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GM's Biggest Foe Could Be Time

Stocks in this article: GM TM HMC

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Technically, General Motors (GM) has already gotten most of the concessions that Congress wants to see.

The automaker ratified a new labor agreement -- complete with deep wage cuts and reduced benefits -- more than a year ago. The company must wait another year to capitalize on those savings, however, unless it can convince the United Auto Workers to move forward with changes ahead of the contract's official January 2010 starting date.

Once the deal takes full effect, the company expects to become a lean operator that's well-equipped to compete with foreign "transplants" such as Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC).

"Congress has been talking about GM as if it were the GM of 10 years ago," Gimme Credit bond analyst Shelly Lombard mused during a recent interview with "The company has been taking steps to remedy its problems.

"It was very slow to do that, though," added Lombard, who has an underperform rating on GM's bonds. So "it ran out of time."

Late last year, as car sales collapsed along with the overall economy, GM almost ran out of money as well. The company asked the government for $18 billion in emergency loans, but it has collected just over half of that amount so far. In order to land additional funding, the company must first convince lawmakers that it can support itself down the road.

With its shrinking revenue base and staggering debt load, experts warn, GM faces clear challenges ahead. Even if GM secures the massive funding that it needs to survive, some experts predict, the company will need to make extraordinary sacrifices -- which could render its stock worthless -- along the way.

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