Why Caterpillar-like closures will continue
The closure of the Caterpillar plant should serve as a wake-up call for Canada.
We can probably all agree that there are few things quite as invigorating as a good spleen-venting rant. Except maybe a good spleen-venting, one-sided rant.
Judging by the shrill tone of commentary about the recently announced closure of Caterpillar's plant in London, Ont., there are lots of folks who have now taken a great weight off their chests. In one efficient gust, they've managed to condemn globalization, capitalism, the United States, free trade, management accountability, investment incentives and, of course, the federal government.
Without question, the resounding condemnation of Caterpillar for shuttering a plant when 465 Canadian workers did not promptly comply with management's demand for significant cuts in pay and benefits is low-hanging fruit for the righteously indignant. It is, however, not quite as simplistic a matter as it's being portrayed.
Once you strip out the emotion, the rhetoric, the political face-saving and the shock that a company did exactly what it said it was going to do, you're actually left with a pretty complex story. And one that's not all that well suited to a rant and a rave.
Let's start with the basic facts: Caterpillar acquired the Electro-Motive Diesel plant from two private equity funds for $820 million in 2010. The two previous investors, Berkshire Partners LLC and Greenbriar Equity Group LLC, had in turn acquired it from General Motors, when things were looking particularly bleak for the automaker in the depths of 2008.
The private equity guys had taken full advantage of the offer of federal government tax incentives at the time they took the plant off GM's hands.
Outrage was further stoked by the fact that Caterpillar had the gall to report a record annual profit for last year: it posted an 83 per cent gain from $2.7 billion in 2010 to $4.9 billion in 2011. And then there's the fact that Caterpillar management already has a history of playing hardball with unions.
OK, let's first consider the context. Unfortunately, Caterpillar is the third U.S.-based conglomerate in the past several months to close a Canadian factory and cut the nation's already-diminishing manufacturing jobs. (The others were truck maker Navistar International and a Ford assembly plant.)
So the sequence of bad news — most of it concentrated in southwestern Ontario — certainly contributed to the huff.
But nonetheless, it's crucial to consider WHY three manufacturing plants have closed in such rapid succession.
MSN.ca Money's editorial goal is to provide a forum for personal finance and investment ideas. Our articles, columns, message board posts and other features should not be construed as investment advice, nor does their appearance imply an endorsement by Microsoft of any specific security or trading strategy. An investor's best course of action must be based on individual circumstances.