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Auto/Economy
9:55 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Treasury Sec. Geithner: Bailout never intended to yield profit

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner United States Treasury Department

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government will almost certainly lose money on its investment in the domestic auto industry.

But Geithner told business leaders in Detroit today  that making a profit was never the objective. He says the aim of the Troubled Asset Relief Program – or TARP – was twofold:

"One is to get these companies back in private hands as quickly as we can, it makes no sense for the government to be in there a day longer than is necessary, but we also want to recover as much of the taxpayers’ money as possible."

Geithner says, on the whole, he expects the TARP investments in all sectors – including banking and insurance – will yield a profit.

Economy
12:33 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Business is solid for three Michigan companies

Roger Penske says the first quarter results for the Penske Automotive Group "exceeded my expectations."
Ted Van Pelt Flickr

Three big corporations in Michigan released their first quarter results today and according to the numbers, business is booming.

Dow Chemical exceeds expectations (Midland, Michigan)

The company says "sales rose 20% to $14.7 billion versus the year-ago period, with double-digit increases in all operating segments and all geographic areas."

As Andrew Dodson of Booth-Mid Michigan pointed out, analysts had expected Dow to achieve $13.8 billion in sales.

Dow's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (a measure of a company's operating cash flow) went up more than $600 million to $2.4 billion, "the second highest quarter in the Company's history," according to Dow.

CMS Energy reports net income of $135 million (Jackson, Michigan)

CMS Energy's principal business is Consumers Energy. The Jackson-based company's reported income of $135 million translates into $0.52 per share, for the first quarter of 2011. That's compared to a net income of $85 million, or $0.34 per share, for the same quarter last year.

From the company's press release:

The first quarter results reflect colder than normal winter temperatures that boosted natural gas and electric sales at the company’s Michigan utility, Consumers Energy. Those sales increases partially were offset by costs the utility incurred in restoring service to electric customers after a series of unusually severe winter storms.

Penske Automotive has strong quarter (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)

Penske Automotive Group Chairman, Roger Penske, said, "our first quarter results exceeded my expectations. I am particularly pleased with the same-store retail revenue growth generated in all lines of our business.

From Businesswire:

[Penske] reported a 51.7% increase in first quarter income from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders to $36.4 million, which compares to income from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders of $24.0 million in the first quarter last year. Earnings per share from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders increased 50.0% to $0.39 per share from $0.26 per share in the first quarter last year. Total revenue in the first quarter increased 15.3% to $2.9 billion, including an 11.6% increase in same-store retail revenues, due in large part to increases in new and used retail vehicle unit sales.

Auto/Economy
9:23 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Chrysler intends to repay government loans by end of June

Chrysler's headquarters in Aurburn Hill, Michigan. The company says it plans to pay back government loans by the end of June.
user fiatontheweb Flickr

Just ahead of a visit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chrysler says it intends to pay back the government loans it received by the end of June. Geithner was one of the main architects of the government bailouts for Chrysler and GM.

From the Detroit News:

Chrysler Group LLC today confirmed its intention to repay its $7.4 billion in loans to the U.S. and Canadian governments by the end of June, as long as market and other conditions remain conducive.

In a statement prior to CEO Sergio Marchionne hosting a visit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner later today, Chrysler said it plans to repay its government loans with a new term loan facility and newly issued debt securities that will be sold to institutional investors in a private offering.

The Detroit Free Press reports Chrysler wants to pay back the debts because the interest rates on the government loans are high:
 

Marchionne has said he wants to refinance Chrysler’s debt because the interest rate is higher than commercial market rates. The effective interest on the borrowings from the U.S. is as high as 14% and as much as 20% on the Canadian debt.

In order to find investors, the Detroit News reports that senior executives will head out on a "road show" to court financial institutions. They report the automaker is currently working with Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

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Economy
6:53 am
Thu April 28, 2011

U.S. Treasury Secretary to visit Southeast Michigan

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will visit the Detroit Economic Club today.
Center for American Progress Flickr

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will visit Michigan today. He'll make an appearance at the Detroit Economic Club. Geithner will speak with Detroit's political, business and community leaders about the economy, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Geithner's appearance Thursday afternoon is part of the Detroit Economic Club's 2010-11 meeting season.

