FROM FINANCE TO INDUSTRY: THE CRISIS IN AUTO - Part 2

As late as 2000, Fortune ranked GM as the largest corporation in the world as measured by revenue.73

From very early on, GM was not only a producer of vehicles but also a major financial company. In 1919, GM introduced its own financial arm, the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), to support its dealers and sales. By 1985 GMAC had financed 100 million vehicles and was branching into real estate and mortgages. A new division within GMAC, Residential Capital (ResCap), soon extended to ten global locations and "purchased loans in the secondary market from a variety of originators (for example, mortgage bankers) and sold them as mortgage-backed securities (MBS) to fixed-income institutional investors."74

Finance also directly affected GM's productive operations. The easy availability of credit in the 1980s and 1990s led GM to flirt with a number of (ultimately ill-fated) diversifications and to develop a strategy to revive profits through the sale of expensive but highly profitable trucks to consumers enticed by low-interest loans — a strategy which, in assuming that oil prices would stay low and the economy strong, blurred the line between productive and financial "speculation." Financial markets affected production as well through the pressures for higher returns, which translated into demands for worker concessions, tighter work standards, and the outsourcing of components (downsizing). And it was financial markets that provided the funds for suppliers of the components — like Delphi — to ambitiously expand and sometimes over-expand.

Beyond credit, GM now directly participated in financial markets as a primary agent. It regularly lent and borrowed overnight anywhere in the world to maximize the company's use of cash via arbitrage operations. As a global corporation facing a wide range of uncertainties, GM bought and sold financial derivatives to minimize risks from fluctuations in exchange rates and commodity prices and, to a lesser degree, in inflation and interest rates.

It might be asked whether all of this — the relative strength of GM's financial arm and GM's role in financial markets, alongside the collapse of GM's profits and its downsizing as a vehicle producer — implied that GM has been converted into an essentially financial company, but the answer would have to be a negative one. As important as GM's financial involvement has been, its principle pursuit has remained accumulation through hiring and coordinating workers to produce vehicles.

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