Source: GM to begin repaying aid by year-end

/ Source: The Associated Press

General Motors Co. will begin paying back $6.7 billion in U.S. government loans by the end of 2009 and could pay off that full amount by 2011, four years ahead of schedule, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The government debt represents about 13 percent of the $52 billion that U.S. taxpayers have invested in General Motors, the majority of which was exchanged for a 61 percent ownership stake in the company.

GM will announce the repayment plan Monday when it releases its preliminary third-quarter earnings results, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan ahead of the announcement.

Even if GM pays back these loans early, government investigators have questioned whether taxpayers will recoup their full investment in GM and fellow bailed-out automaker Chrysler Group LLC. GM, which exited bankruptcy as a new privately held company on July 10, has said it hopes to sell stock to the public late next year so taxpayers can recoup at least part of their remaining investment.

However, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued earlier this month that the automakers' share values would have to soar to levels they didn't even approach when they were healthier for the $80 billion in taxpayer loans to be completely repaid.

The person briefed on the plan said the repayment plan would allow GM to pay down a substantial portion of the government debt by the time the company goes public.

Well ahead of deadline
Under the plan to pay back the $6.7 billion, the Detroit automaker will make quarterly payments of $1 billion to the U.S. government and $200 million to the Canadian government beginning in late 2009. GM would be on track to pay off the $6.7 billion U.S. debt and a $1.4 billion debt to Canada by the middle of 2011, well ahead of a mid-2015 deadline to repay the two governments.

The person said GM was in a position to make the payments ahead of schedule because the company performed better than expected during the bankruptcy and the company's sales and overall performance since then have been modestly better than expected.

The automaker will draw on about $13 billion that remains deposited in escrow by the government to help make the payments.

GM Chairman Ed Whitacre said last week that GM was committed to repaying its government loans.

"Can GM pay back its loans? You bet," Whitacre said during an address at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas. "I can't tell you when, but it won't be very long."

However, Whitacre also said the timing of any GM IPO remains uncertain and depends on when the company returns to profitability.

GM spokesman Greg Martin declined comment Sunday on the debt repayment.

The Treasury Department has spent more than $454 billion through its $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Forty-seven recipients have paid back nearly $73 billion, with the program set to expire Dec. 31.

Inspector General Neil Barofsky, the man who watches over the government money given to banks and other institutions to avert a financial collapse, said last month he thought it was too early to say how much will be repaid to the taxpayers but believed "it's unrealistic to think we're going to get all of that money back."

The government has already seen some of its TARP investments wiped out. Small business lender CIT Group filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month, making it unlikely taxpayers will recover any of the $2.3 billion in aid the U.S. sunk into the company last fall.