GM ad glosses over the reality

GM ad glosses over the reality http://tinyurl.com/2ewk7c9
Big Ed appears to have stepped into a big muddy.
In a TV ad that is generating the kind of publicity you don't want, GM
CEO Ed Whitacre strides across the screen saying the federally controlled automaker paid back its "loan, in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule." What he doesn't tell viewers is that a) the repayment of $4.7 billion came from taxpayer funds advanced to GM and b) that the feds still hold 61 percent of GM -- valued at something like $43 billion.
He's technically correct because he clearly uses the word "loan." Otherwise vague? Yes. Misleading? Depends on your perspective and whether you may have seen the headline on a Wall Street Journal op-ed above Whitacre's name: "The GM Bailout: Paid Back in Full."
Not even close, underscoring a problem that is likely to keep on giving for as long as the feds hold any stake at all in the automaker they rescued by running it through bankruptcy and then funding it with public money.
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"We are concerned that GM, under your leadership, has come dangerously close to committing fraud, and that you might have colluded with the United States Treasury to deceive the American public," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote Whitacre on Thursday. "If someone relies on your statements in the future ... your false statements may expose GM to millions of dollars in damages, further reducing the value of the taxpayer-owned company."
The statements also may do nothing of the sort.
Put aside the convenient fact that Issa, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, represents GM rival Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. in Congress. Or that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, accused GM of a "money shuffle" that "is not a repayment" in a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Accept the obvious fact that government handling of GM -- will the Securities and Exchange Commission hold GM to the same standard as others or will the Federal Trade Commission investigate the ad claims? -- is a convenient club Republicans and anyone else opposed to bailouts will readily wield against the Obama administration and other Democrats as mid-term elections draw nearer.
Because it all comes down to this: GM's credibility. Saying you've paid back a loan, but omitting the fact that you did it with taxpayer money and that the feds still hold a controlling stake in your business, probably isn't the wisest way to win friends, woo new customers or rebuild trust.
"We do have to walk a fine line," a ranking GM executive familiar with the planning behind the TV spots told me. "You're right: In the ad, we did not say we repaid the loans but we still owe $40 billion." Then he added: "We didn't say anything false."
In fact, GM didn't say anything that hadn't been known for months -- namely, that the automaker would be paying back the remaining balance on its $6.7 billion direct loan by the end of June. It also has been known that the preferred route for selling the government's stake in GM is an initial public offering of shares to investors.
But as an old editor used to say, readers don't keep clips. Neither do taxpayers, many of whom understandably might not have the gumption (or the patience) to do anything more than take Whitacre's ad copy at face value. Which is the point.
There are others. The ad -- which was thoroughly lawyered for the automaker -- signals two things about the new GM: first, that its communications strategy in the early going is to accentuate the positive, downplay the negative details and, if necessary, apologize afterward.
Second, Whitacre is willing to put his own hide behind the take-some-risks mantra he keeps preaching inside the company. The ads, coming before first-quarter numbers are due to be released in mid-May, signal a readiness to risk riling politicians or tweaking competitors.
Whether that's gutsy or dumb will depend on how difficult competitors and politicians choose to make things for GM, especially if Whitacre & Co. give them more material.
Bottom line: American taxpayers still own 61 percent of GM, worth about $43 billion. When -- if -- that all ever gets paid back, you'll know about it.
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On 01/05/2010 6:10 PM, Jim_Higgins wrote:

The United States Treasury and Whitacre are frauding the public. Paying back of the loan with public funds and losing money is fraud. The same criminal fraud that got GM bankrupt in he first place.
There is no profit, no recovery, just more loses from GM. Total fraud.
Like I say, loan me $60 billion, pay my bills, subsidize my business, reduce my debt by $170 billion or so, than I will be happy as hell to pay off a $6 billion loan to clear the books.
If people don't see the fraud in that, well then I guess corporate and politicial morality has hit a new low in America.
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