In a weak stock market, one of the worst performing names has been General Motors (GM),
GM was the biggest IPO in history last November but has since slipped below the IPO price, including a 10% drop from when we wrote to "sell GM short" back in March. Even given the decline, I don't think the bottom is nearly in yet.
You wouldn't have hesitated to sell short the company that made the Trabant, the notoriously inefficient car sold in East Germany during the Cold War. Today, after the $50 billion bailout, the $3 billion cash-for-clunkers subsidy, and billions in below-market-rate loans and other interventions, GM now epitomizes that same corporate cronyism, right down to its advertising campaign.
You may recall the slick TV ads aired last year, in which then-CEO Ed Whitacre boasted how the company had paid back governmental loans "in full." Just a few months later, however, government officials admitted taxpayers will lose more than $14 billon on the deal. Whitacre, who received $9 million in compensation last year, has since left the company, which has had four CEOs in the last 26 months.
GM's willingness to use political influence for corporate gain hit an absurd and nearly pathological height this week when current CEO Dan Akerson, who also receives yearly compensation of more than $9 million, advocated raising federal taxes on gasoline in order to prompt consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars. "We ought to just slap a $0.50 or $1 tax on a gallon of gas," Akerson told the Detroit News. "People will start buying more Cruzes and they will start buying less Suburbans."
A spokesman for GM did not respond to our emailed request for comment.
Overlooking for a moment the terror of an executive who actually sees federal taxation as a legitimate business strategy, Akerson neglects to mention that even given today's historically high gas prices, GM's heavily subsidized Volt sold a grand total of 481 vehicles in May. Perhaps he'd prefer a law that simply required taxpayers to buy GM cars?
Besides objective weakness in the shares and the opportunity to expand an existing, winning position, the biggest reason I've increased my short position is a Bloomberg report suggesting the Treasury Department is unwilling to sell it's 32% stake in the automaker at a loss, instead opting to hold out until the stock at least rises to its IPO price, if not higher.
Markets are rarely that accommodating. More than a few investors who bought Cisco (CSCO)
Not worried about losses to taxpayer is the company's CEO. "Twenty and 30 years from now (taxpayers) will look at this company and they'll say, 'Absolutely [the bailout] was the right thing to do" he told the Detroit News. "It shouldn't be measured on did it sell for $43 or $53 [a share] or did they lose a couple billion dollars."
With that attitude, how could you not sell this company short?
Jonathan Hoenig is managing member at Capitalistpig Hedge Fund LLC. Although positions can change at any time, at the time of writing, Hoenig's fund was short shares of General Motors.