His TV commercials haven't been a big hit. Will GM CEO Ed Whitacre's presentation to potential investors do any better?
When General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre kicks off a meeting with 200 key members of the financial community, this morning, he’ll be sidestepping what, for most of those on hand, would likely be the most important topic of all: when will the automaker stage its much-anticipated Initial Public Offering.
To date, Whitacre has only said that GM will become a public company once again when the time is right. But there’s little doubt he’s under significant pressure from the White House, which would like to get back as much of the federal bailout money pumped into the company last year – and as soon as possible.
But sources at GM say the topic of an IPO will be specifically off the table, even as Whitacre, GM Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell and the rest of the top management team give potential investors a look at what has happened since the automaker emerged from bankruptcy nearly a year ago.
A Wise Investment!
“Today is very much about giving the financial community a look at the progress we’ve made…from the perspective of our leaders,” said spokeswoman Renee Rashid-Merem, noting that today’s all-day meeting, “is one of the first time the whole team will be together.”
The session is intended to cover a broad array of topics about the way the “new” GM has been reorganized, about the way its finances are shaping up, how it is expanding its global base and how it is reviving its long-troubled product operations, the latter topic a subject for global product operations chief and Vice Chairman Tom Stephens.
This will be CFO Liddell’s first big event since joining General Motors early this year. He previously served a similar role with Microsoft and, like CEO Whitacre, had no previous automotive experience. Liddell will address a broad range of topics, according to organizers, but the numbers will be key to many on hand, said various sources who were planning to attend in person or dial in over a conference line.
Among the questions he and others may be asked is how GM plans to weather the apparent slowdown in car sales in recent weeks. More long-term, the executive team could be asked to give a sense of who will be in charge once Whitacre retires. The former ATT chairman has openly acknowledged his initial reluctance to take on the GM job and has hinted he probably won’t stay on long after an IPO.
But with the subject of a stock offering so high on everyone’s list of topics, why isn’t it on the agenda? Probably because GM’s lawyers feel that the subject could run afoul of SEC regulations, cautions Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting. “Initially,” he says, “I thought they would have filed before the meeting, but then they probably couldn’t have had the meeting.”
While Whitacre’s comments, in recent months, have suggested an IPO could be pushed back into 2011, many in the investment community believe that GM will bow to pressure and make it happen prior to the upcoming national election.
“There’s no question they’re going to file and they’re going to file very soon,” Phillippi says he’s willing to bet. The key will be the company’s second-quarter earnings. GM did better than expected during the first three months of the year and initial indications are that the about-to-close quarter is also strong, which could, the analyst forecasts, trigger a filing with the SEC “within a matter of weeks.”