GM Rating Lifted to Investment Grade by Standard & Poor’sMadeline O’Leary
General Motors Co., five years after emerging from a government-backed bankruptcy, was returned to investment grade by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.
S&P upgraded the biggest U.S. automaker to BBB- from BB+ today, citing progress in Europe, healthy cash flow and limited reputational and market share damage as a result of the company’s record recalls. The ratings outlook is stable.
“We wanted to understand the impact of the recalls from a reputational standpoint as well as the effect they might have on the market share,” said Nishit Madlani, an analyst at S&P. “The company’s performance over recent months has shown that recalls haven’t impacted sales. Reputational damage did not transpire, for the most part.”
S&P made the move even as Kenneth Feinberg weighs hundreds of claims for damages related to deaths and injuries resulting from a faulty ignition switch in small cars, saying “credit measures will remain strong over the next year or so even after recall-related costs.”
GM fell 2.3 percent to $32.87 at the close in New York, before the upgrade was announced. This year, GM has tumbled 20 percent while the S&P 500 Index rose 6.4 percent.
The upgrade is an important milestone for the automaker as it tries to move past its biggest crisis since emerging from bankruptcy.
“Delivering segment-leading vehicles, improving the efficiency of our operations and building a fortress balance sheet made this upgrade possible,” GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said in a statement. “While we are not yet satisfied, and know we have work to do, I am confident that our renewed focus on our customers will drive even stronger business results.”
The company has recalled 29.3 million vehicles in North America this year, spurred by the criticism of the company’s slow response to complaints that go back more than a decade.
GM faces multiple investigations, including by state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department for its sluggishness in calling back the 2.59 million small cars with potentially faulty ignitions that have been linked to at least 21 deaths.
GM said in July that it would reserve at least $400 million to pay victims and that the total may rise to $600 million.
Feinberg, the lawyer managing the program, will ultimately decide the amount, said Chuck Stevens, GM’s chief financial officer. Feinberg has said that GM will not limit how much money the program pays.
Moody’s Investors Service lifted GM’s corporate family rating to Baa3 a year ago, then withdrew that rating, leaving the unsecured notes rated Ba1, a speculative-grade rating. Moody’s typically doesn’t maintain family ratings for investment-grade companies.
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