Remember Robin Hood, that English legend who stole from the greedy rich and gave their ill gotten spoils to the deserving poor? If he were alive today he would lower his head in shame for the Wall Street culture of greed who have reversed his legacy into a legend of absolute contempt for the poor and the working middle class families as it steals from them to fatten their already overstuffed wallets. Sounds like an outrageous accusation? One has to look no further than the story of Delphi Automotive to see what is happening in the world of Vulture Capitalism. Much of the story has been told by writer Greg Palast’s excellent article Mitt Romney’s Bailout Bonanza in the magazine The Nation. As you might surmise, the main point of Mr. Palast’s article, written in the midst of the 2012 Presidential race, was pointing our how Mitt Romney personally pocketed millions from the auto industry bailout by the U.S. government. Mitt Romney is defeated, he’ll never again be campaigning for anything. So, I’m done with him. But the story of greed and absolute contempt involved in the vulture capitalism takeover of Delphi Automotive is a story worth retelling.
Delphi Automotive was once the Delco unit of General Motors. It was was spun off into a separate company in 1999. Delphi foundered in a slowing economy and declared bankruptcy in 2005. But Delphi was an absolute critical parts supplier to not only GM but Chrysler as well, and it’s bankruptcy filing was a Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy, as the company sought to lessen its debt load and lower its cost structure in order to survive. Sensing an opportunity, vulture hedge funds began to buy up the company’s debt. As Delphi was in bankruptcy the bonds were junk, considered toxic by the banks holding them. So the hedge funds were able to pick up the bonds for pennies on the dollar of their face value. Enter the financial crises in the fall of 2008. Under President Bush’s pleas, Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and some funds were provided to the automakers, primarily their troubled financing subsidiaries that provided financing to buyers of the cars and trucks. Sensing even more of an opportunity the vulture Hedge Funds began circling, buying more Delphi debt at pennies on the dollar until they were in firm control.
In February 2009, less than a month in office, President Obama formed the Auto Task Force with the goal of saving GM, Chrysler, their suppliers and, most important, auto industry jobs. Delphi, which then employed more than 25,000 union workers in 29 plants across the U.S. and the major supplier of parts to GM and Chrysler, was crucial to the plan. The President’s task force held a closed-door meeting held in March 2009 with Delphi management and the hedge funds overlords. They demanded the Treasury and GM immediately, hand over $350 million to Delphi, threatening to withold all parts from GM if they didn’t. The hedge fund debt holders backed up their threat with an analysis that showed if Delphi were unwilling or unable to provide parts to GM, it would take years and tens of billions for GM to replace Delphi’s parts. In other words, if you want to save GM, you start by giving us exactly what we want. They got what they wanted, while GM and the Auto Task Force worked to find a way around the hedge funds blackmail. In June 2009 the Treasury and GM announced a bailout deal they’d crafted over months with the cooperation of the United Auto Workers. GM would take back control of Delphi via a joint venture with Platinum Equity, a buyout firm led by billionaire Tom Gores. The Platinum Plan was to close almost half of Dephi’s plants, leaving the remaining plants with UAW union workers, and return control of key Delphi operations to GM. The hedge fund managers flat out refused the deal, initially demanding they be bought out for forty-five cents on the dollar for their debt bonds – more than double what they had paid for them. Tense negotiations followed between Dephi, GM, the UAW, and the hedge funds. Dephi agreed to drop the Platinum Plan and remain under the control of the hedge funds, with one stipulation: Agree to maximize job preservation.
The hedge funds again said No, and forced the bankruptcy judge to hold an auction for all of Dephi’s stock. The hedge funds outbid Platinum Equity’s bid with a bid of $3.5 billion. Except it wasn’t really $3.5 billion. Under the rules of of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, holders of the company’s debt may bid the face value of their bonds rather than their current market value. The hedge funds were given “credit” for over five times what they had paid for those bonds. The bankruptcy judge awarded full control and all of Dephi’s stock for the equivalent of only 67 cents a share. And the hedge funds promised to continue the supply of parts to GM. And then they proceeded to carve up the carcass.
In February 2009, Delphi, claiming a cash shortage, unilaterally terminated health insurance for its nonunion pensioners. The Treasury’s Task Force uncovered “creative accounting” that hide the fact that the debt holders had deliberately withheld millions of dollars in cash sitting in Delphi accounts. Even after they were confronted with this the creditors still refused to release the funds and continue the health insurance previous Delphi management had promised its workers. During its previous economic problems Delphi had significantly underfunded its pension fund for retired workers. The same month the hedge funds won control of Delphi’s stock they announced not only would they not makeup the shortfall in the pension fund, but they would immediately stop paying any and all pension and health and life insurance payments. The government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) was forced to take over Delphi’s pension payments – at a cost to taxpayers of $5.6 billion. But, by law, the PBGC can only payout only 60% of the promised pension benefits of pension programs it has to take over. Overnight Delphi retirees lost 40% of their pension, and what they did get was paid for by U.S. taxpayers instead of being paid for by the company that promised it in the first place. And the new hedge fund owners boosted their eventual profit by $1 billion dollars.
