Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cash For the Credit-Worthy

By Sam Ro - Cash for clunkers will not generate major incremental sales for automakers like Ford (F). Some of the 489,000 cars sold under the program were made by consumers who were already in the market to upgrade their vehicles. Some represent future sales that have been pulled forward. This sentiment is shared by J.D. Power and Associates, who recently boosted their 2009 auto sales forecast by 300,000 units, but cut their 2010 forecast by 100,000 units. This reflects a net gain of 200,000 over a two year period, during which 21.8 million cars are expected to be sold.

However, on a per dollar basis, cash for clunkers will be more effective in stimulating the economy than the 2008 tax rebate checks. While much of the tax rebates went toward paying down debt, the clunker cash is more likely to go back into the economy through personal consumption.

Consider those who are participating in cash for clunkers. If Jane Smith qualified for a $4,500 rebate and purchased a $15,000 Toyota Corolla, she has to make a $10,500 financial outlay. This is not a small amount of money. She is likely to take out an auto loan, which is only available to the credit-worthy. Furthermore, if she were in a tight financial situation, she would probably stick with her clunker, which is in driveable condition.

Jane is a confident consumer who won’t save that $4,500. She will spend it on a big screen TV, a family vacation, or a fancy dinner--all good for the economy right now.

This isn’t the only government program that rewards credit-worthy consumers who are likely to spend before saving. There’s also the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a pending cash for appliance program. Again, this program will not provide a major long-run incremental sales boost to Whirlpool (WHR) and Electrolux (ELUXY). It just puts extra cash in the pockets of the customer, who can spend it on something else.

Obviously, I’m not happy that my tax dollars are going to people who don’t need it. But when it comes to economic stimulus, I prefer programs that reward the credit-worthy and encourage them to spend over programs that bailout the debt-laden.