If Trump wants GM to re-open Lordstown, here’s what he needs to do.

March 19, 2019

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/03/17/president-trump-attacks-gm-uaw-over-plans-close-lordstown-plant/3195729002/

The above-linked article is just one of many stories about Trump’s anger directed toward General Motors over its decision to end production at the Lordstown, OH assembly plant.  He’s wasting his time.  GM isn’t going to operate a plant building cars that aren’t selling.  Why wasn’t the Chevy Cruze selling?  It’s not that it isn’t a really nice small car.  The problem is two-fold:  the market has shifted away from cars to SUVs and, more importantly, the market is absolutely saturated with foreign brands.

I recently heard an automotive industry analyst sum up the situation this way:  “GM has fourteen plants, but only needs twelve to meet demand.”  (I may not be remembering those numbers exactly right.)  More history was in order.  He should have said that “GM once had dozens of plants and is now down to fourteen, thanks to imports, needs to shrink further to twelve and, if nothing is done, will eventually have none.”  That’s a more thorough description of what the domestic auto industry has faced.

Trump needs to stop wasting his time chastising Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, and do the one thing that GM fears the most – impose a 25% tariff on all auto and parts imports.  Soon GM would find itself in need of restarting production at Lordstown and, beyond that, begin building many more assembly and parts plants around the U.S.

Then why does GM fear such a move, one that would likely double its sales volume in the U.S.?  Because China might retaliate by kicking U.S. automakers out of China, depriving them of access to that market.  With 1.2 billion people, four times the population of the U.S., GM and other global corporations think China is a market with the potential to be four times the size of the U.S.  It’s currently nowhere near that big and never will be, thanks to gross over-crowding in China, but GM doesn’t understand that just yet.  So they’re willing to cede a large portion of the U.S. market (and with it, U.S. manufacturing jobs) to foreign competition in order to preserve their access to the Chinese market.

Trump has been threatening to pull the trigger on auto tariffs for some time now.  What’s he waiting for?  The “Make America Great Again” initiative will remain stalled and more auto plants will close as long as he fails to act.

Advertisements

Reuters Fumbles Story about Pickups

February 6, 2019

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/201902050800RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_L1N1ZW1LR_1

Reuters, a global publication that often passes itself off as the expert on all matters related to trade perhaps figured that it could just pick any pickup truck at random for a story about how American automakers and workers are relying ever more heavily on sales of big pickup trucks.

Mickey McMaster is on his 12th pickup truck.

The 61-year old farm equipment dealer in Decatur, Texas, two weeks ago treated himself to a 2019 GMC Denali for around $69,000 – a reward for long hours at work.

“For me this is the Cadillac of trucks, it’s a real luxury vehicle,” McMaster said. “I’ve worked my way up to afford a truck like this and it shows that I’ve earned it.”

McMaster is the kind of customer General Motors Co ( GM ) is banking on as it plans to add 1,000 jobs at a plant in Flint, Michigan that will build a new generation of its largest pickups.

Just one problem.  The 4-door crew cab Denali that Mr. McMaster bought is built in Mexico, not at GM’s Flint plant.  Though most of GM’s pickups are built at Flint, the biggest and most expensive 4-door crew cab versions (both the GMC Denali and the Chevy Silverado) are built at GM’s plant in Silao, Mexico.  The Dodge Ram pickup trucks referenced later in the article are built at Fiat-Chrysler’s plant in Saltillo, Mexico, though FC recently announced it will move production to its plant in Warren, Michigan.

I wonder if Mr. McMaster even knows that his truck was built in Mexico?  If not, I wonder how he feels now that he does know?  If he was proud of buying American, does he now feel betrayed by GM?

That might be a more interesting story for Reuters to pursue – how Americans who think they are buying American are being duped into buying Mexican imports.

 


What Trump Needs to Do to Survive

December 17, 2018

Donald Trump was never a very likable person -arrogant, obnoxious, inconsiderate, demeaning, a womanizer and narcissistic.  The list could go on.  He’s not eloquent, not inspiring and not a role model unless, that is, you fancy yourself an entrepreneur like him.  There’s no arguing his success as such.  What he lacked in the aforementioned qualities he made up for with ruthless ambition and a keen sense for business.  So it’s not surprising that his reality TV show, The Aprentice, was a hit at a time when millions of workers were falling victim to globalization and were left with few options but to try their hands as entrepreneurs.  Even if you didn’t like Trump, it was entertaining to watch contestants get a heavy dose of reality about what it took to make it as a businessperson.

