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Guess Who Is Back, Hat In Hand?

I suppose this too will somehow come as a surprise the left:

General Motors Corp., nearing a federally imposed deadline to present a restructuring plan, will offer the government two costly alternatives: commit billions more in bailout money to fund the company’s operations, or provide financial backing as part of a bankruptcy filing, said people familiar with GM’s thinking.

The competing choices, which highlight GM’s rapidly deteriorating operations, present a dilemma for Congress and the Obama administration. If they refuse to provide additional aid to GM on top of the $13.4 billion already committed they risk seeing an industrial icon fall into bankruptcy.

Tired of throwing money at a company which has a failing business model? Not interested in throwing good money after bad?

Well, then let them seek protection under the bankruptcy laws, reorganize (which means getting out from the labor contract the UAW refuses to renegotiate) and let them stand a company back up that’s able to compete. Heck, this is as good a time as any – they’re not selling any cars anyway.

Oh, and as an afterthought, if bank execs have to have salary caps, how about auto execs and labor leaders? No I’m not for any of that, but it does provide a vivid example of how arbitrary the rules Congress imposes are, doesn’t it?

~McQ


Details, Promises And Other “Stimulus” Package Fun Stuff

As the details of the compromise stimulus package come out, most will find plenty to not like.

For instance, those stimulative tax cuts for 95% of Americans:

Q: What are some of the tax breaks in the bill?

A: It includes Obama’s signature “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 95 percent of workers, though negotiators agreed to trim the credit to $400 a year instead of $500 — or $800 for married couples, cut from Obama’s original proposal of $1,000. It would begin showing up in most workers’ paychecks in June as an extra $13 a week in take-home pay, falling to about $8 a week next January.

$13 bucks a week for 6 months, down to $8 bucks a week by January. $338 in ’09, and, if it stays in place for all of ’10, $416.

Wow. 800 billion of your dollars and in the next year and a half you’re going to see $754 of it. Go make that down payment on the new house or car now!

Now, here’s the rope-a-dope:

Q: How will infrastructure spending affect jobs?

A: The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion the federal government spends on infrastructure projects translates to 35,000 jobs. Collins put the total infrastructure spending — including highways, mass transit, environmental cleanups and broadband facilities — at $150 billion. Do the math and that translates into more than 5 million jobs, based on the highway administration’s assumptions.

Senate leaders have offered their own estimate — they said Wednesday that the total stimulus package will sustain some 3.5 million jobs.

Most of that work will go to people who already have jobs. And those who are hired will be hired on a temporary basis. When the revenue stream for that job ends, so will the temporary jobs.

And one other thing to keep in mind – these people are estimating based on nothing more than some assumptions they’ve decided look rosy and fit their narrative. They have no freakin’ idea how many jobs, if any, their spending will bring.

Q: How long would it take for highway projects to begin?

A: Lawmakers say most of the projects could be up and running within 90 days, although it could take somewhat more time in northern states with longer winters. Highway construction groups have estimated that there are thousands of projects that could be started within that 90 days.

Here’s a dirty little secret about this answer – projects that are 90 days from beginning have most likely already been funded and those who are going to work on them have been hired.

All the rest of the projects in the bill will have to go through the normal years long bidding process that is required by government. So “shovel ready” does not necessarily mean an infusion of new cash or jobs.

Q: Does the bill include federal aid to the states?

A: Yes. It includes major contributions to states to help with their budget shortfalls and assure the viability of Medicaid and education programs.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the moderate Republican who helped broker the deal, said the spending includes about $90 billion in increased federal matches to states to help pay for Medicaid, along with a $54 billion “fiscal stabilization” fund that states could use to build and repair schools and improve facilities at institutions of higher learning.

This bill is the “State Fiscal Mismanagement Bailout Bill” which rewards states for budget busting.

Tell me, in life, what is one of the major means of changing behavior?

Pain. No pain, nothing learned. Be it emotional, physical or financial pain, unless you suffer it, you have no reason to change your behavior. Given this bill, profligate state governments have no reason to change their spendthrift ways.

BTW, none of that spending will stimulate anything but more government.

