If you’re at all concerned about the economy, the answer is likely “not very well”:
U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery.
Half of the nation’s 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls.
Nationwide, business investment in equipment and software—a measure of economic vitality in the corporate sector—stalled in the third quarter for the first time since early 2009. Corporate investment in new buildings has declined.
At the same time, exports are slowing or falling to such critical markets as China and the euro zone as the global economy downshifts, creating another drag on firms’ expansion plans.
Why are we seeing this happen? As it stands, most corporate spenders see no possibility of the hostility toward corporate America easing and also view whatever is to come in January concerning taxes and tax policy to likely be a lose-lose for them however it goes:
Corporate executives say they are slowing or delaying big projects to protect profits amid easing demand and rising uncertainty. Uncertainty around the U.S. elections and federal budget policies also appear among the factors driving the investment pullback since midyear. It is unclear whether Washington will avert the so-called fiscal cliff, tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin Jan. 2.
Companies fear that failure to resolve the fiscal cliff will tip the economy back into recession by sapping consumer spending, damaging investor confidence and eating into corporate profits. A deal to avert the cliff could include tax-code changes, such as revamping tax breaks or rates, that hurt specific sectors.
Or, as before the election, an unstable business climate persists which does not provide any incentive to expand, spend or hire. In fact, as indicated above, it is providing precisely the opposite incentives. It’s one reason the GDP forecast for the country has been downgraded again to 1.5% (Mexico, for heaven sake, has GDP growth of 3.2%).
But when you vote for the status quo, well, you get what you vote for — enjoy.
A law the country didn’t want and upheld by a ridiculous Supreme Court ruling is now beginning to have it’s predicted effect:
Some low-wage employers are moving toward hiring part-time workers instead of full-time ones to mitigate the health-care overhaul’s requirement that large companies provide health insurance for full-time workers or pay a fee.
Several restaurants, hotels and retailers have started or are preparing to limit schedules of hourly workers to below 30 hours a week. That is the threshold at which large employers in 2014 would have to offer workers a minimum level of insurance or pay a penalty starting at $2,000 for each worker.
The shift is one of the first significant steps by employers to avoid requirements under the health-care law, and whether the trend continues hinges on Tuesday’s election results. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has pledged to overturn the Affordable Care Act, although he would face obstacles doing so.
That’s really going to help the job situation, isn’t it?
When is government ever going to learn that its intrusion into the private affairs of men always has consequences, and, when they are outside the legitimate function of government in a free society, the effect is usually negative.
Congratulations Democrats, you’ve done it again.
The owner of “Hands On Originals,” a well-known t-shirt company in the region, declined to print the shirts for the city’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) because it would conflict with their Christian convictions.
The privately owned company is now accused of violating Lexington’s Fairness Act – which protects people and organizations from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
An attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund who is representing the T-shirt company says:
“No business owner should be forced to violate his conscience simply because someone demands it,” he said. “The Constitution absolutely supports the rights of business owners to decline a request to support a message that conflicts with their deeply held convictions.”
But the city says:
“Hands On Originals” will be “required by law to participate in the investigation.”
“We have subpoena power and have the backing of the law,” he said. “We are a law enforcement agency and people have to comply.”
Should the company be found guilty of discriminating against the homosexuals Sexton said they could be subjected to fines.
Yes, friends, a city has a “human rights commission” which is considered a “law enforcement agency” that can force compliance with a law that would do precisely what the ADF lawyer claims it shouldn’t have the power to do.
You’d think there’d be a solution that could be reached well before this is escalated to the use of government coercion, doesn’t it? That is if all the GLSO wanted to do was buy T-shirts.
And, a solution was offered:
GLSO wanted “Hands On Original” to print shirts for the city’s fifth annual Lexington Pride Festival. The store offered to find another company that would honor its price – but that wasn’t good enough for the GLSO.
