Obama, Flaherty tout success of GM bailout
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, November 18, 2010 8:02PM EST
After a tumultuous ride through bankruptcy and restructuring, General Motors drove back into the markets Thursday, resuming its life as a public company with a highly anticipated initial public offering that could be worth more than US$23 billion.
"The American auto industry . . . an industry that helped build our middle class, is once again on the rise," U.S. President Barack Obama said late Thursday afternoon.
"Automakers are in the midst of their strongest period of job growth in more than a decade."
After the bell rang to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday morning, common shares in the revamped GM were changing hands well above the $33 IPO price.
During the first hour of trading in New York, the stock was at $35.39, while the stock traded for $35.45 in Toronto. It closed at US$34.19 on Wall Street.
GM stock traded for less than a dollar before it filed for bankruptcy last year.
"It is a great day for everyone with a stake in GM: employees, retirees, dealers, suppliers, taxpayers and yes, new shareholders," GM chief executive Dan Akerson said in a conference call with reporters Thursday morning.
"Going public is an important milestone on our way to being a new and different and better GM."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the Canadian and Ontario governments' joint bailout helped save and restructure the Canadian auto industry.
"This was a very difficult decision to make, but it was necessary in order to avoid the significant harm that would have been done to the company's employees, their families and their communities," the minister said in a statement late Thursday.
"The recovery of the automotive sector over the past year demonstrates that the financial assistance provided by governments has had the desired effect in terms of protecting Canadian jobs, now and for the future."
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said he was "absolutely" relieved that the government's investment in GM worked out so well.
"General Motors has already paid back their loan and the IPO has gone very well today," Duncan told CTV's Power Play.
He said 400,000 families in Ontario are directly employed by the auto sector.
"The benefit of that to our economy is enormous," Duncan said.
In an interview from the Toronto Stock Exchange Thursday morning, the president and managing director of GM Canada said he was excited by investors' interest.
"Seeing the confidence from the marketplace helps us understand our commitment," Kevin Williams told CTV News Channel. "People are starting to now understand that the GM that has emerged here is a much stronger, more potentially sustainable company going forward."
Touting the new-look GM as "leaner and faster" than the company of old, Williams said GM has set its sights squarely on the future.
"We're never going to go back to being the big slow company that we were."
Ahead of the opening of trading, GM's main joint venture partner in China demonstrated its support with the announcement it's buying a one per cent stake in the revamped company.
In a statement issued ahead of the NYSE opening bell, SAIC Motor Corp. said it paid nearly US$500 million, at a cost of $33 a share, for 0.97 per cent of GM.
After posting record sales in China last month, GM said it expects to sell more than two million vehicles there this year. That's up 36 per cent from the year before.
GM and Shanghai-based, state-run SAIC have 10 joint ventures across China, including manufacturing, research and design, auto financing and second-hand auto sales. The companies have also teamed up to develop sales in India and other emerging markets.
Reacting to the announcement, the president of GM's international operations praised the two companies' working relationship.
"We are happy with SAIC's decision to participate in GM's public offering. GM has enjoyed a strong partnership with SAIC over the past 14 years," Tim Lee said in a statement.
Joe D'Cruz, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business, says GM is wise to focus attention beyond North America.
"GM makes more money out of China than it does in the United States," D'Cruz told CTV News. "GM builds more cars in China than it does in the United States."
But given the rocky road GM has travelled in the last two years, investor interest in its first public offering was far from assured.
Before GM filed for bankruptcy protection last June, it had lost $88 billion over five years.
News of the hemorrhaging bottom line has only been underscored by the public's memory of then-CEO Rick Wagoner begging Congress for cash, just two months after he helped the company celebrate its glittering 100th birthday.
Four months later, Wagoner was ousted by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Since then, the company has undergone massive restructuring that included renegotiating labour contracts, shedding pension and health benefits and cutting the cost of building its cars. Once the world's largest automaker the company closed 14 of its 47 plants and shuttered or sold off its Hummer, Saturn, Saab and Pontiac brands.
The company also shed $27 billion in debt when it filed for bankruptcy.
Taxpayers helped too, after the Canadian and Ontario governments invested $9.5 billion to keep the company afloat.
But while the U.S. plans to sell 400 million shares in the company since nicknamed "Government Motors" -- reducing its stake from 61 per cent to 31 per cent -- Canada wants to sell much less.
Canada and Ontario reduced its stake from 11.67 to less than 10 per cent by selling about 35 million shares.
Larry Moser, regional sales manager with BMO Mutual Funds, said that's a smart move. Canada will need share prices to rise to $43 or it would lose money on its investment.
"They need to reach an average of $43 just to break even," he said. "So the longer they hold shares, the more opportunity it is for them to recoup their losses."
The U.S. government has indicated that it will not sell shares outside the IPO for six months after Thursday's sale. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they would assess their options for selling the government's stake further.
The U.S. needs to sell its remaining stock for an average of about $50 a share over the next few years to get its money back.
The U.S. government stands to make $13.6 billion. If they stick to their 20 per cent limit, the Canadian and Ontario governments can deposit $1.15 billion in their accounts while still holding onto a 9 per cent stake in GM.
Auto industry analyst Dimitry Anastakis said, if GM continues on its new profitable path, there's a good chance those shares will increase in value.
"People are interested in this company," he told CTV's Canada AM. They're making great vehicles, they've cleaned up their balance sheet and they're making money - that's the most important aspect."
Before bankruptcy, GM lost about $4,000 for every car it sold. Now it makes about $2,000.
GM sold four million vehicles and lost $4 billion before the restructuring, Anastakis explained.
"This year they're going to sell two million vehicles and make $4 billion."
With files from CTV's Richard Madan and The Associated Press