General Motors (NYSE:GM) figures its re-entry into the S&P 500 club will be quite soon, even though the company is still in the early stages of its turnaround. There's no denying that the U.S. automotive recovery is going well for Detroit. It's only been a few years since the ugly recession, financial collapse, and ensuing bailouts for two of Detroit's Big Three, the exception being Ford (NYSE:F). And all three companies have gained market share this year in the U.S. at the expense of Japanese rivals Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Honda (NYSE:HMC). GM just recorded its 13th consecutive profitable quarter, so the nearly $50 billion that taxpayers like you and I funded to save GM was a huge success. Right?
Most people don't realize how much GM actually took from taxpayers, and how little it's given back. If I told you GM has repaid only $6.7 billion out of the $49.5 billion in loans it was given, would you be surprised? If I told you the expected loss to the U.S. Treasury of roughly $12 billion isn't even a fraction of the real cost, would you believe me? If not, you might be in for a nasty surprise.
Bailout by the numbers
The Treasury plans to exit its entire holdings of GM by next April. By the end of this past March, the government had reclaimed just over $30 billion of its investment, leaving a substantial loss. While the government says it didn't anticipate making a profit from saving the auto industry, the other $419 billion in TARP funds were 94% recovered -- making GM a big loser. At today's GM stock price, the Treasury looks to lose between $11 billion and $12 billion, unless the stock price changes drastically.
Yet that number doesn't tell the whole story.
Consider that the only true loan GM received from the U.S. government was for $6.7 billion at 7% interest, which it has since repaid. The majority of the nearly $50 billion was in stock purchases by the U.S. Treasury at a price that GM didn't lose money when recently rebuying shares.
Also consider that GM was "gifted" tax losses from the "Old GM" corporation in amounts of $45 billion. What that really means is the "New GM" can write off current profits up to that amount and not pay taxes on it. That's a complete joke, in my opinion.
Think of it like this: GM took our tax dollars to save its company, and then after turning 13 quarters of profit, it still isn't paying a single income-tax dollar. Are you kidding me? News flash: My recent taxes cost me and my wallet a bundle, and I didn't turn billions in profit.
Too often, people assume that since GM received nearly $50 billion in taxpayer funding, and when people hear that GM has fully repaid its obligations, we assume that means it repaid the said $50 billion. That couldn't be further from the truth. GM has merely paid its initial pure loan of $6.7 billion with interest, and rebought some of its own shares from the Treasury -- often at a cheaper price. Most of us taxpayers don't even realize Ford paid an effective tax rate of 26% in 2012, compared with 0% for GM -- a complete joke to Ford, which didn't take any of our taxpayer dollars.
You'll see in my disclosure that I own stock in both Ford and GM. But I own stock in both for completely different reasons. I believe Ford has excellent management and is way ahead of GM in operating efficiency and global consolidation of platforms -- helping it create net income off lower revenue. It's also way ahead in creating value and quality in segment trends dominated by fuel efficiency -- not to mention that its F-Series has been the best-selling truck for 36 years.
Meanwhile, I own GM because my taxpayer dollars helped fund its lifeline -- which the company is clearly taking advantage of. If it gains a competitive advantage from wiping billions of debt from its balance sheet and will undoubtedly profit from it, I will as well -- but only as long as I hold shares of GM before its stock price increases from using this advantage.
I'm not advocating that you buy into GM. I'm just recognizing what GM has truly taken from us taxpayers, and explaining the only way you'll personally get any money back from the company. Don't expect a thank-you note from GM anytime soon -- even though every single American taxpayer deserves one.
Fool contributor Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors and owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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