“Our feeling on that is, separate but equal wasn’t okay during the civil rights movement and it’s not okay now,” Aaron Baker told the television station. Baker is board president of GLSO.
That’s right, it is agenda time. This isn’t about T-shirts at all. It’s about forcing their one-way version of tolerance on someone. The irony is that GLSO appears to have absolutely no tolerance for the principles of the owners of the T-shirt company.
Which set me to wondering. Here’s a hypothetical for you. What if the owner of the T-shirt company was gay? And what if Westboro Baptist Church placed an order for 10 dozen T-shirts which said “God hates faggots” on them? What if the T-shirt shop owner refused the order because of his principles?
I’d guess no. In fact, I’d guess precisely the opposite reaction.
The T-shirt company owner wrote an op-ed for the paper explaining his point of view:
“I decided to pass on the opportunity because, as a Christian owner, I cannot in good conscience endorse groups or events that run counter to my convictions,” Adamson wrote in the op-ed.
Adamson, who has been in business for more than 20 years, wrote that he “does not expect, or even ask, people to agree with my view.”
“All I ask for people is to respect my right as an owner to not produce a product that is contrary to my principles,” he wrote.
Adamson called on people to stand up for the rights of small business owners not “to be forced into producing a product with a message that conflicts with their beliefs and consciences.”
The reaction was anything but tolerant or understanding of a differing view:
“Hands On Originals” has faced a barrage of attacks since the accusations were made public. More than 2,000 people have joined a boycott movement on Facebook. Another group is trying to buy the company’s mortgage so they can be evicted.
The Fayette County public school system placed a temporary hold on buying t-shirts from the company until the issue is resolved. The University of Kentucky is also reviewing its future business with the t-shirt maker.
Even Lexington’s openly gay mayor has condemned the privately-owned t-shirt company, telling the Lexington Herald-Leader “People don’t have patience for this sort of attitude today.”
“I’m against discrimination, period,” Gray said in a statement released to television station WKYT. “It’s bad for business and bad for the city. I support the Human Rights Commission in a full and thorough investigation.”
Real tolerance is apparently unacceptable. The hypocrisy of GLSO is palpable. And trying to use the coercive power of government is disgusting.
Tolerance isn’t a one-sided principle. If one wants people to tolerate their beliefs and lifestyle, it is incumbent upon them to do the same for others. If they actually believe in true tolerance, that is.
What is clear here is GLSO doesn’t.
More disgusting, at least to me, is the inclusion of this ridiculous city level “human rights commission” as a law enforcement agency and it’s obvious intent to force “compliance” against the conscience and principles of the owner.
There was a problem (GLSO wanted T-shirts, T-shirt company refused due to conscience), an offered solution (T-shirt company offers to find another producer at same price) which was reasonable and a rejection of that solution because the group has an political agenda and wishes to force the company to violate its principles and conscience. And which side does government take?
The side that wants to use its coercive power to force that violation.
Let freedom ring.
The invaluable Warren Meyer at Coyote blog (one of my all time favs) has a great article up on protectionism and why its something we should be avoiding.
President Obama used a lot of his state of the union address again teeing up what sounded to me like a new round of protectionism. Protectionism is the worst form of crony capitalism, generally benefiting a handful of producers and their employee to the detriment of 300 million US consumers and any number of companies that use the protected product as an input.
The example he uses? Sugar. What industry does it protect and subsidize in the end? The producers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And what does the government tell us about HFCS?
It’s bad for us. Sugar would be preferable.
So why do we continue to use it in place of sugar? Protectionism. Look at the chart he includes:
The chart says it all. With the tariff added, look at the average US cost of sugar vs. the world’s average cost.
As Meyer points out though, that’s not how this gets spun:
Food activists on the Left often point to the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as one of those failures of capitalism, where rapacious capitalists make money serving an inferior product. But HFCS resulted from a scramble by food and beverage companies to find some reasonable alternative to sugar as the government has driven up sugar prices through a crazy tariff system that benefits just a tiny handful of Americans, and costs everyone else money.
