Government Motors No Longer: Treasury Department Finally Closes Its Stake in General Motors


General Motors enters a new era with the U.S. Treasury exiting its position. Photo credit: General Motors

General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) is finally able to put the darkest chapter in its company's history behind it as the U.S. Treasury Department announced yesterday that it has sold its last remaining shares of General Motors' stock. While the stigma of "Government Motors" may linger, the company will put its best foot forward starting today. That's good news for Mary Barra, who was just announced as General Motors' next CEO once Dan Akerson steps down on Jan. 15, 2014. Here's what this new era means for the once-troubled automaker.

During the Great Recession, where multiple management decisions led General Motors to lose billions upon billions of dollars, the company ultimately filed for bankruptcy. The government gave General Motors $40 billion in loans, in a package that totaled nearly $50 billion in aid, in exchange for roughly 61% stake in the company.

"The U.S. Treasury's ownership exit closes just one chapter in GM's ongoing turnaround story. We will always be grateful for the second chance extended to us and we are doing our best to make the most of it," said CEO Dan Akerson, in a press release. "Today is not dramatically different from the hundreds of preceding days during which we have worked to make GM a company our country can be proud of again."

The U.S. Treasury, through the sale of its entire stake in General Motors, was able to recoup about $39 billion of its original investment -- leaving a $10.5 billion loss to taxpayers. In addition to that bill left to the taxpayers, the "new" General Motors that exited bankruptcy was gifted tax credits from massive losses from "old" General Motors. That essentially means the automaker wasn't paying the rightful amount of taxes on its profits for years and is just now beginning to pay its proper percentage.

Regardless of the benefits it received through its unique bankruptcy, it's certainly been a bumpy ride for the largest U.S. automaker as its market share is hovering near all-time lows. Even a decade ago General Motors' share of the U.S. market was more than 25% -- now it sits just under 18%. It certainly has a long road to travel before it can earn the full respect of the market, but there is something positive to say about giving General Motors a second chance.

Consider that studies show the U.S. government bailout of General Motors spared 1.2 million jobs in 2009 and preserved nearly $40 billion in personal and social insurance tax collections in 2009 and 2010, according to a Center for Automotive Research study.

Now what?
The Treasury's exit of its General Motors stake will have multiple effects on the company and its investors. First, while the Treasury was General Motors' largest shareholder it was forced to hold bonuses and incentives in check or gain approval of the Treasury beforehand. While there were likely loopholes, it now means General Motors can officially offer larger incentives and salary for top industry talent.

Second, the Treasury's exit will enable some consumers to give General Motors and its vehicles a second chance, as soon as today. The path is now paved for GM to use its huge cash hoard of $27 billion to buy back the Canadian government's $4.2 billion of preferred stock and perhaps even the $5.4 billion in stock held by the United Auto Workers health-care trust fund.

Third, the Treasury's exit will do one big thing for investors: end some selling pressure. If you consider the vast stake the Treasury has held and how long it's been slowly unwinding its shares, it's no wonder General Motors trades at such a cheap valuation. With what was once its largest shareholder no longer consistently selling shares look for General Motors to continue seeing its share price increase. This is especially true as the automotive rebound in the U.S. continues to surge ahead.

General Motors is trying to repair its image, improve its balance sheet, and become more profitable and competitive than seen in over a decade. The once troubled automaker also plans to refresh, replace, or redesign 90% of its vehicles by the end of 2016 giving the company a chance to place its best foot forward, starting today.

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