Bankruptcy Will Let General Motors Move Forward

By William Patalon III
Executive Editor
Money Morning/The Money Map Report

By the time investors read this today (Monday), embattled U.S. automaker General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM) Motors Corp. could be operating under the protection of the U.S. bankruptcy code, a strategic move made in an effort to transform the once-dominant firm into a leaner and more competitive player.

GM has lost an aggregate $82 billion in the past four years even as it slashed production capacity, nameplate brands – and more than 100,000 U.S. jobs. It needs to cut another 19,000 workers by 2012 to bring its domestic employment down to 72,500 jobs.

GM on Saturday passed a major milestone ahead of a bankruptcy filing planned for today (Monday) as the deadline passed for bondholders to accept an exchange offer brokered by the Obama administration.

As of late Saturday night, GM would not comment on how many investors had tossed in their support for the debt-for-equity swap that would have them surrender $27 billion in corporate bond debt in return for as much as 25% of a restructured GM. However, the company did say this enhanced deal already had the support of investors who held 35% of GM’s bonds. The deadline passed at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Fund managers and analysts told Reuters that that it was possible that this enhanced  bond offer could have attracted a majority of the GM bond investors by the deadline. Under the new offer, bondholders would have a recovery of around 9 cents on the dollar, up from an estimate of zero to 5 cents under the previous offer. GM bondholders last week rejected a proposal that would have given them a 10% stake in a reorganized GM.

“The warrants and the improved capital structure make for an improved recovery for bondholders," Brian Johnson, an analyst for Barclays Capital PLC (NYSE ADR: BCS), told the news service. "In terms of the bankruptcy process, we expect the likely bondholder assent to smooth the process."

The United Auto Workers union (UAW) on Friday cleared the way to the bankruptcy filing when it overwhelmingly approved a new labor pact that lets GM slash costs.

GM has struggled in recent years to compete, hurt by its truck and SUV-dominated vehicle line-up and a deep plunge in U.S. vehicle demand.

Market Matters

In the holiday-shortened work week, investors searched for  the tonic needed to escape the “excessive” volatility that still exists in the markets.  How did that cure-all work out?  In three consecutive sessions, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 193, plummeted 173, and finally rebounded 104 points.  Meanwhile, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury, the perceived safe-haven for risk-averse investors, soared by 30 basis points during the week and its declining value prompted many to rethink their “flight-to-quality” strategies.  After the recent talks that Standard & Poor’s Inc. may cut its rating on UK debt, investors began speculating that the mass domestic borrowings (to rescue virtually every industry and near-bankrupt company) will take its toll on US debt ratings as well.  While Moody’s Investors Service Inc. (NYSE: MCO) offered a bit of confidence by proclaiming the Aaa rating remains “stable,” it did leave the door open for a future downgrade. Fortunately, the week’s treasury auctions were generally well-received, though investors remain cautious that demand may subside in the future as the deficit balloons.  Stocks followed bonds for a change as traders unloaded equities on weakness in fixed income, only to buy again after the favorable auctions (among other news).  And the volatility continued. 

With its bankruptcy filing, GM is merely taking a step to following in Chrysler LLC’s footsteps. Chrysler hopes to move beyond its own bankruptcy as a judge considers its restructuring via the Fiat SpA (ADR OTC: FIATY) deal. 

A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) report showed that banks earned $7.6 billion in profits in the first quarter, rebounding from the first quarterly loss for the industry in 18 years.  Before executives could award themselves (excessive) bonuses, the report added that the number of institutions considered “problem” climbed from 252 to 302 and said that delinquencies rose across most loan types.

 In other corporate news, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is set to launch “Bing,” its upgraded search engine on June 3 and Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) remains open to a partnership (after last year’s failed buyout) if offered a “boatload of money.”  Costco Corp.’s (Nasdaq: COST) earnings fell by more than analysts expected; Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL) continued to struggle from a decrease in IT spending; Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) plans to spin-off AOL by year-end.  The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met and held production levels steady, though crude prices surged above $66 a barrel for the first time in six months and prices now stand almost twice as high as its mid-February level.

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Economically Speaking

A recent survey by the National Association for Business Economics showed that 93% of the respondents believe the recession will end in 2009, with almost 75% of them seeing a third-quarter recovery.  Still, most feel the rebound will be slow to develop as unemployment continues to climb (the survey says it will average 9.1% this year).   The results also predict gross domestic product (GDP) to contract by 1.8% in the second quarter, before turning positive (though ever-so-slightly) over the latter six months of the year.  By comparison, the first quarter GDP revision was reported as down 5.7%, a modest rebound from the 6.1% initially released, though weaker than many prior forecasts and still reflective of some pretty dire domestic economic conditions. 

Since the consumer accounts for two-thirds of the activity within the economy, analysts point to some favorable sentiment data as further proof that the recession is nearing an end.  In May, the Conference Board said that consumer confidence experienced its best showing in eight months, while the Reuters/U of Michigan Index also posted stronger results.  Renewed activities should be welcome news to retailers and manufacturers alike, some of whom will be counted on to resume hiring over the next few months as they reap some rewards to their bottom lines.

April housing data also highlighted the week’s economic releases as both new home (+0.3%) and existing home sales (+2.9%) posted gains.

However, the inventory of unsold properties continued to climb and the median sales prices fell from already weak levels.  Delinquencies remain on the rise as 12% of all homeowners have fallen behind on their mortgages and foreclosures rates on even the prime borrowers (with decent credit) have surged in recent times.  Even though housing still has a way to go before the “worst of times” officially will be considered over, some early signs of a rebound in activity may be emerging.  

Weekly Economic Calendar




May 26

Consumer Confidence (05/09)

Best showing in 8 months

May 27

Existing Homes Sales (04/09)

Better than expected increase, though rise in inventory

May 28

Durable Goods Orders (04/09)

Sharp April increase offset by March lower revision


Initial Jobless Claims (05/23/09)

Surprising drop in new weekly claims


New Home Sales (04/09)

Slight increase through below consensus expectations

May 29

GDP – Qtr 1 (revised)

Revised to reflect slightly slower contraction

The Week Ahead



June 1

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June 3

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ISM – Services (05/09)


June 4

Initial Jobless Claims (05/30/09)


June 5

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Non-farm Payroll (05/09)



Consumer Credit (04/09)



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About the Author

Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.

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