Yup, the usual, convenient and usually wrong whipping boy – “market failure”.
When a tariff is involved, you’ve just moved out of the realm of real capitalism and into the realm of crony capitalism. This has nothing to do with markets failing. This has to do with the usual – government intrusion using their monopoly power of force which then distorts a market and causes users of the product whose price they chose to artificially inflate with a tariff to seek lower cost alternatives.
Remember, the same government that is claiming HFCS isn’t good for you is the one that’s also made it impossible to use a product that it claims is better for you (in relative terms of course):
For the last 10 years or so, HFCS-42 has actually traded at a price higher than the world market price for sugar, but lower than the US price for sugar. There is a lot complexity to prices, but this seems to imply that HFCS would not be nearly as attractive a substitute for sugar if US sugar tariffs did not exist (not to mention subsidies of corn which support HFCS). This can also be seen in the fact that HFCS has not been used nearly so often as a sugar substitute in markets outside of the US, even by the same manufacturers (like Coke) that pioneered its use in the US.
Or, if markets had been left alone, all indications are we’d be using lower cost sugar right now.
Meanwhile the government protects and subsidizes an industry that makes a product it says is worse for you .
The regulatory state again finds a new way to try to handicap businesses. This time it is the EEOC:
Employers are facing more uncertainty in the wake of a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warning them that requiring a high school diploma from a job applicant might violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The development also has some wondering whether the agency’s advice will result in an educational backlash by creating less of an incentive for some high school students to graduate.
The “informal discussion letter” from the EEOC said an employer’s requirement of a high school diploma, long a standard criterion for screening potential employees, must be “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” The letter was posted on the commission’s website on Dec. 2.
Job related things like a modicum of assurance, supposedly offered by high school completion, that a candidate might be able to read and write?
And if that isn’t a necessity anymore, then why do it. Of course that means no college so no studying OWS for credit, but hey, Wal-Mart may have to take you.
Many, many, many people, upon the passage of the feel good Americans With Disabilities Act warned that stupidity such as this was the inevitable and logical end game of the regulators.
As you can see, and as usual, they were right.
Maria Greco Danaher, a lawyer with the labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, said the EEOC letter means that employers must determine whether job applicants whose learning disabilities kept them from obtaining diplomas can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. She said the development is “worthy of notice” for employers.
“While an employer is not required to ‘prefer’ a learning-disabled applicant over other applicants with more extensive qualifications, it is clear that the EEOC is informing employers that disabled individuals cannot be excluded from consideration for employment based upon artificial barriers in the form of inflexible qualification standards,” she wrote in a blog post.
So, it is the job of the company, according to Danaher, to make these sorts of determinations because the EEOC thinks it is discriminatory to simply require a high school diploma which has always been used to filter candidates?
One assumes then that requiring a college degree would fall in the same category, no? I mean most of those who require it, other than wanting someone who has demonstrated the intelligence and perseverance to complete a prescribed course of study satisfactorily (and the sort of positive traits that relate to work that such an accomplishment brings), really have no “job related” requirements except the usual: the ability write, read and do basic math. How dare they?
This is an “informal discussion letter”, better known among those who follow politics as a “trial balloon”. The EEOC has every intention of trying to make this a regulation. What they’re doing now is similar to the “public comment” portion that is supposed to give the public the ability to point out the huge downside of their proposal before they make it a regulation anyway.
Oh, and about that incentive to finish high school being lessened by something like this? Hand wave away:
“No, we don’t think the regulation would discourage people from obtaining high school diplomas,” said Peggy Mastroianni, legal counsel for the EEOC. “People are aware that they need all the education they can get.”
Are they? That explains the 8% drop out rate I guess. But look at that statement. Pure assertion on both ends of it. “We don’t think” … famous last words of the stereotypical bureaucrat. There’s never been a regulation that had unintended consequences, has there?
