GM problems: Deeper than Delphi
The brewing battle between Delphi and its unions doesn't help, but General Motors has a lot of other headaches to worry about.
By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney senior writer

NEW YORK ( - One of these days General Motors will have some good news. But it's tough to remember the last time it had one of those days.

Friday certainly wasn't one as bankrupt auto-parts supplier Delphi asked a bankruptcy court to throw out its union contracts and the United Auto Workers union vowed a long and crippling strike in that event.

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Such a strike would quickly halt production at GM as well, but its union contract would require it to keep paying workers, hemorrhaging up to an estimated $1 billion a week in additional losses at a company that posted a $10.6 billion net loss in 2005. Many worry an economy-rattling GM bankruptcy filing would follow.

This tough turn comes on the heels of a long list of problems that have been front and center in recent weeks:

  • The recent restatement of results that raise already staggering net losses.
  • A criminal probe looking at its relationship with suppliers.
  • Labor costs so out of whack that it's worth it to the automaker to pay employees $140,000 just to go away.
  • Negotiations to sell a majority stake of it one major profit engine, GMAC.
  • Shares of GM (down $0.48 to $20.79, Research), which have lost almost a third of their value over the past 12 months, were down Friday morning but had recovered by Friday afternoon.

"The bad news certainly isn't going to end for a while," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research.

The good news is that most experts contacted Friday -- including Cole -- said they think that a strike is not inevitable at Delphi. "At this point I still feel they'll get something done that avoids a strike," said Kevin Tynan. "But that said, it's still a long way to go."

GM has maintained that it can avoid bankruptcy and said Friday it is confident that an agreement at Delphi can be reached without disrupting its own operations.

But Tynan said that GM will likely have to pay more than $1 billion in one-time payments to the hourly workers at Delphi to get the them to accept significant pay cuts, as well as significantly subsidizing the ongoing pay to union members at Delphi if they are to avoid a strike.

But with the company's own financial problems, there's only so much it can do to solve the problem at Delphi, according to Tynan and other experts. GM's own contract with the UAW expires in September 2007.

"They might want to (pay more) in the short term to avoid a strike," said Bob Schnorbus, chief economist at JD Power & Associates. "But if they're spending money now to gloss over the hard decisions that Delphi needs to make, they're only going to compound their problems when their turn comes up."

Even some of those who don't think there will be a strike at Delphi think that GM will eventually find itself in bankruptcy court as it tries to trim its own costs.

"They still have their own cost issues to deal with," said Tynan. "My feeling is that it (a GM bankruptcy) is inevitable anyway. I don't know if that's two years, five years or 10 years, but this cost structure is not sustainable. What a strike at Delphi probably would mean is that it would move up the bankruptcy before the 2007 negotiations."

Holding out hope

Still there are others who believe that GM should be able to weather these gathering clouds. David Healy of Burnham Securities said that he thinks GM would have the resources to weather even a two-month strike at Delphi, and that the company's battered stock is probably at or near a low point.

"My guess would be that a two-month (Delphi) strike would raise net losses by $4 billion to $5 billion," said Healy. "That's a kick in the nuts, but they can afford it. They could have an extra $11 billion come Monday (from a sale of GMAC)."

Monday could also bring some half-way decent March sales numbers for the company that has continually been losing market share. The Power Information Network (PIN), a unit of JD Power, showed that GM's U.S. sales to consumers during the first 12 days of March were off 1.7 percent from a year earlier, but the industry as a whole saw sales to consumers fall 13 percent.

Perhaps more importantly, PIN's data shows sales of its new large SUV models, on which GM is basing much of its hopes of a turnaround, have been very strong. The new versions of the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon have seen the transaction price up 15 to 20 percent from the price GM was getting for those models in the past two years.

"We often see increases for new models, but that's more than one generally sees," said Tom Libby, senior director of industry analyst for PIN. "It's early to say they have hits on their hands, but the signs are very positive."

So maybe Monday will be a better day for GM. After the past two weeks, it could use it.


For more on Delphi's moves on Friday and the threat it poses to GM, click hereTop of page

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