CEOs: Obama is bigger threat to success than Europe

Industrial executives crave certainty from Washington and, cynical as it sounds, view the election as a distraction that could prevent the president from interfering with business.

By Jim Cramer Nov 2, 2011 9:28AM

the streetCan this economy turn without help from Washington, D.C.? Can it turn even with Washington hurting it? Those are the two questions I am asking industrial CEOs, and the answers are a little surprising.

 

First, many of the industrial CEOs I deal with actually see a turn happening in this country's economy. They see it in nonresidential construction, which can be a real driver of the GDP growth. They see it in autos, where a 13 million auto build, once dreamed of, is now a reality. They see it in larger orders for trucks and generators and construction equipment.

 

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They see it in the construction of billions of dollars' worth of energy infrastructure projects, many to meet long-agreed-upon EPA standards for phasing out coal. They see it in the billions of dollars of petrochemical plant and pipeline businesses to harness our natural gas -- now the cheapest in the world -- and turn it into plastics. They see it in the beginning of the gigantic aerospace build for the Dreamliner, which could actually, in a ripple effect, affect GDP positively.

 

But if offered a chance for help from Washington, D.C., almost every one of these manufacturing CEOs I speak to -- and I know I speak to a lot more of them than the president does -- scoffs and says that help from Washington is inconceivable. Just out of the question. And not just because there is a limited amount of money for projects.

 

There is no help from Washington because the CEOs behind this turn believe the president is ideologically committed to hurting them, either because their businesses involve some level of pollution -- or a build-out of a fossil fuel system in some way or another -- or because labor is not going to do as well as capital in their successes. There is a "plague on your house" attitude from the White House rather than any encouragement, unless they are all green or the workers own more of the means of production, which, alas, isn't really a true capitalist doctrine.

 

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One thing that has changed, though, is that many of the CEOs I talk to have gone from reticence and defensiveness to "try and stop me, Mr. President, I am going to make money for shareholders here."

 

It's funny, as much as we on Wall Street fret every day about Europe, mostly about the imminent collapse of Italy, these execs, and I ask them all, are far more worried about the president and the Democrats and the obstacles they place on success.

 

They think there is a deep-down anti-success bias. They think the president is so anti-profit that he, not Europe, is the biggest hindrance to their successes. They feel they can work around Europe, but they know, in their hearts, that the president does not want them to succeed.

 

Let me say this: I used to find this analysis hard to believe. I just can't believe the White House would be so committed to the failure, not the promotion, of business unless it is green or owned by labor. I still have trouble with it, because I have to believe that you need some business people on your side to win re-election.

 

But the CEOs I talk to pretty much figured out a couple of years ago that they are the enemy. That somehow they are Wall Street, even as they only make a pilgrimage to Wall Street once or twice a year and don't need the bankers for their biddings. Their balance sheets are way too strong to need that help.

 

They believe that the president does not think their successes translate into anything good for the country. In fact, they think the more successful the shareholders are, the more the president feels the country is ripped off by them because the president seems not to understand that so many people in this country own stock in one way or another and need the stock market to do well.

 

They think stocks are also a dirty word with him because poorer people don't own stocks and he is their representative, not the shareholders' representative. They think the president believes only Republicans own stocks, so who cares about them. 

 

When I press them on this, asking them what makes the president so anti-business, they laugh. They say the president's agenda isn't per se, out-loud, anti-business, it's just anti-wealth and pro-labor and, most of all, pro-green. There's no room for anything else on the agenda.

 

They see his agenda as making sure that the country's businesses pollute less and that the unions get a lot of money so that they will give back to the campaign and have him win again. Beyond that, they don't see anything at all.

 

I kid you not. That's what they say!

 

Rather amazing.

 

That said, they think they can do well without the president's help. They just want him distracted, working on his reelection, not focusing on what they want to accomplish. They want him unfocused on business because almost every one of them I speak to thinks he couldn't help even if he tried and he won't anyway.

 

They want him out on the trail going to small businesses and solar factories and wind farms and geothermal sites and biomass facilities. They want him spending time at schools and with first responders and the military, because it doesn't hurt them or stop them from doing business. They want him shaking hands and kissing babies and not doing much else.

 

And they think they do well because there is enough confusion and worry about his re-election that the president may not have time to get in their way. They think he might be too busy raising money and meeting with Democrats on the Hill to be sure the Republicans don't get anywhere. They like an election year. If it buys the economy some tax cuts and some extended employment benefits, all the better. Maybe even a highway bill. Some limited Chinese bashing.

 

They are not being cynical. They are accepting of the whole second-ratedness of it all. The second-ratedness of politics. They don't even talk about taxes. Most of them just want stability in taxes, even at a higher level. They just want certainty from Washington, meaning the certainty that nothing can or will be accomplished. The uncertainty that something can be accomplished that will be negative for business is always a threat to them.

