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.

Nov 2, 2011 11:58AM

While I often don't agree with Cramer, this article maks sense.  Businesses that don't make money can't grow and if they can't grow they don't hire. Simple.  Frankly I don't care what their CEO's earn per year or how that compares to the average person as long as those businesses are creating jobs for my neighbors, family and friends who are legitimately looking for work (and lets face it, w a a y too many unemployed people are happy to just suck up their unemployment checks).  If our government, Democrats and Republicans, alike don't get out of the way and let businesses make money, hiring won't happen, people won't have money to spend, the economic engine will continue to sit idle as it is today and we will never get out of this rut. Oh...and one last point for all you crybabies who whine incessantly about the inequality of wealth distribution in this country......get over it.   You are delusional if you think there will ever be a great big re-distribution of wealth and I for one am happy about that. This is still the greatest country in the world with lots of opportunity for everyone who works hard but if you don't like, leave. Or just get off your butt and go make something of yourself.  You might never make a bizzillion dollars but almost everyone can improve their income and their lot in life with lots of hard work and some ingenuity.  Sitting around thinking the OWS movement is going to succeed at wrestling money from the rich just ain't going to happen folks!  Move on.

Nov 2, 2011 11:45AM

Thank you Mr. Cramer for writing precisely what I have been thinking since the man announced for president.  I lived in Illinois until 2007 and was fully aware what he was capable of doing.  The future of this country depends on either booting him from office or capturing the house and senate in 2012. 


Just in case some of you liberal/progressive/socialists are thinking I am a rich CEO, my wife and I have a gross annual income of around $44,000. Your stupid political philosophy has never worked and it never will.

Nov 2, 2011 10:53AM

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 11:44AM

Sort of like Obama spending 500 million on a Finnish car company to hire people in Finland with Stimulus money right?   Or Solandra going bankrupt right after donating huge amounts of taxpayer money to Democrats?  


Government Doesn't create JOBS...  Every dollar spent by government DESTROYS jobs thats why unemployment excellerated after '57 States' Stimulus bill...  Mr. Obama drove it up from 7.1 to over 9.1%...  


Sure wish we had W's average of 5.5% again...  He looks like an economic scholar comapred to this moron....

Nov 2, 2011 9:52AM
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?
Nov 2, 2011 10:56AM
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 11:51AM

Republican scorched earth policy when it comes to taxes and Democrat incompetence in business  and job promotion while the country is on a  negative credit watch will once again lead to another downgrade.   Unfunded multiple wars and another possible recession while the class warfare of the 1% buying elections paints a bleak future.  The Super Committee seems a failure and automatic spending cuts is the order of the day .  Greece is our model.     

Nov 2, 2011 11:19AM
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 12:37PM
What has Obama done to convince business he is on their side?
Nov 2, 2011 12:28PM

“CEO’s” is a very broad term.


If we’re talking about the type of “CEO” from companies like Enron, Arthur Andersen,World Com,AIG,Ambac,Lehman Brothers,Bear Stearns,Merrill Lynch,Countrywide Financial,BofA,Wells Fargo/Wachovia,UBS, All of the “Credit Rating Agencies”,Beazer Homes, Health South,GM,Chrysler and NetFlix I’ll pass.


If we’re talking about “CEO’s” from say Apple (the man is gone but the culture and Ideology he created live), Ford (specifically Alan Mulallay) Ben and Jerry’s or Wrangler, well then like Frasier Crain,- “I’m listening”.


Yup- Ford, Ice Cream, Blue Jeans and an IPAD.


These CEO’s get you there, put a smile on your face, make you look good, stimulate your brain, and put money in the……….if only there were a banking CEO I could add to this list.

Nov 2, 2011 11:36AM

The moron in the White House thinks government 'creates' jobs.  Government DESTROYS jobs.  Every government job eliminates 3-4 in the private sector to pay for it.   The government keeps SPENDING, BORROWING and TAXING more and more.  Government spending was 18.5% of GDP when '57 States' took office and now it 24.5%+.    Business' would be absolutely stupid to hire under this administration.  They would be smart to ship every job possible overseas to avoid coming government costs, like Obummercare...