Jordan Weissman, writing in the Atlantic, addresses that question. Why is the USPS in such dire straits? What is it that has caused that entity to be tottering on the brink of insolvency?
Ok, not on the brink … it’s insolvent, it just won’t admit it. So how did this happen?
Weissman points first to the Internet:
In the days of yore, sending letters by mail was pretty much the most efficient way to communicate in writing. Then the Internet happened. Although total mail volume stayed relatively steady until 2006, it has dropped an astonishing 20 percent in the past five years. More important, first-class mail, the Postal Service’s biggest moneymaker, has fallen 25 percent during the past decade. That’s a huge problem for its bottom line. The agency now delivers far more "standard mail" — what most of us call junk mail — than first-class mail. According to Businessweek, it takes three pieces of junk to equal the earnings from a single stamped first-class envelope. J. Crew catalogs and pizza menus alone won’t pay the bills.
I disagree here. While the Internet certainly cut into its revenue, it didn’t put it in the shape it is now. That had been set in motion well before the Internet became a factor. The Internet has simply pushed it to the tipping point earlier than it might have arrived otherwise.
The two real culprits? Labor and Congress.
Yet even as its profits have dwindled along with the mail it handles, the agency’s labor costs have remained stubbornly high. Salaries and benefits make up 80 percent of the Post Office’s budget. By comparison, FedEx spends 43 percent of its budget on labor, while UPS spends 63 percent, according to Businessweek. Why the disparity? As the magazine put it, "USPS has historically placed the interests of its unions first." For years, it has happily negotiated contracts with generous salary increases and no-layoff clauses.
Why? Because it could.
And there had to be this belief, despite the problems, that it was never going to go out of business. In other words, it was felt it would be bailed out if push came to shove. So it happily negotiated away your tax dollars to provide generous benefits to its employees that it would never be able to afford if it were an actual business entity. Its first priority wasn’t its customers. It was the interest of its unions.
As for Congress, well the postal service we have today is the result of a 1970 law that was, as Weissmann writes, “intended to transform the mail system from a dysfunctional dumping ground for political patronage into a self-sustaining, independent agency.”
Or it was supposed to become a business.
But the politicians never really let it. The Postal Service doesn’t receive any taxpayer dollars, funding itself entirely through customer revenue. But it still has to deal with Congress as a micromanager. It isn’t allowed to shutter post offices for purely economic reasons, meaning that roughly 25,000 of its 32,000 now operate at a loss. It needs permission for rate hikes from a special regulatory commission. And for 30 years, it’s been required to deliver mail on Saturdays, even though that day is a money loser.
The Postal Service’s current woes are also due at least in part to Capitol Hill’s meddling. In 2006, Congress passed a new law requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into a trust fund for future retiree pensions. When revenues were rising, the idea might have seemed reasonable. But the timing was exquisitely bad. Now that the agency is in the red, the pension burden has helped to force drastic measures like the ones we’ve heard about today.
The Postal Service is begging Congress to let it recoup some of those prepayments, as well as give it more flexibility to manage its business.
A primer in intrusion. An example of what such meddling does in other areas as well. Instead of telling the USPS to become more like a business and then letting it do that, Congress has chosen to interfere.
The USPS – an example of the “why” government should stay out of business. It granted itself a monopoly and is managing to run even that into the ground.
This is just the theater of the absurd masquerading as government:
With the approval of the Obama administration, an electric car company that received a $529 million federal government loan guarantee is assembling its first line of cars in Finland, saying it could not find a facility in the United States capable of doing the work.
Vice President Joseph Biden heralded the Energy Department’s $529 million loan to the start-up electric car company called Fisker as a bright new path to thousands of American manufacturing jobs. But two years after the loan was announced, the job of assembling the flashy electric Fisker Karma sports car has been outsourced to Finland.
"There was no contract manufacturer in the U.S. that could actually produce our vehicle," the car company’s founder and namesake told ABC News. "They don’t exist here."