More:

Q: What are some of the other main focuses of the bill?

A: Here are some highlights:

Education: The package has some $11.5 billion to support the IDEA program for special education. There’s another $10 billion for a federal program to help low-income students.

Energy: The package includes funds to modernize the electrical grid — in part by incorporating renewable energy resources — and to make federal buildings more energy efficient and help low-income households weatherize their homes.

Health: The plan includes subsidies to allow people who are laid off to purchase health insurance through the federal COBRA plan. There is also money to support hospitals seeking to modernize health information technology.

Infrastructure: The infrastructure section of the package includes funds for building and repairing highways and bridges, expanding transit systems, upgrading airports and rail systems and building and repairing federal buildings — with the focus on making them more energy efficient. Funds are available for clean water projects, cleanup of environmental waste areas and nuclear waste cleanups.

Nothing listed here is stimulative. Nothing. This is all the pork that everyone has denied is in the bill. This is the left’s shopping list of the last 40 years rolled into one big raid on your wallet.

And what about the engine of productivity, the creator of jobs and wealth? Not much at all:

From auto dealers to the home-building industry, big business appears to be the biggest loser in the final economic stimulus plan being pieced together Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Negotiators from the House and Senate sliced billions of dollars in tax incentives for businesses and slashed huge tax breaks for consumers that were strongly backed by industry lobbyists.

Many of the business tax provisions were added to the stimulus legislation in the Senate in an effort to attract Republican votes. President Barack Obama wants bipartisan support for the plan and was dealt a setback when no Republicans voted for the House version of the plan two weeks ago.

But when only three Republican senators voted for the Senate version of the bill Tuesday, Democrats slashed the business tax proposals in an effort to bring the total cost of the bill under $789 billion.

That’s right, Democratic spite and their propensity toward government as the solution have mostly driven tax breaks for business, the one sector that can, in fact, create real jobs that produce wealth, out of the bill.

Tthe Democrats like to use the term “trickle down” derisively, but as Karl Rove notes, you’re  about to see their version of it. The difference is the money will “trickle down” through the government filter. Any guess as to how much will actually reach down to where it is needed?

Well, don’t bet that whopping $754 bucks you’ll be seeing over the next year and a half that it will do any good. Instead you might consider buying gold with it, since my guess is it isn’t going to be worth $754 when the Democrats get done with screwing around with the economy.

~McQ


Chevron’s Kern River Basin – Things That Make You Go “Wow”!

As most of you know I took a short trip to beautiful Bakersfield California a couple of weeks ago at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute (who paid for the trip) to tour Chevron’s Kern River Basin oil fields. Here’s a short intro video by API that will get you into the game.

Jeff Hatlin, the guy describing most of the facilities and the area, was a fabulous tour guide. And the rest of the staff there (Jim Swartz, David Boroughs, Carla Musser, Ray Thavarajah, Kevin Kimber, Kelly Lucas and Omer Saleem) took a day out of their busy schedules to acquaint 4 bloggers with a huge asset that has been producing oil for over 100 years. My thanks to all of them.

As you might imagine, the “easy oil” days of yore are long over. As Jane Van Ryan, the narrator of the video, notes, the area was first discovered because oil was literally seeping out of the ground. No more. The oil produced at Kern River is what is known in the industry as “heavy oil”. That means the viscosity is very high. For many years in the early days, its viscosity limited its use to asphalt and roofing tar.

That presents an interesting set of problems when you talk about recovery. You’re trying to pump some pretty thick stuff out of the ground and, as you can imagine, that takes a whole bunch of energy. And the oil doesn’t sit in pools, but is distributed throughout the sand layers. So it seems obvious that the way to address the problem is to find a way to lower the viscosity of the oil and cause it to flow before trying to recover it.  As you might imagine, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The way Chevron has addressed those needs is through steam flooding and new drilling techniques such as horizontal drilling.

