Explaining Southern California's economy

Reportings: Big September for cars; boring iPhone; Solyndragate II; Michael Lewis

Are bailed-out and formerly bankrupt U.S. car companies now recession-proof? Both General Motors and Chrysler had a big September: "General Motors Co. said its U.S. sales jumped 20% to 207,145 vehicles compared with September 2010. Chrysler Group's sales surged 27% to 127,334 vehicles, marking the company's best September since 2007." (LAT)

Is the Apple iPhone too grown up to have a wow factor? "'Industrial design is important, but in these small packages we are starting to bump into the laws of physics,' said Tim Bajarin, a consultant with Creative Strategies Inc. 'You aren't going to do anything that I would consider radical in design and still get this feature set and function.'" (WSJ) 

Paul Krugman gets on China's case and highlights the massive U.S. trade deficit: "A return to economic health would look much more achievable if we weren’t spending $500 billion more each year on imported goods and services than foreigners spent on our exports." (NYT)  


Enough with debit card fees! Give us a...Google Bank?

A month ago, I blogged about how Wells Fargo was preparing to increase debit card fees. We had asked for opinions via KPCC's Facebook page and gotten back…a reaction that was almost uniformly unhappy about Wells Fargo's move. 

Now Bank of America has followed suit. The consensus among observers of the banking business is that the practice is now here to say, after more than a decade of banks discounting their services or getting rid of fees altogether. I'm one of those people who's never paid a fee to use a debit card. And I use it for nearly every purchase I make.

But I don't bank with BofA, or Wells Fargo. I belong to credit union. Back in August, when we asked Facebook nation what it thought about Wells Fargo, the credit union option was repeatedly suggested. This time around, when I tweeted out my old post and made the credit union point, I received pretty positive feedback.


Mitch Daniels dangerously misrepresents Social Security

The "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" argument just won't go away. You'll recall that Rick Perry got in trouble for rehashing this allegation, made in his book, during a GOP candidates debate at the Reagan Library. Republicans then pivoted slightly, moving away from Perry's extreme view, toward their more traditional position: that Social Security needs to be "reformed." 

The last time the GOP took a serious crack at reforming Social Security, George W. Bush was in the White House, and he put before Congress a proposal to privatize a portion of Social Security, insisting that investment returns were the best way for Americans to keep the system solvent.

Now Mitch Daniels has taken up the charge. Or I should say re-taken-up the charge, as the Indiana Governor, who's being touted as a possible vice-presidential pick, has been a critic of Social Security going back to the days when he was…George W. Bush's Director of the Office of Management and Budget.


Yikes! How much did the bank bailouts cost?

I was just sifting through some posts at Naked Capitalism when I spotted this post by Randy Wray — and this set-up paragraph from Yves Smith:

Readers may note that Wray cites the cost of the US bailout of the financial crisis as $29 trillion. I’ve never seen a figure like that (the highest estimate I’ve seen was from SIGTARP, which set the “theoretical maximum” at $23 trillion, and that figure was widely criticized. Barry Ritholtz has kept tab over time, and his tally has been in the $10-$11 trillion range). But this estimate is not core to his argument.

ACK! $29 trillion?!?! Here's Barry Ritholtz in 2009, sharing a graphic that shows how the bailouts, adding up to about $15 trillion, stacked up against other major historical expenditures. And above, I've embedded a PBS broadcast on a Bloomberg report about the total cost being almost $13 trillion. And CNN built a "Bailout Tracker" that shows $11 trillion in commitments (but only $3 trillion invested).


Solyndra: The government isn't acting like a venture capitalist — it's acting like a super-venture-capitalist!

I nearly spit my coffee out when I saw this brief CNBC segment on whether the government should be acting like a venture capitalist when it comes to startup energy companies — like bankrupt, scandalized Solyndra. Eamon Javers strikes me as a good reporter, but he zipped through the question and gave me the impression that CNBC hasn't fully figured out what the Department of Energy is trying to do in the renewable energy industry

The DOE just approved two new solar-related loan guarantees, of the sort that Solyndra received (Solyndra got $535 million and drew on $527 of it before declaring bankruptcy). Mesquite Solar got $337 million and Tonopah received $737 — both as the DOE's program was officially winding down. 

Both are also doing some fairly out-there stuff. The Tonopah project, according to the DOE, is a "110 megawatt concentrating solar power tower generating facility with molten salt as the primary heat transfer and storage medium. It will be the first of its kind in the United States and the tallest molten salt tower in the world." Here's a picture of what it might look like and a rundown of how it will work.