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Capital Markets

GM tests the limits of financial engineering

A top-notch pension scheme and subsidized healthcare ensure employees love working for General Motors. But the costs place a huge strain on the finances of one of the world's biggest bond issuers. Smart financial engineering has eased investors' fears over these liabilities. But GM must now address weak profitability in the car business. Its financing arm can't bail it out for ever. Kathryn Tully reports.

Jonn Devine, GM's CFO, is described as a visionary thinker and a risk-adverse manager.

IT IS ONE of the world's top three bond issuers. In terms of assets, it's among America's largest banks and makes most of its money from mortgages. It has 340,000 employees worldwide and vast purchasing power. It is second to only the government as the largest purchaser of Viagra in the US and is the world's biggest buyer of golf balls. Yet neither banking, executive sports or performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals are its main line of business and it isn't a conglomerate. It likes to think of itself as the world's biggest automotive company. There are many baffling things about General Motors but the fact that it buys so much Viagra to pass on at subsidized rates to its employees under its healthcare scheme is surely not run-of-the-mill corporate practice. "People seem really very happy to work there," says one analyst.

We can see why. What with the Viagra flood, one of the best employee pension schemes in the industry and more golf balls than you can shake a five iron at, it sounds like a great place to work.

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