Treasury Hires Lazard As GM Moves Towards IPO

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
treasury hires lazard as gm moves towards ipo

The Detroit News reports that the Treasury Department has hired Lazard Frères & Co. as an advisor to GM’s forthcoming IPO sale. And with news of the hiring comes confirmation that GM’s IPO really is coming soon: the investment bank will receive half a million dollars, according to the DetN, but that amount will drop to $250,000 if the IPO isn’t completed within one year. If you’re one of the GM boosters who believes that an IPO will repay all or most of the government’s investment in GM, it’s time to start saving those pennies. You have less than a year now to put your money where your mouth has been.

If you are a GM optimist, you are not alone. Last Friday the Treasury revised its estimated loss on the $85b auto bailout to $24.6b from $28.2b, on the strength of GM’s profitable first quarter, and overall improvement by the domestic automakers. The Congressional Budget Office had previously pegged auto bailout losses at $30b. Total losses on the TARP program that funded the auto sector bailout have also been revised downwards to $105.4b, driven largely by improved valuation outlooks for Citigroup stock.

Lazard’s advising of the Treasury Department on GM’s IPO will include

valuing the government’s assets, offering advice on potential transactions and analyzing alternatives for disposing of the assets

This will help Treasury negotiate one of the toughest decisions in the entire auto bailout: how to time its sale of GM equity. Previous reports have indicated that the Treasury will not try to time the sale to maximize taxpayer value, but will instead try to dump the stock as quickly as possible. Certainly, the political environment seems to favor dumping stock at a loss as much as it does recapturing every last bit of value in GM’s equity.

Doubtless Lazard will try to navigate a compromise between an expeditious public offering and making the most out of Treasury’s investment, but with the possibility of a European-led “double-dip” economic downturn looming, an offering in the next 12 months could find itself flying into the teeth of a jittery market. Helping the case for a rapid GM IPO will be the $10b+ DOE ATVM loans which will be hitting GM’s books within the next several months, as well as the launch of key new products this year, like the Cruze and the Volt.

Perhaps the most important questions surrounding the GM IPO have to do with the structure of the public offering. Will Treasury put all of its 61 percent stake of GM up for sale all at once? And if so, what happens to the UAW’s VEBA fund, which owns another 17.5 percent stake in GM? With nearly 80 percent of GM’s equity held by a cash-strapped union benefit fund and a Treasury department with political motivations for getting out fast, there’s going to be a lot of GM equity for the market to absorb. And, larger economic worries aside, the automotive sector has been a volatile place to park money over the last year.

The challenges are clear. What’s less clear is what the VEBA fund and Treasury are hoping to get out of a GM IPO, and what kind of impact an IPO might have on GM’s performance. IPOs are mysterious, often-irrational events. Here’s hoping this one breaks out big and allows GM to break free of government ownership. Languishing amidst “Government Motors” criticism and cleverly-spun “Payback” ads clearly isn’t doing The General or its taxpayer investors any favors. For better or for worse, it’s time to put this chapter behind us.

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2 of 11 comments
  • John Horner John Horner on Jun 01, 2010

    Normally IPOs do not include a complete cash out of the prior investors, which in this case means the US Treasury. The smart way to do it is to put 10-30% of the company on to the public market initially and then for the US Treasury to dribble out its stake over a longer period of time.

  • Guyincognito Guyincognito on Jun 01, 2010

    I just remember GM stock soaring as RF posted death watch after death watch. Each bit of bad news seemed to boost the stock until things got so bad even a second grader knew they were in trouble. In other words, we'll profit handsomely from the IPO.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.
  • Wjtinfwb I've seen worse on the highways around Atlanta, usually with a refrigerator or washer wedged into the trunk and secured with recycled twine...
  • Wjtinfwb Surprising EB Flex hasn't weighed in yet on it being the subject of a recall...