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GM could lose up to $100M per day from UAW strike, experts say

A nationwide strike of General Motors Co. workers that began Sept. 16 could cost the automaker anywhere from $50 million to $100 million each day it continues, according to experts.

Auto industry experts also say several major issues are preventing a resolution in the negotiations and that the strike could last from a few days to a few weeks.

"The longer it lasts, the more it will be felt in GM's earnings profile," Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy said in a Sept. 16 research note.

Credit Suisse pinned the estimated losses at $50 million per day. Bank of America analysts estimate losses of up to $90 million each day, CNBC reported Sept. 16, while Citigroup estimated $100 million in losses per day, according to The Wall Street Journal. GM declined to comment on reports of how much money the automaker could lose daily if the strike continues.

The United Auto Workers, or UAW, and General Motors failed to reach an agreement before their previous four-year contract expired Sept. 14, leading to a strike of approximately 46,000 GM workers. The strike comes during an ongoing federal investigation into union officials linked to bribery.

Shares of GM were down 4.2% at $37.21 at market close Sept. 16. The last GM strike happened in 2007, lasted two days and cost the automaker more than $300 million a day, according to CNBC.

The UAW said in a Sept. 14 letter that there are "many outstanding issues" between GM and the union, including wages, healthcare, temporary workers and profit-sharing. The union on Sept. 16 declined to comment on further details of the negotiations or on how long the strike might last.

GM, meanwhile, said Sept. 16 that negotiations with the union had resumed. The automaker a day earlier said it offered workers a "strong offer" of wage and benefit increases and called the strike "disappointing."

"Our goal remains to reach an agreement that builds a stronger future for our employees and our business," the company said in a statement.

SNL Image

Union members picket outside a General Motors facility in Pennsylvania on Sept. 16.

Source: Associated Press

Marick Masters, business professor and director of labor at Wayne State University, said it can be difficult for GM to address the union's concerns because the automaker's funds are being pulled in other directions.

"GM needs capital to invest in technology and product development, and it needs to maintain a more agile and competitively paid labor force," he said.

Levy of Credit Suisse said the estimate of $50 million lost per day assumes daily production of about 7,500 to 8,000 units and does not factor in any offsets from GM.

"GM could potentially offset lost production once the strike ends," the analyst said in a research note. "It could also use the strike as an opportunity to keep inventory levels in-line. There may also be cost offsets with production offline."

Levy said Credit Suisse remains positive on GM's outlook for the second half of the year and 2020 because of its recent cost-cutting measures and pickup truck push.

The strike "at the very least is an optical negative and a reminder of the challenges of investing in automakers at this point in the cycle," Levy said.

GM's 77 days of U.S. inventory, $17.5 billion in cash and $16.5 billion available under its credit facility will let the automaker weather a strike no longer than one or two weeks, Moody's auto analyst Bruce Clark said in an email.

If the strike lasts beyond that, Clark said, then "the financial burden ... will become more material and the prospects of a contract that avoids erosion of the company's current competitive position is less likely."

The strike, however, could be over in a matter of days, Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, said in an interview.

"But the circumstances [of the strike] are unlike any we've seen before, with the industry headed for a downturn and a transformation and the UAW leadership under the cloud of a corruption investigation," Krebs said.

Other experts think the strike could last longer.

"I think this strike could last two to four weeks," Bill Selesky, senior research analyst at Argus Research Group, said in an interview.

"Workers are unhappy with four plants closing and job security and benefits," Selesky said. "The company can increase all the workers' benefits and reuse or repurpose the four plants and keep them."

Masters, of Wayne State University, said three factors could cause the strike to stretch past a few days.

"The parties seem far apart on key issues such as product allocation — which is job security — general wage increases and protecting healthcare benefits as they are; the lack of trust between the parties, which is attributable in substantial part to how the initial plant closures and layoffs were handled by General Motors; and the cloud of suspicion hanging over the national UAW leadership," Masters said.

Bribery charges and convictions from the federal investigation add "skepticism and doubt among members about what their leadership tells them," Masters said. As of Sept. 16, 10 former and current officials connected to the UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have been charged in the investigation, nine of whom pleaded guilty.

"Such doubt and skepticism complicates getting the members to ratify a tentative agreement, which in turn causes the leadership to stiffen its bargaining posture, making such an agreement in the first place more difficult to obtain," he said.