GM Pays Back All Its Government Debt?

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Troubled U.S. automaker giant General Motors paid back the remainder of the debt it owed the government. In an announcement today, the U.S. Treasury said that it repaid the final $4.7 billion it owed out of the original $6.7 billion the government had lent the company. GM was expected to pay back its debt early, but not this soon. Does that mean taxpayers are off the hook? Hardly.

The Treasury still retains a great deal of GM's equity. It owns $2.1 billion in preferred shares and 60.8% of common stock. So taxpayers still own GM, they just aren't owed any debt from the firm. Until the Treasury gets rid of its stake in the company, the bailout could still result in a loss if it fails to recover. If you include equity, the GM received about $50 billion. Taxpayers have a ways to go before they can stop worrying about the automaker.

And there's still reason for skepticism regarding GM's ability to survive. The company lost $4.3 billion in the second half of 2009. It forecasts a profit for 2010, but it certainly isn't minting money yet.

The company also paid back its debt to the Canadian government. Where did GM get the billions to pay all this back? It has been doing better lately and likely utilized a great deal of its revenue to make these payments. This was a priority for the company, as it would have trouble convincing private investors to buy into a new public equity offering with debt to governments still outstanding.

One big fear is that GM rushed this repayment. If the company runs into trouble again, having a few billion dollars in free cash lying around would certainly be helpful. Lower interest payments going forward are a plus, however. The repayment should make for lower net income in the short run, but higher profits in the long run. That is, if the automaker can manage to control its costs and recapture the consumer demand that it has lost over the past few years to bring back sales.

(NAV Image Credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/flickr)

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.
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