General Motors

The word “change” is inextricably entwined with the historical realities of the present political and economic climate in the United States. Witness: In July of 2008, Roland Jones of ran a story describing General Motors’ (GM) drop in share price to under $10. Analysts warned that GM stood to burn through its cash reserves in a matter of months. Despite these ominous developments, the head of one influential automotive website described bankruptcy as “not even a possibility in the short term.”

Now, just 11 months later, a flurry of legal proceedings will open the way for the launch of what the auto giant terms “a highly competitive new GM,” according to its website. This echoes the hopes of the Obama administration, whose intention is for GM to emerge smaller and more viable, with fewer workers and products, but also with less debt. Countering the claims of conservative naysayers, the President says, “Our goal is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands-off approach and get out quickly.”

General Motors, since World War II, has been like an Atlanta suburb – sprawling endlessly, creating over a dozen brands and spawning new sub-industries. Therefore, attempting to summarize the company as a “winner” or a “loser” in this upheaval is pointless. It is easier to talk about which subsets of the company are healthier – or perhaps, less critically ailing.

GM’s website touts its strongest brands as Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC. In the process of rebirthing itself as “leaner, more customer-focused and more cost-competitive…with a much stronger balance sheet,” GM has severed Oldsmobile and Pontiac, and is hard at work shedding Saturn, Hummer and Saab.

This reorganization comes first at the expense of laid-off workers and their steadily weakening retirement programs. In addition, a large chunk of the company’s investors, creditors, banks and hedge funds will see a significant loss. This group is hardly going out with a whimper. One collection of individual investors, known as the Main Street Bondholders, has organized to protest their treatment.

Less severely impacted by the bankruptcy are the United Auto Workers, their employee health trust, bondholders, and the governments of the U.S. and Canada.

No one here, however, stands to hit the jackpot. The bondholders are an example. They are asked to give up $27 billion in bonds for 10 percent ownership in the restructured company and the right to buy a larger stake later.

The UAW retiree health fund will exchange some $20 billion owed them by GM for a 17.5% stake in the company, as well as $9 billion in notes and preferred stock.

It is still not all doom and gloom for GM, especially when its international business is taken into account. In the second quarter of 2009, sales were up 9.7% outside the U.S. Brazil, China and India provided a particularly strong showing. In the coming decade, eighty percent of all growth in the industry is projected to occur outside the North American market.

There would, of course, be no General Motors, and no automotive industry, without consumers. The government assures warranty holders that their claims will be honored. The Obama administration understands that without this support, future purchases of GM product are in jeopardy.

It is inevitable, albeit slow in materializing, that GM is putting much of its future focus on smaller fuel-efficient cars for the American road. Automotive analysts such as Aaron Bragman expression a cautious degree of bullishness for the industry, allowing for adjustment time through the worst of the crisis.

The same is true for suppliers. Like Japan, the U.S. government has pledged its assistance in keeping companies such as American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. (AXL) and Shiloh Industries Inc. (SHLO). This is scant comfort to firms such as Delphi. Spun off from GM and declared bankrupt in 2005, the Troy, Michigan-based manufacturer is kept afloat by $250 million in emergency financing from the U.S. Treasury, as it awaits the July 10 outcome of a purchase bid by Carl Icahn’s Federal-Mogul Corporation (FDML).

As the plot thickens for the saga of the U.S. economy, the year-end wrap up stories that await us in December promise a page-turner for GM that is every bit a nail-biter as The Perils of Pauline.