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Friday, 9 November 2007

GM's $39B loss a record

General Motors, no stranger to hard times and red ink, still managed to shock Wednesday when it reported an operating loss more than 11 times larger than expected and a $39 billion charge that was among the biggest profit hits ever reported.

The nation's No. 1 automaker, which was hit with a soft U.S. auto market and a two-day strike by the United Auto Workers union during the quarter, lost $1.6 billion, or $2.80 a share, excluding special items.
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That compares to the forecast of a 25-cent-a-share loss from analysts surveyed by earnings tracker Thomson First Call and earnings per share of $497 million, or 88 cents, on that basis in the year-earlier period.

Among the problems hurting GM results was a $2.3 billion loss in the home loan business at GMAC due to problems from the meltdown in subprime mortgages. GM sold a majority of GMAC but still owns 49 percent of the lender.

In addition, GM took a huge charge in the quarter related to the writedown of tax credits for losses over the last three years.

That caused it to post a net loss of $39 billion, or $68.85 a share, for the third quarter, compared with the net loss of $147 million, or 26 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Only a gain from the sale of the Allison Transmission unit stopped the loss from being worse.

The report caused shares of Dow component GM (Charts, Fortune 500) to be down 5 percent in midday trading, helping to spark a 200-point selloff.
Problems remain for Detroit automakers

To put the size of the charge in context, the total value of all GM shares outstanding was only $20.4 billion at the close of trading Tuesday.

In addition, the charge is significantly larger than the $12.4 billion net loss posted by GM for all of 2005 and 2006, when the company was hammered by falling shares and labor costs far in excess of its nonunion rivals. The company had net income of $953 million for the first six months of the year before hitting the problems in the third quarter.

The charge was a non-cash expense due to accounting rules, meaning it won't drain resources from the company's balance sheet. But the charge, which was revealed late Tuesday, raised concerns among investors that the automaker wouldn't be able to earn enough money going forward, despite winning a new cost-saving labor deal from the UAW, to fully utilize the tax credits it built up from losses the last three years.

Efraim Levy, equity analyst with Standard & Poor's, cut his recommendation on the stock Wednesday to a "sell" from a "hold."

"Looking at the near term outlook, there's more negatives than positives," said Levy. "The downgrade isn't because of the writedown. But I think it does signal a worsening outlook, that the level of profitability and the ability to use these tax benefits won't be there in the near term the way they would have liked. It bodes poorly on the outlook."

The company's statement about the charge said that it "does not reflect a change in the company's view of its long-term automotive financial outlook." But it also cautioned "the company faces more challenging near-term automotive market conditions in the U.S. and Germany."


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