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Is GM’s “Success” Fueled by Subprime Loans?

In his struggles to find something positive about his time as President (that doesn’t have to do with Osama bin Laden), and to justify the massive bailout of the auto companies that happened under his watch, President Obama has begun touting GM’s supposed turnaround as a success for his administration. However, there’s more to the story than what he wants to tell us. At least some of GM’s success is based on the same kind of loans that brought down the housing market a few years ago. Investor’s Business Daily reports that GM is increasingly relying on subprime loans to fuel its sales, and they give us this nice chart to help visualize things:

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They explain it this way:

GM Financial auto loans to customers with FICO scores below 660 rose from 87% of total loans in Q4 2010 to 93% in Q1 2012.

The worse the FICO score, the bigger the increase. From Q4 2010 to Q1 2012, GM Financial loans to customers with the worst FICO scores — below 540 — shot up 79% to more than $2.3 billion. The second worst category, 540-599, rose 28% from about $3.4 billion to $4.3 billion.

Prime loans, those above 660, dropped 42% to $676 million.

And, as the article notes at the end, the industry average for these kinds of sales is around 6%. In Q4 of 2010, GM’s percentage of subprime sales was at 4.8%–below the average. In Q1, of 2012, that number stood at 8.2%–a sizable increase, and a number that’s much above 6% average.

In other words, GM is propping itself up through the same kinds of risky loans that propped up the housing market, but the Obama administration doesn’t care. There’s a double standard at work here. As the article notes:

“The Obama administration has seen to it that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is important in the subprime mortgage arena,” said Niedermeyer. “But it has exempted auto-finance from that. I definitely think it is a double standard.”

One other point comes just a little before that, though. The Treasury Department still owns 500 million shares of GM–or 26.5% of the company’s stock–and GM still owes the federal government $26.4 billion in direct aid. In order to pay off this money, GM’s stock price would need to be 53, but last Friday, they closed at 19.67. Monday, they closed at 19.36.

How much more money will the taxpayer lose off of this? How long before the subprime chickens come home to roost at GM, too?

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