You saw Jeff Hatlin talk about how that steam is generated (and you got to see the steam generators in the video) and injected into the ground. In the 20 square miles of the Kern River Basin facility, there are approximately 770 steam injection wells helping the 8,700 production wells bring up the oil from depths of over 1,000 feet. What the steam injection wells have allowed Chevron to do is move the field from its primary production days, when only 5-10% of the oil was being recovered, to a production percentage between 50 to 80% with steam flooding. This enhanced recovery technique has helped Chevron keep the field at an 80,000 bpd production rate when, without it, it would be producing very little oil at all.

Another technique which allows more efficient recovery is the 3D modeling that you saw Dale Beeson talking about.  The model in the video has 155 million cells, each 50′ x 50′ x 2′.  That’s a massive amount of information stored, updated and accessible to the Chevron staff as they plan their next wells.  Much of the data for this model is gathered through 660 “observation wells” drilled strategically over the vast property.  Temperature and fluid saturation are monitored allowing for efficient heat management and the location of the richest oil deposits. It is through the integration of that information plus the nearly 1,000,000 data points gathered through out the field on any given day by other means, that Chevron meets its goal of reducing its production decline in the Kern River Basin to 1% a year.

A final technique introduced into the Kern River field in 2006 is horizontal drilling. The 3D modeling helps Chevron exactly pinpoint layers of oil producing sand and using advanced drilling techniques, precisely place the horizontal well in that sand layer. To give you an idea of the efficiency difference, a typical vertical well will produce about 3 bpd of oil. A horizontal well will produce about 100 bpd.

Given all of that, however, there was something else I learned that just blew my mind. While they’re producing that 80,000 bpd of oil, they’re also pumping up 555,000 bpd of water. In fact they joke about really being a water production facility which produces oil as a by-product. That’s more true than you might imagine.

But it also means they must process a half a million barrels of water a day, separate the oil from it and do something with the remaining water. This is where it gets interesting. You heard Jane mention they process and purify some of it through walnut shell filters for agricultural use. In fact, they have about 272,000 bpd in excess that they send through that process and then is sold to California for use in growing all those luscious veggies Californians are so wild about. My guess is that most of California has no idea that’s the case. That avocado you’re enjoying may have been produced with water from Chevron’s Kern River Basin field.

So what do they do with the remaining 231,000 bpd of the water they pump up?  They make steam.  Lots and lots of steam.  And that brings us to something else of which I’m pretty sure the average Californian isn’t aware.  Part of that steam powers up to 20% of the California electrical grid.   It’s called ‘cogeneration’, and Chevron has actually built steam powered electrical plants on the field which are plugged into the California power grid and provide on-demand electricity.  They use the waste steam generated in the steam injection process to power these plants.  Clean energy and highly efficient clean production.

That’s what had me saying “wow” at the end of the trip.  Two critical commodities to California – electricity and water, produced as  by-product of a third critical product, oil.  And all three are produced in a efficient, environmentally friendly way.

If I were Chevron, I’d be telling this story everywhere I could.  It’s not quite the resource-raping, greed-is-king “Big Oil” caricature the media and many of our politicians are fond of painting, is it?


Executive Pay Capped

Many progressives thought that Pres. Obama had abandoned them after the election, but I’ll bet they’re singing a different tune today:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday imposed a $500,000 cap on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving taxpayer bailout money and promised new steps to end a system of “executives being rewarded for failure.”

[...]

The limit would apply to top-paid executives at the most distressed financial institutions that are negotiating bailout agreements with the federal government.

Obama in Scold Finger III - From Stalinist Russia With Love

Obama in Scold Finger III - From Stalinist Russia With Love

It also would apply to other banks that receive aid, but they could get around the limits by publicizing to shareholders plans to exceed the salary cap.

The “most distressed financial institutions” will not include those which have already received TARP funds, such as AIG and Citigroup. However, those firms are already subject to caps on executive pay under the statute authorizing the bailout last Fall. And because these companies have all come to the government “with hat in hand,” in Obama’s words, not too many people outside of Wall Street are upset. Yet, Obama does not seem content to stop with these “distressed” companies:

The administration also will propose long-term compensation restrictions even for companies that don’t receive government assistance, Obama said.

Those proposals include:

• Requiring top executives at financial institutions to hold stock for several years before they can cash out.

