Doing the Math on Obama’s Detroit Bailout

July 31, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Business Week’s David Welch throws a lot of interesting arguments about the Government’s decision when things looked ominous for the auto industry a year ago.

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President Obama served up red meat for his hard-core supporters in Detroit yesterday, proclaiming that the government’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler to be a success. Had he not intervened and invested in the two companies, Obama said, they would have fallen into liquidation and 1.1 million jobs would have evaporated. In the past year, the auto industry has regained 55,000 of the 334,000 jobs lost, he went on. “The fact that we’re standing in this magnificent factory today is a testament to the decisions we made,” Obama said while visiting Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee plant in Detroit. His comments were aimed clearly at the critics on the other side of the political aisle who opposed the bailout 18 months ago and who still criticize government ownership of GM and Chrysler to this day.

So far, it is tough to argue that the bailout hasn’t worked. GM is in the black, having reported an $865 million profit in the first quarter with black ink looking likely for the rest of the year. GM’s results are strong enough that the company is preparing for an initial public offering that should start selling stock in November. Chrysler is at least making an operating profit, which puts the company in much better shape than most analysts thought it would be a year ago. With much lower costs, both companies should be able to make money going forward. Let’s not forget that GM, Chrysler and cross-town rival Ford cut out 2.9 million cars worth of production capacity during the crisis, according to the Center for Automotive Research. That was a quarter of capacity in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Cutting out the fat has allowed them to post profits even though sales are slow.