Even though General Motors surprised everyone when it announced it will repay its government loans by next June, a lot of people are still unhappy. What about the other $50 billion we poured into the company, they demand to know?
A lot of politicians and not a few Wall Street analysts say we may as well kiss that money goodbye. We'll never see it again, they promise.
But it's entirely possible, and even likely, that they are very much mistaken. Taxpayers are likely to get a lot of that money back. Indeed, the federal government could come out looking pretty good in this deal, just like it did when it bailed out Chrysler in the early 80s.
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
Back in 1980 the U.S. government provided Chrysler $1.5 billion in collateral so it could go out and borrow more money from the banks. That enabled Chrysler to get back on its feet, and as the car market recovered it started to make money hand over fist. In fact, Chrysler was able to pay back the government seven years early and Uncle Sam ended up making several hundred million dollars in profit on the transaction.
Wall Street became so enamored with Chrysler's recovery that the company's stock zoomed from three dollars a share to $30 in less than three years.
While General Motors has a long way to go to get back on its feet, the bankruptcy it went through this year erased almost all of its legacy costs. In fact, GM has slashed so much cost that it's taken several thousand dollars in cost out of every vehicle it makes in North America. Once car sales rise above its breakeven point, the company could become a money machine.
Ford is a good indicator of where GM may be headed. The company posted a nearly $1 billion profit in the third quarter despite the fact the global economy is still flat on its back. Even though Ford did not go through bankruptcy, it too was able to eliminate a lot of its legacy costs. Imagine what could happen in a healthy economy. If the American market increases by a couple of million new cars a year, Ford could be headed towards all-time record profits. And so could General Motors.
Have you seen what's gone on with Ford's stock this year? It has quadrupled in price. The company's market cap is now more than $30 billion, which is still not healthy enough, but is a whole lot better than where it was a year ago.
At some point General Motors will do an IPO and start publicly trading shares again. If GM starts posting the kind of profits that Ford's doing, there's going to be a lot of interest in GM's stock. That's when the federal government can start selling its shares to recoup the rest of the money that it poured into GM.
Don't be surprised if taxpayers find that they not only got back every single penny they ever put into the company, they might even find they turned a profit.
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