• Requiring nonbinding “say on pay” resolutions — that is, giving shareholders more say on executive compensation.

• A Treasury-sponsored conference on a long-term overhaul of executive compensation.

This is exactly the sort of creeping socialism that many of us were worried about with Obama’s election. Mind you, McCain would not have been much better, but this sort of heavy handed government interventionism would not have been proposed by his administration, much less tolerated by most Republicans in Congress.

Obama’s proposals are somewhat tolerable with respect to the bailed out companies since they are being funded with tax payer dollars. If these companies are going take the money, then they should have to abide by whatever rules are attached to the funding no matter how onerous. But trying to impose such draconian restrictions on companies that are not being bailed out is nothing more than a direct assault on freedom.

Even if you think that no executive should be paid more than $X more than the lowest paid employee of a firm, or are just angry at the seemingly wasteful and lavish life styles of Wall Street bankers, you still have to find this sort of proposed legislation abominable. Why? Because no matter what you think about executive compensation, the owners and operators of these companies think otherwise. It’s their decision to make about how their companies are run and how well their employees are paid. Unless, of course, you would just fine and dandy with some government bureaucrat deciding that you are overpaid for your position, and that no matter how hard you work you can never make more than $Y.

The only people who would ever agree to such slavery are those who have no ambition and little, if anything, to offer the world in terms of work product. They are not the people who invent the items, create the ideas, or provide the services that make our lives better over time. That is not to say that their efforts are not appreciated, nor that they shouldn’t be rewarded. But neither should we base the engine of wealth creation on their hopes and dreams of sinecure.

Beyond the egregious assault on freedom these proposals represent, there is also a huge question as to their efficacy, regardless of whether the firms are troubled or not (my emphasis):

Compensation experts in the private sector have warned that intrusions into the internal decisions of financial institutions could discourage participation in the rescue program and slow down the financial sector’s recovery. They also argue that it could set a precedent for government regulation that undermines performance-based pay.

“One of the big questions is whether it will make it more difficult to recruit and retain executives at these companies,” said Claudia Allen, chair of corporate governance at the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg.

The $500,000 cap “is a very tight limit,” she said.

Timothy J. Bartl, vice president and general counsel for the Center On Executive Compensation, said the president’s actions are a unique situation given the government’s role bailing out troubled institutions.

“We do not view it as something that ought to be extended beyond this circumstance,” he said.

I don’t think there’s any legitimate doubt that these will be the effects. Indeed, here are some of the reactions to Obama’s proposals:

Goldman Sachs said yesterday it wants to repay $10 billion it got from Treasury under the TARP to signal the firm is healthy and to escape limitations that came with that infusion of money. “Our financial condition is sound and, subject to approval from regulators, we hope to repay TARP money as soon as practicable,” said Lucas van Praag, a spokesman for New York- based Goldman Sachs.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said Feb. 3 that the firm didn’t need capital and didn’t ask for TARP funding. The lender accepted the $25 billion it received from the first capital injection at the request of the government and to help stabilize the banking system, he said.

Goldman has to get permission to repay the government? Does that make sense? Only if the reason the funds were distributed in the first place was to give the federal government control over the market place. I think that’s exactly what Bush (“I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system”) and Paulsen had in mind with TARP, and I think Obama is prepared to carry the ball even further into socialist territory.

As far as retaining talented executives, why would any of them stay? If you were making $10 Million per year including your bonuses (not uncommon), why would you stay somewhere that’s forcing you take a 95% pay cut? Of course, many will say good riddance to bad rubbish, and perhaps their right. It’s not like a firm that goes crawling for a federal handout was performing all that well. Except that (a) it’s far from clear that bad management led to the current crisis (although, surely that had something to do with it), and (b) even if it were clear, not every executive or potential executive was responsible. If you are a rising star in your investment bank who has put in exhaustingly long hours to get ahead in hopes of a big payday in the future, why would you stick around where you know your options are limited? These are very smart, industrious and capable people. There are plenty of places where they can go and not be subject to such pay strictures, and that is where they will end up.

