After 18 months the US auto giant General Motors is making a spectacular return to the stock market on Thursday.
It’s main shareholder – the federal government – is selling a huge chunk of stock to the public to raise funds and pay off debts in what’s expected to be the second biggest initial public offering in US history after Visa – and may even turn out to be bigger than that.
The stock sale comes just days after GM turned in a far bigger than expected profit for the third business quarter of 2010.
To find out more I went to a very grand looking modern building on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC that houses the General Motor’s “embassy”.
They don’t call it an embassy, of course, but that’s essentially what it is.
With losses totalling $88bn between 2005 and 2009, it was from here that GM bosses lobbied the Obama administration to hand them a $50bn bailout in loans and stock purchases which meant US tax payers owned 61 per cent of GM.
All that cash from the US treasury earned the firm a new nickname – not General Motors but Government Motors!
But now at least 43 per cent is the new Federal ownership target level with the treasury selling a third of its stake in GM in what began as a $13bn Initial Public Offering.
Taking a chance
Worldwide interest in the sale has encouraged GM to chance its arm and sell more shares than planned and competition has driven up prices so that it could rake in between $18bn and $23bn and reduce the government’s stake to 33 per cent – but let’s wait and see what actually happens.
Reality check – if you stumble across these ramblings after November 18, 2010 you’ll have an advantage over me right now as I’m writing this on a train flying through New Jersey and the sale has yet to happen.
Whatever occurs, however, the treasury is selling the stock at a loss to stimulate interest in the sale which they hope will drive up share prices so that the government can sell the remaining two thirds for a profit somewhere down the road.
All this is taking place just over a week after GM said global sales had risen five per cent this year with two million vehicles sold so far, bringing third quarter earnings to $2bn.
With three strong quarters this year GM says it’s on course for its first full year profit since 2004.
Now, while that sounds great it’s worth remembering that in the prospectus issued for this share sale GM admitted it had no faith in the numbers it’s been issuing because of various structural difficulties that exist within the firm.
That’s an amazing admission.
So before we all get carried away here it’s worth posing the question: how long can it be before GM stands on its own two feet once more without any government ownership?
And that my friends, is another great unknown question.
If you stumble across these ramblings … etc etc etc.