Jul 25, 2012 4:52 PM GMT
General Motors (GM) shares closed down 1.5% to 19.02 on Monday, hitting 18.85 intraday. That's the lowest since the U.S. auto giant came public again in November 2010 at 33 a share. Update: GM shares early Tuesday fell 1.4% to 18.76, hitting a new low.)
That raises the taxpayer loss on the GM bailout to just shy of $35 billion. Here's the math:
GM doesn't have to pay back anything else, but taxpayers are still out $26.4 billion in direct aid. The Treasury still owns 26.5% of GM — 500 million shares. The stock would have to rise to about 53 to break-even on that direct aid. At the current price, the Treasury's stake is worth just $9.51 billion. (Taxpayers lose $5 million for each penny that GM stock falls).
That would leave taxpayers out $16.9 billion. But the true cost is much higher.
President Obama let GM keep $45 billion worth in past losses to write off future earnings. These carry-forwards are typically wiped out or severely cut along with debts as part of bankruptcy. But in this case, the administration gifted huge tax breaks with an $18 billion book value. (That's how GM avoided taxes last year despite a bumper $7.6 billion profit.)
Including those tax write-offs, taxpayers are sitting on a bailout loss of $35 billion.
GM's big 2011 profit benefited hugely from the supply-chain woes at Toyota Motor (TM), Honda Motor (HMC) and other Japanese automakers due to Japan's tsunami and Thailand's flooding. That temporarily boosted its U.S. market share. But its share is rapidly receding, with Toyota finally back on track and Volkswagen (VW) rapidly expanding in America. And GM is padding its books, recording "sales" by stuffing dealers' lots with more and more inventory.
Overall U.S. auto sales appear to be leveling off or edging lower after a strong start to the year.
GM's big problems are in Europe, where the debt crisis continues to intensify, sending the region into a sharp recession. Auto sales in much of southern Europe have crashed. Even before the plunging demand, the region was plagued with chronic overcapacity. National governments resisted efforts by automakers to rationalize the production.
Longer term, GM still faces relatively high costs at home. After some union concessions, labor costs are almost even with Toyota. But Toyota is a relatively high-cost rival that can charge a premium over GM vehicles. Meanwhile, Hyundai and VW have lower U.S. labor costs.