Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Lady Gaga may not be the only one singing a new tune in November

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The 2010 Reuters Washington Summit included 4 days of on-the-record interviews with policymakers, congressmen and Obama Administration officials here in the DC bureau. The interviews covered a wide range of topics…from the impact of the mid-term elections to the importance of the Lady Gaga vote.

With less than six weeks to go before the mid-term elections the focus was on what a potential shift in power to a Republican-controlled Congress could mean for policy priorities in the coming year. We heard from Senators’ McCain, Dodd, Gregg and Bingaman. On the House side we spoke with the man responsible for getting Democrats elected…Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He called this election season a “tough and challenging environment,’ but predicted Democrats would retain control of the House.

From the Obama Administration, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs opened his comments by admitting that early on the administration did not have a “real understanding of the depth of what we were in.” News of Larry Summers’ departure as White House advisor came on the eve of our interview with a man who has worked with Summers, Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Goolsbee said he expected that Mr. Summers’ replacement wouldn’t be part of “a dramatic change in direction.” On the economy, Goolsbee noted that he does not see a double dip on the horizon and that “pulling back on current spending programs could spook the markets.”

On the regulatory front, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair was adamant in her remarks about “ending too big to fail” and said that “the banking system is healing…and there is continuing improvement in low quality loans.” Meanwhile, Treasury’s Special Inspector General for TARP, Neil Barofsky, the man charged with policing the government’s exit from GM and AIG, said his group would begin a probe into the GM IPO after it launches to make sure that it was in the best interest of taxpayers.

With end of TARP, investigations into fraud take center stage

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SUMMIT-WASHINGTON/BAROFSKYWhile the much maligned $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has officially ended, not everything has wrapped up — auditors are just starting to hit their stride investigating scores of cases of possible malfeasance.

Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the program, nicknamed SIGTARP, said his office has more than 120 criminal investigations underway. They are looking into whether the money loaned to financial institutions and automakers was used properly or not, if there was fraud in applications for TARP financial backing and other wrongdoing.

Upstarts!

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The U.S. government has pumped more than $100 billion into Detroit over the past year to keep automakers General Motors and Chrysler alive. But some of the sector’s remaining capitalists are having a hard time stomaching a $25 billion Department of Energy loan program intended to spark new developments in electric cars. 

Start-ups Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors have won about $1 billion in combined funding, while longtime players Ford and Nissan have received substantially larger loans from Washington to work on vehicle electrification — a technology the White House and many in the industry hope will reduce the United States’ dependence on imported oil and lower emissions of carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas. 

The secret lives of auto executives

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Ed Whitacre sneaks off to breakfast at a Detroit greasy spoon. Sergio Marchionne’s attention to detail extends to the condition of his factories’ bathrooms. And Bill Ford helped save his great-grandfather’s company by hocking the blue oval. 

These are just a few of the glimmers of top Detroit auto executives’ lives that you get when you sit down with Ron Gettelfinger, head of the United Auto Workers union. 

BMW keeping wary eye on rivals

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After a year of unprecedented turmoil in the auto industry, BMW’s U.S. head smells blood in the water.

Changes in ownership at some of its historic European rivals may present the German luxury automaker with a chance to grab market share. 

First, be confident

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As China Inc shops for assets almost everywhere across the planet, some people know what they want. Others are just hurrying to grab some company that’s become undervalued during the global financial crisis.
 
At the Reuters China Investment Summit in Hong Kong, we asked one of JPMorgan’s top deal advisers — Brian Gu, head of M&A for Greater China — if he had any suggestions for cash-rich Chinese. His answer was simple: First, be confident.
 
    “For any M&A, they need the confidence that they aren’t getting into anything that’s messy. They have to demonstrate strong integration and a capability to absorb those assets,” said Gu, a biochemist-turned investment banker.
 
    “A lot of companies want to make minority investments because they just don’t have the confidence to handle a full-blown integration.” Instead, he said, companies are taking a phased approach — buy 20 percent, send some representatives to get to know the managers and then make the decision later on whether to buy the whole company.
 
    In fact, not many Chinese overseas acquirers have shown much confidence, including Lenovo — whose chairman once said that it may take years to see whether the purchase of IBM’s PC business would succeed — and China Minsheng Banking Corp. Minsheng bought a minority stake in UCBH and the shares of the American company sank during the financial crisis.
 
    Gu was unenthusiastic about Chinese companies buying into distressed assets. “With distressed transactions, it’s easier to see them buying into simpler assets, such as natural resources or large capital equipment assets”, he said, adding he believes China Inc knows how to value and operate natural resources better than other, more complicated businesses.
 
    “(Chinese companies) don’t have to be involved in turning around a distressed company. That’s why you see a lot of action in those sectors rather than making bold moves where you buy big operations that involve hundreds of thousands of employees.”
 
    Just months ago, a little-known Chinese company called Tengzhong surprised markets with its plan to buy GM’s troubled Hummer unit. The deal is now still subject to final agreement between Tengzhong and GM as well as Beijing’s approval.
 
    Now, the question for Tengzhong — is it confident it can succeed with Hummer where GM has already failed?

Photo Caption: Brian Gu, JP Morgan’s head of M&A for Greater China, speaking at the Reuters China Investment Summit.

AUDIO – For the automakers — No Chapter 11, please

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The plans are in.

Now comes the waiting, which, as Tom Petty can tell you, is the hardest part.

Now that General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC have filed their plans of reorganization to the U.S. government and have started what looks like a long and not-painless process to make themselves smaller, more profitable and better suited to the current U.S. demand for new cars.

For Bill Diehl, chief executive of manufacturing consulting firm BBK, one thing that he would not favor would be a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by one of the two troubled automakers.

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