Moreover, a part of the proposed regulations practically eliminates the fabled “golden parachutes” for executives:

Obama said that massive severance packages for executives who leave failing firms are also going to be eliminated. “We’re taking the air out of golden parachutes,” he said.

This displays a fundamental misunderstanding of what golden parachutes are. Contrary to popular belief, they are not generous giveaways to failed executives, but instead incentives for failed executives to get out of the way and allow new management. Without these sorts of incentives, management becomes entrenched and complacent. If a proposed takeover threatens to take away the goodies they can vote themselves, then they will forego such proposals and keep cashing in. In order to align management’s interests with the shareholders, golden parachutes were introduced to incentivize firm managers to sacrifice their jobs when the best interests of the company warrant it. Since one of the major problems that everyone seems to have with Wall Street is the failure of effective management, one would think the new rules would make it easier to bring in new blood, not harder.

But none of that matters to Obama:

Mr. Obama said the cap strikes the right “balance” between fair compensation and proper stewardship of taxpayer funds. “This is America. We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset –and rightfully so–are executives being rewarded for failure, especially when those rewards are subsidized by U. S. taxpayers.

“For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis is not only in bad taste, it’s a bad strategy — and I will not tolerate it as President.”

Again, it’s hard to generate much sympathy for executives who’ve come begging to Washington. But at the same time, what point is there to heavy handed measures that don’t do anything more than satisfy some people’s jealousy and outrage? Shouldn’t these proposals be designed to put people back to work?


Smoot-Hawley Fiasco Averted.

Bruce wrote earlier that the stimulus bill, in it’s current form, invites a Trade War with the rest of the world.  Naturally, the protectionist elements of the bill had many of our trading partners both worried and miffed.

The EU, for example, has been struggling with the issue over there, and began tossing off warnings of a trade war. The EU Ambassador to the united States, John Bruton, expressed those warnings frankly.

The EU warnings came in letters to US political leaders in Congress, Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, and Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State. Mr Bruton urged them to respect the decision taken by the G20, the world’s leading economic nations, in Washington last November to resist protectionism as a defence against the crisis. They are expected to meet again in London in April.

“Failing this risks entering into a spiral of protectionist measures around the globe that can only hurt our economies further,” he wrote.

“Open markets remain the essential precondition for a rapid recovery from the crisis, and history has shown us where measures taken contrary to this principle can lead us.”

Maybe someone in the White House has been reading up on this.

Maybe someone in the White House has been reading up on this.

Back in Europe proper, the language was bit less guarded and diplomatic.

The European Commission’s powerful trade department, a bastion of open markets formerly headed by Lord Mandelson, said yesterday that the “Buy American” clause was “the worst possible signal” that could be sent to world trade.

A spokesman said: “We are particularly concerned about the signal that these measures could send to the world at a time when all countries are facing difficulties. Where America leads, many others tend to follow.”

In responding to those concerns, Pres. obama seems to have backed down a bit.

Last night Mr Obama gave a strong signal that he would remove the most provocative passages from the Bill.

“I agree that we can’t send a protectionist message,” he said in an interview with Fox TV. “I want to see what kind of language we can work on this issue. I think it would be a mistake, though, at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for us to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade.”

Congratulations to Pres. Obama for realizing the toxic effect that outright protectionism would have on world trade, and economic recovery.


The “Stimulus” As Written Means Increased Welfare And Protectionism

The key phrase is “as written”.

The NY Post notes:

Turning back the clock.

Turning back the clock.

Buried deep inside the massive spending orgy that Democrats jammed through the House this week lie five words that could drastically undo two decades of welfare reforms.

The very heart of the widely applauded Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is a cap on the amount of federal cash that can be sent to states each year for welfare payments.

But, thanks to the simple phrase slipped into the legislation, the new “stimulus” bill abolishes the limits on the amount of federal money for the so-called Emergency Fund, which ships welfare cash to states.

“Out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, there are appropriated such sums as are necessary for payment to the Emergency Fund,” Democrats wrote in Section 2101 on Page 354 of the $819 billion bill. In other words, the only limit on welfare payments would be the Treasury itself.