Next Novemeber we can get the country back on the right track, by firing 2000+ more Donkey office holders and the socialist-in-chief...  Or we can continue on to the 2nd great Depression...

Nov 2, 2011 12:47PM
This CEO's attitude is one I've known since my youth. No they aren't John Birchers, but many were the country club folks who thought they knew better. The US functions best when there is a cooperation between management and labor (those guys and gals called "workers"). CEO's think their responsibility is solely to their shareholders - it is not. And what the hell, sort of like climate change, we can put off an energy policy until tomorrow. The market simply is not going to bring about the change needed, not as long as the "real" costs are not internalized.
Nov 2, 2011 12:36PM
What I love are the environmental zealots (like President Obama) who PUSH electric vehicles.  Don't they realize that unless they allow nuclear energy, electricity=COAL... and the carbon and gases put into the environment from the cleanest coal is still more than the energy equal needed for gas-burning vehicles.  Our government giving incentives for far-too-expensive Coal cars (electric vehicles) is simply insane!   Environmental wackos need to get out of the way... capitalism works pretty well.  No, it's no perfect, but neither is our President nor his wacko ideas/ideals.
Nov 2, 2011 11:34AM
Nov 2, 2011 1:05PM
All of this reflects the fact that in 1965 over half the gross national product of the U.S. was in manufacturing.   As of 2004, it is NINE percent of our GDP,  which is over $15 trillion, I think.  We need more immigrants such as Joe Maglica of MagLite flashlights in Ontario, Calif. who founded the company here years ago and said that "Sure, I could move to China, but what would happen to my hardworking, dedicated employees?"   Isn't the president a huge receiver of Wall Street bucks?  Give me a break people! 
Nov 2, 2011 1:54PM

All of this was spelled out in the original presidential debates with Obama. Obama's Agenda and platform is and always was bad for business. He is all about a one class nation and feeding the people with their hand out (his minions), not encouraging the people with vision and the ability to grow this country (that would threaten his elitist position). Well here we are, going into year number four and things have only gotten worse. I will never work for the government or a union.... I love this country because I can succeed on my own with my head up..... not down, with my hand out. I am one of the "99%" by definition, but without successful companies in this country we would all be on welfare or working for the government in some capacity. I would rather have something to reach for and an opportunity to own my own business..... but it seems that most of the people on here (that are mad at CEO's and the owners of companies), would rather put their head down and hand out. I guess Obama's agenda did work- he has broken the will to succeed in this country, and the very people he has ruined are now on display around the country at "occupy" movements. Wake up and aspire to succeed again- remember why your families came here in the first place...not for hand out's - for opportunity! Stop whining about people who have more success than you, and get to work to make this country (and your own life) better otherwise, move to communist China and you can all be "equal".....or if you get what you want, maybe you can stay here and bow to the king of  the new one world government (because you are to blind to see the manipulation). WAKE UP and get to work. 

Nov 2, 2011 1:01PM

It appears the White House in too busy Running Guns,Romancing ILLEGALS looking for votes ,to focuse on anything.....

Nov 2, 2011 12:44PM

Once all the jobs are moved to china. the buisness owners will soon follow, then who will be left to tax?

Nov 2, 2011 2:11PM
CEO'S are not the only ones who see him as a threat.
Nov 2, 2011 4:43PM

What a strange caricature of Obama and American business in general... if you are for clean air and less dependance upon Middle East oil then you are anti-business?  This reads like something between a 'phone it in' effort and 'thinking out loud' by Cramer.  I don't know which two industrial CEO's he talked to, but I don't believe he is representing the majority view.


Nucor recycles scrap metal in clean electric furnaces; Subaru builds autos in a factory in Indiana with a 'zero waste' philosophy; all materials are recycled.  Tightening auto emissions standards improves the market for our vehicles abroad.  I'm certain there are 100's of similar examples.


Why are these arguments always either/or?  Either you are for business or against it?  You believe in Keynes or Hayak?  Dial back the fanaticism and recognize that the best course is usually between the extremes.  I am proud of American industry when they act to improve their product, maintain clean and safe working conditions and improve our global competitiveness.  I am angry when CEO's line their pockets with the spoils of the hard work of their employees.  We are creating a class system in America, and its OK to be angry about it!

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