But Trump as president?  I scoffed at the idea.  No way could such an unlikable person get enough people to vote for him.  I never would have.  When he announced his candidacy, I just assumed that a businessman like him would, of course, be another globalist.  People often said that we needed a businessman to run the government more like a business.  I always replied that what would really happen is that the government would be run for the benefit of business, to the detriment of everyone else.  But he got my attention when he started talking about “making America great again” and what that meant – tearing up bad trade deals, bringing jobs back home and reining in out-of-control immigration – especially illegal immigration.  These were all the things I’d been writing about for years.

So I turned a blind eye to all of his onerous qualities and took a chance.  Why not?  It wasn’t as though I hadn’t voted for populist losers before.  To my amazement, the “silent majority,” who’d been getting their asses kicked by globalization for decades, had had enough of it and voted for him too.  Like me, they were willing to overlook his many flaws and take a chance.  It’s not as though we didn’t know what we were getting.  The Access Hollywood tape had long since been made public.  News about his affairs with “Stormy” McDaniels and Karen McDougall had already come out.

I’ve been pleased with the results – with his policy decisions – but not ecstatic.  He’s been tough on illegal immigration, but where’s the badly-needed border wall?  Making Mexico pay for it would have been easy.  Just tear up NAFTA and slap tariffs on Mexican imports.  Instead, he became mired in a year-long renegotiation of a trade deal with Mexico, which still isn’t signed and is questionable as to whether or not it represents any improvement at all for the U.S.  The tariffs on steel and aluminum were a great first step, followed by the small tariffs on half of Chinese imports.

But now his agenda is stalled, thanks to caving into to the Chinese when they promised reforms at the G20 meeting in Argentina.  We all know how that’ll go.  There’ll be promises from the Chinese that’ll never be kept, but they’ll be enough to win them more concessions from Trump.  The long-talked-about tariffs on auto imports have never happened.  The problem with all of this is that, while what Trump has done so far has been a good start toward an overhaul of trade policy, it hasn’t been enough yet to achieve the desired effect – a migration of manufacturing back to the U.S.  Our trade imbalance is now worse than ever.  Trump has ceded the podium to the hand-wringing globalists who scare the hell out of markets with their daily dire warnings of a trade war or worse.  Now they’re conjuring up images on a new Great Depression, worse they say than 1929.  It’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s having an effect as people turn negative on the economy.  And companies clearly aren’t yet taking this new trade policy seriously, as GM recently announced plans to close plants in the U.S. and move more production to Mexico, and as Boeing just announced that they’re moving some assembly to China.

Given this past week’s news about the conviction of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen on felony charges of campaign finance law violations, it seems inevitable that Trump will face impeachment.  Never mind the fact that the hush money payments were already old news when Trump won the election, indicating that those events weren’t enough to dissuade voters from desperately seeking a change in direction for the country.  Trump won’t stand a chance of re-election with impeachment hanging over his head.  And you can be sure that the House Democrats are smart enough to bring it to a head just as the election draws near.

There’s only one chance for Trump to survive.  The economy has to be going gangbusters when the next election rolls around.  The only way that happens is if he aggressively resumes his implementation of tariffs.  That means that as soon as the 90-day “truce” agreed to at the G20 ends on March 1st, he must immediately raise the tariffs on Chinese imports to 25% as originally promised, and must extend them across the board to all Chinese imports.  Secondly, he needs to immediately implement the long-promised 25% tariffs on all imported autos.  Finally, he must make it clear that the tariffs will remain in place regardless of any promised concessions from China or any auto exporters.  Tariffs cannot be negotiated away.  Lowering the tariffs can only be considered when a balance of trade has been restored, and then only incrementally.  Trump needs to immediately change the conversation, refocusing news coverage on changing trade policy and away from his legal predicaments.  If he does all of this – and the economy is doing great – voters will be willing to overlook an impeachment just as they overlooked his many flaws two years ago.

Anything short of that and Trump will be gone in two years, replaced by globalists who will undo everything he did.  And history will judge his presidency a failure.


Auto Industry: “We’re winning with NAFTA.” Seriously?

October 25, 2017

http://www.reuters.com/article/trade-nafta-autos/auto-industry-tells-trump-were-winning-with-nafta-idUSL2N1MZ028

The above-linked article reports on an effort to generate opposition to the Trump administration’s tough stance on the renegotiation of NAFTA.