 

Fortunately, the business people also think the Republicans are hard at work frustrating the president and the Democrats, so the combination of the election and the stalemate produces a decent environment to start growing again. It's not like they have anything good to say about the Republicans either. They can't believe that the only thing they seem to be focused on is lower taxes. Almost all of the execs I speak to aren't being driven by the tax code. They are simply trying to build and sell better products than the other guy, particularly the other guy from overseas.

 

I know, it is totally backward. I have asked about this time and again, over and over. I keep getting the same dynamic. I have known many of these CEOs for many years, since before they were CEOs. I know some of them because of my contacts in the Democratic party, from when I was a substantial giver. They know my politics. I know theirs. Most aren't even political even, as they fear that somehow they are viewed as John Birch Society members by some and crypto-fascists by others, particularly the more mean-spirited Occupy Wall Street protesters.

 

They just want to do their jobs and make money for shareholders. If there is enough demand, they will hire more. If there isn't, they won't.

 

I figured I should just share this with you and see if you find it as "out there" as I did, until I have heard it so many times that it has become gospel.

 

Anyway, it should make you feel better about one thing: The election is getting closer, not further away, and win, lose or draw, as long as the White House isn't focused, CEOs think the expansion can continue.

 

What a world.

 

jim cramer
Jim Cramer is a co-founder of TheStreet and contributes daily market commentary to the financial news network's sites. Follow his trades for his charitable trust.

76Comments
Nov 2, 2011 11:34AM
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CRAMER IS RIGHT AND SO  IS  Bob 3rd .THE MEDIA GAVE OBAMA FULL SUPPORT AND ALSO HIS SOCIALISTIC POLICIES AND AS A RESULT  WE NOW OWE 15 TRILLION BUCKS SO WE CAN PROVIDE SECURITY TO EVERYONE FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE. HE CAN'T BLAME BUSH FOR THAT AND FINALLY THE PEOPLE WHO HELPED  TO ELECT HIM REALIZE HOW FOOLISH  THEY WERE. OBAMA 'S  DESTRUCTIVE AND  ANTI-CAPITALISTIC LAWS MUST REPEALED SO FIRMS WILL HAVE INCENTIVES TO HIRE AGAIN.
Nov 2, 2011 11:32AM
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Guess what, they are the enemy.  They sit on $2.8 trillion in profits and are hiring, overseas!  The driver of capitalism is keeping labor expenses down, even with "white collar" jobs.  They have cut US workforces to the bone along with our health care benefits.  These CEO's had 8 years with the most business friendly President in modern times and what did they do?  Moved millions of jobs to China, India and Mexico.  Oh and they helped put our country in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  The 2004 Repatriation Act proved giving companies breaks on their taxes doesn't work.  By the way, they have been taxed less under President Obama than under both Bush's and even, dare I say it, Reagan--14.3% of the GDP vs. 18% on average.  Your talk about "true capitalist doctrine"; how about our great capitalist system being dependent on the greatest communist system for our goods?

Nov 2, 2011 11:19AM
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Tim in VA.  Please help me understand why the unelected Jobs Czar is the buddy of the President?  Is it because his "boss" thinks if we send all the American jobs overseas, as GE is supporting, we can spread the wealth? How can anyone disagree that greed and corruption (read Unions, SOME Corporations, and Welfare Cheats) are root causes?  There is a fairly new book out, "7 Events that Made America, America", that fairly clearly explains the damage caused by allowing government to go outside providing for security and maintaining order.  No where does our Constitution allow the government to take from one Sector of the economy, to provide benefit to a limited group.  It must benefit all.  Everything else is Charity---not a government function.
Nov 2, 2011 11:05AM
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cramer's crap will bust you way quicker than anything obama does

 

Nov 2, 2011 11:04AM
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ceo's making 460 times the average worker's salary

there is no man on the planet worth that kind of money

 

companies hire when they do more business

companies do more business when cutomers have jobs

 

