Update: According to news reports, GM paid back one loan in order to qualify for a new government loan at a lower rate. This basically negates my original opinion regarding the loan repayment announcement. Read further at your own risk.
Ever since General Motors announced that it paid back its $6.7 billion government loan, a number of people have pointed out that the company isn’t telling the full story. GM simply shifted the money it received through the TARP bailout and directed those funds back to the government. While there is truth to this matter of accounting, it doesn’t really matter.
First, the idea that the TARP bailout funds no longer need to be used for other purposes like balance sheet padding, capital expenditures, or operating expenses show that the company is in at least a slightly better position than it was when it received the loan. If the cash it has is better suited repaying a loan and reducing future interest expenses, then don’t leave it sitting in a bank account.
Second, there’s no reason TARP funds can’t be commingled. This is easily illustrated on a smaller scale, in your own bank account.
On Monday, you receive a gift of $100 from your friend and deposit it into your account. On Wednesday, you get paid for some work you performed and deposit $100 into your account. On Friday, you have $200 in your account and you can finally buy a $100 cell phone without danger of brining your bank account down to zero. Did you buy the phone with gift money or your income? It doesn’t really matter. Both sources helped you reach the point where the purchase was possible.
Now add a loan into the mix. On Tuesday of that same week, before you got paid for your work, you borrowed $100 from a friend. Rather than buying a phone on Friday, you repaid that friend $100 plus interest. Did you use the gift or income to pay back the loan? Once again, it doesn’t really matter. Once the funds are commingled, a dollar is a dollar.
It’s right to criticize GM. The company was too big and didn’t adapt to changing consumer needs. They should have been allowed to fail, and would have if it weren’t for the belief a GM failure would have significant repercussions throughout the global economy, already in a weakened state.
It does look bad if a company appears to use TARP funds to pay off a government loan, particularly when the CEO boasts about it publicly, but it’s not a major issue. GM is in a better position now, and although this loan is only a small portion of the funds received from the government, this is at least a move in the right direction.
Updated April 28, 2010 and originally published April 27, 2010.