Why Boeing, Caterpillar & GE need Export-Import bank to compete

Pras Subramanian

Earlier this week the commerce department reported soaring durable goods figures for the month of July, powered by Boeing (BA) plane orders. While great news for U.S. manufacturing, this growth could potentially come under threat if Congress can't pass reauthorization for something called the Export-Import bank.

The Export-Import Bank, or Ex-Im Bank, provides financing for foreign buyers of goods produced by U.S. companies. According to its website, the Ex-Im Bank “provides working capital guarantees (pre-export financing); export credit insurance; and loan guarantees and direct loans (buyer financing).” Aside from Boeing, blue chip companies like Caterpillar and General Electric use the bank’s services frequently.

Sounds pretty innocuous, however the debate over the Ex-Im bank is highlighting yet another intractable divide between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Democrats, including President Obama, and centrist Republicans see the bank as a necessary financial component for American companies to compete with foreign competitors. Without financing provided by the Ex-Im bank, the fear is U.S. companies will lose out on sales to foreign firms who have their government’s support. Republicans, especially those in the tea party wing, consider the bank a creation of crony capitalism that only assists companies that dole out favors to politicians.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman the House Budget Committee, told Yahoo Finance’s Bianna Golodryga that he expects the bank to get a temporary extension until January or February of next year. “So I do believe that we need to have an extensive debate on the export-import bank,” he said in an interview yesterday. “But I think people will agree that now is not the time, and that debate might be better placed in, say, January or February.”

Ryan, who is at odds with House Speak Boehner on the issue, may have a good reading on the shifting political winds, but there are no guarantees of a reauthorization for the bank, even in the short term. Zachary Karabell, strategist of Envestnet, strongly believes losing the bank would be a big mistatek

In addition to securing financing for buyers of U.S. goods, the bank has “returned more than a billion dollars on those loans, and in that sense it is a profitable government program,” he says in the attached video. “The real issue is, even if you believe there should be some limited role of government… programs that help sponsor American economic activity with limited costs and maximum output, strike me as really good programs.”

While Karabell agrees those who are against it have the principled right to be skeptical of any kind of government intervention in the marketplace, the fact of the matter is “there’s never been anything called the ‘free market’ absent government activity and if we can do something that helps sponsor business with limited costs, in my view we should be doing more of that not less of it.”

Voters may find it hard to argue with that logic, or at least that’s what Democrats are hoping hoping come November.

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