Last week, ex-car czar Steven Rattner seemed to pre-emptively blame rising gas prices for problems at bailed-out General Motors. Now AP reports that GM says that it will cut unnecessary spending in the wake of the Japan disaster. Here's a novel thought for GM executives, you shouldn't be spending taxpayer money unnecessarily in the first place! Beyond that, I get the sense that the crisis in Japan will be the next excuse for the continued underperformance of GM stock since its IPO.
Appearing today on CNBC, Steven Rattner, the former head of President Obama's auto task force, made some surprising observations that undermine his previously articulated optimism about the future of bailed-out General Motors. Although he cleverly tried to lump Ford in with GM, he acknowledged GM's recent reliance on incentives to sell autos:
Last week, the Volt, GM's signature hybrid vehicle, turned in a lackluster performance in its first series of road tests by Consumer Reports. CR told Reuters on Monday that "when you look at the finances, [the Volt] doesn't make any sense." The publication went on to note that the Volt was "not particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and not particularly good as a gas vehicle... This is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer."
Famed investor Warren Buffett once said, "If you have to have a prayer session before raising prices by ten percent, then you've got a terrible business." So, what does it mean if your business is slashing prices month over month through discounts and other incentives? Take a look at this graph.
General Motors announced today that its Chief Financial Officer, Chris Liddell, will be leaving the company on April 1st. GM shares hit a new low of $30.95 on the news. Mr. Liddell joined GM in January of 2010. Having served for over a year, Liddell has exceeded the average stay of top executives at GM. GM has gone through three CEOs since they emerged from bankruptcy in June of 2009.
From the 1st quarter through the 4th quarter of 2010, GM's lobbying expenses more than doubled from $1.8 million to $3.89 million - a 113% increase. After all, when the government is your largest shareholder, your company execs will inevitably be spending an inordinate amount of time cozying up to Washington politicians.
Moreover, GM's lobbyist team reads like a who's who of the government bailout business. And why wouldn't it? When you're lobbying Washington to privatize gains for your clients and socialize their losses among taxpayers, you hire those firms with the most experience representing other notorious companies that received massive bailouts by U.S. taxpayers - Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Goldman Sachs, AIG and others.
News coverage of General Motors over the past few weeks has painted an increasingly glowing picture, but here's a dose of reality: GM still has not repaid taxpayers for the bailout and it's looking less and less like taxpayers will ever be made whole.
General Motors' stock hit an all-time low today of $31 and change. That's right, "all-time." Today's GM is a new company that did not exist two years ago. In an effort to shed liabilities and force sacrifices from creditors while protecting the UAW, GM emerged from bankruptcy as a totally new company. The media inaccurately reported that GM had its best earnings since 1999, but it has not given a clear picture of the situation at GM. Biased media coverage is a story in itself, but let's look at why GM has not done as well as the pundits predicted, and why it is likely to continue to struggle.
The media may want to take a break from its rooting for General Motors, not to mention its hype surrounding the Chevy Volt. USA Today recently summarized Consumer Reports' ranking of automakers based on performance and reliability. Of the 13 automakers receiving report cards, GM and Chrysler received the worst rankings.
The number one performer according to CR was Honda, followed by Subaru. Strong reliability contributed to the high overall scores. GM was number 12 on the list with only Chrysler receiving a lower score. It should not come as a surprise that the bottom two performers were the automakers that ended up bankrupt and receiving taxpayer funded bailouts.
General Motors reported less than stellar fourth quarter earnings last week, and announced that bonuses paid to its UAW workers will average $4,300. The earnings report disappointed Wall Street as GM shares fell about 4% on the news.
Some media sources attributed the drop in GM's share price to rising oil prices. Considering that oil prices went down on the day that GM shares fell, this explanation does not hold water. Rather, there are some specific issues relating to the earnings announcement that are causing concern on Wall Street.