Middle East crisis puts GM’s restructuring to test

February 24, 2011

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
By Antony Currie

The Middle East is giving General Motors its first big test since exiting from the junkyard and returning to public markets. As the carmaker’s shares hover at their November public offering price, investors aren’t forgetting what happened when oil prices surged last time around. As crude prices crested over $100 a barrel in 2008 — which they did briefly again earlier this week — GM’s profit center in trucks and SUVs took a big hit.

To be fair, a spike in prices at the pump isn’t likely to send GM back into bankruptcy any time soon. The Detroit behemoth shed more than enough liabilities in its 2009 restructuring to be able to survive. And it cut another $17 billion in debt last year. The question is whether the Motown manufacturer has overhauled its operations radically enough to turn a decent buck manufacturing smaller cars.

Shareholders are clearly anxious. The stock fell by as much as 4 percent after the company announced its fourth-quarter earnings, more than double rival Ford’s dip. That leaves GM shares flitting around the $33 IPO price — having briefly dipped below.

In part the stock’s falling because its $510 million profit wasn’t as good as it looked. GM only beat estimates, and probably only made money, thanks to $800 million of one-off revenue gains, including $200 million each from paying off debt owed to the UAW healthcare trust and from reassessing contingent liabilities on assets owned by the old GM that’s still in bankruptcy. The company also had a $173 million tax benefit.

But GM’s results also exposed how a dip in truck and SUV sales — in the quarter before the turmoil in the Middle East — can still hurt. This reduced North America earnings before interest and taxes by $600 million in the three months to December compared to the third quarter. In addition, GM had to offer more incentives, which sent pricing down by $300 million. Ford weathered these issues more smoothly.

GM has upped its offering of more fuel-efficient vehicles in recent years, including the electric Chevy Volt. For now, though, it looks as if investors are too wary to give the company the benefit of the doubt — and rightly so. GM’s management, led by new Chief Executive Dan Akerson, has yet to show that this time it’s different.

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Gamesmith94134: will-100-oil-kill-the-recovery?

I agreed with cleitophon ‘s statement, “If it were merely a question of paying for the commute…..sigh.”, and I worry of chain reaction on the inflation that would fall on our citizens. But, I would agree with Amrita Sen, an analyst in London with Barclays Capital, a unit of Barclays PLC. “Because there’s been such a gradual change in prices, people have adjusted to it.” Then, it is real for Stephen Gandel that” In truth, recoveries are very hard to stop. They have amazing momentum, even if slower than we would like.” Why? It is my belief that we American must face the question whether to give up the car or go commute; and it is luxury if only you cannot afford it. It has been the dilemma for America to start mass transportation over twenty years; since we buy our kids a car to go college, it was necessary and affordable. However, the environment changed; it is not the T-model roaring on the dusty road anymore. It is the gridlock on every Highway, and more of those parking and violation tickets, and insurance paid; then you can afford another car. I am not the “Save the air” type person to stop GM making more car; I just a business man working in the oil and finance industry that my profit is cut by value of the dollar through inflation and depreciation; and I found our oil industry to green industry may not working fast enough for us the American. In term of recession and unemployment, I would like to know if we understand how we must change ourselves to meet the new world. Our economy is running on service industry and less manufacturing industry; then oil is mostly personal consumption, and can we afford to continue or switch now.
• Do Americans know the oil field in Middle East going run dry in the next twenty five year?
• Or do they understand how much our government subsidizes the auto industry, tourist industry to promote consumerism?
• Or, should we go another war to maintain or stabilize the price of gas is still affordable or face and adopt mass transportation in the near future?
I do not think inflation would be fair for those salary earners could not get a raise since we are still recovering our economy; however, I would urge the Fed to stand up and raise the interest rate now. It helps to cut the imbalance from the developed and emerging markets; and ease the tension on the currency war then we can take off the tourniquet on the cash flow on creditor and debtors. Forget the debate of the debts and GDP ratio, or the comfort zone or the better looks in the budget. If we cannot change ourselves now, we must suffer for the consequence. $127 would reverse the recovery in America; but……., who can stop the wind? If Saudi making 500,000 barrel a day cannot compensate the loss in oil field destroyed by Kaddafi now, then the price of going up is inevitable. As anemic in finance, and unemployment to American remains; then, inflation would jump of the cliff.
Who can we blame if we are the ones are refused to change and adapt? It is not the 100 dollars oil kill the recovery, it is we unrecovered. So, don’t blame anyone else but yourself.
Mr. Bernanke, just start our engine now; or you will step in Mr. Paul Volcker’s shoe. And, Mr. Obama is just another Jimmy Carter. 2012 is not far, and there is more houses to be built and not in America.
May the Buddha bless you?

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