“This re-establishes the welfare state and creates dependency all over the place,” said one startled budget analyst after reading the line.

So the limits on welfare payments, written into law when welfare was reformed, would be lifted. Welfare reform, widely panned when it was first passed, has been very successful in cutting dependency on tax payer dollars. Now, without any need evident, Democrats are attempting to reinstate welfare as we once knew and hated it.

And that means the obvious – more dependency and more government to administer it. It also will mean more taxes.

Then there’s the “Buy American” clause in the stimulus bill. It would require government to be restricted to goods and services produced by US companies.

We can't afford a trade war.

We can't afford a trade war.

Of course that sounds just peachy keen when you first hear it. Our government should buy from American firms if it can. But only if they provide the best services/products at the best price.

But that’s not what is being required. And to the rest of the world, that means protectionism. We don’t take very kindly to protectionism when others do it, so we shouldn’t be particularly surprised when they aren’t any more happy about it than we are.

So the obvious reaction by the rest of the world would most likely be to reciprocate in kind. We would see the same sorts of provisions pop up in countries we trade with.

And not as obvious is the fact that it will end up making the American goods the government is required to buy even more expensive than now.

Protectionism imposes large-scale structural sectoral dislocation, as exporters are ejected from their foreign markets and domestic producers that depend on cheap imported imports suddenly find themselves to no longer be competitive, on top of the global effective demand failure we are already suffering from.

This isn’t progress “as written”. For such a “progressive” administration, it is a return to the 20th century, and in the case of trade, the 19th century.

Hope and change.

~McQ


TARP News: Wells Fargo to Pay Back U.S.

money
According to this report, Wells Fargo is prepared to put some money back into the federal coffers:

Good news out of the failing financial sector, finally. Wells Fargo Bank reports it will pay back the federal government $371.5 million in its first quarterly bailout installment.

Wells Fargo is believed to be the first major bank receiving TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) to do so.

In an internal memo obtained by The Remmers Report, Wells Fargo said the quarterly dividend of $14,861.11 per share is payable Feb. 15. The feds purchased 25,000 shares of Fixed Rate Cumulative Perpetual Preferred Stock last September and is the only holder of record of the Series D preferred stock.

“Since credit began contracting 18 months ago, Wells Fargo has made almost half a trillion dollars in new loan commitments and mortgage originations,” said Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins. “Last quarter alone, we made $22 billion in loan commitments and $50 billion in mortgage originations. That’s more than $70 billion or almost three times the amount of the U.S. Treasury’s investment in Wells Fargo. We believe we’re leading our industry in lending to creditworthy customers during this difficult economy.”

It is ironic that initially Wells Fargo signalled (sic) Treasury it did not want TARP funds and when it did, negotiated the takeover of financial giant competitor Wachovia.

The payment would represent only about 1.5% of the TARP funds given to Wells Fargo, but it’s a start I guess.


Bailing out … Brazil?

Every time I see one of these stories I just shake my head in wonder.

Obama and Congress are frothing at the mouth at those Wall Street types for paying out 18 billion in “bonuses”.  Of course, had Congress not acted like a panicked herd of wildebeast when Paulson came flapping around declaring the sky was falling, they might have written legislation which prevented such an occurrence.

But while they prefer to yell at others, the failure to be specific about what the money could be used was theirs – the Democratic Congress.

Well here’s round two.  The great, “we have to have it now or we’ll go under” auto bailout scam of 2008.  And guess what:

Right nowGeneral Motors plans to invest $1 billion in Brazil to avoid the kind of problems the U.S. automaker is facing in its home market, said the beleaguered car maker.

According to the president of GM Brazil-Mercosur, Jaime Ardila, the funding will come from the package of financial aid that the manufacturer will receive from the U.S. government and will be used to “complete the renovation of the line of products up to 2012.”

“It wouldn’t be logical to withdraw the investment from where we’re growing, and our goal is to protect investments in emerging markets,” he said in a statement published by the business daily Gazeta Mercantil.

So tell me, how many jobs will that billion create or preserve here, hmmm?

Hope and change.

~McQ

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