Colin Barr

Following the money in banking, economics, and Washington

Grassley wants GM IPO probe

August 13, 2010: 3:08 PM ET

Taxpayers are on the verge of getting back some of the money the government spent bailing out General Motors.

But not everyone is turning cartwheels.

Not jazzed about GM

Sen. Chuck Grassley (right), R-Iowa, is urging that bailout watchdog Neil Barofsky investigate the government-owned automaker's plan to go public – even before GM has formally set the initial public offering machine in motion.

Grassley sent a letter to Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, on Friday, asking that he "determine whether Treasury and GM are taking the steps necessary to ensure that the IPO results in the highest possible return for the American taxpayer."

The government poured more than $50 billion into GM last year as it pushed the struggling car company through an abbreviated bankruptcy reorganization. That left Treasury with a 61% stake in the company, which is reportedly set to file for an initial public offering this month.

A GM IPO would be a victory for President Obama at a time when the Democrats are expected to take a beating at the polls in November. Treasury might sell some shares in the offering and then reduce its stake over time, as it has with its holdings of another big bailout recipient, Citigroup (C).

But Grassley, who recently questioned why GM was able to agree last month to purchase subprime lender Americredit (ACF) before repaying taxpayers, sees abundant opportunity for misdeeds.

I request that you analyze the IPO and determine how much Treasury must obtain in return for the sale of the GM stock in order to avoid a taxpayer loss on the original $49.5 billion bailout. Reuters has reported that the government "needs to see GM valued at more than $70 billion in a stock listing for U.S. taxpayers to break even on the $43 billion invested in exchange for a 61 percent stake in the automaker." Hopefully, when the dust settles, the taxpayer will not have lost billions of dollars on GM.

I also ask that you determine the total amount of transaction costs that will be paid to investment bankers in connection with the IPO. In the interest of transparency and accountability it is essential that American taxpayers know whether they are getting a fair deal on the GM IPO and how large a financial loss they are likely to suffer. There is no reason that this should not be determined before, rather than after, the transaction is complete. Please report your findings as soon as possible.

Of course, unlike Grassley, Barofsky will have to wait for GM to actually file its IPO papers before he holds forth.

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About This Author
Colin Barr
Colin Barr
Senior Writer, Fortune

Colin Barr has covered finance for Fortune.com since November 2007. Previously he was a writer and editor for TheStreet.com, winning a 2006 Society of American Business Editors and Writers award for "The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street," and for Dow Jones Newswires. He is a 1991 graduate of Penn State and lives in Port Washington, N.Y., with his wife Meena Bose and their two kids.

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