President Barack Obama swore Geithner in as the 75th treasury secretary in January 2009. He was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to billions of dollars in government loans being given to General Motors and Chrysler.

Detroit and Michigan have suffered as much as any city or state economically over the past few years. Thousands of workers have been laid off as businesses have been forced to close or downsize.

Economy
12:27 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Michigan retailers feeling pain from soaring gasoline prices

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan retailers say 4 dollar a gallon gasoline is taking a bite out of their business.  The latest survey by the Michigan Retailers Association says state businesses saw a marked decline in sales in March, as gasoline prices started to soar.    Michigan retail sales slumped to their lowest level since last July. 

Tom Scott is with the association.  

Read more
Economy
8:39 am
Wed April 27, 2011

Whirlpool reports higher net income in the 1st quarter

2011 is off to a good start for Whirlpool.  The Benton Harbor appliance maker reported its net earnings rose in the first quarter.   Whirlpool reports its net earnings for the first three months of 2011 clocked in at $169 million, up from $164 million in the first quarter of 2010.  Total sales increased 3% to $4.4 billion.  

First-quarter operating profit totaled $228 million compared with $241 million in the prior year.  On an adjusted basis, first quarter 2011 operating profit(2) totaled $221 million compared to $287 million in 2010.  Results were favorably impacted by cost reduction and productivity initiatives, increased monetization of certain tax credits, and higher unit volume.  These favorable factors were offset by lower product price/mix and higher material and oil-related costs. 

Jeff Fettig is Whirlpool's CEO.  

"Our first quarter results reflect our ongoing cost reduction efforts and continued innovation investments, which helped to mitigate significant material cost inflation....We recently announced a 16% dividend increase, reflective of the success of our brand value creation strategy and our strong financial position.  We remain committed to attracting and retaining consumers to our brands, providing excellent service and value to our trade customers and consumers while driving lower costs and higher quality across our global operations."  

Auto/Economy
9:56 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Ford making money but challenges ahead

Ford announced its biggest first quarter profit since 1998.  The company made 2.6 billion dollars, and predicts it will remain profitable for the rest of the year despite some economic headwinds. 

But Ford also faces some unique challenges if it wants to keep growing.

Company CEO Alan Mulally likes to joke about the “small home improvement loan” of $23-billion the company took out in 2006.   That money paid for the company to improve its products and avoid bankruptcy. 

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Auto/Economy
1:39 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Third high-tech battery plant opening in West Michigan

The new LG Chem plant will be making batteries for the Chevy Volt in Holland, Michigan
redgoober4life flickr

Another advanced battery manufacturing plant is getting ready to open in West Michigan.

LG Chem will be opening in Holland later this year. It’s hosting a job fair today to fill 100 open positions with the company.

Two other advanced battery makers have also recently set up shop in West Michigan.

Jeremy Hagemeyer is with LG Chem.

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Auto/Economy
11:58 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Electric cars score big in safety tests

A Chevy Volt being crash tested. The big batteries in the car make them safter according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf top ratings for safety in crash tests.  The results could ease any lingering concerns people might have about the safety of electric cars.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says the results show that customers don't have to trade safety for environmentally friendly electric cars.  And the heavy batteries in the cars actually make them safer.

"We can have environmentally friendly, green vehicles and not give up the safety advances that we've made in the bargain… Even though they are small cars in their dimensions, they are considerably heavier than other small cars weighing as much as some midsize or even large cars.  And that is a safety advantage."

Car companies say the huge batteries inside electric cars shut down in the event of a crash to greatly reduce the risk of an electrical fire.

Both the Leaf and the Volt cost more than most similar sized small cars. But Rader says as the price of gas goes up, and the cost of producing the cars goes down, electric cars will become more economical.

Auto/Economy
11:34 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Ford makes out big in the first quarter

In the first three months of the year, Ford made $2.5 billion.
Marcus Wong Flickr

Ford Motor Company announced a profit of more than $2.5 billion in the first three months of the year.