giving all the money to wall street means good news for the yacht business

Nov 2, 2011 10:58AM
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I think President Obama is an intellectual, which we can surmise by this article, is anti-business. Hard to garner sympathy and credibility if the article stems long needed intellectual perspective by a president with a pair of balls, unlike Georgie in Greece. As Cramer refers to capitalist doctrine, it's clear that the free world and its leader can't exist under capitalism or live peacefully without being under fire by extreme capitalists. Let's face it,  CEO's make exponentially higher multiples than workers make, and a CEO can walk away from a failing company and still come out with millions in bonus severance. How is this the doctrine of a free world for all.  And why the hell do we care about what the overpaid think about President Obama? Better yet, why does Cramer care? If you can answer the latter correctly, then you know not to take this guru so seriously.
Nov 2, 2011 10:56AM
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What is wth these people that hate the corporations!!!  They provide jobs, they are part of most peoples pension investments, many provide healthcare, give to charities and the want to grow and pay out wealth to investors.  I am amazed that the people who rankle against them.  I haven't yet seen a corporation that doesn't want to grow and with that hire more people if needed.  Why do people seem to have this "divine right" attitde now that corporations give up profitablity...if they did they wouldn't exist and then where would we be. 
Nov 2, 2011 10:53AM
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Maybe some folks are looking at the difference between US CEO pay 230 times an hourly worker vs 50 times hour worker rates in most other foriegn countries, maybe some folks are looking  at what Companies have been doing for the last 15 years moving offshore Whirlpool being the most recent example, maybe some folks think that the country that founded capitalism deserves some loyalty from the very companies that built large successful companies here------as far as stimulating the economy ie business ie demand that was one of the first things Obama did but that has become a dirty word with Republicans----if the CEO's of this great country have a case to be made for moving manufacturing facilities off shore and by doing that closing down whole towns that supported those facitilies let them make that case directly to the American people

Nov 2, 2011 10:52AM
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Someone, feel free to hire anytime you want.   But you would have to a complete idiot to do so while Obama and his class warfare socialist, Karl Marx inspired union goons are around...

 

We are waiting for all you democrats to hire like mad.   Don't you long for the days of W and his 5.5% unemployment?

 

 

Nov 2, 2011 10:50AM
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Tim in Virginia, you sound like a good little democrat...   Now how many people have you hired?   I would bet ZERO, because you sound just as clueless as '57 States'...

 

Here in lies the problem, democrats, do not want to work, or start business'.  Some think they are to stupid or lazy.   If that is not the case why, have the demcorats not hired all the out of work people and started so many new business?   What say you?  

 

You seem to be totally clueless about business...  Maybe you just blindly believe in Hope and Change...  After 3 years of the moron in the White House now, don't you long for the days of W and his 5.5% unemployment?

Nov 2, 2011 10:42AM
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Right now the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth as much as the bottom 150 million, yet, conservatives want to funnel more of the nation's wealth upward and away from those who need it the most. It is sad to think that so many people in this country believe that we would be better of as a third-world nation; one in which a small oligarchy controls everybody. Conservatves, it is okay to demand more from your controllers. You are Americans and deserve better than what you have received. Turn off Fox News and start looking out for yourselves, not the rich. The rich will always be okay. 
Nov 2, 2011 10:29AM
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This article highlights what all the people in the street with OWS are telling us, there is a geniune case of "I know best," among Corporate CEO's who will do their best to push their firm and its stockholders interests ahead of the countries - that along with the greed and imorality of wall street is what got us where we are, and will take us down, because once again it is the same attitude represented in politics - it's my way or the highway.  We should all think carefully about what we are doing to ourselves and our country with this attitude.  Remember, it is our country that allows these CEO's and Markets to be free to pursue their interests, not the other way around.
Nov 2, 2011 10:29AM
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This country belongs to the people NOT CEO's. Where is the patriotism from these money hungry CEOs? You can blame this president all you want Mr. Cramer...but the 99%ners will have some say about their country too. We won't be 21st century slaves for the 1%. It's all about fairness. Let them make the money but don't hurt everyone else like it doesn't matter. It does matter! Help Americans...don't hurt us! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! on America soil. Thank You!
Nov 2, 2011 10:29AM
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They, and the conservative members of congress, want Obama to fail because they are racist pigs, and still can't believe or accept the fact that a black person won the presidential election.  They will do or say anything to get rid of him.  GET OVER IT!  We have no respect for these CEOs and business owners, because they are even more greedy than the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, and want to return America to the conditions present at that time in America's history.  So far, they've done a wonderful job of accomplishing their goals, but most Americans are suffering terribly, and we will do everything possible to prevent a new "Gilded Age" and a return to the class system.
Nov 2, 2011 10:09AM
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The consensus is probably correct as few see this president doing anything to stimulate this economy. It is as if he wants this country to fail...by not doing anything.. We fall into an abyss with lack of leadership in this country.

Too bad as this country was once the greatest and now it is stagnating. Lots of distractions to keep everyone focused on other things while our government does very little...

Nov 2, 2011 9:52AM
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So, the CEOs have finally realized that the president is a hardcore academic leftist.  What took them so long?  Most people could see this the first time he ever opened his mouth on his campaign or by examining his past academic and politcal record.  It was all there to see from the beginning.  Did people think it was all some kind of mirage? Or maybe it just got drowned out by all the euphoria that electing the first black preisdent caused in their guilty souls?
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