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Mitt Romney's Bailout Bonanza Greg Palast | October 17, 2012
This investigation was supported by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute and by the Puffin Foundation. Elements of it appear in Palast’s new book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (Seven Stories). Research assistance by Zach D. Roberts, Ari Paul, Nader Atassi and Eric Wuestewald. Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout has haunted him on the campaign trail, especially in Rust Belt states like Ohio. There, in September, the Obama campaign launched television ads blasting Romney’s November 2008 New York Times op-ed, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” But Romney has done a good job of concealing, until now, the fact that he and his wife, Ann, personally gained at least $15.3 million from the bailout—and a few of Romney’s most important Wall Street donors made more than $4 billion. Their gains, and the Romneys’, were astronomical—more than 3,000 percent on their investment.
It all starts with Delphi Automotive, a former General Motors subsidiary whose auto parts remain essential to GM’s production lines. No bailout of GM—or Chrysler, for that matter—could have been successful without saving Delphi. So, in addition to making massive loans to automakers in 2009, the federal government sent, directly or indirectly, more than $12.9 billion to Delphi—and to the hedge funds that had gained control over it.
One of the hedge funds profiting from that bailout— $1.28 billion so far—is Elliott Management, directed by Paul Singer. According to The Wall Street Journal, Singer has given more to support GOP candidates—$2.3 million—than anyone else on Wall Street this election season. His personal giving is matched by that of his colleagues at Elliott; collectively, they have donated $3.4 million to help elect Republicans this season, while giving only $1,650 to Democrats. And Singer is influential with the GOP presidential candidate; he’s not only an informal adviser but, according to the Journal, his support was critical in helping push Representative Paul Ryan onto the ticket.
Singer, whom Fortune magazine calls a “passionate defender of the 1%,” has carved out a specialty investing in distressed firms and distressed nations, which he does by buying up their debt for pennies on the dollar and then demanding payment in full. This so-called “vulture investor” received $58 million on Peruvian debt that he snapped up for $11.4 million, and $90 million on Congolese debt that he bought for a mere $20 million. In the process, he’s built one of the largest private equity firms in the nation, and over decades he’s racked up an unusually high average return on investments of 14 percent.
Other GOP presidential hopefuls chased Singer’s endorsement, but Mitt chased Singer with his own checkbook, investing at least $1 million with Elliott through Ann Romney’s blind trust (it could be far more, but the Romneys have declined to disclose exactly how much). Along the way, Singer gained a reputation, according to Fortune, “for strong-arming his way to profit.” That is certainly what happened at Delphi.
Delphi, once the Delco unit of General Motors, was spun off into a separate company in 1999. Alone, Delphi foundered, declaring bankruptcy in 2005, after which vulture hedge funds, led by Silver Point Capital, began to buy up the company’s old debt. Later, as the nation’s financial crisis accelerated, Singer’s Elliott bought Delphi debt, as did John Paulson & Co. John Paulson, like Singer, is a $1 million donor to Romney. Also investing was Third Point, run by Daniel Loeb, who was once an Obama supporter but who this summer hosted a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser for Romney and personally donated about $500,000 to the GOP.
As Delphi was in bankruptcy, making few payments, the bonds were junk, considered toxic by the banks holding them. The hedge funds were able to pick up the securities for a song; most of Elliott’s purchases cost just 20 cents on the dollar of their face value.
By the end of June 2009, with the bailout negotiations in full swing, the hedge funds, under Singer’s lead, used their bonds to buy up a controlling interest in Delphi’s stock. According to SEC filings, they paid, on average, an equivalent of only 67 cents per share.
Just two years later, in November 2011, the Singer syndicate took Delphi public at $22 a share, turning an eye-popping profit of more than 3,000 percent. Singer’s fund investors scored a gain of $904 million, all courtesy of the US taxpayer. But that’s not all. In the year since Delphi began trading publicly, its stock has soared 45 percent. Loeb’s gains so far for Third Point: $390 million. The gains for Silver Point, headed by two Goldman Sachs alums: $894 million. John Paulson’s fund, which has already sold half its holdings, has a $2.6 billion gain. And Singer’s funds and partners, combining what they’ve sold and what they hold, have $1.29 billion in profits, about forty-four times their original investment.
