Is the fix in? General Motors is acting like it faces a major decision in responding to the self-nomination of Harry Wilson for its board of directors. Wilson was one of the key members of President Obama's Auto Task Force, and purports to be acting at the behest of hedge funds who want GM to spend the "cash hoard" that was made possible by US taxpayers.
Ironically, Wilson was one of the people who determined how much of a "hoard" GM would accumulate, an amount he now criticizes as being excessive. During, and just prior to, GM's bankruptcy process, taxpayers supplied about $50 billion to "invest" in the company. Canadian taxpayers chipped in about $10 billion while GM had its balance sheet cleared of about $30 billion of debt. The liabilities owed to the politically-favored UAW remained intact.
Harry Wilson, the nemesis of General Motors bondholders who were wiped out in the government-orchestrated GM bankruptcy, is back on the scene. On the front page of today's Wall Street Journal, Wilson is portrayed as an "activist" investor, who seeks to maximize shareholder value. While his suggestion that GM buy back $8 billion of common shares would give a temporary boost to share price, Wilson's motivations may not be entirely pure. His real agenda could be to expand the already-favored position of UAW shareholders, and to bolster the political fortunes of unions in general.
Wilson was a retired banker elected to serve on President Obama's Auto Task Force and was the driving force behind preventing old GM bondholders from receiving due process during the GM bankruptcy process. His involvement led to his current status as a "restructuring expert" and CEO of the MAEVA Group. It now seems that our friend Harry is back to make lots of money for hedge funds, as well as for himself.
The trumpets sounded this morning as General Motors reported its 2014 fourth quarter earnings. GM's bottom line earnings exceeded expectations (although revenue missed and was down from last year) and the pre-market share price of GM immediately jumped over a dollar a share. Despite the victory laps being taken by GM and its friends in the media, it would be wise for individual investors to think twice before jumping on the GM bandwagon.
General Motors recently announced that it bought back preferred stock from the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and the Canadian government. The deal closed in December of 2014 and supposedly will result in a reduction to GM's fourth quarter earnings to the tune of $800 million. GM had the option to redeem the shares at face value after December 31st of 2014. The timing of the deal brings into question the motivation behind the move and also leads us to reexamine a previous preferred share buyback that occurred in late 2013.
Today I sent the following letter to Theodore Solso, Chairman of the GM Board:
As a shareholder, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) asks General Motors (GM) to disclose all its contributions to charitable and nonprofit organizations by the company, the General Motors Foundation, or any other entity.
This request is prompted by the acceptance of various awards by CEO Mary Barra offered by charitable and nonprofit organizations at the same time some of the groups are recipients of large cash donations from GM.
Sound the trumpets! Here comes the next best, all-new, electric wonder-car from General Motors. The dust had not even cleared from the rollout of the new and improved 2016 Chevy Volt when GM CEO Mary Barra announced the newest Tesla-killer from GM, the Chevy Bolt. Let's hope that the engineers working on the Bolt put more thought into the design of the vehicle than the GM executives put into naming the car.
President Obama traveled to Michigan this week to declare the auto bailout a success. Interestingly, he toured a Ford plant. The company did not participate in the bailout. GM is still trying to shake the Government Motors moniker, and that was certainly the reason for Obama's nonvisit.
The death toll for General Motors' faulty ignition switch victims continues to rise with the last reported number being 42. There has been speculation that the death count is significantly higher, as safety advocate Clarence Ditlow has written to GM to request an expansion of efforts to uncover victims of accidents resulting from defective GM vehicles.
Intimidation is more than simply the use of physical force. It also is about the instilling of fear and shame in one's intended targets. Among labor leaders, one of the best tactics for getting the job done is the 'scab list.' The term refers to a longstanding union practice of compiling a list of employees at a given worksite who choose not to join a union or participate in a strike. The United Auto Workers in particular lately has been stepping up this practice as part of organizing drives in Right to Work states. Whether or not this tactic is legal, one thing is for certain: It amounts to bullying. By divulging the identities of workers who don't toe the union line, the scab list, like its close cousin, the card check, serves as a brake on a worker's right to say no. It is a reminder that "voluntary unionism" isn't quite voluntary in practice.