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Voters and Chrysler

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International   |   April 26, 2012 at 9:15 AM   |   Comments

U.S. automaker Chrysler's quarterly report said it made the largest profit since its bankruptcy, earning four times what it made in the first quarter of 2011.

Chrysler said it earned $473 million with revenues up 25 percent to $16.4 billion in the first quarter compared with $116 million in the first quarter of 2011.

"Another positive quarter," Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said.

Sales for the quarter were up 33 percent from the January through March period of 2011.

All this makes for a fine how-d'ya-do for an election year in which the economy and jobs loom as the most important issues on the political agenda.

Politicians are going to flee from pitching the success of the Troubled Asset Relief Program for a number of inadequate reasons. In the first place, it was a program desperately thrown together by a lame duck Bush administration and handed to the rookies on President Obama's team as if written on the back of a napkin.

In fact, the first run at a TARP proposal was reportedly seven pages long, maybe even double spaced.

But it won't play well. It did all it said it would do, but almost completely by running outside the lines of its mandate -- which is to say, toxic assets were not duly purchased by the government and stashed in a national "bad bank" where they would wither up on their own.

Nevertheless, the financial system is still on its feet. TARP, it turned out, cost far less than originally feared and could come close to breaking even, the Treasury has said.

But selling that to voters is complicated. Democrats were in charge of a Republican program that Republicans now say was a disaster, even though it worked.

A soft cushion for banks is not going to be much of a rallying cry for either party. Thanks to the Frank-Dodd financial overhaul bill, in fact, even financial firm shareholders are kicking up their heels these days, most recently giving Citigroup a non-binding thumbs down on its exorbitant executive pay package. At this point, saving leeches might be how voters translate the words, "We saved the nation's banks when they were in trouble."

But rescuing Chrysler is much simpler. "We rescued an industry … we rescued cars … we rescued jobs."

This is simple stuff. It's like offering voters a Happy Meal with a new toy. All good, as they say.

Yes, all good could have been much better. At this point, a rescue of Chrysler, as opposed to a rescue of General Motors, for example, looks like U.S. taxpayers ponied up billions to give Chrysler away to Fiat, an Italian firm.

Never mind that Fiat played both sides against the middle, threatening unions in Italy with moving headquarters to Brazil or even, believe it or not, the United States.

Voters, however, may or may not recall that Chrysler, mired in bankruptcy, was out of choices. There was no bidding war between Fiat and anybody. Nobody else wanted Chrysler, which was, at the time, considered, more or less, a lemon factory.

On principle, did the government ever cross the line, tossing money at a private company? A free market does not mean a free ride. But in the end, philosophy doesn't always cut it. Voters, like anyone else, like to bet on winners and it will be easy to find rank and file voters at Chrysler smiling because they caught a break and still have a job.

In international markets Thursday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan was flat, up 0.01 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China fell 0.09 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong climbed 0.79 percent while the Sensex in India slipped 0.12 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.34 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.09 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany gave up 0.5 percent. The CAC 40 in France shed 0.97 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.43 percent.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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