Taxpayers Still on the Hook for General Motors' Bailout

General Motors HQ in Detroit. Photo Credit: General Motors.

Domestic automakers, the U.S. Treasury, and the American taxpayers continue to put distance between themselves and the darkest chapter in our automotive industry's history. The U.S. treasury reported a loss of $9.7 billion on General Motors shares it's sold through Sept. 30, but there's two sides to the story.

Both sides of the story tend to get overlooked in articles that merely report the updated amount of Treasury losses from its investment in General Motors.

Ford (NYSE: F) managed to escape bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis, and ensuing crash of vehicle sales, by leveraging its namesake Blue Oval logo as collateral for more than $26 billion in private loans, which it has since paid back. But thanks to its deal with the government, General Motors was allowed to wipe tens of billions of debt off its balance sheet -- a significant competitive advantage.

In addition to removing debt from its books, the overall repayment situation is often misunderstood. Because General Motors only received a true loan worth $6.7 billion from the U.S. Treasury, that's all General Motors is obligated to pay back. The other portion of the $49.5 billion lifeline was traded for the Treasury's 61% stake in General Motors; as the Treasury sells its shares at a loss, the taxpayers are left on the hook. 

"Because the common stock sales have all taken place below the Treasury's break-even price, Treasury has so far booked a loss of $9.7 billion on the sales," a recent report to Congress noted.

It doesn't end there, however. Consider that the new General Motors corporation was "gifted" tax-loss carryforwards from the "Old GM." Those carry forwards essentially mean that it has been able to write off current profits and not pay the amount of taxes it should, until recently. 

For the taxpayers and the Treasury to break even, it would need shares of General Motors to skyrocket from $35 to roughly $148 -- which isn't going to happen. On the other side of the coin, there is a valid argument regarding the damage our economy might have suffered if General Motors and Chrysler were allowed to collapse.

While we're on track to lose over $10 billion on the investment in General Motors, that money helped save an estimated 1.4 million plant and supplier jobs in the automotive industry. To put that in perspective, that's roughly 16 times the number of employees that GM has in the United States. 

I refuse to defend how GM handled its bankruptcy to shareholders, taxpayers, and pension collectors. But the lifeline tossed by the government did more than save GM; it helped our nation as a whole during a dire time. 

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Fool contributor Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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