DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Perhaps the biggest surprise among the profusion of auto industry numbers that surfaced Thursday was this one: GM ( GM) shares fell 4%. The oddity was that GM not only reported a strong 18% August sales increase , but also said it has gained market share since it emerged from bankruptcy in November.
The stock price decline was apparently prompted largely by a Bloomberg story that said the company faces a pension shortfall up to $35 billion, which could delay a dividend or stock buyback. Still, GM stock is down 37% for the year. It is down 34% since opening at $35 in November, during an IPO that accompanied the company's emergence from bankruptcy. On Thursday, the shares gave up $1 to close at $23.03. "The stock shouldn't be trading at $23," said Standard & Poor's analyst Efraim Levy, after reiterating a strong buy. Ford ( F) shares are down 36% for the year; on Thursday, they closed down 27 cents at 10.85. GM's decline comes despite an 18% year-to-date sales gain and second-quarter earnings of $2.5 billion, marking the sixth consecutive profitable quarter. The company has nearly $34 billion in cash. The market share gains are significant, given that many expected a continuing share loss following a restructuring when GM went from eight brands to four. In 2009, GM board member Stephen Girsky said the company hoped to maintain a market share slightly above 19% upon emergence. In August, the U.S. market share was close to 20% and the year-to-date market share was 19.6%, said Don Johnson, vice president for U.S. sales, on the company's sales call Thursday. In an interview, Levy said a "meaningful proportion" of GM's market share gains -- he wouldn't specify further than that -- results from the decline in availability of Japanese cars following the March earthquake and tsunami. "GM benefitted from the misfortune of Japanese competitors -- that was a factor," Levy said. "But they did some things right as well. They have some good products that came to market at the right time." A variety of auto analysts believe that investors are ignoring the GM story . So permit us to promote a theory.