DETROIT – Positive financial developments this week underscore further progress in General Motors’ 4-year comeback from bankruptcy, Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson says, while stopping short of calling the automaker’s turnaround complete.
“We continue on our plan,” Akerson tell journalists after addressing the 2013 Michigan Automotive Summit here.
Earlier this week, Wall Street credit-rating house Moody’s Investors Service upgraded GM to investment grade for the first time since 2005. The automaker’s credit earned the lowest investment-grade rating Moody’s assigns, but, importantly, it will lower future borrowing costs.
Moody’s cites GM’s strengthening product portfolio, leadership position in the growing Chinese market and progress in building a balance sheet more immune to the rapid swings in the U.S. economy that helped tumble it into its 2009 bankruptcy.
“GM has been on a steadily improving operational and financial trajectory since it emerged from bankruptcy,” Bruce Clark, senior vice president at Moody’s, says. “We think that the disciplines the company has embraced, combined with the strength of its U.S. product portfolio and a healthy domestic market, will enable it to stay on that path.”
GM also announced this week it will buy back 120 million shares of its stock from the UAW’s health-care trust. The automaker used the shares to help create the VEBA and remove massive obligations to its hourly workforce off its books. A $4.5 billion debt offering will fund the buyback.
Akerson says these recent events show progress in rebuilding the automaker has been “sustained” over the past four years, during most of which GM was forced to hold the line on new products until it regained its financial footing.
The automaker has delivered three consecutive years of annual profitability, and by early next year will have the industry’s freshest portfolio of cars and trucks.
“Our cash flow has been good, and our profitability has been OK,” Akerson says.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Dept. reduced its stake in GM to 7.3%. It originally held 60.8% as part of the automaker’s $49.5 billion bailout four years ago. The government has said it intends to fully divest its shares by the end of the year.
The Ontario provincial and Canadian governments also reduced their stakes in GM this month, by 21%. Canada originally controlled 9% of the automaker after contributing C$10.8 billion ($10.3 billion) to the 2009 bailout.
An improved investment-grade rating and the government’s full divestiture of GM shares are seen as a means for the automaker to shed its “Government Motors” nickname earned by taking bailout money and rid itself of the negative impact on vehicle sales.