In a sign that the worst is yet to come, turn-around artists are turning their backs on Detroit’s auto makers. Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian is unwinding his holdings in Ford Motor Co. , after his nearly one billion dollar investment (made when he thought Ford was cheap) lost two thirds of its value and is heading further South. Kerkorian had to pledge 50 million shares of his MGM Mirage Casino to back the credit line he used to buy into Ford. The house is clearly on fire when supposedly recession-proof investments in vice are pawned to prop up auto makers. (However, even vice isn’t what it used to be.)
Stephen Feinberg’s Cerberus, urged by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., which hold a lot of the debt from Cerberus's purchase of Chrysler from Germany's (then) DaimlerChrysler AG in August 2007, is desperately trying to unload Chrysler and foist it upon GM. Cerberus is also talking with Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA about a linkup, but that’s just viewed as a side show to lend more urgency to the wedding with GM. The Chrysler/GM nuptials have been talked up in the mainstream press as a gift from heaven, as a “win-win” situation full of “synergy” potential. These words rank big in the Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit - the smart make a runner for the door when these words are used. In a particularly apt analogy, our friends over at TheTruthAboutCars liken the Chrysler/GM shotgun wedding to the “Titanic rescuing the Lusitania.” (If Google is an indicator, they should trademark the term.)
“Typical investors, and Cerberus is anything but typical, are running from the automotive industry,'' said Warren Feder, partner at Carl Marks Advisory Group LLC in New York. “It's hard to see any upside with a degree of comfort, and you need that to make an equity investment.''
U.S.A.: Less than 11 million cars in 2009?
JPMorgan Chase & Co, who should have a vested (see above) interest in painting a rosy picture of the auto industry, just did otherwise. U.S. auto deliveries may fall to an annual rate as low as 10 million vehicles this quarter and as low as 11 million next year, Himanshu Patel, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, wrote in a report on October 21, 2008 . A few days before, J.D. Power and Associates still had estimated 13.2 units sold in the U.S. for 2009. Patel’s 2009 estimate would be the lowest rate since 1982. The predictions get worse by the day.
China may sell more cars in 2009 than the U.S.
If Patel is right (and, see above, his firm has a lot of hard earned insider knowledge about the auto business,) and if China maintains a – by Chinese standards – rather sedate growth rate , come 2009, the Chinese auto market might be the same size or even larger than the U.S. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, had targeted 10 million units for 2008, but with growth slowing in China, the Eastern Empire may not quite make it this year. Next year, unless the sky will fall, 11 million are entirely doable.
U.S. auto industry goes hungry. Babies too.
In the meantime, according to Bloomberg, the exit of Kerkorian, Cerberus & Co. “may leave the U.S. auto industry without new funding just as sales head to a 26-year low.”
Here comes a really disturbing bit of data: "Most consumers are worried about: 'Will I have enough to put food on the table so my family can eat?' Eduardo Castro-Wright, President and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations told attendees of a luncheon sponsored by Town Hall Los Angeles. His stores see spikes of sales of baby formula when paychecks come in, “suggesting consumers are rushing to buy such necessities as soon as they have the cash,” Reuters reported.
“As the economy worsens, Wal-Mart's customers have increasingly shown signs of living paycheck to paycheck. Wal-Mart's sales typically surge around pay periods at the beginning and middle of the month. Castro-Wright said that spike has become more pronounced as consumers' budgets become more stressed.”
Buy a new car with 3 months of breastfeeding.
Contrast this to China. In the wake of the milk worries, affluent Chinese parents of babies more and more turn to “milk mothers” or “Nai Ma” who breast feed their new-borns if the real mother doesn’t want or can. Baby formula? No, thank you. Or "bu, xie, xie," as they say. They want the real thing for their one child only. In Beijing, a milk mother from the provinces can make between $300 and $1600 a month, with free room and board. A secretary in Beijing starts at around $300 a month, and must use the money to pay for food and shelter.
Back to cars: A family that barely can feed their babies is unlikely to worry about a new ride. A Chinese milk mother can buy a new car for cash with three or 5 months earnings. While the International Breastfeeding Committee of WHO/Unicef recommends breastfeeding for six months, Chinese hospitals recommend a year or more. After a year’s of not really hard work, the milk mother will have two or three cars. Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A. , parents need parts to keep their cars running, at least twice a month, for a trip to Wal-Mart.