock for one half of what these companies owe to fund retiree health care and align wages, benefits and work rules with those of the Japanese automakers operating in the United States.

from MediaFile:

Tax breaks (not bailouts) for newspapers

I ran a story on New Year's Eve about the opportunities and perils that could face struggling newspapers if they end up surviving because of government help. I opened the story with the tale of Connecticut state lawmakers and a state commissioner who are trying to find someone to buy two Journal Register-owned dailies and several weeklies that are going to be shut down in January if they can't be saved. From there, I explored the ramifications of government aid to newspapers.

The story got plenty of attention, though it looks like misinterpretation was rife. Many bloggers and news sources portrayed the Connecticut situation as a bailout, leading to plenty of ire directed at the lawmakers and the story. (Some conservative bloggers hinted that we deliberately omitted the lawmakers' affiliation. For the record -- they are Democrats. Also for the record: I had that in there, then deleted it, intending to put it somewhere else in the story. Then I plum forgot. No hidden agenda.)

So here's what I'm expecting next and here's what I still don't know or understand. I'm eager to hear from folks who care about the future of newspapers in the United States to add their thoughts in the comments section.

from Ask...:

Lining up for a bailout

The auto industry's Christmas present from the government -- in the form of a $1 billion loan to General Motors and a $5 billion stake in GMAC -- may have left other industries hoping that the giving season isn't over yet.

The steel industry is pressing President-elect Barack Obama to boost the flagging demand for U.S.-made steel by instituting a "buy American" clause in his infrastructure stimulus package, the New York Times reported.

"As steel production goes — and it is now in collapse — so will go the national economy," writes the New York Times, referencing the maxim once applied to The Big Three automakers.

Slouching towards nationalization

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The Citigroup bailout is sure to succeed, but only if you count avoiding making unpleasant but needed decisions as success.

It won’t work if you define success as building confidence and attracting private capital back to the banking system. It fails to work out a clearing price for rotten assets, and though it underwrites $306 billion of them even this huge sum is not enough to suspend disbelief.

Don’t junk the U.S. auto industry

eugene-ludwigMr. Ludwig, a former U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, is founder and CEO of  consulting firm Promontory Financial Group. Any opinions are his own; GMAC Financial Services is one of Promontory’s clients.

The economic upheaval wreaking havoc on the global financial system is threatening to claim another victim: the domestic automobile industry and its financing arms.

General Motors Corp. could run out of cash by January without help. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC also need fast government intervention to stay solvent. Automakers and the UAW are making their case to Congress this week for emergency help. But even the supporters of a $25 billion aid package for the auto industry are dubious about whether they have the votes to pass it.

This raises the question, why not just let them go bankrupt?  The domestic auto industry is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, and its problems have been growing for decades. Some are of its own making; many are circumstantial. But we cannot blithely accept its failure as somehow inevitable or deserved.

Don’t let U.S. automakers delay restructuring

morici– Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, testified before the Senate Banking Committee on the proposed bailout for the domestic auto industry. The following is his written testimony to the committee. The opinions expressed are his own. —

The domestic automobile industry has two major components—the Detroit Three and the Japanese, Asian and European transplants that also assemble and source components in the United States and Canada. Both contribute importantly to the vitality of our national economy. Ensuring these companies have the means to compete globally is vitally important.

The gradual erosion of the market shares of the Detroit Three over the last several decades stems from higher labor costs—having origins in wages, benefits and work rules–poor management decisions, and less than fully supportive government policies. Although the U.S. government has been sympathetic to the needs of the industry, the industry has fallen victim to currency manipulation and other forms of protectionism in Japan, Korea, India, and China.

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