GM repays loan to US… actually, not really (Update)

It was with great fanfare yesterday that General Motors announced that it was repaying some $4.7 billion of $6.7 billion in loans it received from the federal government.  And, with even bigger fanfare, it was announced that this partial repayment was being made some five years earlier than expected.

To good to be true?  Well, it is.

What you weren’t told was that GM was able to repay the money by drawing down on a line of credit that it had from TARP!  In other words, GM took funds still available to it through TARP and used those funds to repay the loan it received from the government.  Of course, it now owes $4.7 billion on its line of credit with TARP, but, that doesn’t make for good news, so it wasn’t reported.

Here is how we know this.  During an April 20 hearing on Capital Hill, Sen. Tom Carper, (D-Del.) asked some pointed questions of Neil Barofsky, the “special watch dog” on the Wall Street Bailout, aka, TARP.

It’s good news in that they’re reducing their debt,” Barofsky said of the accelerated GM payments, “but they’re doing it by taking other available TARP money.”…

“It sounds like it’s kind of like taking money out of one pocket and putting in the other,” said Carper, who got a nod of agreement from Barofsky.

“The way that payment is going to be made is by drawing down on an equity facility of other TARP money.”

Humm…wonder why we didn’t hear about that.

Update (Steve): Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) blasted the Obama administration and Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner concerning this shell game in a letter sent yesterday. My emphasis in bold, with a hat tip to Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.

Dear Secretary Geithner:

General Motors (GM) yesterday announced that it repaid its TARP loans. I am concerned, however, that this announcement is not what it seems. In fact, it appears to be nothing more than an elaborate TARP money shuffle.

On Tuesday of this week, Mr. Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for TARP, testified before the Senate Finance Committee. During his testimony Mr. Barofsky addressed GM’s recent debt repayment activity, and stated that the funds GM is using to repay its TARP debts with IVA advice are not coming from GM earnings. Instead, GM seems to be using TARP funds from an escrow account at Treasury to make the debt repayments. The most recent quarterly report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP says “The source of funds for these quarterly [debt] payments will be other TARP funds currently held in an escrow account.” See, Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP, Quarterly Report to Congress dated April 20, 2010, page 115.

Furthermore, Exhibit 99.1 of the Form 8K filed by GM with the SEC on November 16, 2009, seems to confirm that the source of funds for GM’s debt repayments was a multi-billion dollar escrow account at Treasury—not from earnings. In the 8K filing GM acknowledged:

  • Of the $42.6 billion in cash and marketable securities available to GM as of September, 30, 2009, $17.4 billion came from an escrow account with Treasury,
  • $6.7 billion of the escrow account available to GM was allocable to the repayment of loans to Treasury,
  • $5.6 billion in cash would remain in the Treasury escrow account following the repayment by GM of their loans, and
  • Upon repaying Treasury, any balance of escrow funds would be released to GM.

Therefore, it is unclear how GM and the Administration could have accurately announced yesterday that GM repaid its TARP loans in any meaningful way. In reality, it looks like GM merely used one source of TARP funds to repay another. The taxpayers are still on the hook, and whether TARP funds are ultimately recovered depends entirely on the government’s ability to sell GM stock in the future. Treasury has merely exchanged a legal right to repayment for an uncertain hope of sharing in the future growth of GM. A debt-for-equity swap is not a repayment.

I am also troubled by the timing of this latest maneuver. According to Mr. Barofsky, Treasury had supervisory authority over GM’s use of these TARP escrow funds. Since GM’s exit from bankruptcy court, Treasury had approved the use of the escrow funds for costs such as GM’s obligations to its parts supplier Delphi. See, Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP, Additional Insight on Use of Troubled Asset Relief Program Fund (SIGTARP-10-004), dated December 10, 2009, at page 6. According to the GM 8K, GM had planned to use the TARP funds in escrow to pay back the TARP loans on a quarterly basis beginning in the fourth quarter of 2009. But following the April 20, 2010, hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, where Treasury’s decision to exempt GM from the bank TARP excise tax was questioned and GM’s refusal to testify was noted, it is odd that GM suddenly drew down on the TARP escrow and accelerated the repayment of the remaining balance of GM’s outstanding TARP loans.

The bottom line seems to be that the TARP loans were “repaid” with other TARP funds in a Treasury escrow account. The TARP loans were not repaid from money GM is earning selling cars, as GM and the Administration have claimed in their speeches, press releases and television commercials. When these criticisms were put to GM’s Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky in a television interview yesterday, he admitted that the criticisms were valid:

Question: Are you just paying the government back with government money?

Mr. Girsky: Well listen, that is in effect true, but a year ago nobody thought we’d be able to pay this back.

Mr. Girsky then said that GM originally planned to pay the loan over the next five years. So the question is why—other than a desire to justify excluding GM from the administration’s TARP tax proposal—would Treasury and GM reduce GM’s TARP debt with TARP equity and then mischaracterize it as a repayment from earnings? Accordingly, please explain:

  1. Your department’s justification for allowing GM to use funds from the TARP escrow account to repay TARP loans,
  2. The amount of funds remaining in the TARP escrow account at Treasury that may be released to GM, and
  3. The date that you anticipate that the remaining funds in escrow will be released to GM.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation. Please provide the requested information by April 30, 2010. Should you have any questions regarding the contents of this letter please do not hesitate to contact Jason Foster at (202) 224-4515. All formal correspondence should be sent electronically in PDF format to [email protected] or via facsimile to (202) 228-2131.

Charles E. Grassley
Ranking Member

Posted in


The Sound Off Sister was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and special trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; a partner in the Florida law firm of Shutts & Bowen, and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, School of Law. The Sound Off Sister offers frequent commentary concerning legislation making its way through Congress, including the health reform legislation passed in early 2010.


  1. Dimsdale on April 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Prestidigitation and legerdemain.  Just nice ways of saying smoke and mirrors.  Or lying and cheating, if you want the unvarnished honest assessment.


    Nice to know the Fourth Estate is still acting like a Fifth Column….

  2. Steve McGough on April 23, 2010 at 4:29 am

    During the day Wednesday and Thursday, many noted that GM was making a big deal about "paying off" their loan when in reality, they were only "paying off" a portion of the "loan." From The Oakland Press

    "At first the entire amount of U.S. aid was considered a loan as the government tried to keep GM from going under and pulling the fragile economy into a depression.

    But during bankruptcy, the U.S. government reduced the loan portion to $6.7 billion and converted the rest to company stock, while the Canadian governments held $1.4 billion in loans."

    And now they used TARP money to "pay off" the $6.7 billion? Oh my…

  3. Dimsdale on April 23, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Isn't this like using one credit card to pay off another?   Even if the rate improves, you still have the debt on your head!

  4. winnifredthewoebegon on April 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    That's it…I've had it…Knew the commercial was total bunk the minute I heard it, but now that I have the gory details I'm all for GM being blown off the face of the earth.  The fact that the media was complicit in this dog & pony show by not digging enough to find out the actual truth behind the loan repayment only makes me more nauseous.

    *throwing hands up in the air*…seriously, the whole thing makes me sick.  They should have been allowed to FAIL!   grrrrrrr…

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