Critics of the auto industry bailout called a “big payday for the unions”. It wasn’t, it was one big payday for the vulture capital hedge fund managers. All in all, the hedge funds who bought up Delphi debt for pennies on the dollars got a $12.9 billion payday from the US taxpayers. The Treasury allowed GM to give Delphi at least $2.8 billion of (TARP) funds to keep Delphi in business. GM also forgave $2.5 billion in debt owed to it by Delphi, and forgave $2 billion due from the largest hedge fund, Singer and company(the hedge fund eagle eyed Romney invested in), upon Delphi’s exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The money GM forgave was effectively owed to the Treasury, which had by then become the majority owner of GM. And then there’s the PBGC takeover of the pension plan at a cost to taxpayers of $5.6 billion. The hedge fund got Delphi stock for an investment equivalent to 67 cents a share. Today Delphi’s market value is approximately $10.5 billion, a return on investment of over 3,000%! Nice payday for the millionaire and billionaire investors. And what did those unions get? Retirees get 60% of their promised pension with no health or life insurance. The union workers who were still working all lost their jobs. You see, with that $1 billion Delphi saved screwing retirees out of their pensions Delphi purchased auto parts plants in Asia, primarily in China, and now make almost all their parts in Asia with cheap labor that gets none of those pesky benefits like health insurance or pensions. Delphi Automotive, which once employed more than 25,000 union workers in 29 plants across the U.S. now employs 5,000 non-union workers in the U.S., versus almost 100,000 employees overseas.
Pure, simple and evil greed. When is enough enough for these guys? These millionaires and billionaires got over a 3,000% return on their investment by getting a $12.9 billion payday from U.S. taxpayers, cheating retirees out of their pensions, and moving 25,000 good paying U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. Take from the poor and give to the rich. Much like what Bain Capital is doing at Sensata Freeport, shutting down a profitable auto parts plant and shipping all the machinery and jobs to China just to extract a bit more profit from their investment. Well, we are a democratic society with a free market economy. We can’t just pass laws demanding these vulture capitalist have at least some shred of decency, they clearly have none anyway.
These hedge funds made over 3,000% profit on their investment in Delphi. You guys just couldn’t stand for a measly 2,800% profit and pay those Delphi retirees their pensions and health and life insurance? American workers who worked all their lives believing that promises made should be promises kept?
You guys couldn’t stand for a measly 2,500% profit and keep many of those jobs right in America? You guys couldn’t stand a measly profit of 2,400% profit and repay some of that $12.9 billion dollars back to U.S. taxpayers?
We are a democratic society with a free market economy. But we don’t have to underwrite Vulture Capitalism. We need to take action to prevent future Delphis and Sensata Freeports from happening. We need to protect American jobs. First of all we need to stop tax breaks for exporting jobs overseas. Mr. Romney was partially correct in the 1st debate when he claimed there are no tax breaks for exporting jobs overseas – there are no specific tax breaks for exporting jobs. But Romney is no dummy when it comes to business and he knows full well that companies can deduct business expenses, lowering their tax liability. And those expenses can include the costs of moving a job to another state or even to another country. We need to change that – moving a job to another country? Sorry, not tax deductible. And like with Sensata Freeport, when companies move operations overseas they often ship the machinery out as well. It would be simple for them to transfer ownership of the equipment to an overseas subsidiary and claim they sold it for $1, enabling them to write off the true value of the equipment as a business expense. We need to change that – moving equipment overseas? Sorry, not tax deductible.
And then President Obama needs to use “Section 421″ of U.S. Tariff laws to impose a tariff of up to 55% on imports of auto parts from China. Section 421 allows the President to impose tariffs on imports from China when he determines certain products are flooding the U.S. marketplace and overwhelming domestically produced goods. We can call it the “Bain-Delphi Tax”. Let’s see how fast Bain and Delphi change their minds about moving more auto part plants to China when faced with a tariff of 55% to import them back into the U.S. And then we need to change bankruptcy laws that allow to buy up debt for pennies on the dollar and then claim full face value when bidding for assets of the company. And then there’s those Bush Tax Cuts. Do I want to see the tax rates for the millionaires and billionaires revert back to the 39.5% rate they had under President Bill Clinton and they did just fine? To quote a certain former Alaska Governor: You betcha! And let the tax rate for Capital Gains income revert back to the 28% from the current 15%. Every dollar these hedge funds profited from Delphi were classed as Capital Gains and taxed at only 15%, while working middle class families earning $40,000 per year pay a rate of 25%.
I can already hear the Republicans crying “Class Warfare”! Well, you know what?