Tales from the Trail

from Global Investing:

German, Swiss governments kinder than U.S. to GM execs

This post was written by colleague Christiaan Hetzner.

Listening to GM Europe CEO Carl-Peter Forster (right), there is a big side benefit of having the thankless job of running a business in danger of being dragged under by its foundering parent
 
For one, you are not publicly humiliated by lawmakers with an ax to grind the next time you try and hit them up for aid.
 
Whereas U.S. congressmen eager to score points with taxpayers were just itching to take turns tag-teaming his boss Rick Wagoner, Forster said he is treated with far more respect and understanding by the German and Swedish governments when he participates in discussions over receiving billions in state loan guarantees. GM is looking to sell its Saab brand in Sweden.
 
Asked at the Detroit auto show whether the talks were considered in Europe to be as controversial as those in Washington, Forster replied: "Interestingly enough, the Europeans take a very, very different approach. Much less hostile, virtually not hostile at all, seeing the automotive industry as a very important industry."
 
GM Europe has a funding requirement peaking this year, in part due to this year's roll-out of the new Opel Astra and Saab 9-5 cars, key models for both brands.
 
 "They (state officials) understand the extraordinary circumstances in Europe -- by the way, the circumstances in the U.S. are even more extraordinary than in Europe. They know how important the industry is for the European economy and particularly for certain member states like Germany, France, Italy, the UK and so on. Absolutely no hostility, very open, understand the situation and try to come up with a solution."
 
Perhaps lawmakers in the more socialist governments across the Atlantic better realize what would happen if Opel or Saab cannot get the loan guarantees needed to access to the European Investment Bank's 16 billion-euro fund for the European auto industry, which is only open to companies with an investment grade rating. 
 
(Photo/Reuters)

The First Draft: Thursday, Nov. 4

They’re back, and this time they didn’t take the corporate jet. CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler will try again to wrangle billions of dollars in bailout money from Congress. This time, they drove from Detroit and they can explain they would do with the money. But they’ve also upped their request from $25 billion to $34 billion.
    
Testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee begins at 10 a.m.
    
The Labor Department will issue its weekly jobless claims report, and it’s not expected to be pretty. The numbers come out at 8:30 a.m. Futures markets point to a lower opening for U.S. stocks after drugmaker Merck offered a disappointing 2009 profit outlook.
    
Some of the government’s top financial officials speak today. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke talks about housing at 11:15, while Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair speaks at a consumer conference at 8:30 a.m.

President-elect Barack Obama has no public events today.
 

Remember George W. Bush? Yes, he’s still president. He lights the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House at 5 p.m.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (Auto company CEOs testify in Congress)
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (National Christmas tree arrives at the White House)

The First Draft: Wednesday, Dec. 3

President-elect Barack Obama will continue to fill out his Team of Rivals when he names New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary at a press conference scheduled for 11:40 a.m. EST For those of you keeping score at home, that means at least three members of his administration will be former Democratic presidential candidates – Richardson, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and Secretary of State pick Hillary Clinton. 
     
We can’t wait to see what he has in mind for Dennis Kucinich. 
     
On the Hill, lawmakers will continue to weigh U.S. automakers’ restructuring proposals ahead of hearings later this week. The heads of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, chastened from their skeptical reception last month, are driving from Detroit this time — and they’re confident they’ll get here in good shape. 
     
“Our cars don’t have car trouble,” GM president Fritz Henderson said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” 

Chrysler officials hold a rally at a dealership in suburban New Carollton, Maryland, to build support for the bailout at 11:30 a.m. 
     
Bigwigs from Honda and Toyota are in town, too. But they’re not here to beg for cash — they’re talking about electric cars and other sustainable technologies at the Convention Center. 
      
Just how bad is this recession? We’ll know more at 2 p.m., when the Fed Releases its “Beige Book,” an antecdotal survey of economic conditions nationwide. 
    
