General Motors ( GM) has left its dividend out of its cost-cutting plans for another quarter. GM, which announced an agreement earlier this month to slash employee health care benefits, said Monday that it will pay the 50-cent quarterly dividend as scheduled. It has maintained the payout since the first quarter of 1997, when it was raised from 40 cents. Shares of GM, which have shed over half their value in the last two years, perked up 45 cents, or 1.6%, to $27.71 after the news. The world's largest automaker has had few presents with which to cheer up shareholders recently. It's bleeding market share to foreign rivals and red ink on Wall Street. Its debt was downgraded to junk by all major ratings agencies. Even the discounting that goosed sales volume over the summer has resulted in anemic sales for the fall, and soaring gas prices have steered the public's tastes away from its trucks and SUVs. Last week, the company announced the Securities and Exchange Commission launched a formal probe into its "financial reporting concerning pension and other post-employment benefits, certain transactions between General Motors and Delphi ( DPI), GM's recovery of recall costs from suppliers and supplier price reductions or credits, and any obligation GM may have to fund pension and OPEB costs in connection with Delphi's proceedings under Chapter 11." That came after it posted a $1.3 billion loss for the third quarter. On the bright side, GM did manage to negotiate an agreement with the United Auto Workers that would allow it to slash its multibillion-dollar health care costs by cutting benefits for UAW-protected blue-collar workers and retirees. The company held up the agreement as a victory, but analysts on Wall Street wrinkled their noses at the concessions, viewing them as inadequate in the scope of GM's burgeoning cost structure.
Meanwhile, it spent $1 billion on dividends in the first half of 2005, according to its second-quarter cash flow statement. Labor groups have pointed to the dividend as evidence the company still had financial wiggle room within the confines of its current labor contract. As of Sept. 30, GM reported it has $35.6 billion in cash on its balance sheet. For now, it will continue tapping those reserves to keep some shine on its shares.