That's the company's best quarterly performance since 1998.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally expects the rest of 2011 to be profitable as well - despite some headwinds like low U.S. consumer confidence and rising commodity and gas prices:

"Even though it's a slower recovery and the fuel prices are moving up, the demand is there and we are really pleased to have the product line that the consumers really do want and value."

Mulally says he's  optimistic that car sales will continue improving:

"In the automobile industry, the pentup demand is tremendous, you know the average age of car ownership is over ten years now."

Mulally says Ford also improved its balance sheet by reducing its debt by another $2.5 billion in the first quarter.

Ford took out a huge loan in 2006 before the recession.  That loan enabled the company to improve its cars during the economic downturn and avoid bankruptcy.

Since last year, the company has paid off $17 billion of debt.

Economy
1:55 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

MSU: Workplace deaths increased in 2010

(MIOSHA)

The number of people who died on the job in Michigan increased in 2010.  Michigan State University researchers track workplace deaths.   Researcher Ken Rosenman says agriculture recorded the most on-the-job fatalities last year.  He says workplace homicides also more than doubled in 2010. 

In all, 123 people died in the workplace in Michigan last year. 

Rosenman insists most, if not all, job deaths could have been prevented.  

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Auto/Economy
5:54 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

China will be tough competitor to U.S. in electric cars in future, says study

Fears that China is destined for dominance of the electric vehicle and advanced battery industry may be overblown, suggests a new study by the management consulting firm PRTM.

Yes, the Chinese government is strongly committed to the electrification of cars and trucks.  After all, China is even more dependent on foreign oil than the U.S.  And its cities are fouled by pollution caused in large part by internal combustion engines.

And yes, China has spent five times more than the U.S. on helping its electric car industry.

Read more
Auto/Economy
3:30 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Report: Japanese automakers check exports for radiation

The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Crippled nuclear power plants have fueled worries of radiation exposure.
Douglas Sprott Flickr

From the Associated Press:

An auto industry group says Japanese automakers have begun checking the level of radiation on cars to be exported from Japan amid a nuclear leak crisis.

Hirokazu Furukawa, a spokesman for the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said Friday the move was to ease worries among foreign consumers about radiation leaking from a tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant in northern Japan.

The automakers will inspect radiation inside a car and on its tires before shipment.

No radiation has been detected on cars to be exported from Japan, Furukawa said. Automakers are currently checking the level of radiation on cars to be shipped from eight ports.

Furukawa said around 10 cars out every 5,000 are being checked for radiation.

Auto/Economy
2:02 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Stabenow says manufacturing and agriculture will revitalize Michigan economy

Stabenow says Michigan can still benefit from the auto industry
Office of Senator Stabenow

Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow says the future of the Michigan economy depends on a strong auto and manufacturing base, as well as agriculture:

“You can’t have an economy in this country unless you make things and grow things. And the fundamental part in making things really is the auto industry and manufacturing. ”

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Auto/Economy
12:37 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Warren Mayor says GM likely to add more jobs in city

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts says GM will invest in its Powertrain facility and Tech Center in Warren, Michigan
Manoli Katakis creative commons

A final decision has not been made, but Warren Mayor Jim Fouts released a statement saying GM is considering two investments in its Technical Center and Powertrain Facility in Warren.

Fouts says the investments add up to $450 million and would create 426 new jobs.

From Fouts' statement:

"These possible projects are the result of several meetings between city representatives, including me, and GM officials. I cannot stress too much how important these new investments would be to our city. They mean more jobs and ultimately more tax revenues for Warren. I am confident GM will choose these locations for new investments because the corporation realizes Warren is a business-friendly community that will go the extra mile to encourage businesses to expand or relocate here."

The mayor said Warren became a city in 1957 because of the construction of GM's Tech Center in the city. And he encouraged other business to move there.

Economy
11:14 am
Fri April 22, 2011

Two Michigan retirees flip the script on ATM fees

The law says banks have to post how much they plan to charge you on their ATM machines.
user eflon Flickr

Two retirees from Fowlerville, Michigan, Nancy Kinder and Ray Harrison, have filed several lawsuits challenging banks on ATM fee notifications.

