Uncle Sam knows he's bad for GM

Key points in General Motors' IPO documents show the US government needs to get out of the company -- and knows it.

By InvestorPlace Nov 5, 2010 9:40AM

Taxes © Eric Jacobson/Getty ImagesJeff Reeves, editor of InvestorPlace.com

It's hard enough for investors to wrap their heads around a typical IPO. Combing through a startup's numbers, purported risks and legal disclaimers is a daunting task.

And if you want to add another layer of confusion to a stock offering, consider the unique and complicated situation of automaker General Motors. GM is ready to go public again for the first time since its 2009 bailout, with the U.S. government set to sell a third of its shares in about two weeks. In preparation for this IPO, the government has filed its formal  prospectus -- and made some rather shocking revelations in it.

Most noteworthy are three clear signs in this SEC filing that the government knows Uncle Sam's influence is bad for General Motors -- as well as any initial investors, too.

Politics will gum up business

Perhaps the most glaring admission in the report is that politicians "may still elect to exert control that could be contrary to the interests of stockholders."

In short, Washington may use GM as a political football by ordering a factory built in a certain congressional district or similar shenanigans. Those moves meant for the ballot box and not for the bottom line will not only hurt General Motors' ability to grow and prosper but will taint investor confidence until Uncle Sam is out of GM stock altogether.

GM has no confidence in its own financial reports

Another shocking line from the prospectus is that the government's "disclosure controls and procedures and our internal control over financial reporting are currently not effective." In other words, GM and the Feds believe recent General Motors financial reports could be inaccurate and thus any recent claims about the company returning to profitability or seeing sales growth could be overstated or flat out false.

I suppose the government gets points for admitting this upfront instead of a year from now after glaring errors are uncovered, but it doesn't do a lot to inspire hope in the company.

GM's first stock to be sold at a hefty loss

And in the "actions speak louder than words" department, the government is so acutely aware of its own pernicious influence that it is willing to enter into the IPO at a significant loss. 

The government is selling just one-third of its General Motors stake for about $27 a share -- about half what it needs to make a profit. So why would Uncle Sam do this? Frankly, because taking a brutal loss on one-third of shares is necessary to just get out from under its ownership.

The U.S. Treasury obviously hopes that by selling a large portion of its stake, private influences can do a better job running the show -- and hopefully allow it to get a better price when it exits the rest of its position over several years.


Say what you want about the necessity of the bailouts for GM in 2009. But the sad reality is that even the government admits that its current situation with the car company is bad news for all parties and that the best solution is to get out of the automaking business as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, that's no easy task. The influence Washington wields over General Motors makes it unattractive to many investors, and without enough private capital to buy it out, the government is stuck holding the bag. It's a Catch-22.


Time will tell how soon Uncle Sam can unwind his position in GM. But if these three points are any indication, until Washington is out of the equation, it's going to be bad news for the company.

Read the full GM prospectus here courtesy of the SEC.

Jeff Reeves is editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JeffReevesIP.

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Nov 5, 2010 11:10AM

GOVT is bad for almost any enterprise. Exceptions are like utilities and other monopolies.


Hopefully, with Comcast taking over CNBC,   Cramer will no longer protect an inept POTUS!


Hopefully, with the dumping of so many DEMS, maybe MSN &MSNBC will stop schilling for this POTUS.


FOX NEWS is deserving of their higher ratings.  Its all about FAIR & BALANCE and not targetting players like Glenn Beck just because he embarrasses the teleprompter/photo op POTUS!



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