Wall Street doesn’t need more gloomy evidence. Stocks are expected to open lower after Research in Motion, the folks who make the Blackberry, slashed their outlook and mining giant Freeport-McMoRan suspended its divident payments and slashed copper output.

REUTERS/Richard Clement (Richardson and Obama at campaign rally)

REUTERS/Fred Prouser (GM logo at LA auto show)

Shocker: Fat cat CEOs fly on private jets!

Congress is taking a hard look at Detroit’s autos these days. But what about Detroit’s jets?

When the chief executives of Ford and General Motors flew in to Washington yesterday to ask Congress for a $25 billion lifeline, they didn’t fly coach.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner arrived on his company’s cushy Gulfstream IV, ABC News reported. Ford CEO Alan Mulally flew in on a private company jet as well.

The First Draft: Wednesday, Nov. 19

Please sir, can I have some more? CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler make their case for a $25 billion bailout to the House of Representatives, one day after enduring a skeptical reception in the Senate. A vote could come as early as today, but Senate backers say they might not have the support they need.
 
Testimony to the House Financial Services Committee gets underway at 10 a.m.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama continues to assemble his administration. Eric Holder, a former Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, emerged yesterday as a possible pick for attorney general, while the Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton himself offered to submit his future charitable and business activities for ethics review if wife Hillary is tapped for Secretary of State.

Formal announcements could come on Friday, a source tells Reuters.   
   
In the Senate, Democrats have edged closer to a critical 60-seat majority after Anchorage, Alaska mayor Mark Begich declared victory over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, a convicted felon. That gives Democrats control of at least 58 seats, with races in Georgia and Minnesota still hanging in the balance.
 
A recount in the Minnesota race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, a former comedian, begins today. Franken himself si making the rounds in Washington to raise money and huddle with his fellow Democrats.

For a change, the stock market is not expected to get off to a dismal start today. Hewlett-Packard’s reassuring quarterly results and profit outlook are expected to offset worries about the deeping global economic slump.
   
And finally, Happy World Toilet Day! The advocacy group Water Advocates says 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, leading to millions of preventable deaths each year from exposure to human waste. The group holds an event in front of the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. to draw attention to the problem.

The First Draft: Tuesday, Nov. 18

Chief executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, along with the head of the United Autoworkers union, will testify to Congress today about the need for a bailout of their struggling companies.

“It’s going to be really neat to be able to explain and talk about the progress we’ve made,” Ford CEO Alan Mullaly said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
    
But Mullaly and his fellow auto-industry bigwigs could be in for a bumpy ride. Detroit’s clout on Capitol Hill has diminished in recent years as automakers have closed plants across the country and lobbied heavily against increases in fuel efficiency, the New York Times reports. Cushy union contracts and multimillion-dollar paychecks for executives probably won’t help win over public support, either.
    
Testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee begins at 3 p.m. EST.
    
Speaking of bailouts, what’s happening to that $700 billion earmarked for the financial services industry? Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will testify in front of the House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m.
    
And it’s reckoning time for Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. The 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee could lose control of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as payback for supporting Republican John McCain in the presidential race when Senate Democrats hold leadership elections.
    
President-elect Barack Obama holds no public events today as he continues to assemble his administration from Chicago.
    
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will name baseball slugger Ken Griffey Jr. as a “public diplomacy envoy” who will travel the world to help improve the U.S. image abroad. Junior’s been hobbled by injuries over the past decade, but he’s been untainted by the steroids scandal that has snared more productive stars like Barry Bonds.
    
Stocks are expected to open lower on fears that the economic slump is worsening. The National Association of Realtors releases home-sale data at 10 a.m., and the Labor Department should provide a snapshot of inflation when it releases the Producer Price Index at 8:30 a.m.
    
And if you want to see Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rub elbows with professional wrestler Bret Hart, head on over to the National Press Club’s book fair at 5:30 p.m.