Fun with Numbers: GM's Phony 'Payback' of Taxpayer Loans

Last week, Government/General Motors Chairman Ed Whitacre went to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to crow about how well the company is supposedly doing. In "The GM Bailout: Paid in Full," he told readers the following:

We're paying back -- in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule -- loans made to help fund the new GM. Our ability to pay back these loans less than a year after emerging from bankruptcy is a sign that our plan for building a new GM is working.

Whitacre then took to the airwaves to announce the payoff as a done deal, saying we "have repaid" the loans.

There are two "little" problems with Whitacre's presentation. First, the "Bailout Paid in Full" headline in the Journal doesn't pass the truth test no matter how far you try to stretch it. As Forbes magazine's Jerry Flint reminded readers:

That still leaves $43 billion. GM can say they paid us back because of the $50 billion in total support, only $7 billion was counted as a loan and the rest was traded for equity in the company that emerged from bankruptcy. But that is really an accounting trick so that GM doesn't have to pay interest on that money.

That's a great point. The government poured tens of billions into GM in return for a 61% ownership stake. Unless and until GM goes public and the government cashes out its shares for at least the $43 billion cited plus at least 5% for each year of delay to account for the time value of money, taxpayers will be getting the short end of the stick.

What's more, the funds for GM's loan "repayment" did not come from cash generated by operations. In fact, the company's latest available financial information indicates that from September 30 (Page 2 at link) to December 31 (Page 123 at link) it burned through $2.4 billion in cash and equivalents, while its working capital (current assets minus current liabilities) fell by $2.75 billion. TARP Inspector General Neil Barofsky has asserted, as paraphrased by Fox News, that GM "only repaid the bailout money by dipping into a separate pot of bailout money." Good luck finding that critical piece of information anywhere else in the establishment press.

The situation isn't any better at GM's fellow bailout recipient Chrysler -- nor is the press coverage.

Chrysler lost $3.8 billion during the 205 days after it emerged from bankruptcy last year. It lost another $197 million in the first quarter of 2010. Here was the Associated Press's headline about those contemporaneous announcements: "Chrysler Posts $197M Loss But Cash Balance Grows."