Shareholders to settle GM's fight with activist investor

Shareholders to settle GM's fight with activist investor
Posted at 9:55 AM, Jun 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-06 09:55:27-04

General Motors' normally tranquil annual meeting could be a contentious affair this year, as an activist investor targets GM's stagnant stock price.

The nation's No. 1 automaker has posted more than $42 billion in profits over the past seven years. Yet the stock has stubbornly hovered near its $33 initial offering price from November 2010.

That's led investor David Einhorn to propose splitting the stock into two classes: One for capital appreciation, the other for those who want dividends. Einhorn's Greenlight Capital hedge fund owns 3.6 percent of GM. The automaker's management opposes the proposal as too risky.

The fight will be settled Tuesday at the annual meeting when shareholders vote on the proposal and also elect all 11 company directors. Greenlight has nominated three of its own candidates to the board.

Greenlight argues that its plan unlocks tens of billions in stock value that's stuck in the current structure. Despite GM's profits, cost cuts and investments in future technology, the stock has risen only 4.5 percent since the 2010 IPO.

"If shareholders do not insist on action, GM's incumbent board will continue to do nothing to fix GM's valuation problem," Greenlight said in a statement.

But GM CEO Mary Barra said in a letter to shareholders that there's no evidence that Greenlight's plan will work and there may not be any demand for the new stock.

The split also could cause GM to lose its investment grade credit rating, increasing costs for the company and its auto financing arm, Barra wrote.

The company also says two independent evaluation firms have analyzed Einhorn's plan and recommended against it.

Barra has been cutting fixed costs, shedding unprofitable businesses, raising quality and developing products for the future such as the Chevrolet Bolt, a fully electric car that goes 238 miles per charge and costs under $30,000 with a federal tax credit. GM also has returned $18 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks from 2012 to 2016, with another $7 billion expected this year.