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GM to buy back 200M shares as part of gov't exit

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DETROIT – The Treasury plans to sell its remaining stake in General Motors over the next 15 months, allowing the automaker to shed the stigma of being partly owned by the U.S. government.

GM said Wednesday it will spend $5.5 billion to buy back 200 million shares from the Treasury by the end of this year. The government, in turn, plans to sell its remaining stake of 300 million shares on the open market over the next 12 to 15 months.

GM will pay $27.50 for each share, about an 8 percent premium over Tuesday's closing price of $25.49. The shares shot up about 7 percent to $27.30 in Wednesday morning trading.

The government is almost certain to lose billions on the $49.5 billion bailout that saved GM from being auctioned off in pieces during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. The Treasury says it will have recouped about $28.7 billion after GM completes its buyback. So, to break even, Treasury would have to sell the remaining 300 million shares for average of about $70 each.

GM says getting the government out of its business removes a major obstacle. Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann told reporters that the company has market research showing that government ownership has held down sales of its cars and trucks.

"This is fundamentally good for the business," he said at a hastily called news conference Wednesday morning.

Almost immediately, GM will no longer be banned from owning a corporate jet or required to manufacture a certain percentage of GM cars and trucks in the U.S. GM says it already has exceeded the manufacturing requirements and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It has no immediate plans to buy or lease corporate jets.

Government-ordered pay restrictions will remain in effect until the Treasury completes the sale of its remaining 19 percent stake. Treasury said in a statement that the sale will be subject to market conditions.

If the government sells its remaining 300 million shares for $30 each, it would get another $9 billion. That means taxpayers would recoup around $38 billion, or about 77 percent of their investment. But they would still lose around $12 billion on the deal.

In 2008 and 2009, the Treasury bailed out GM to help stabilize and restructure the company. The bailouts of GM and Chrysler were part of the $700 billion Trouble Asset Relief Program created by Congress during the financial crisis in the fall of 2008.

"The auto industry rescue helped save more than a million jobs during a severe economic crisis," said Timothy Massad, Treasury's assistant secretary for financial stability. "The government should not be in the business of owning stakes in private companies for an indefinite period of time."

Massad said that exiting the GM investment "is consistent with our dual goals of winding down TARP as soon as practicable and protecting taxpayer interests."

Initially the government got 912 million shares in exchange for the money it lent GM. It sold 412 million shares for $33 apiece in GM's initial public stock offering in November of 2010.

GM shares rose shortly after the IPO, but then slid as the U.S. economic recovery slowed and Europe's economy took a turn for the worse. As the shares fell, the government balked at further sales.

Although GM is paying a premium for the government shares, Ammann GM's other shareholders benefit because the number of shares on the market will be reduced about 11 percent. That should increase the value of the remaining shares.

The move was approved by the GM board on Tuesday evening after the company got opinions from its management and financial advisers, GM said.

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AP Business Writer Martin Crutsinger in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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