AutoNation CEO Jackson: Obama 'Still Doesn't Get It'

Wednesday, 06 Aug 2014 12:52 PM

By Dan Weil

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President Obama took a swing at corporate leaders Sunday, telling The Economist they "don't have a right" to complain about regulations.

And three of those leaders took a swing back at the president in comments to CNBC.

"The president's statement just confirms, unfortunately, that he still doesn't get it," AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told the network.

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"I think business leaders have a responsibility to speak up and say look at Washington, D.C. You have the Federal Reserve bending over backwards because you have a dysfunctional fiscal side, and that's led to the circumstance."

He argued Obama should have pushed through taxation, immigration and entitlement reforms while Democrats controlled the House of Representatives in 2009 and 2010). That would have added "several million" more jobs to improve on an "anemic" economic recovery, Jackson noted.

Meanwhile, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, said, "The president is not leading this days, . . . and he's attacking on all sides.

"I don't think you find any CEOs that I know who would say that this president and this administration is friendly to business. I think business has coped very well in spite of a White House that's had no fiscal policy and has been quite negative toward business."

Finally, Steve Odland, CEO of the Committee for Economic Development and former CEO of Autozone and Office Depot, said expanding regulations have created uncertainty for companies that have led them to hoard cash.

"Businesses right now are very uncertain. If you look at the number of regulations that are being passed daily, the tens and millions of dollars of fines being levied on businesses, but more importantly, the uncertainty about Washington policy, we've got $17 trillion in debt today, the policies that are in place will lead to very high levels of debt to GDP," he explained.

"These uncertainties cause businesses to hedge, and the hedge is to cash," Odland noted. "That cash is not being invested."

Non-financial companies ended the first quarter with $1.85 trillion in cash, according to the Federal Reserve.

To be sure, Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management, sees a good chance corporations will start to put their cash to work soon.

"The surge in M&A [merger and acquisition] activity since late last year is a good sign corporations are likely to soon augment capital spending," he wrote in a commentary obtained by CNBC.

"As M&A opportunities lessen and as these deals become more expensive, it will soon be cheaper to build rather than buy existing capacity."

Vote Now: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance?

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