A year after bankruptcy, GM prepares for initial public offering

General Motors could soon be able to pay back its $50 billion government loan as it prepares to go public.
By Bernard Condon
Sunday, August 22, 2010

NEW YORK -- Would you buy stock in a company that has hemorrhaged tens of billions of dollars for years and run through four bosses in quick succession just because it has turned a profit for a few months?

That is essentially what General Motors will ask investors to do when it takes itself public again with one of the largest initial stock offerings ever. With the stock market already on edge, it's a lot to expect.

The good news: Longtime investors say buying during bad times is the best way to make money with auto stocks, provided you have a stomach of steel. And for the brave, GM may offer a perfect opportunity.

"The stocks look expensive when profits are low, but that's traditionally when you should get in," Standard & Poor's analyst Efraim Levy said.

GM filed papers Wednesday with regulators detailing its plans to return to the stock market. Although it didn't specify a date, experts say the offering could come as soon as October.

The company earned $1.3 billion from April through June, its second profitable quarter in a row and a remarkable turnaround since its 2009 bankruptcy. Investors in initial public offerings like to see several quarters of earnings, especially from manufacturers.

GM also said chief executive Ed Whitacre would be leaving Sept. 1. He will be replaced by board member Daniel Akerson, the fourth CEO in 18 months. And GM has the misfortune of planning an IPO when demand for new public shares remains low.

Still, U.S. automakers have proved to be good investments if investors get the timing right.

That is the conclusion of McGinn Investment Management, run by self-described "contrarian" investor Bernie McGinn, after studying five-year returns for investors who put money into GM and Ford a year before the start of recessions. The firm looked back over three decades.

Over the five years that began in July 1980, GM and Ford stock rose 83 percent and 185 percent before dividends, respectively, versus a 58 percent gain for the S&P 500.

They also beat the broader market in the years surrounding the early '90s recession, too. GM stock rose 38 percent and Ford 51 percent. The S&P: 29 percent.

McGinn started his calculations a year before recessions because stocks tend to slump in anticipation of economic slowdowns. Many economists think the Great Recession ended a year ago, so it's not clear the trend here could apply to GM shares. But, stocks are still down sharply from before the recession, and fears of another downturn are rife.

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