General Motors announced disappointing earnings results today and issued a warning that first quarter results will underwhelm as well. The reasons behind the earnings' miss are surely going to be explained away by pundits and proponents of the company still known as Government Motors to many. Sorting through the smoke and mirrors can lead to some important and simple explanations as to what is going on at GM.
General Motors is now approaching its fifth year of existence since emerging as a new entity as a result of the 2009 auto bailouts which saw taxpayers fund a bankruptcy process to the tune of $50 billion. Much has been debated about the "success" of GM since the controversial government-orchestrated restructuring. While GM management recently announced a dividend in an attempt to ensure investors of financial stability, a more telling indicator of the likelihood of future profitability may be found through an analysis of how competitive the company's vehicles are.
The internet was ablaze Tuesday evening with stories presenting a perceived positive move by General Motors' outgoing government-appointed management. All hail! "General Motors to pay first dividend since 2008," trumpeted the headlines. GM shares immediately spiked up in after-hours trading with shares rising about $1.60 or 4% on the news. Unfortunately for those duped by the proclamation, GM followed the story hours later with a profit warning. For the time being, the bad news outweighed the good with GM shares reversing course and ending the day Wednesday with a loss of over one and a half percent on a day that the market rallied.
One of the major architects of the General Motors bankruptcy process, Harry Wilson, recently gave a very optimistic outlook for GM future share price. Mr. Wilson was a member of President Obama's Auto Task Force, and was an instrumental player in seeing that UAW interests were put ahead of other creditors, like old GM bondholders.
For years the Obama Administration maintained that they had no significant involvement in the day to day operations at General Motors as the company was guided through a taxpayer-funded bankruptcy process. A report from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) now sheds light on the process and confirms that the Administration did, in fact, drive decisions at GM. One such decision saw GM provide taxpayer funds to "top-off" pensions for politically-favored UAW retirees at Delphi while non-union retirees lost the majority of their benefits. Treasury officials previously denied any involvement in the actions.
President Obama's former head of the Auto Task Force, Steven Rattner, helped orchestrate the auto bailouts that saw billions of taxpayer dollars spent to save General Motors and Chrysler in a rigged bankruptcy proceeding favorable to political allies (i.e., the UAW). Rattner is now calling for taxpayers to come to the rescue of Detroit as the city struggles to restructure through a bankruptcy process without federal handouts.
The IRS scandal that revealed targeting of conservative groups by the Treasury Department has reopened speculation that the Obama-orchestrated auto bailouts unfairly targeted Republican-leaning dealerships for closure. Republican Congressmen Mike Kelly (PA) and Jim Renacci (OH) have penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requesting documentation so that an investigation can determine what criteria was used to shutter dealers that appear to have had one thing in common: their political affiliations.
General Motors finished 2012 with a 17.9% market share in the US and is expected to repeat the performance in 2013 according to a Bloomberg report. The number is at the lowest point it has been since 1924. So what is behind the dismal numbers at GM that sees the company performing at 88 year lows?
General Motors is criticizing Mitt Romney for running an ad that says GM cut 15,000 jobs under the Obama Administration. The Detroit Free Press reported that GM spokesman Greg Martin (speaking about the Romney ad) stated, "No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country."
Leaving aside for a moment the bigger issue of a taxpayer-supported entity improperly inserting itself in an election, lets examine the facts. A look at GM's annual SEC filings gives a clear picture of how many people were employed by the company both before and after the Obama Administration guided the company through a bankruptcy process.