Auto trade associations representing General Motors Co Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen AG, Hyundai Motor Co, Ford Motor Co and nearly every other major automaker, are part of the coalition dubbed “Driving American Jobs” and backing an advertising campaign to convince the White House and voters that the agreement has been crucial in boosting U.S. automotive sector production and jobs.

“We need you to tell your elected officials that you don’t change the game in the middle of a comeback. We’re winning with NAFTA,” the group said on its website.

OK, wait a minute, domestic auto manufacturers, especially GM and Chrysler.  First of all, you’re not “winning.”  You’re barely hanging on, thanks to a taxpayer-funded government bail-out a few years ago, made necessary by the fact that rotten trade deals drove you into bankruptcy.  What American jobs have come back since then were largely driven by the fact that the United Auto Workers, being one of the stakeholders in the bankruptcy process, demanded that it have some say in the location of new plants.  That’s GM.  And Chrysler?  Part of their pathetic “comeback” required them to be sold to Fiat, globally recognized as one of the shoddiest car-makers on earth.

Ford survived without a bailout, a point of pride for that company, but now finds itself struggling with a shortage of capital to modernize its product offerings.  Not a problem for GM and Chrysler who factored that need into the bailout.

No doubt, NAFTA has played a role in propping up the profitability of these companies.  But to suggest that that somehow is a “win” for American workers is ludicrous.

The campaign comes amid rising concern that the Trump administration could opt early next year to withdraw after giving six months notice, a move that could expose automakers to high tariffs who are building trucks in Mexico and impose new tariffs on parts and cars made throughout North America.

This coalition would like you to believe that automakers would have no “plan B” to counteract tariffs.  That they’d have no choice but to continue building in Mexico, forcing consumers to pay the tariffs.  Don’t be ridiculous.  Production would be moved back to the U.S. to avoid the tariffs and the impact on production costs would be largely offset by reductions in shipping an other supply chain costs.  The impact on consumers would be virtually zilch, and the impact on the American labor force would be an upward pressure on wages.

I don’t understand why the Trump administration is even wasting its time with trying to renegotiate this agreement, whose sole purpose was to boost Mexico’s economy, in line with the United Nations’ push to raise living standards in underdeveloped countries.  I suppose to be able to at least say, “we tried.”  But there’s nothing to negotiate.  Just impose the tariffs and watch them work their magic.

 


Per Capita U.S. Auto Sales Declining

January 9, 2016

New vehicle sales were released a couple of days ago.  The headline of the story is that sales set a new record in 2015 – 17.47 million, beating the previous record set in 2000.  It got me wondering.  2000 was fifteen years ago.  Since then, the U.S. population has grown by about 13%.  So the new record should have easily topped the 15-year-old record, right?  Wrong.  It barely beat the 2000 record by only about 100,000 vehicles, or by about 0.6%.

So I couldn’t help but wonder:  is it possible that we’re already beginning to see a decline in the per capita consumption of vehicles in the U.S., which is what the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption that I presented in Five Short Blasts would predict?  In Chapter 10 of the book I theorized that the U.S., though much less densely populated than many other nations, had already crossed the threshold where a growing population density begins to erode per capita consumption and, with it, the economy, and that this happened sometime perhaps in the ’50s or ’60s when our population was half of what it is today.

New vehicle sales is one piece of consumer data that’s readily available and not a closely-guarded secret of some market research company.  So it was time to find out how new vehicle sales have changed over time as our population has grown.  I plotted such sales going back to 1968 versus the U.S. population and here’s the result:  auto sales 1968-2015.  The following are some observations about this chart:

  1. New vehicle sales tend to swing up and down pretty wildly, dropping precipitously during recessions and shooting back up during recoveries.
  2. I don’t know what  happened prior to 1968, but it’s clear that between 1968 and 1978, the per capita consumption of new vehicles was rising quickly, jumping 44% to .067 vehicles per person, which is about one vehicle for ever 15 people.
  3. That figure of .067 vehicles per person in 1978, when our population was about a third lower than today, still stands as the record level.  The next peak of per capita consumption of new vehicles in 1986 didn’t quite rise to the same level, reaching 0.66.  The next peak in 2000 – the record that was just broken this year – reached only 0.62 new vehicles per person, well short of the 1978 peak.
  4. This total vehicle sales record set in 2015, when expressed in per capita terms, even misses the 2000 mark by quite a large margin.

