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Archive for the ‘American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (Stimulus)’ Category

Washington Picks Losers & Subsidizes Chinese Solar Panel Makers With Your Money

In American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (Stimulus), Government Spending, Obama Administration, Uncategorized on August 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm

The Solyndra scandal is back in the news after today’s Washington Post article,

As the Obama administration moved last year to bail out Solyndra, the embattled flagship of the president’s initiative to promote alternative energy, a White House budget analyst calculated that millions of taxpayer dollars might be saved by cutting the government’s losses, shuttering the company immediately and selling its assets, according to a congressional investigation.

Even so, senior officials in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget did not discourage the Energy Department from proceeding with its plan to restructure a federal loan to Solyndra— a move that put private investors ahead of taxpayers for repayment if the company closed, [1] 

It is not just Solyndra.  Several articles help us take the big view about what a disaster government energy “investments” are:

Like the mythical monster Hydra—who grew two heads every time Hercules cut one off—President Obama, in both his State of the Union address and his new budget, has defiantly doubled down on his brand of industrial policy, the usually ill-advised attempt by governments to promote particular industries, companies and technologies at the expense of broad, evenhanded competition.

Despite his record of picking losers—witness the failed “clean energy” projects Solyndra, Ener1 and Beacon Power—Mr. Obama appears determined to continue pushing his brew of federal spending, regulations, mandates, special waivers, loan guarantees, subsidies and tax breaks for companies he deems worthy.

Favoring key constituencies with taxpayer money appeals to politicians, who can claim to be helping the overall economy, but it usually does far more harm than good. It crowds out valuable competing investment efforts financed by private investors, and it warps decisions by bureaucratic diktats susceptible to political cronyism. Former Obama adviser Larry Summers echoed most economists’ view when he warned the administration against federal loan guarantees to Solyndra, writing in a 2009 email that “the government is a crappy venture capitalist.”

Even under optimistic projections, heavily subsidized wind and solar would each amount to a tiny fraction of global energy by 2030 and thus cannot be the main answer to energy-security or environmental problems… Mr. Obama is spending immense sums for subsidies to particular industries and technologies, almost $40 billion for clean-energy programs alone (some, appropriately, for pre-competitive generic technology). [2]

As T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, writes, industrial policy can have unintended effects. 

Consider the current 30% federal solar energy subsidy. A home solar system with 60 solar panels produces about 15,000 watts of power, enough to completely offset the $6,000 annual electricity bill of a typical upscale California home. The system costs about $90,000 prior to the 30% federal income-tax credit, which reduces its cost to $63,000. After a simple payback period of about 10 years, the homeowner literally enjoys free electricity for the remainder of the guaranteed 20-year system life, a very profitable 10 years.

But what if that $27,000 tax credit, the accelerated-depreciation tax savings, and most of the hefty post-payback profits went to Wall Street firms with a “tax appetite,” not the homeowner? That’s just what happens with the majority of new home solar-system installations today.

Today, most new home solar systems are purchased by special Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) that are specifically created by Wall Street firms to purchase home solar systems and to sell power to the homeowner on a cell-phone-like contract. The homeowner does not mind giving up the tax benefits as long as the “free” system reduces utility bills.

However, when the system is paid off and the monthly LLC profit jumps to 100% of the electricity bill, the LLC solar electricity price to the homeowner is maintained just below market—and the profit really begins to roll into the LLC. Since the risks to the LLC grow as the solar systems age, many banks offload their risk by selling the LLCs before their 20-year lifetime is up, locking in much of the long-term profit. There is now a growing market for what might be called “solar-backed securities.” Wall Street understands the time-value of money; the federal government and consumers do not.

One of the largest solar-system installers in the U.S., SolarCity Corp., uses the LLC strategy and currently buys a majority of its solar panels from the low-cost Chinese supplier, Yingli. Thus when President Obama said that we must subsidize our solar industry to remain competitive with the Chinese, it would have been more accurate to say that we subsidize Wall Street to create employee-less corporations that buy and install Chinese solar panels in the U.S. Wall Street and consumers understand that free markets are borderless; Washington does not.

Just last week, the U.S. International Trade Commission found the Chinese solar industry guilty of “dumping” solar panels in the U.S. Tariffs are likely to be levied against Yingli and others. Here then, is a practical guide to the Obama administration’s nonsensical solar policy: Washington gives tax breaks to Wall Street to fund LLCs that buy solar panels from the Chinese to “help” the American solar industry, while the ITC threatens to levy a tariff on those solar panels, which would raise the price of solar energy to U.S. homeowners. In short, Wall Street pockets the money and consumers get higher solar-energy prices. [3]

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/white-house-budget-analysts-thought-saving-solyndra-could-be-expensive-move/2012/08/01/gJQAf2QGQX_story.html

[2] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204883304577221630318169656.html

[3] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204903804577082631863392956.html

Picture from Wikipedia Commons.