That’s just absurd. Half a billion dollars of taxpayer guaranteed money to a company in Finland with no guarantee that the coal powered cars they’re building would be built here and create jobs here.
Nope, according to the company’s founder, “no contract manufacturer in the US could actually produce the vehicle”.
We’re finding out about that now? They didn’t know that before they approved the loan guarantees?
Yet another example of government picking winners and losers with your money. And, as usual, doing a dismal job. They’d like you to think they do due diligence on these sorts of deals, but example after example point to utter incompetence, not to mention the fact that government shouldn’t be doing this in the first place.
Dumb and dumber at work with your tax dollars.
Don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Oh … and it will be the “Volkswagon” of electric cars made for the little people:
Fisker is more than a year behind rolling out its $97,000 luxury vehicle bankrolled in part with DOE money.
The Hill just published a poll of likely voters. The findings pretty much reflect what I’ve believed about the so-called “99%” protest.
Voters are unimpressed and the attempt to deflect attention from Washington to corporate America isn’t, at least to this point, working:
The Hill poll found that only one in three likely voters blames Wall Street for the country’s financial troubles, whereas more than half — 56 percent — blame Washington.
Moreover, when it comes to the political consequences of the protest, voters tend to believe that there are more perils than positives for Obama and the Democrats.
Of course that’s the double edged sword and the risk the Obama campaign takes trying to embrace this (while also attempting to keep some distance) supposed grass roots movement.
And, as the more radical groups attempt to join as well (see this photo essay for an example), the folks in flyover country are going to get even more turned off.
Personal observation, but it just seems to me the radical left just hasn’t had much to protest about since Bush left office. The anti-war movement (of which most of these groups showing up for OWS were a part) melted away when Obama took office. He even started a third war and not a peep.
There will obviously be those who try to compare this to the Tea Party movement, but those comparisons will fall flat. This is just the left looking for an excuse for the usual suspects to do what they do best – protest. And, despite all the effort by the media to paint the OWS as something other than that is only going to prove the voters are a bit more sophisticated than the spin artists believe.
This poll points out that while OWS has indeed built notoriety, it may not be the sort of notoriety that a politician would want to embrace. Likely voters in the poll said it may not end up being a positive for those who latch on.
Watch carefully as this develops. Prepare for the old “rats deserting a sinking ship” rush when it starts to go south.
And it will go south.
In the old “what did they know and when did they know it” game concerning Solyndra, the failed solar company backed by half a billion dollars of federally guaranteed loans, it appears the administration was warned repeatedly that it would fail.
Even after Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, analysts in the Energy Department and in the Office of Management and Budget were repeatedly questioning the wisdom of the loan. In one exchange, an Energy official wrote of "a major outstanding issue" — namely, that Solyndra’s numbers showed it would run out of cash in September 2011.
There was also concern about the high-risk nature of the project. Internally, the Office of Management and Budget wrote that "the risk rating for the project sponsor [Solyndra] … seems high." Outside analysts had warned for months that the company might not be a sound investment.
And the reason?
Fairly simple, really:
"It’s very difficult to perceive a company with a model that says, well, I can build something for six dollars and sell it for three dollars," Lynch said. "Those numbers don’t generally work. You don’t want to lose three dollars for every unit you make."
But apparently not enough to warn off what was something that the administration badly wanted to back – “green” jobs. The problem of course is they weren’t viable green jobs. The company failed Econ 101 analysis, yet that didn’t stop our central planners from pushing ahead with the loan guarantees.
And all the info to determine this wasn’t a good risk was there:
In 2008, Solyndra, then just three years old, pushed ahead with its application for government backing to build a new plant to produce its unique solar panels. An outside rating agency, Fitch, gave Solyndra a B+ credit rating that August. Two months earlier, in June 2008, Dun & Bradstreet issued a credit appraisal of the company. Its assessment: "Fair."
