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Posts Tagged ‘GM’

The other day I noted that Amazon has been tussling with book publishers over the pricing of electronic books. Amazon would prefer a wholesale pricing model, in which it sets retail prices, rather than an agency pricing model, in which the publishers set the prices. One reason that Amazon would prefer the wholesale model is because it would allow it to sell e-books for less than publishers would prefer.

A similar pricing kerfuffle has arisen in the pricing of Chevy’s new plug-in hybrid, the Volt. Auto dealers operate under a wholesale pricing model–they buy the cars and then decide what to charge for them. In this case, however, early demand is so strong that auto retailers are charging more than Chevy (a unit of GM) would prefer. As noted on the Wheels blog over at the New York Times, some dealers are apparently charging $12,000 above the sticker price–$53,000 vs. $41,000–for scarce Volts.

This has miffed GM executives:

By law, General Motors cannot dictate vehicle pricing to its dealers. But Rob Peterson, a G.M. spokesman, noted in a telephone conversation that the company had impressed on sales managers to keep prices in line with the company’s suggested retail price.

“The dealers are independent, for better and, in very rare cases, for worse,” he said. “There are some who have moved in the opposite direction of our request. In response, what we’ve done is to urge customers who have contacted us about pricing discrepancies to shop around, because there are dealerships in their area that are honoring M.S.R.P.”

Bottom line: wholesalers are like Goldilocks, they want retail prices to be neither too hot nor too cold.

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A few months ago, I wrote a series of posts about anomalies in the pricing of Citigroup common and preferred stock (see here for the final installment). At the time, Citi’s common stock traded at prices that appeared to be way too high relative to the preferred stock (which has since converted into common).

Limits on short-selling appeared to be the best explanation for that anomaly.

In today’s New York Times, Floyd Norris notes that the same thing is happening to shares of Motors Liquidation Company (symbol MTLQQ). Motors Liquidation is what remains of the bankrupt General Motors. It has no ownership in the new, post-bankruptcy GM and, a (see correction below). As far as I can tell, everyone believes that ML’s common stock is worthless. Yet, as Norris shows in an accompanying chart, the stock has persistently traded above $0.50 per share:

NYT - GM vs. Delta(One nit: I don’t think the top chart should be labeled “General Motors stock price …”; it should be “Motors Liquidation stock price …”)

Norris argues, correctly I think, that the difficulty of shorting ML common stock is why it trades at a positive price. Potential sellers have been unable to drive the price down where it belongs (close to zero) and, indeed, are occasionally forced to buy back shares to close their positions. Thus, the stock trades around $0.60 per share, and the number of shorted shares has been declining.

As a contrast, Norris points to Delta Airlines which went through bankruptcy back in 2006-7. In that case, short sellers increased their positions over time, and the stock price worked its way down to zero.

Correction (11/3/09): An astute reader points out that I was wrong to say that Motors Liquidation has no ownership position in the new GM. According to the investor FAQs for Motors Liquidation:

As part of the consideration for the acquisition of substantially all of the assets of the old General Motors Corporation, 10% equity in the new GM, as well as warrants for an additional 15%, will be provided to Motors Liquidation Company which is still in Chapter 11. Distribution of this equity to unsecured bondholders and other claim holders will be determined through the court process and will not occur until a plan of reorganization is submitted, accepted and implemented. It is too early to tell how long this may take.

If I am interpreting that correctly, it means that Motors Liquidation is, in essence, the conduit by which unsecured bondholders and other claim holders will eventually receive their equity stake in the new GM.

Another useful item on the Motors Liquidation web site is this warning to investors in common stock:

Management continues to remind investors of its strong belief that there will be no value for the common stockholders in the bankruptcy liquidation process, even under the most optimistic of scenarios. Stockholders of a company in chapter 11 generally receive value only if all claims of the company’s secured and unsecured creditors are fully satisfied. In this case, management strongly believes all such claims will not be fully satisfied, leading to its conclusion that the common stock will have no value.

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Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (affectionately known as SIGTARP), is making headlines with his estimate that the government has provided “potential support totaling more than $23.7 trillion” in fighting the financial crisis. That estimate will be officially released on Tuesday morning in the SIGTARP’s latest quarterly report (you can find an early copy here – ht WSJ).

SIGTARP Totals

As the media are already noting (e.g., WSJ and Yahoo), there are many reasons to believe that the $23.7 trillion figure is overstated. For example, as noted in the footnote to the table above, the figure “may include overlapping agency liabilities … and unfunded initiatives [and] … does not account for collateral pledged.” In other words, there may be double-counting, some of the programs won’t happen or are already winding down, and the estimates assume that any collateral is worthless. For example, to get to $5.5 trillion in potential losses on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (part of the $7.2 trillion Other category), you would have to assume that all GSE-backed mortgages default and that all houses backing them are worthless.

In short, the SIGTARP estimate is a way upper-bound on likely Federal support to the financial support. That fact shouldn’t detract, however, from the importance of the rest of this report.

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Over the past year, the U.S. government has acquired an unprecedented investment portfolio, including a majority stake in GM and a large ownership stake in Chrysler. These investments have raised a plethora of difficult policy challenges. One of the most important is the ongoing risk that private business decisions may get transformed into public policy issues. Or, put more bluntly, that policymakers might use the ownership stakes as justification for and leverage to pursue their own policy agendas, regardless of whether they would be good for the companies.

Yesterday’s newspapers provided an excellent example of this risk. Some lawmakers want to use legislation — the annual appropriations bill that funds financial services and general government — to restore the franchise agreements of several thousand dealers who were terminated as part of the restructuring of GM and Chrysler. It’s easy to see how such a proposal can gain traction in the House of Representatives. Every terminated dealership will get a sympathetic hearing, at a minimum, from their local representative. But such meddling is not in the interests of GM and Chrysler, nor the nation at large.

Happily, the Obama Administration has come out against these efforts. In a Statement of Administration Policy on the appropriations bill released Wednesday, the Administration wrote:

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Ten major banks repaid almost $70 billion to TARP in recent weeks. But they aren’t free from TARP just yet: Treasury still owns warrants to purchase their common stock.

I’ve previously argued that Treasury ought to auction these warrants to the highest bidder. Auctions would (a) be transparent, (b) provide full, fair value to taxpayers, (c) free banks from the TARP, and (d) give banks the opportunity, but not the requirement, to repurchase the warrants. As close to a win-win-win policy as one can hope for in Washington.

Unfortunately, as I noted in a follow-up post, the original TARP investment contracts include a specific process by which banks can negotiate to repurchase the warrants. As much as I like auctions, I believe even more strongly that the government should live up to its agreements. Which is why you haven’t seen me blogging about warrant auctions lately.

Until now.

Earlier today, Treasury announced the process by which it will divest itself of the warrants of banks that have repaid their original TARP investments. This announcement includes lots of good news: (more…)

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How much is TARP costing American taxpayers? We know that Congress originally authorized up to $700 billion in TARP investments. And we know that $439 billion has been committed to various programs. But how much of that money are taxpayers likely to see again? And to what extent will they be compensated for making those investments?

The Congressional Budget Office took a crack at answering those questions in a report released last night. The headline finding is CBO’s estimate that subsidies in the TARP program are $159 billion. Taxpayers put up $439 billion and, in return, now own assets (including recent repayments) worth $280 billion.

The following chart shows the estimated value of the TARP portfolio (dark red) and subsidies (light red) across the major TARP programs:

TARP Subsidies

Key insights from the chart: (more…)

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