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2012-02-17 06:55

HELPING HAND: US President Barack Obama gets into a Jeep Grand Cherokee at the 2012 Washington auto show. His government's 2009 US auto industry bail-outs have been criticised as "crony capitalism" by one of his Republican opponents. Image:

WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called on the US government to sell its stake in General Motors, a move that could lock in about $14-billion (R110bn) of losses for US taxpayers.

Romney, in an opinion piece in The Detroit News, criticised Democrat president Barack Obama's $81-billion auto bail-out in 2009 as "crony capitalism" that rewarded unions and other political allies of the president.

Romney was trying to explain why, in 2008, he called for the US government to stand aside as auto companies at the brink of insolvency begged for help.

The industry plays a dominant role in Michigan's economy and auto industry analysts say the government-led reorganisation of GM and Chrysler helped saved more than a million jobs and led to the rebirth of the two companies.


Obama, though, is highlighting the industry's turnaround as a success story in his efforts to create jobs in a devastated economy.

Romney, son of a former auto executive, says the automakers would have recovered on their own. "The Obama administration needs to act now to divest itself of its ownership position in GM. The shares need to be sold in a responsible fashion and the proceeds turned over to the nation's taxpayers."

Taxpayers have recovered roughly half of the government's $49.5-billion investment in GM through stock sales and loan repayments. To break even on the GM bail-out, the Treasury Department would have to sell its remaining one-third stake in the company for roughly $53 (R417) a share. GM stock is trading at about half that amount so taxpayers would lose about $14-billion (R110bn) if the stock was sold today.

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