Those are not top-of-the-line scores, Fitch Ratings spokeswoman Cindy Stoller told the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, which has been investigating the deal in partnership with ABC News since March. She could not discuss the Solyndra review specifically, but said of a B+ rating: "It’s a non-investment grade rating." She provided a company ratings definition, showing that B+ falls between a "highly speculative" B and "speculative" BB.
Anyone with a 5th grade education would know enough to go “not where we should sink our money”. But sink it they did.
What do we get back from the administration when questioned about all of this?
Asked about those ratings, and how significantly the department viewed the risk, Energy officials said Monday the department conducted "extensive due diligence" on the application, which included consideration of the Fitch rating.
"We believed the rating, which is used to inform our analysis of potential risks associated with the loan, was appropriate for the size, scale and innovative nature of the project and was consistent with the ratings of other innovative start-up companies," said Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman.
"The Department conducted exhaustive reviews of Solyndra’s technology and business model prior to approving their loan guarantee application," LaVera said. "Sophisticated, professional private investors, who put more than $1 billion of their own money behind Solyndra, came to the same conclusion as the Department: that Solyndra was an extremely promising company with innovative technology and a very good investment."
Well, if that’s the case, then the analysts at the DoE are utterly incompetent. My guess is they came up with the analysis their bosses wanted, not that which actually told the truth about the situation.
Again, instead of letting the market do its job, the administration continued to ignore the warning signs and intrude, backing a company that was bound to fail and in the end, throwing a half billion taxpayer dollars down the drain.
And there’s this:
The White House has argued that any effort to finance start-up businesses in a relatively new field like solar energy is bound to include risky ventures that could fail. They reject the notion being pushed by Republicans that Solyndra was chosen for political reasons. One of the largest private investors in the deal, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, was also a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
And, Solyndra’s CEO was a large contributor as well.
However, the big concern?
"This deal is NOT ready for prime time," one White House budget analyst wrote in a March 10, 2009 email, nine days before the administration formally announced the loan.
"If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY," wrote Ronald A. Klain, who was chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, in another email sent March 7, 2009. The "West Wing" is the portion of the White House complex that holds the offices of the president and his top staffers.
Yup, protect the White House. And they didn’t even have the wits to back out when they could have, instead doubling down in the face of horrific numbers. Sound familiar?
You’re in good hands, folks — can’t you just feel it?
But not before sucking down over half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees that will now be exercised.
Solyndra was touted by the Obama administration as a prime example of how green technology could deliver jobs. The President visited the facility in May of last year and said "it is just a testament to American ingenuity and dynamism and the fact that we continue to have the best universities in the world, the best technology in the world, and most importantly the best workers in the world. And you guys all represent that. "
The federal government offered $535 million in low cost loan guarantees from the Department of Energy. NBC Bay Area has contacted the White House asking for a statement.
This is what happens when government tries to pick winners and losers economically with absolutely no understanding of the market in which they intrude. What this clearly points out, unless there was true malfeasance by the company, is there is no market, at this time, for what they were selling. Either that, or they were truly incompetent.
This was a “if we build it they will buy” project that apparently either misrepresented the market or misunderstood it. Either way, it failed. And the Feds were apparently no more informed about the market potential of the product than the company. Result – over half a billion in loans guaranteed by the Federal government are now being called in. The taxpayer, as usual, is on the hook to pay off the mistake the government made.
One of the constant themes here is the government is way outside its charter when it engages in activities like this. It is an example of what those Tea Party lunatics mean when they talk about government intrusion and call for smaller government. Note, it has nothing to do with welfare reform or any other of the usual nonsense their opponents try to tag them with. It has to do with out-of-control government and out-of-control spending in areas where none of the founders ever even hinted at envisioning a Federal presence.
It’s a pity this has to be constantly pointed out to Tea Party critics bent on stereotyping members of that group as racists. But as usual, reality provides the perfect context and example to counter their baseless charges.
This is not what our government should be involved in, period. And certainly not with tax payers money, exclamation point!