If you own General Motors ( GM) shares or are thinking about buying the stock, consider this your second warning. Shareholders are the least of the Obama Administration's concerns as it pushes GM into bankruptcy. With today's report that the Treasury Department directed GM to prepare for a bankruptcy filing by June 1, it's looking more and more like a fait accompli. Basically, GM now has less than two months to prove it can restructure without the power of court protection to force unions to accept concessions and press bondholders and creditors to accept new terms. Unions and bondholders are in the drivers seats for this game of chicken. Unions will need to accept deep job cuts and reductions in pay and benefits, especially health care and pension perks. Bondholders will need to be willing to swap debt for shares. So current stockholders will feel the pain either way. In bankruptcy, shareholders are among the last in line for protection. In the debt-for-equity swap, shareholders face massive dilution of their holdings and share value. Of course at this point, GM stock is only worth $2 and change, so there's not much value left there anyway. Shares of Ford ( F), which chose to forego government bailout money and all the strings attached, have been gaining lately and are up to $4.24.
I'm not saying it's safe to bet on Ford either, by the way. With or without bankruptcy, GM will emerge as a more competitive rival. The mere threat of bankruptcy may be enough to get unions and bondholders to accept terms more favorable to GM. What I don't get about all this is why the Obama administration is putting the screws to GM so forcibly while keeping the kid gloves on with AIG ( AIG), Citigroup ( C) and Bank of America ( BAC). Are those companies any less problematic? Or is GM just an easier target for politicians seeking to show they are fixing things? For whatever reasons, GM is caught in the crosshairs. And that can't be good for shareholders.