[OPE-L] S&P Cuts GM, Ford Credit Ratings to 'Junk'

From: Alejandro Valle Baeza (valle@SERVIDOR.UNAM.MX)
Date: Thu May 05 2005 - 14:30:21 EDT

S&P Cuts GM, Ford Credit Ratings to 'Junk'
Thursday May 5, 2:13 pm ET
By John Porretto, AP Auto Writer

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services Cuts GM, Ford Corporate Credit
Ratings to Junk Status
DETROIT (AP) -- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services cut its corporate
credit ratings to junk status for both General Motors Corp. and Ford
Motor Co., a significant blow that will increase borrowing costs and
limit fund-raising options for the nation's two biggest automakers.

Shares of both companies fell 5 percent or more after the Thursday's
downgrades, and the news sent the overall market lower.

The decision by one of the nation's most respected ratings agencies
comes as the two iconic American automakers are losing market share at
home to Asian automakers, seeing sales soften for their most profitable
models and are facing enormous health care and post-retirement liabilities.

The credit ratings agency said its downgrade of GM's long-term rating
below investment-grade status reflects its conclusion that management's
current strategies may not be effective in dealing with the automaker's
competitive disadvantages.

In a statement, GM said it was disappointed with S&P's decision but that
it and its finance arm, GMAC, have adequate cash and liquidity to fund
their operations "for the foreseeable future."

"Clearly, GM has many challenges in North America, but the company is
moving aggressively to address these challenges," the company said.

It said its greatest immediate concern for Ford is the prospect that its
sport utility vehicle business will not be able to generate the
profitability it's enjoyed historically. Ford's financial performance
has been heavily dependent on the earnings of its SUVs but sales of
midsize and large SUVs have plummeted of late, S&P said.

The rating reductions are significant because some big bondholders such
as some pension funds are prohibited from buying bonds that are
considered by the major rating houses as speculative, or junk. Both GM
and Ford had held credit ratings from S&P that were at the lowest level
of the agency's investment grade spectrum. As a result of the new
ratings, the automakers may have to pay higher rates of interest to
attract enough buyers for their bonds.

GM's consolidated debt as of March 31 was $291.8 billion, while Ford's
outstanding consolidated debt totaled $161.3 billion.

GM said it had $19.8 billion in cash at the end of the first quarter,
and GMAC had $18.5 billion in cash and securities.

S&P said the outlook was negative for both of the automakers.

The announcement came only a day after billionaire Kirk Kerkorian jolted
GM shares higher by offering to invest nearly $870 million in the
automaker. Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. offered to pay $868 million for a
nearly 5 percent stake, which would boost Tracinda's holdings to about 9
percent and make Kerkorian one of GM's largest shareholders.

GM shares fell to a 10-year low in April after the company reported a
$1.1 billion loss for the first quarter. Its sales have slumped in
recent months, including those of its most profitable sport utility
vehicles, as gasoline prices marched higher. And while GM executives
complain about huge increases in medical insurance costs, the United
Auto Workers union has said it's not interested in reopening contract
talks before 2007 to address those expenses.

GM shares dropped $1.69, or 5.2 percent, to $31.11 while Ford shares
fell 62 cents, or 6.1 percent, to $9.54 in afternoon trading on the New
York Stock Exchange.

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