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Latest update : 2008-09-05

At 11.12 dollars per share, General Motors' stock price is at its lowest level since 1954. Since the beginning of June, GM's stock has dropped more than 35 percent.

General Motors' stock price fell on Monday to levels last seen in 1954, as investors fretted over its falling sales and as some analysts wondered if the iconic US automaker's glory days are in the rearview mirror.

Analysts are questioning if GM will be able to remain a component of the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average stock barometer, which groups some of America's biggest industrial groups.

The Detroit-based auto giant, which is due to unveil its June sales tally on Tuesday, joined the index of leading stocks on August 31, 1925.

But analysts say its falling sales and troubled finances could put it at risk of being ejected from the index after decades of membership.

Industry analysts say GM's demise had been triggered for two reasons: rocketing crude oil prices and because consumers are turning away from pickups and other gasoline-guzzling vehicles that the auto-maker rolls off its production lines.

GM's shares hit a record high of 93.62 dollars on April 24, 2000, but fell at one point Monday to 11.12 dollars, marking its lowest level in over half-a-century. Its shares subsequently closed down slightly at 11.50 dollars.

Since the beginning of June, GM's share price has tumbled over 35 percent.

She said US automakers partly have an image problem as consumers think they only produce big vehicles, such as sport utility vehicles, and trucks.

The combined market worth of US automakers ranks in the billions of dollars, but plummeting sales and related financial problems have made them vulnerable to potential takeovers, analysts say.

Some analysts point out that GM's debt mountain, of around 16 billion dollars, could, however, put off possible corporate suitors seeking to acquire a big US automaker.

Potential suitors may also be wary of GM being potentially downgraded from the Dow Jones index, as such a move could make fresh financing harder to win.

Analysts say GM could issue new shares to help bolster its finances, although such a move would be likely to dilute the holdings of existing shareholders.

"GM has to raise capital, that is the problem. GM has to cut the dividend and raise capital, ultimately that is what they will be forced to do, to sell equities and cut the dividend," said Mace Blicksilver of Marblehead Asset Management.

Any capitalization plan could run afoul of cash-strapped banks, however, who are facing their own losses from the sharp downturn in the US housing market.

"Cash is very limited for everybody and when you couple the very tight credit (squeeze) and combined with very poor automotive sales, then it just aggravates the difficult situation," Lindland said.

If the credit crisis, which has made it much harder for American consumers to get car loans and credit from stressed banks, continues, GM's place in the Dow could be in danger, analysts say.

"GM is the weakest member of the Dow Jones" index, said Blicksilver.

Blicksilver said, however, that there will be tremendous political and psychological pressure to keep GM, one of America's best-known companies, ranked in the Dow.

Lindland said GM's management might still be able to turn the automaker's fortunes around.

"They are still a huge company, if they are able to cut costs significantly and able to respond more quickly to consumers' preferences, then they will be okay," she said.

After GM, the smallest company ranked in the Dow is aluminum group Alcoa which has a market worth of around 29 billion dollars, almost five times GM's worth of over six billion dollars.

Asked about possible index changes, a spokeswoman for the Dow Jones Indexes said: "We do not speculate or comment on composition changes to the Dow Jones Industrial Average."

Date created : 2008-07-01