DETROIT General Motors Corp on Thursday said its auditors had raised "substantial doubt" about its ability to survive outside bankruptcy if it fails to stem its losses and stop burning cash.
The "going concern" warning from the struggling U.S. automaker had been expected, but underscored the stakes for GM as it seeks up to $30 billion in U.S. government aid to restructure outside a court-supervised bankruptcy process.
GM's shares dropped 17 percent to $1.82 on the New York Stock Exchange as investors reacted to the news.
GM said its creditors had agreed to waive a requirement that could have allowed them to force the automaker to repay more than $6 billion in loans because of the warning in order to allow GM to press its case for government aid.
The automaker had warned late last month that it expected auditors Deloitte & Touche would question its viability after it reported a loss of nearly $31 billion for 2008.
"Amid the automotive depression, GM is dependent upon the largesse and forbearance of the U.S. and foreign governments to sustain its various entities," S&P equity analyst Efraim Levy said in a note for clients.
The disclosures came in GM's delayed annual report to U.S. Securities Regulators and a 25-page discussion of the growing risks facing the automaker ranging from tight credit and troubled suppliers to slumping demand for new cars.
GM has about $1 billion in convertible debentures that mature on June 1. Absent a deal to restructure its debt, that looming payment could force GM into bankruptcy, it said.
The automaker also reiterated that a bankruptcy filing could force a liquidation because of the lack of financing its reorganization would require and consumer reluctance to buy vehicles from a bankrupt automaker.
GM faces an end of March deadline to complete concession talks with the United Auto Workers and bondholders to reduce its debt load as part of a bid to convince the autos task force assembled by U.S. President Barack Obama that it can be made viable with a new round of government help.
"Our future is dependent on our ability to execute our viability plan," GM said in its annual report filed with U.S. securities regulators.
"If we fail to do so for any reason, we would not be able to continue as a going concern and could potentially be forced to seek relief through a filing under the U.S. bankruptcy code," it said.
In a separate statement, GM said the "going concern" note would not have any effect on its turnaround efforts and said it expected to be able to fund its operations again when cost-savings are in place and global auto sales recover.
Some analysts have said the red flag from GM's auditors could risk cutting the credit available to its suppliers just as many of those smaller companies face a deepening cash crisis of their own.
FOCUS SHIFTS TO CREDITORS
Representatives of GM's bondholders were scheduled to meet on Thursday with the U.S. autos task force. Under GM's bailout, its debt holders have been asked to take a payout of one-third of the $27 billion GM owes through a debt-for-equity swap.
Bondholders have balked at those terms and are asking Washington to guarantee their remaining debt in the automaker.
GM's 8.375 percent bonds due in 2033, rose a penny on the dollar on Thursday to 13 cents as its yield fell to about 64 percent, from 69 percent on Wednesday. Those bonds traded as high as 21.5 cents in January to yield about 39 percent back in January, according to MarketAxess data.
Separately, GM said in its SEC filing that its lenders had waived "call" provisions that could have forced early payment of its $4.5 billion secured revolving credit facility, a $1.5 billion term loan and a $125-million inventory financing facility.
The new waivers allow GM's lenders to call those loans if the U.S. Treasury rejects GM's restructuring plan and request for additional aid and forces it to repay the $13.4 billion it has already borrowed from the U.S. government.
GM has lost some $82 billion since 2005 and has been hit hard by the steep drop in global auto sales in the past year.
Industry-wide U.S. auto sales have fallen 40 percent from their 2007 peak. Sales globally are down about 24 percent from a peak in January 2008, GM said.
GM said it expected to post a loss that could top $1 billion in the current quarter as it begins to report results separately for its troubled Saab unit.
The Swedish auto brand is up for sale and attempting to reorganize under new ownership and with aid from the Swedish government.
(Additional reporting by Franklin Paul; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)