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Paul Krugman, Can You Spare the Chutzpah?

In American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (Stimulus), Federal Deficit, Government Spending, Obama Administration, Standard & Poor's USA Downgrade on August 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Paul Krugman today mocks Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States credit rating and accesses blame for the rating cut. [1]   Mr. Krugman says, “And please, let’s not have the usual declarations that both sides are at fault.  Our problems are almost entirely one-sided.” 

I held my breath a moment… wouldn’t this be the perfect place for Mr. Krugman to own up to his long advocacy of even larger deficit spending?  Alas, there’s no humility from Mr. Krugman, only chutzpah. [2]

Mr. Krugman predictably blames the “extremist right” and goes about making light of S&P.  Apparently it was the “extremist right” that demanded a trillion-dollar Stimulus program, Obama’s payroll tax cuts and the creation and continuous expansion of myriad other government spending programs the past 70 years?  Even the most cursory look at the history of the Public Debt shows neither party is blameless, but Mr. Krugman is too partisan.

Be that as it may, it is true S&P was too generous with ratings in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2008 and there is an argument S&P was late to drop the USA’s rating in 2011.  But Mr. Krugman shows chutzpah in making light of the rating drop to “AA-“.  I assume Mr. Krugman understands what rating systems are all about.  The top rating of “AAA” is intended for only the most pristine credits.  “AA+” is a good rating, just not as good as “AAA”.  The USA would have to drop another nine notches to “BB+” to be in speculative (so-called “junk”) territory.  The ratings scale works down to “C” and “D” (default).   Any honest person will admit the financial position of the United States has weakened and the country is not as creditworthy as it once was.  An “AA+” credit is still expected to repay the debt but is a bit riskier than an “AAA” credit.

Mr. Krugman is intelligent but occasionally careless.  Consider his statement: “It’s true that we’re building up debt, on which we’ll eventually have to pay interest.”  Eventually?  While rates are low today, we are paying plenty of interest.   US government interest expense was $414 billion in Fiscal 2010. [3]  Then again, this is the same Paul Krugman who also writes of “a trillion here or a trillion there” like a trillion is inconsequential.  In the rarefied spending air of a massive deficit advocate like Mr. Krugman, perhaps $414 billion is hardly anything at all.  After all, it rounds down to $0 Trillion.

Mr. Krugman said the 2009 Stimulus program was too small and he actually criticized the Obama Administration for its supposedly punctilious policies.  In his own words:

“The good news is that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the Obama stimulus plan, is working just about the way textbook macroeconomics said it would …  The truth, which is that the stimulus was too little of a good thing.” [4]

“it was obvious from the beginning [Obama’s Stimulus] was too small.” [5]

“Those of us who say that the stimulus was too small are often accused of after-the-fact rationalization: you said this would work, but now that it hasn’t, you’re just saying it wasn’t big enough. The quick answer to that accusation is that people like me said that the stimulus was too small in advance” [6]

“myself included, actually argued that the plan was too small and too cautious …. for the inadequate size of the stimulus plan” [7]

“[the Obama Stimulus] wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy” [8]

Mr. Krugman got less deficit “Stimulus” spending than he had demanded, meaning he favored even greater debts than we actually have now.  But he has the chutzpah to ignore his own culpability and instead blames the messenger (S&P) and then blames the downgrade on, of all people, the Tea Party Republicans!  This is the same Tea Party caucus who has held partial power in the US House for a mere seven months and actually advocates cutting the deficit more than either Democrats or traditional Republicans.  Such chutzpah, Mr. Krugman!

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/08/opinion/credibility-chutzpah-and-debt.html?_r=2&src=me&ref=general

[2] For the benefit of those not familiar with chutzpah: “Chutzpah (pronounced /ˈhʊtspə/) is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad, but it is generally used negatively. The word derives from the Hebrew word ḥuṣpâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “audacity”, and “impertinence” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chutzpah

[3] http://treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/02/opinion/02krugman.html

[5] http://blogs.abcnews.com/george/2010/09/krugman-spend-more-tax-less-almost.html

[6]  http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/how-did-we-know-the-stimulus-was-too-small/

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/opinion/09krugman.html

[8]  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/09/opinion/09krugman.html?ref=paulkrugman

Pictures from wikipedia commons.

Stimulus Recipient Among Illinois Mass Layoff Notices… Indiana Welcomes Another Illinois Company

In American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (Stimulus), Economy, Illinois, Indiana, Job Creation on August 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Today’s Yahoo News story “Ominous signs of surging layoffs in Illinois, nation” [1] reports mass layoff notices.  Let’ see why these layoffs are happening.  An AP story explains why A-1 Wire was closing its Rockford, Illinois operation, laying off 51 employees:

“ELKHART, Ind. — The Indiana Economic Development Corp. says a producer of high-performance engineering alloys is moving its operations from Illinois to Indiana, creating up to 100 new jobs by 2014.  THE IEDC said Saturday that Special Metals Corp. will move its A-1 Wire division from Rockford, Ill., to a 50,000-square-foot plant in Elkhart starting in September.” [2]

The State of Indiana is one of many that has targeted Illinois companies for relocation after Illinois raised its personal and corporate income tax rates in January 2011. 

