General Motors took a big step towards repaying a controversial taxpayer-funded bailout by declaring plans for a landmark stock offering that represents a critical test for the Obama administration.
The car maker said it planned to list the shares on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange in an initial public offering that comes amid a still-weak global market for cars that is vulnerable to a further downturn.
The Obama administration wants to be able to cast its $50bn (£32.1bn) GM bailout as a financial success in the face of public scepticism and Republican political opposition but some analysts are still wary of the offering.
GM's IPO could be the biggest since Visa Inc's $19.7bn March 2008 offering, and could raise up to $20bn, though analysts cautioned that its size depends on still-untested investor demand for a restructured automaker with only two consecutive quarters of profits.
GM's initial filing with U.S. securities regulators did not say how many shares would be sold or give an expected price range for the IPO.
"We're looking at a second half that is potentially weaker than the first half," said Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group. "That could certainly hurt the sale of the shares."
"I don't think this is a good time to be going public," Virag said. "It's more political than practical."
Trading in GM shares is expected to start between late October and the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on November 25, according to people involved in the process. A stock offering in late October would mean trading would start just before the November congressional elections.
Government officials and GM executives have repeatedly denied any link with the elections.
The 102-year-old onetime blue chip is expected to return to the NYSE under the "GM" ticker symbol it had before the government-funded bankruptcy.
Adding a stock listing in Toronto underscores the role the governments of Canada and Ontario played as junior partners to the U.S. Treasury in keeping GM from liquidation.
The long-running confidential preparations for the IPO were dubbed "Project Dawn" by the group of bankers, Treasury officials and GM executives led by Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell.
GM Chief Executive Ed Whitacre, who steps down at the start of September, has said the automaker needs to distance itself from government ownership and the label "Government Motors" to build momentum in its turnaround.
"I just think that the risk of failure with the IPO is bigger than the risk of being known as Government Motors," said Brad Coulter, a restructuring specialist at O'Keefe & Associates.
City A.M. Reporter