Friday, December 12, 2008

Chapter 11 is the right road for US carmakers, by Joeseph Stiglitz

[Thanks to ghettodefender for this link]

Published: December 11 2008 20:02 | Last updated: December 11 2008 20:02

he debate about whether or not to bail out the Big Three carmakers has been mischaracterised. It has been described as a package to help the undeserving dinosaurs of Detroit. In fact, a plan to bail out the carmakers would benefit shareholders and bondholders as much as anybody else. These are not the people that need help right now. In fact they contributed to the problem.

Financial markets are supposed to allocate capital and monitor that it is used to good effect. They are supposed to be rewarded when they do that job well, but bear the consequences when they fail. The markets failed. Wall Street’s focus on quarterly returns encouraged the short-sighted behaviour that contributed to their own demise and that of America’s manufacturing, including the automotive industry. Today, they are asking to escape accountability. We should not allow it.

What needs to be done is to help the automakers get a fresh start and allow them to focus on producing good cars rather than trying to juggle their books to meet past obligations.

With financial restructuring, the real assets do not disappear. Equity investors (who failed to fulfil their responsibility of oversight) lose everything; bondholders get converted into equity owners and may lose substantial amounts. Freed of the obligation to pay interest, the carmakers will be in a better position. Taxpayer dollars will go far further. Moral hazard – the undermining of incentives – will be averted: a strong message will be sent.

Some will talk of the pension funds and others that will suffer. Yes, but that is true of every investment that has diminished. The government may need to help some pension funds but it is better to do so directly, than via massive bail-outs hoping that a little of the money trickles down to the “widows and orphans”. Some will say that bankruptcy will undermine confidence in America’s cars. It is the cars and carmakers themselves – and the dismal performance of their executives – that have undermined confidence. With industry experts saying $125bn (€94bn, £84bn) or more will be needed, with bail-out fatigue setting in, why should US consumers believe that a $15bn gift will do the trick of a turnround?

It is more plausible that confidence will be restored if the industry is freed of the burden of interest payments and is given a fresh start. Modern cars are complex technological products and the US has demonstrated its strength in advanced technology. US workers, working for Japanese carmakers, have shown their hard work can produce cars that are desirable. America’s managers too have demonstrated their managerial skills in many other areas...........

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