On-Cor Frozen Foods is moving 85 jobs out of Illinois [3].  This is interesting because last fall, On-Cor was the beneficiary of Stimulus tax-exempt financing to open a new facility in the Chicago suburb of Geneva. [4]  As reported 11/6/10 in the local newspaper:

“GENEVA – Kane County officials are getting ready to issue $10.25 million in recovery zone bonds to facilitate On-Cor Frozen Foods’ relocation to Geneva.  Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 the county can issue up to $41 million in bonds to stimulate the economy through low-cost, tax-exempt financing.  The proposed bonds are intended to help companies with financing for buying or improving property or for buying equipment. The bonds do not create an obligation for the county or the taxpayers, but will be paid back by On-Cor, officials said.  Sherry DeMeulenaere, treasurer for a limited liability corporation that owns most of On-Cor, said the bonds will pay for equipment used to process frozen foods… “We have an existing workforce in Chicago and jobs will depend on how many will come out to Geneva.  We have 85 jobs downtown and we expect to create another 46.” [4]

So much for the job creation in Illinois.  46 minus 85 is a negative number.  Might those “46 jobs” at the new Geneva facility be among Stimulus jobs the Administration’s website counts as created? 

“Furniture maker Clarin is closing in Lake Bluff, telling the state that it’s letting 75 workers go due to the sale of its assets. ” [5]  This site is Clarin’s corporate office and manufacturing plant.  Ironically, Clarin’s website is proud President Hebert Hoover sat in a Clarin chair.  [6] [7]  Clarin survived the Great Depression but not the Great Recession.

President Herbert Hoover sitting on a Clarin chair

Atlanta-based Consolidated Container is a good-sized operation with 65 facilities; I could find no word on why they’re closing in suburban Chicago. [8]

Pacific Coast Feather is a large company from Seattle, WA.  No word on why it is closing a facility in Des Plaines, Illinois. [9]
 
Schofield Media Group LLC in downtown Chicago is closing, affecting 107 employees.  Schofield was a $25 million revenue company and is closing operations after “unexpectedly” losing its bank financing. [10] 
 

The Chicago Sun-Times “will eliminate 456 jobs in Chicago starting in late September through year-end. Most of the jobs are unionized and include electrical workers, machinists, mailers, operating engineers, pressmen, paper handlers and Teamsters who serviced the soon-to-close plant at 2800 S. Ashland Ave.” [5]

Some of these closings are not surprising; Borders is closing everywhere.  Retail operations like Shopko, restaurants or garden centers may close due to competitive stresses or because of weakness with local consumers.  A weak economy may reflect high local unemployment, which might be expected when companies like A-1 Wire, Pacific Coast Feather, On-Cor Foods, Clarin Seating and Schofield Media close or leave.  The Illinois economy is not working very well and Illinois does itself no favors with an unattractive tax and regulatory environment.

  

[1] http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/chicago/ominous-signs-surging-layoffs-illinois-nation-132147422.html?bouchon=602%2Cil

[2] http://articles.wsbt.com/2011-07-16/elkhart-county_29783101

[3] http://www.examiner.com/independent-in-chicago/10-large-companies-closing-or-leaving-illinois 

[4] http://www.kcchronicle.com/2010/11/06/on-cor-on-tap-for-bonds-geneva-move/aqusss1/

[5] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-08-02/business/chi-10-illinois-companies-tell-state-theyll-cut-1100-jobs-by-yearend-20110802_1_job-cutting-jobs-in-plant-closings-job-losses

[6] http://www.clarinseating.com/about.php

[7] The picture of Herbert Hoover in a Clarin chair is from Yahoo! Images http://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view?back=http%3A%2F%2Fimages.search.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%2Fimages%3Fp%3Dclarin%2Bherbert%2Bhoover%26ei%3DUTF-8%26fr%3Dyfp-t-892&w=118&h=192&imgurl=www.clarinseating.com%2Fimages%2Fabout_us%2Fabout-us_right_img_2.jpg&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.clarinseating.com%2Fabout.php&size=5KB&name=President+Herber…&p=clarin+herbert+hoover&oid=8e622c509a44a00989da692e63fb24cd&fr2=&no=1&tt=4&sigr=116rkq78b&sigi=11u46dl55&sigb=12q1bl78i&.crumb=hHoSiPH8Zmf

[8] http://www.cccllc.com/facilities.php

[9] https://www.pacificcoast.com/about-us

[10] http://www.foliomag.com/2011/schofield-media-shutters-u-s-operations