Clearly, per capita consumption of new vehicles is in decline, and has been declining since as far back as 1978.  One could argue that 2015 may not be a peak, that vehicle sales have been climbing steadily since 2009 when they reached their lowest level of the entire 1968-2015 period.   The auto industry projects that sales could go higher in 2016.  I think that’s unlikely.  First of all, though 2015 was a record year, the sales rate in December fell to its lowest level since June, and December is typically one of the strongest sales months of the year.  Secondly, 2015 was the sixth consecutive year of sales volume increases, the longest of the 1968-2015 period.  Previously, the longest period of annual sales volume increases was four years, from 1983-1986.  Finally, look at what’s happening in the economy in general beginning in December.  Many economic indicators are now turning negative.  Most would agree that the auto industry’s expectations of a stronger 2016 are a pipe dream.

So just how fast is per capita consumption of new vehicles declining?  To find out, I re-plotted the data beginning with 1978 and had the computer generate a trend line with an equation to describe it.  Here’s the new chart:  auto sales 1978-2015.  Now you can see the clear downward trend.  Of the four different mathematical formulas that could be used to describe the trend – linear, logarithmic, exponential and power – the best fit was a linear equation.  The formula is included in the chart:  f(x) = -.0003x + .06.  (I’ve rounded off the two constants for clarity.)  This means that as our population continues to grow at the same rate – about 1% per year – per capita new vehicle sales will decline by .0003, which is about a 0.5% decline.

Why is this happening?  It’s pretty simple, really.  Most of our population growth is in urban areas where there’s been strong demand for apartment-style housing.  We examined in a recent post how renters are increasingly paying a greater percentage of their incomes on rent.  And people who live in apartments in metropolitan areas face big obstacles when it comes to car ownership – especially the lack and high cost of parking, both at home and at work, not to mention the traffic issues in the cities.  It’s just cost prohibitive to own a car, so many opt for public transportation.  The root cause of this situation, though, is ever-worsening crowding driven by the increase in population density.

Sure, there are many factors that may be at play here but, for each one you can name, I can name another offsetting factor.  Cars are built better and last longer?  Everything about our society pushes people to buy new cars more often – not less.  Cars are less affordable?  Dealers now practically give cars away, with loan durations of six or seven years, when three years was the norm back in ’78.

This decline in the per capita consumption of vehicles is yet another example of the conflict of interest that’s created once a population breaches that critical level and begins to drive down per capita consumption.  If you’re a consumer, it’s in your best interest that the population stabilize or even shrink a bit, increasing your quality of life and enabling you to live in uncrowded conditions where you can enjoy all that life has to offer, including the freedom to own a car and travel at will.  But if you’re General Motors, it’s in your best interest that the population continue to grow because if the population grows by 1% and per capita consumption declines by 0.5%, your total sales volume still increases.  And we saw this happen in 2015.  Sales set a new record in spite of a significant decline in per capita sales.  And so it’s also in the best interests of General Motors to fund candidates who support high rates of immigration.

Immigration-fueled population growth is steadily ruining our quality of life.  Though few really understand why, more and more Americans seem to sense this and it at least partly explains the popularity of the few candidates who at least oppose illegal immigration.

 


American Manufacturing in Crisis

December 8, 2015

On the surface, Friday’s release of the trade deficit figure for the month of October looks like the “same ol’ same ol’.”  The trade deficit came in at $43.9 billion  – about the same level it’s hovered at for years.  You might conclude that our trade situation is stable.  You’d be wrong.  Thanks to falling oil prices and growth in domestic oil production, a steady decline in our deficit in oil has masked an alarming worsening of our balance of trade in manufactured goods.

Look at this chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  In the past five years, while our overall trade deficit has held steady, the trade deficit in manufactured goods has very nearly doubled.  And, as you can see, beginning in 2013 the decline has accelerated.  In the last year, manufactured exports have declined by 8%.  Imports have risen only 1%.

Remember President Obama’s pledge in January, 2010 to double exports within five years?  Take a look at this chart to see just how abysmal his failure to keep that promise has been:  Manf’d exports vs. goal.  Manufactured exports in October were exactly the same as they were in July of 2011.  That’s 4-1/4 years of absolutely zero growth in exports.

Other measures of U.S. manufacturing have shown that sector of the economy to be declining at a double-digit pace.  U.S. manufacturing isn’t just in a recession.  It’s in a full-blown depression.  Only auto sales are keeping it alive at all, and there’s a lot of concern that that’s been propped up with ridiculous, sub-prime lending terms – the kinds of loans that produced a housing market collapse in 2008 that nearly took down the whole economy.  But auto loans never got the same scrutiny.

