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 opinions expressed are his own. —

President Bush has agreed to lend GM and Chrysler $17.4 billion on the condition these firms complete a plan to accomplish financial viability.

The agreements set goals for automakers: converting two-thirds of their debt into equity; paying company stock to fund one half of the Voluntary Employee Benefits Associations, which fund retiree health care benefits and remove these costs from future liabilities; aligning wages, benefits and work rules with U.S. Nissan, Toyota or Honda operations.

These goals are generally consistent with the conditions I outlined as necessary for the Detroit Three to achieve viability when I testified before the Senate Banking Committee on November 18. For example, laid off workers could no longer sit in the Jobs Banks collecting 90 percent of pay and benefits indefinitely and engaging in productive activities like pinochle.

Financial viability requires projecting a positive net present value, taking into account all current and future costs. It does not require a positive cash flow by March 31. In fact, wage and benefit cuts only need be accomplished by December 31, 2009.