Auto task force should pump up sales, not concessions
We’re back to Stage 1 with the auto bailout. GM has been told it must gain greater concessions from the bondholders and the UAW within in 60 days or else. Chrysler has been told it has 30 days to cut a deal with Fiat or else. We’re told the banks and AIG are too big to fail. Our country’s largest manufacturing industry, however, is not.
It is apparent that this double standard is not going away. Rather than dwell on the idiocy, maybe we need to point our government in a different direction.
The Obama administration’s auto task force may have no auto experience, but it appears that it lacks business sense as well. The key to getting beyond this crisis is not endless streamlining, plant closings and union concessions. All of the concessions in the world will not cause a turnaround in the industry if sales remain at 60 percent of normal levels. No business can sustain a loss in 40 percent of its sales volume, yet alone a capital-intensive industry such as the auto industry.
The fact is that the industry will burn through the money unless auto sales are stimulated.
To do that, all that is needed is to provide government guarantees to the banks on leases and loans to buy domestic-made vehicles. The interest rates should range from 1 percent on fuel-efficient cars to 4.99 percent on the SUVs.
The federal program has to say to the banks: If you want the guarantee, then you must approve loans for buyers/lessees with FICO scores above 600 (not the ridiculous new requirement of 700 that has killed the market). If the buyer/lessee defaults, then the bank is covered on 90 percent of the loss following repossession and sale of the vehicle.
Government-backed guarantees to the bank are the foundation of the manner in which the Small Business Administration has done business for years in financing new businesses. Implementation of such a program would not be difficult.
How do you get the banks to comply? First, if the government guarantee is in place, then the banks will recognize a good deal and extend the credit. As a backup, the Treasury needs to condition any further Toxic Assets Relief Program funds to the banks so all such extensions of funding constitute a demand loan, which means the Federal Reserve can call the loan at any time and demand repayment. This is precisely how these same banks lend money to businesses.
If the banks don’t start lending money and doing as the Fed sees is in the public interest, then the Fed calls the loan. Either the banks play ball or they are out of the game.
Congress, it is not that complicated. Please, grabbing the microphones to scream about AIG bonuses and complaining about the auto industry of the 1970s. Instead, do something smart for a change.
Ken Gross is managing shareholder at the Metro Detroit law firm of Thav, Gross, Steinway and Bennett and host of “The Financial Crisis Talk Center,” which airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on WDFN Radio 1130 AM.