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GM paying $3.5B for Fort Worth-based AmeriCredit

NEW YORK ( — General Motors is paying $3.5 billion in cash to buy subprime auto lender AmeriCredit, a move that will once again give the automaker its own finance arm.

It is the first major acquisition for GM since it emerged from bankruptcy a year ago with the help of a $50 billion bailout by U.S. taxpayers.

GM will pay $24.50 a share for AmeriCredit (ACF), which represents a 24% premium over Wednesday’s closing price. The Fort Worth, Texas-based finance company typically finances low-mileage, late-model used cars to customers without good credit.

Shares of AmeriCredit shot up 22% in Thursday trading following the announcement.

Treasury owns 61% of the company. While GM completed repayment of a $7 billion loan from Treasury in April, recouping most of the bailout dollars will depend on the value of the company when it once again starts selling shares to the public.

GM is expected to go public again later this year or early in 2011.

An official with Treasury said that while the department was notified of the acquisition decision, GM is not required to seek the government’s approval for any investments, and that Treasury was not involved in negotiations. Treasury did not have any comment on the deal.

GM used to have its own finance arm, GMAC, which in addition to making auto loans and providing finance to its dealers was a major subprime mortgage lender. But it sold a majority stake in GMAC in 2006, partly because GM’s junk bond rating from credit agencies made it expensive for the finance firm to raise necessary capital.

GMAC’s problems with both auto finance and subprime mortgages ended up necessitating its own $17 billion bailout from the Treasury, which now owns 56% of its common stock as well as $10.1 billion in preferred shares.

GMAC, which recently changed its name to Ally Financial, makes loans to both customers and dealers of GM as well as Chrysler Group. But its own need to improve the quality of its loan portfolio has limited its willingness to make subprime auto loans and leases to car buyers of the two companies.

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