Last week, GM announced that it will soon begin importing some Buick SUV’s from China.  It’ll be the first imports of Chinese autos and will likely open a flood gate that could devastate American auto manufacturing, an event that would likely lead to total collapse of the manufacturing sector of the economy.

All Americans should be alarmed by what’s happening here – by the damage being done by idiotic trade policy that fails to recognize the harm being done to our economy by overpopulated nations who come to the trading table with nothing to offer but a bloated and hungry labor force, like a plague of locusts descending on a field of crops.


“Cash for Clunkers” an Abysmal Failure

August 27, 2009

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE57P5C220090827

When the “cash-for-clunkers” program ran out of funding after only a few days, Congress quickly injected another $2 billion into the program (which was first authorized with funding of $1 billion).  Auto dealers across the nation were hailing it as a huge success.

The intent of the program was two-fold:  to improve the overall mileage of America’s auto fleet by taking old, inefficient gas-guzzlers off the road but, more importantly, to stimulate auto sales and rev up domestic auto manufacturing.  And it did both.  GM added shifts to its Malibu and Cobalt manufacturing plants to replenish depleted stocks, putting 1300 auto workers back to work. 

So the program was a success, right?  700,000 cars and trucks (as reported in the above-linked article) were replaced by more efficient models.  Sales of domestically-produced vehicles were boosted from their recession level lows. 

So why was the program so unceremoniously terminated Monday by an administration that has played fast and loose with cash to boost the economy?  And why am I calling it an abysmal failure?  Because it was eroding our GDP (gross domestic product) at a frightening clip, undoing the effects of other stimulus spending.  More than anything, the Obama administration would like for 3rd quarter GDP to actually show some growth, however modest.  (After all, GDP is the gauge by which the end of the recession will be judged.)  But, if it misses that mark, the blame may very well lie at the feet of the “cash-for-clunkers” program. 

To understand, let’s do some math.  As reported in the linked article, 700,000 vehicles were sold in this program, at a cost to the government of $2.87 billion.  But 80% of these vehicles, or approximately 560,000, were imports.  (This figure doesn’t match the percentages reported in the linked article because some of the sales by GM, Ford and Chrysler were also imports from Mexico or Korea, like the Chevy Aveo imported from Korea.)  If we assume the average value of those imported vehicles to be $17,000, then almost $10 billion worth of vehicles were imported, and every dollar of imports is subtracted from GDP.  (Dollars spent on imports are lost and no longer available to spend in the domestic economy.)  So, for $2.87 billion in taxpayer expenditures, the government managed to reduce GDP by almost $10 billion.  A little of this was offset by boosts in domestic manufacturing, but not much. 

And this $10 billion erosion in GDP took place in the course of only about three weeks.  At that pace, if kept going, the program would have eroded GDP at a quarterly rate of $43 billion.  Actually, the effect upon GDP is doubled when you consider that those imported vehicles could have been produced domestically.  In addition to the subtraction for the imports, an equal amount of domestic business was lost. 

Making matters worse, the share of the “cash-for-clunkers” that went to domestic auto makers fell below the pre-program market share of those manufacturers.  In other words, the program was actually eroding the market share of the big-3, exactly the opposite of what the government – now by far the biggest shareholder in both GM and Chrysler – wanted to have happen. 

Now you can see why the program was terminated without any further calls to keep it going.  As the administration began to evaluate the data and saw that 80% of the money was being used to boost the economies of Japan and Korea (primarily), their response was surely, “Oh, sh#t!”  “This isn’t very smart!”

To its credit, the Obama administration has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to the demise of the manufacturing sector of the American economy – a line that, as owner – it will not allow the domestic auto industry to cross.  But, as owner, they are now also faced with the quandary of how to boost domestic auto sales (and thus the entire economy) within the framework of free trade policy it has inherited.  Now it can see that stimulating auto sales in a way that doesn’t violate trade agreements doesn’t work.  Will it now rely on boosting the quality and competitiveness of American cars?  If it does, it will be ignoring decades of experience that proves that that approach doesn’t work either, as imports will simply match them move-for-move.  Or will it continue to rely on jaw-boning other nations to start importing more American products?  That approach too has been proven a resounding failure.  Sooner or later, either the Obama administration or some subsequent administration must come to the realization that failed trade policy lies at the heart of our economic woes.