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GM Expected to Pay Off U.S. Loans on Wednesday

Aiming to win back right-wing skeptics who’re shunning the automaker.

by on Apr.20, 2010

Why is this man smiling? GM CEO Ed Whitacre may be thinking about paying off government loans, staging an IPO, expanding a key plant -- and winning over bailout skeptics in Washington.

We’ve become an angry nation, and whether it’s health care, gun control, Sarah Palin or Tea Parties, there’s something for everyone to get worked up about.  Like General Motors, which seems to cross the political spectrum when it comes to those angered by the tens of billions of dollars the company received from the federal treasury to keep it afloat last year.

No wonder Chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. is willing to draw down the struggling automaker’s bank account in a bit to placate critics.  The tall and lanky Texan has already authorized two repayments – for a total of $2 billion — and, reports suggest, Whitacre will have some more news when he visits the GM plant in Fairfax, Kansas, tomorrow.  Several well-placed sources suggest the primary headline will be the complete payback of the $4.7 billion the automaker still owes the government.

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The big question is whether Whitacre will also reveal the answer to an even bigger question: the timing of GM’s planned Initial Public Offering.  There’s little doubt the government would like to have that occur as soon as possible – potentially even before the upcoming election – so it could demonstrate its commitment to recovering the bailout funds that went into GM in the form of equity.  At the moment, the White House oversees a 61% stake in General Motors, though Whitacre has repeatedly insisted that, for the large part he hasn’t had to deal with daily oversight.

Until now, the CEO has been reluctant to set a timetable for an IPO, his new Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell underscoring the importance of waiting for “the right time.”

There’s no question GM does want to go public again, and that the feds want to sell most or all of their holdings.  But the maker would like to have a positive, demonstrable track record to show potential investors, one that builds upon the cautiously good news GM announced a few weeks back, which showed it pushing back towards black ink in the final months of 2009.

The stock market’s rise is another factor to consider, but while there’ve been some solid gains made since the depths of the recession, not everyone agrees this is yet a true bull market.  Indeed, some skeptics still see the opportunity for a double-dip downturn. A poorly timed offering could make it difficult for GM to raise the roughly $53 billion in equity that would be needed to pay off the taxpayer investment.  (The company will also need money to pay back additional loans from the Canadian and Ontario governments.)

And that create some serious political headaches for both General Motors and the Obama Administration, which ramped up the GM – and Chrysler – bailouts following a tentative offering of help by the outgoing Bush Administration.

For his part, the president has remained outspokenly supportive of the lifeline given to the two Detroit makers, calling it, “the right thing to do.”  In comments made early this month, President Obama pointed out that, “A year later, GM is hiring again, on the verge of reopening hundreds of dealerships.”

(In a retreat from post-bankruptcy plans to slash its retail network by a third, GM has now agreed to rehire 661 of its dealers and more could regain their franchises through an ongoing arbitration process.)

Wednesday’s news conference will be held on the floor of one of GM’s more successful assembly plants.  The Fairfax facility produces the popular Chevrolet Malibu among other strong-selling models.  There’s indication that the factory may get word of an expansion, along with the addition of new product, during Whitacre’s speech.

The executive is also planning to shoot what may be a small documentary or footage for a new GM commercial, sources reports, while at the plant.  Whitacre has already appeared in several company commercials, though he later admitted they weren’t overly successful.  But these could focus on GM’s improving fortunes and its willingness to not only make taxpayers whole but even help earn them a profit on the bailout.

The former head of telecommunications giant SBC – which became the reborn AT&T – Whitacre has a bit more credibility within conservative political circles, having been one of the top fundraisers for President George W. Bush.

On Tuesday, the automaker ran a special commercial during Rush Limbaugh’s show, in New York, highlighting the latest repayment of the government loan.  It’s unclear whether that will lead the controversial host to stop referring to the automaker as “Government Motors.”  (CLICK HERE for the Limbaugh story.)

Following his meeting in Kansas, Whitacre will turn around for Washington, D.C., where he will meet with senior government leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  The automaker will use the event as an opportunity to roll out some of its latest high-mileage vehicles

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One Response to “GM Expected to Pay Off U.S. Loans on Wednesday”

  1. David McKenzie Jr. says:

    Paying their debt using TARP money isn’t GM paying anything back…. this is the accounting of a Liar!

    If GM paid their loan back using GM money that would constitute GM paying the loan back “With Interest”, where did the money come from? I can’t believe the lies that are being told in this country.

    Nobody is asking how $40 billion dollars can be repayed “With Interest” by a Corporation that only made a 4% increase in sales last quarter… Americans aren’t idiots!