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General Motors: Debt-Free and $21 Cash per Share

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Despite the hype about the US auto industry's comeback, its shares seem unlikely to accelerate in the near term. But for long-term investors, some car companies are worth a look.

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Vice President Joe Biden, addressing union workers in Detroit, famously said: "Bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive." True...but at what cost?

Was it worth it for taxpayers to sink $50 billion into General Motors (NYSE:GM) during the financial crisis? Is it worth it now for taxpayers to continue to provide tax credits-potentially up to $10,000 to cars such as the Chevy Volt?

On June 1, 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, GM filed for bankruptcy. Six weeks later, the company emerged with fewer brands, fewer plants, fewer workers, a lot less debt…and some very disgruntled bondholders. Controversy still swirls over how the Obama administration handled the process: Circumventing bankruptcy law, shortchanging bondholders, and giving the heavily Democratic UAW preferential treatment.

At first glance, the government rescue seems to have worked. General Motors, Ford (NYSE:F), and Chrysler which is now owned by Fiat (BIT:FI), all posted strong US August sales as the "Big Three" rebounded from their near-death experience. Total auto sales in the US are now projected to reach 14.5 million vehicles in 2012-up sharply from 2009's 10 million.

Share prices, however, don't show such a rosy picture. Both GM and Ford are down nearly 25% or more over the past two years. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that if the government sold its current 26.5% stake in GM today, taxpayers would lose $15 billion. GM's share price would need to reach $53 for the US to break even.

Global Economics Are Deteriorating

Until recently, China's automotive market, the world's largest, has shown stunning growth. GM has had the good fortune to be among of the leaders. GM's Excelle was the best-selling car in China in 2011. In the last few months, however, Chinese growth has slowed considerably.

China is not the only country seeing a slowdown. Trade is slowing around the world as the US. Europe, Japan, and now Latin America face contraction.

Europe in particular has been a challenge for US automakers. In August, European car sales dropped 8.5%, an 11th straight monthly decline. Ford, General Motors, and Fiat led the way down.
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