World and Nation

GM’s Losses Accelerate, Fueling Trek Toward Bankruptcy Filing

Even after receiving $15.4 billion in federal loans, General Motors is once again on the brink of financial collapse.

The automaker’s first-quarter earnings released Thursday showed that GM was losing more money and sales than it was in late December, when the government began its bailout.

With its cash reserves down to the bare minimum and its revenues plunging, GM seems daily to be heading closer toward a bankruptcy filing.

The company is entering the final stages of formulating a restructuring plan to be submitted to the Obama administration’s auto task force by June 1 with the goal of qualifying for more federal aid.

But the depths of GM’s financial problems continue to worsen. The company is spending more than $113 million a day than it is taking in from sales of its vehicles around the world.

Even if GM satisfies the administration’s other requirements — including a new cost-cutting deal with unions and persuading its bondholders to agree to sharply reduce debt — the company looks less viable, not more, than it did five months ago.

With Chrysler already operating under bankruptcy protection, many industry analysts said they think GM is next.

“It’s looking like a real high probability,” said Brett D. Hoselton, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets. “Chrysler is the best indicator at this point of where we’re heading with GM.”

Investors appear to be arriving at the same conclusion. GM’s stock dropped to $1.60, down 3 percent, on Thursday, and its market capitalization fell below $1 billion.

In the first quarter, GM lost $5.9 billion, excluding special items, during the three-month period that ended in March. Its revenues fell to $22.4 billion — a 47-percent drop compared to the first quarter of 2008. It was the company’s eighth consecutive quarterly loss.

GM said it built 1.33 million vehicles globally in the quarter, 903,000 fewer than it did in the same period last year.

The company’s chief financial officer, Ray Young, called the drop in production “a staggering number,” and said consumers are showing increasing concern about GM products because of the potential for a bankruptcy filing.

If GM does have to file for bankruptcy protection, Young emphasized on Thursday that the automaker would need to emerge quickly from court proceedings to keep sales from falling even more.

“Once you start losing revenues, you get yourself into a vicious cycle from which you cannot recover,” Young said in a conference call with analysts and reporters. “We prefer to restructure outside of bankruptcy, but if we have to go in, we need to go in and out quickly.”

GM ended the quarter with $11.6 billion in cash, roughly the level of liquidity it has said it needs to keep operating and paying its bills.

Since then, the government has lent GM an additional $2 billion to reach the June 1 deadline to submit its turnaround plan.