It has now been over six months since General Motors finally recalled vehicles with a known deadly ignition switch defect. The defect was attributed with being the cause of accidents that resulted in at least 13 deaths. The Wall Street Journal now reports that only 34% of the recalled vehicles have been fixed.
GM has taken $3.4 billion in charges and losses on the past two earnings' reports for all of their recalls, despite the fact that most of the recalled vehicles have yet to be repaired. The most questionable part of GM's charges come from the first quarter's earnings' report.
General Motors continues to deny that it has a safety problem with brake lines that are prone to corrosion in as few as five or six years. Thousands of owners of GM trucks and SUVs have complained of failing brakes due to brake lines bursting from the rust problem. One of these owners, Joe Palumbo from Pennsylvania, has made it a quest (see his website here) to expose the safety defect, thus far to little avail. GM's latest response to Mr. Palumbo includes an implied admission that the company has been using inferior quality brake lines in its vehicles.
Two years ago, in August 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department issued its so-called "sweep" rule forcing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to surrender all future profits. Shareholders were angered. Some sued the government. Their displeasure now has a measure of vindication. Near the end of July, an unnamed source leaked a confidential Treasury document (see pdf) to the public, dated June 13, 2011, showing that the department was willing to go to bat on behalf of outside investors, particularly The Blackstone Group, to facilitate purchases of equity stakes in the companies. At the time, Fannie and Freddie were rebounding from a deep slump, yet their management, under tight federal conservatorship since September 2008, had their hands tied. The latest revelations may strengthen the claims of existing shareholders, and more broadly, the cause of property rights.
General Motors has yet another unresolved safety concern with its vehicles. This one involves trucks with anti-lock braking system (ABS) problems. The ABS in some GM trucks engages at slow speeds in dry conditions, leading to a loss of braking and increased stopping distances. Once again, this is a known problem at GM, as they have recalled vehicles previously from earlier model years with the same problem.
It has been two years since General Motors admitted that there was little demand for the Chevy Volt (as reported here) due to there being "no plug-in market." Their answer was to "create market" to drive sales for the politically popular but economically-nonviable Volt. GM manipulated sales for the Volt through the use of subsidized leases at a time when President Obama's favorite, green wonder-car was being criticized for low sales as it failed to live up to the early hype.
The Associated Press gives evidence today to how desperate General Motors is to give the appearance that the company is firing on all cylinders. GM pulled out all the stops to ensure that June sales would not disappoint when sales were slowing as a result of the company's loss of credibility during its seemingly never-ending recall saga.
At mid-June, sales for the month at GM were lagging the previous year's. The political minds at GM could not have this, and according to the piece:
The burden carried by the holders of stock in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, each operating for nearly six years under federal conservatorship, just got lighter. On July 16, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Margaret Sweeney, in a procedural ruling, held that shareholder-plaintiffs in Fairholme Funds Inc. et al. v. United States are entitled to know material facts that the government wants to keep secret. The shareholders are seeking compensation for foregone income resulting from the Treasury Department's "sweep" rule of August 2012, which forced the companies to forward all dividends to the department in perpetuity. Government lawyers had filed a motion for a protective order on May 30 to inhibit discovery. The outcome of this case will have major implications for the future of property rights in this country.
General Motors reported earnings today for the 2nd quarter of 2014. The early prognosis is not good with share price falling after the report. While it is difficult for the Mom and Pop investor to sort through GM's myriad of charges, special items and various smoke and mirrors, there are some key take-aways that give a glimpse of GM's financial health. Primarily, debt continues to grow at the company, now exceeding $40 billion while earnings are propped up by special items.
On Thursday, July 17, General Motors CEO Mary Barra will be back as a witness on Capitol Hill, this time before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who has been an outspoken critic of GM's response to the deadly ignition switch defect, chairs the Subcommittee. Indeed, the hearing is titled, "Examining Accountability and Corporate Culture in Wake of the GM Recalls." Another subcommittee member, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), has been even more outspoken. Both deserve credit for seeking to make GM accountable, especially since some members on both House and Senate committees have pulled their punches on Barra and GM.