August 9, 2022

G.M. Is Still Hopeful for Payback to Government

The executive, Daniel F. Akerson, said that G.M. was working to maximize its payback to taxpayers, but that the government did not make a bad investment even if it did not recover the full amount given to the company.

“At some level, the government’s got to decide: are they an investor or were they trying to save the industry?” Mr. Akerson told reporters ahead of G.M.’s first annual stockholder meeting since its 2009 government-financed bankruptcy.

A report last week by the White House National Economic Council concluded that the government would probably have to write off about $14 billion of the $80 billion spent rescuing the auto industry by the Bush and Obama administrations.

Mr. Akerson said that a G.M. liquidation would have saddled taxpayers with more than $17 billion in pension liabilities. G.M. has cut its pension shortfall in half since 2009, he said, adding that he wanted the plan to be fully financed during his tenure as chief executive.

Because most of the $50 billion G.M. received was converted to an equity stake held by the Treasury Department, Mr. Akerson said G.M. had “technically” repaid its debt to the government, but he added that executives were “doing our level best” to help taxpayers recoup the remaining amount. The Treasury, which still owns 26 percent of G.M., has recovered about half of its investment in G.M.

Shares of G.M. fell Tuesday morning to $28.39, their lowest point since the initial public offering in November, when they sold for $33. To break even, the Treasury needs to sell its remaining shares at an average price of about $53.

The Treasury is expected to begin selling more of its G.M. stake as soon as August, but it can wait longer if the shares remain below their original price. G.M. has no say in the matter, Mr. Akerson said.

He said the recent decline in G.M.’s share value mirrored what had happened to competitors’ stocks and said economic instability was to blame.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about a jobless recovery,” he said.

He said G.M.’s performance was tied to the economy and that the government needed to pay down its deficit to calm the markets and avoid “playing chicken” with its credit rating.

G.M.’s stockholder meeting, held in Detroit for the first time since 1990, was sparsely attended and contained none of the tension that had been common before its bankruptcy. The company has posted five consecutive quarterly profits, earning $4.7 billion last year. Mr. Akerson opened the meeting by contrasting G.M.’s progress since bankruptcy with its bleak outlook before that.

“General Motors almost made history by not making any more future histories,” he said.

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