GMAC's red ink adds to GM woes

GMAC's red ink adds to GM woes
General Motors Corp.'s credit rating fell deeper into junk status as the
financial services company it partially owns posted a $2.5 billion quarterly loss Thursday, a day before GM is to announce its own "significant" quarterly losses and continued sales declines.
The move by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services reflect mounting cash losses in the Detroit Big Three's North American automotive operations and deteriorating conditions in the U.S. auto market, the agency said. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC also were downgraded Thursday and are battling high gas prices and plummeting sales, among other factors.
GM is responsible for paying about $1.2 billion of GMAC Financial Services' loss because it owns 49 percent of the company. Cerberus Capital Management LP owns the remaining 51 percent. That hit is expected to have an effect on GM's bottom line when results are released. GM has braced investors for a dismal earnings report, as well as a continued decline in monthly sales. July sales results are scheduled for release today and are on track for an auto market with the lowest sales totals in 15 years.
Today's financial results come a week after Ford Motor Co. announced it lost $8.7 billion in the second quarter, the largest in the automaker's 105-year history.
Analysts said GM will attribute its losses to a number of factors including labor strikes, fallout from the 12-week American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. walkout, the weak housing and financial markets, issues with Delphi Corp.'s bankruptcy, cash flow problems and charges for buyouts the company has offered to employees.
GMAC, once one of the automaker's greatest assets, only compounds the losses GM's automotive business suffered in the second quarter, said Joe Phillippi, principal of Auto Trends Consulting Inc. in Short Hills, N.J.
"The bigger problem is the after effects of the American Axle strike along with a steep drop in dealer orders even for vehicles not affected by the strike or other production cuts," he said.
GM is dealing with a consumer shift away from profitable pickups and SUVs to more fuel-efficient -- and less profitable -- cars and crossovers. GM's overall sales have fallen 16.3 percent in the first half of the year.
That shift is affecting all three automakers and will complicate their turnaround efforts, said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Robert Schulz.
"This will leave them more vulnerable to already adverse industry, economic and credit market conditions," he said.
GM has responded by offering 17 models this year that get 30 miles per gallon or more, including the Chevrolet Malibu, the 2008 North American Car of the Year. It also is adding 47,000 cars and crossovers to its production plan to better meet consumer demand.
And its investment bank is talking with several interested parties about possibly selling its Hummer brand.
The bank hired by the automaker to gauge interest in Hummer has heard from a number of potential suitors, GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said Thursday. The possibility of selling Hummer is one of several GM restructuring announcements made this year.
On July 15, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner unveiled a series of cost-cutting measures including white-collar job reductions, a suspension of the dividend and cutting health care coverage for Medicare-eligible salaried retirees designed to boost cash flow by $15 billion.
A month earlier, the automaker said it would close four truck plants in North America by 2010, a move that likely would affect factories supplying those plants.
On the production side, GM said this week it is cutting production of 117,000 vehicles -- bringing this year's totals to almost 300,000 vehicles -- by slashing shifts, slowing the rate of production at two plants and additional temporary shutdowns at eight facilities.
GM officials said Wednesday that the company plans to eliminate about 5,000 salaried workers by year's end; the company had previously said it would trim white-collar costs by more than 20 percent.
Despite the moves, the Standard & Poor's downgrade reflects that GM is on pace to spend $16 billion in cash for its automotive business this year, Schulz said.
"The second half of '08 we think is going to be much worse than the first half," he said.
The second-quarter GMAC loss compares to a $293 million profit a year ago, with the red ink in the Detroit-based firm's mortgage unit -- $1.86 billion -- more than doubling losses in the auto division and swallowing profits from insurance and international auto finance business.
GMAC blamed the losses on declining vehicle sales, volatility in mortgage and credit markets and low used-vehicle prices, pressures that two days ago forced the company to say it was suspending leasing incentives in Canada.
"While conditions such as higher fuel prices and weaker consumer credit prove to be headwinds, we continue to aggressively manage through this economic disruption to position GMAC for longer-term success," said GMAC Chief Executive Officer Alvaro G. de Molina.
GMAC, like other finance arms, are struggling with declining volumes of vehicle purchases, but are also finding it more difficult to access funding in tight credit markets, Standard & Poor's Schulz said.
Making matters worse, finance arms are taking sizable losses on lease turn-ins because the residual values for SUVs and trucks are falling, meaning that the finance arms sell them for less than they anticipated at auction.
"Captive finance arms went from being profitable business units to loss makers with the falling residual values," he said.
GMAC lost $717 million on auto financing in the second quarter compared to a $395 million profit a year ago.
Its mortgage unit's loss ballooned from $254 million in the same time period last year to $1.86 billion, while the insurance unit made $135 million, up $4 million from last year.
The company also took a $716 million impairment charge related to declining vehicles sales and lower used-vehicle prices.
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