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GM Declares Bankruptcy

1st June 2009

In a move unexpected only by some members of the Taliban, GM formally declared bankruptcy this morning in NY. Under its plan, GM will sell substantially all of its global assets to “New” GM. Because GM’s sale of assets to the New GM already has the support of the U.S. Treasury, the UAW and a substantial portion of GM’s unsecured bondholders, GM expects the sale to be approved and consummated quickly.

CEO Fritz Henderson made the following statement:

Today marks a defining moment in the reinvention of GM as a leaner, more customer-focused, and more cost-competitive company that, above all, can quickly generate winning bottom line results. The economic crisis has caused enormous disruption in the auto industry, but with it has come the opportunity for us to reinvent our business. We are going to do it once and do it right. The court-supervised process we are pursuing provides us with powerful tools to accelerate and complete our reinvention, as well as strong safeguards for our customers and our business. We are focused on the job at hand, for the benefit of our customers, employees, dealers, suppliers, retirees, taxpayers, investors and other stakeholders.

We recognize the sacrifices that so many have been asked to make as we have worked to reinvent GM and the automobile. GM deeply appreciates the support and the demonstration of confidence in our future by President Obama, the Presidential Task Force on Autos, the Canadian and Ontario governments, American and Canadian taxpayers, the unsecured bondholders who are supporting the proposed sale transaction, the UAW and CAW and their leadership, and the men and women of GM, including our retirees. You have enabled us to carry out this vital transformation for the good of GM, our customers and the economy, and we are working to validate your trust each day.

From day one, the New GM will be well-positioned to capitalize on the award-winning vehicles we have developed and launched during the past few years, and on our investments in exciting new technologies like the Chevy Volt, so that we can build and return value to our customers and to the millions who will have a stake in our success. The New GM will play a critical role in the future of the automobile, and assure that the U.S. has a strong stake in this rapidly changing global manufacturing industry.

The US taxpayers will now own 60% of GM and the UAW will own 17.5%. This creates many potential conflicts of interest, and it will be difficult or impossible for the government to do what it has said it will do: keep a hands-off approach to the running of General Motors.

  1. How will the government balance its desire for higher fuel efficiency with GM’s (and therefore, its biggest shareholder’s) need to turn a profit? President Obama has said he intends to be out of the auto business as soon as possible. That will require GM to make a profit so the Treasury can sell its shares to pay off the $50 billion it has invested in GM. It’s a fact of the auto industry – at least in the US – that the larger, less efficient vehicles make more profit. See the problem? For the US to break even on its “investment”, GM will need to have a market capitalization of at least $80 billion, but the recent high point was $56 billion in 2000.
  2. Will the government be able to resist giving GM (and Chrysler as well) preferential treatment in regulations, tax breaks, government contracts, etc? After all, won’t they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure the investment in GM is paid off as quickly as possible?
  3. How will the UAW balance the needs of its members (high pay and benefits, job security) with its need for GM to make a profit so the UAW can sell its shares to pay for the long-term needs of its members (retiree health care, etc.)?
  4. All of this applies to Chrysler as well, but to a lesser extent. That leaves one other big question: where does all this leave Ford? Ford, which is not exactly healthy, has been able to keep the Feds out of its boardroom. Will not Ford be in an unfavorable position with respect to the points above? If so, what does that say about our society, that we will put a company at a competitive disadvantage which has fought hard to keep itself solvent?

These are difficult questions to an unprecedented situation. I’m not smart enough to know the answers, but I sure hope the gods of the Potomac are.


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