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act says the amount the bank will charge for use of the ATM machine "shall be posted in a prominent and conspicuous location on or at the automated teller machine at which the electronic fund transfer is initiated by the consumer."

Tresa Baldas reports in the Detroit Free Press that the retirees have been taking advantage of this part of the law:

Kinder and Harrison have been "combing the state by car, looking for ATMs that don't have the notification sign, records show. When they spot one, they make a withdrawal, take a picture of the ATM, and then it's off to court."

They've sued 36 banks in two years and they recently filed five lawsuits in one day.

Read more
Economy
5:30 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Muskegon Correctional Facility could be privatized

The Muskegon Correctional Facility will close June 1, but could be reopened as a county jail operated by a private company.
correctionsreporter.com

A West Michigan prison slated to close in June could reopen as a county jail -- under private management.  

The Muskegon Correctional Facility houses Pennsylvania inmates right now as part of a deal that kept the prison from closing previously.

But that deal is ending four years early and the prison will close on June 1st.

Last week, a private company – GEO Group – toured the facility with state and county officials.  The company already owns and operates a private prison in Baldwin.

Read more
Auto/Economy
2:35 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Toyota recalls certain RAV4s and Highlanders

A 2008 Toyota Highlander - one of the cars being recalled.
IFCAR wikimedia commons

An airbag issued is prompting Toyota to recall some RAV4s and Highlanders.

From the Associated Press:

The recall includes about 214,000 RAV4s from 2007 and 2008 and approximately 94,000 Highlander and Highlander HV vehicles from 2008. All of the vehicles involved were sold in the U.S.

The recall does not include any other Lexus or Toyota vehicles.

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Auto/Economy
9:33 am
Thu April 21, 2011

Fiat moving closer to a majority stake in Chrysler

Chrysler Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
user fiatontheweb creative commons

Updated: 

News that Fiat will soon acquire a bigger stake in Chrysler is another sign the merger is working.

Jim Hall is president of  the auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics.  He says the merger benefits both companies.  Fiat gets access to the U.S. market and to Chrysler’s more profitable vehicles, and Chrysler gets access to Fiat's global markets and its fuel-saving technology. 

And the merger could save the companies money on parts.

Read more
Auto/Economy
2:20 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Another gas price hike coming?

Another increase in store at Michigan pumps?
user Orin Zebest Flickr

Gas prices in Michigan are expected to go higher, according to an online service that shares information on fuel prices. GasBuddy.com collects data on gasoline prices all across Michigan and the rest of the country.  The company says average gas prices in Michigan are about to jump up  to between $4.05 and $4.15 a gallon.

This from an e-mail sent out by Gasbuddy.com:

We're at increasing odds for a price hike. Oil prices have continued to rally this week, meaning it may be price hike time. With the rise in wholesale costs already being passed on to stations, odds are this hike will occur any time in the next 48 hours.

Patrick DeHaan, the senior petroleum analyst with Gas Buddy, says several factors, including refineries switching to summer blends of gasoline,  are behind rising gas prices. 

“Unfortunately, until these refineries get going and finish their maintenance and boost production…we will continue to see supply dwindle and that will continue to impact prices.”  

DeHaan predicts Michigan gasoline prices will continue to edge higher between now and Memorial Day.

The White House says speculators on Wall Street are driving oil prices up. President Obama made some remarks on speculation in Virginia accoring to UPI:

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech in Virginia, said it's not a lack of supply that is driving oil prices up on the commodity markets.

"The problem is, is that oil is sold on these world markets, and speculators and people make various bets, and they say, you know what, we think that maybe there's a 20 percent chance that something might happen in the Middle East that might disrupt oil supply, so we're going to bet that oil is going to go up real high," he said. "And that spikes up prices significantly."

In the article, Bart Chilton, a member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says speculation makes up part of the price at the pump, "there is a Wall Street premium on gas prices today. Every time folks fill up their tanks, they can expect that several dollars are due to speculation."

Speculation was a big driver of the skyrocketing oil prices back in 2009.

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