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Two months later, then-CEO Rick Wagoner found himself in front of members of Congress, begging for money to keep GM alive. Four months after that, he was ousted by President Barack Obama.

By June 2009, GM had filed for bankruptcy. It emerged relieved of most of its debt but mostly owned by the government and saddled with a damaging nickname: “Government Motors.” The value of its old stock was wiped out, along with $27 billion in bond value.

Now GM is a publicly traded company again with the familiar stock symbol “GM.” Obama on Wednesday said GM’s IPO marks a major milestone not only in the turnaround of the company, but of the U.S. auto industry as a whole.

Most of the new stock will go to institutional investors, not to everyday investors, following a Wall Street system that rewards investment banks’ big customers. GM will set aside 5 percent of its new stock for employees, retirees and car dealers to buy at the offering price. The deadline to sign up was Oct. 22, but the company has not revealed how many people took the offer.

Early Thursday, GM’s main joint venture partner in China, SAIC Motor Corp., said it has bought a nearly 1 percent stake in GM, buying shares being offered in the IPO at a total cost of nearly $500 million. The Shanghai-based, state-run SAIC said the share purchase is meant to enhance its cooperation with GM in China, the world’s biggest auto market.

Several sovereign wealth funds, which are pools of money from reserves of foreign governments, bought GM shares, although Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell described the stakes as “modest.”

Hedge and mutual funds also are among the company’s larger shareholders.

Senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday that the Treasury Department sought to strike a balance between getting a return for taxpayers and exiting government ownership as soon as practical.

The government has agreed that it will not sell shares outside the IPO for six months after the sale. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they would assess their options for selling the government’s stake further.

In the stock offering, the government made $11.8 billion by selling 358 million shares at $33 apiece. It stands to make $13.6 billion if bankers exercise options for up to 412 million shares, as planned. The government would still have about 500 million shares, a one-third stake. It would have to sell those shares over the next two to three years at about $53 a share for taxpayers to come out even.

The government’s strategy in retaining shares is to wait for GM’s finances to improve, pushing the stock price up even further during the next couple of years. If that happens, the government stands a chance of getting most of its money back.

The total bailout was $50 billion. GM has already paid or agreed to pay back $9.5 billion. That comes from cash and payments related to preferred stock held by the government.

Reuss said he knows there’s pressure to keep performing well and boost the stock price even further.

“I can’t control share prices,” he said. “I’ll just go right back to designing and building and selling the world’s best vehicles. That’s what we can control.”

The GM debut comes at a time when auto stocks are performing well generally. The stock of GM’s crosstown rival, Ford, has risen steadily this year, from about $10 in January to about $16.50 as the GM IPO approached. The stock traded for a dollar in November 2008, and Ford never even took bailout money.

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