Yet without taking billions in taxpayer bailout funds—and slashing worker pensions—the hedge funds’ investment in Delphi would not have been worth a single dollar, according to calculations by GM and the US Treasury.
Altogether, in direct and indirect payouts, the government padded these investors’ profits handsomely. The Treasury allowed GM to give Delphi at least $2.8 billion of funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to keep Delphi in business. GM also forgave $2.5 billion in debt owed to it by Delphi, and $2 billion due from Singer and company 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 as a result of the bailout. Then there was the big one: the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation took over paying all of Delphi’s retiree pensions. The cost to the taxpayer: $5.6 billion. The bottom line: the hedge funds’ paydays were made possible by a generous donation of $12.9 billion from US taxpayers.
One of President Obama’s first acts in office, in February 2009, was to form the Auto Task Force with the goal of saving GM, Chrysler, their suppliers and, most important, auto industry jobs. Crucial to the plan was saving Delphi, which then employed more than 25,000 union workers.
Obama hired Steven Rattner, himself a millionaire hedge fund manager, to head the task force that would negotiate with the troubled firms and their creditors to avoid the collapse of the entire industry. In Rattner’s memoir of the affair, Overhaul, he describes a closed-door meeting held in March 2009 to resolve Delphi’s fate. He writes that Delphi, now in the possession of its hedge fund creditors, told the Treasury and GM to hand over $350 million immediately, “because if you don’t, we’ll shut you down.” His explanation was corroborated by Delphi’s chief financial officer, John Sheehan, who said in a sworn deposition in July 2009 that the hedge fund debt holders backed up their threat with “an analysis of the cost to GM if Delphi were unwilling or unable to provide supply to GM,” forcing a “shutdown.” It would take “years and tens of billions” for GM to replace Delphi’s parts. At that bleak moment, GM had neither. The automaker had left the inventory of its steering column and other key components in Delphi’s hands. If Delphi laid siege to GM’s parts supply, the bailout would fail and GM would have to be liquidated or sold off—as would another Delphi dependent, Chrysler.
Rattner could not believe that Delphi’s management—now effectively under the hedge funders’ control—would “want to be perceived as holding GM hostage at such a precarious economic moment.” One Wall Street Journal analyst suggested that Singer was treating Delphi “like a third world country.” Rattner likened the subsidies demanded by Delphi’s debt holders to “extortion demands by the Barbary pirates.”
Romney has slammed the bailout as a payoff to the auto workers union. But that certainly wasn’t true for the bailout of Delphi. Once the hedge funders, including Singer—a deep-pocketed right-wing donor and activist who serves as chair of the conservative, anti-union Manhattan Institute—took control of the firm, they rid Delphi of every single one of its 25,200 unionized workers.
Of the twenty-nine Delphi plants operating in the United States when the hedge funders began buying up control, only four remain, with not a single union production worker. Romney’s “job creators” did create jobs—in China, where Delphi now produces the parts used by GM and other major automakers here and abroad. Delphi is now incorporated overseas, leaving the company with 5,000 employees in the United States (versus almost 100,000 abroad).
Third Point’s Daniel Loeb, whose net worth of $1.3 billion owes much to his share in the Delphi windfall, told his fund’s backers this past July that Delphi remains an excellent investment because it has “virtually no North American unionized labor” and, thanks to US taxpayers, “significantly smaller pension liabilities than almost all of its peers.”
Mitt Romney may indeed have wanted to let Detroit die. But if the auto industry was going to be bailed out after all, the Romneys apparently couldn’t resist getting in on a piece of the action.
In last week’s issue, Lee Fang revealed  how Mitt Romney’s son Tagg and investors in his firm Solamere Capital can cash in if his father wins.
Links:  http://www.thenation.com/sites/default/files/user/17/Delphi%20CFO%20Sheehan%20Deposition.doc  http://www.thenation.com/resource/romney-federal-disclosure  http://www.thenation.com/article/170470/tagg-team-romney-family-recipe-crony-capitalism