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GM: Losses weren't as bad

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

DETROIT -- General Motors Co. said Monday it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business.

The company also said it will begin repaying $6.7 billion in U.S. government loans with a $1.2 billion payment in December. It plans to repay the debt over the next eight quarters, but could pay it back as early as next year. But the money will come from funds loaned by the government.

GM said its improved performance was fueled by new products including the Chevrolet Camaro muscle car, and the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain midsize crossover vehicles. The company's top sellers through October were the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and Impala full-size car.

The better showing also reflected lower debt payments. The automaker paid $250 million in interest for the latest period, far lower than the $1.1 billion it had to pay in the first quarter, before it went into bankruptcy protection. Before Chapter 11, GM was weighed down by a huge debt of almost $95 billion that has since been cut to $17 billion.

GM's global presence helped the company, particularly in China, where its sales of 478,000 in the third quarter increased 6 percent over the second quarter. GM earned $429 million before taxes and interest at its Asia Pacific unit, which includes China, and $245 million in Latin America. It had pretax losses of $651 million in North America and $437 million in Europe.

''We have significantly more work to do, but today's results provide evidence of the solid foundation we are building for the new GM,'' CEO Fritz Henderson said in a statement.

The company cautioned that the earnings numbers mean little because they don't comply with U.S. accounting standards and cover only the part of the quarter after GM left Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 10.

Even more unusual is the $79.4 billion profit the troubled automaker reported for the first nine days of the third quarter, when it remained under bankruptcy court protection but was able to scrap colossal amounts of debt and other obligations.

''Direct comparisons are not necessarily applicable,'' said Chief Financial Officer Ray Young. ''You can make some judgments in terms of trends.''

GM maintains the numbers show a company making progress, riding dramatically reduced structural costs to a far better performance than the $6 billion loss GM reported in the first quarter, the last full quarter for which its numbers met accounting standards.

GM took in $3.3 billion more cash than it spent for the third quarter, far better than the $10 billion the company burned through during the first quarter.

Its third-quarter revenue totaled $26.4 billion, an improvement over the first quarter when its revenue dropped almost 50 percent to $22.4 billion from a year earlier. Revenue was aided by sales boosts in July and August from the U.S. government's Cash for Clunkers rebates.