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General Motors (
GM) hasn't exactly been known for its financial staying power in the past. The firm went bankrupt in the middle of the Great Recession, flailing publicly as its balance sheet dried up. But the new GM is a very different animal. One key difference is the massive amount of net cash that the firm has on hand. After wiping out debt, General Motors still carries $15.47 billion in cash on its balance sheet; that's enough to cover 32% of the automaker's market capitalization.
GM has made leaps and bounds since 2008. The firm shed unprofitable brands and significantly improved its build quality, churning out cars that are dramatically more competitive with their Japanese rivals than ever before. While the U.S. is the largest car market in the world, it's far from GM's biggest business. Nearly 70% of GM vehicles are sold outside of North America today, with a huge share coming from emerging-market countries such as China and Brazil.
To be fair, GM's cash position isn't exactly available for shareholders to plunder - the firm still carries a large underfunded pension post-bankruptcy that doesn't show up on its balance sheet. That pension fund will require some big payouts in the next few years, but it's far more manageable today than it was a few years ago. So is GM's break-even; while profitability was a pipe dream before bankruptcy, it's at a much more comfortable level today.
GM's cash position gives it options in 2013. And for a capital-intense automaker, that's key.