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General Motors gets new credit lines totalling $11B as source of 'backup liquidity'

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FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, file photo, a sign stands outside Oshawa's General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, Canada. General Motors says it has received $11 billion in credit lines from 35 financial institutions in 14 countries, boosting its available cash and credit to more than $42 billion. The company wouldn’t say specifically what it plans to do with the money. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Michelle Siu, File)

DETROIT - General Motors says it has received $11 billion in credit lines from 35 financial institutions in 14 countries, boosting its available cash and credit to more than $42 billion.

The company wouldn't say specifically what it plans to do with the money, only that it's a source of "backup liquidity" that may be used for "strategic initiatives."

But analysts said it could be hoarding the cash to buy back stock, specifically from the U.S. government. The U.S. Treasury Department owns 26.5 per cent of the company, which it got in exchange for a $49.5 billion bailout about four years ago. They also say the cash could be used to help pay for restructuring GM's troubled European operations, buying an auto finance arm in Europe from Ally Financial, or to further fund its pension plans.

GM says the new lines have more favourable terms than the old one, and will allow the company to borrow in different currencies.

Two of the three New York debt-rating agencies, Moody Investors Service and Standard & Poor's, quickly gave the GM credit lines an investment-grade rating on Monday.

But that doesn't mean GM's overall corporate credit rating changed from junk status. S&P's corporate rating on GM remains at "BB+," the highest junk rating. Moody's kept the corporate rating at "Ba1," also one notch below investment grade. Moody's has given GM a positive outlook and said it remains on track to return to investment grade within the next year.

GM's new lines of credit include a three-year $5.5 billion facility and a five-year $5.5 billion line. They replace GM's existing $5 billion credit line, which was to expire in 2015. GM also has $31.6 billion in cash and securities.

Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said the lines are a vote of confidence in the company's financial strength.

The automaker, known derisively as "Government Motors" for taking bailout money to avoid going under in 2008 and 2009, has long wanted the government to sell its stake and exit the business. But the government, which still owns 500 million GM shares, is waiting for the stock price to rise before making a move. The government is $27 billion in the hole on its investment, and to break even, GM shares would have to sell for $53.

At this point, they're not even close. Shares fell 31 cents, or 1.2 per cent, to $25.48 in Monday afternoon trading.

It would cost GM about $12.7 billion to buy back all of the government's shares at the current price.

Last week, GM announced a $1.48 billion third-quarter profit on strong North American earnings, big improvements in South America and strong earnings in international areas outside of China. But there are signs of weakness. Profit in North America, GM's most lucrative market, fell 17 per cent from July through September. The company's U.S. market share dropped more than two percentage points to 17.6 per cent, and its U.S. sales increase of 3.4 per cent for the year lags overall market growth of 14.5 per cent. In Europe, where GM hasn't made money in a dozen years, it lost $478 million before taxes.

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