Morgan Stanley analyst says GM may pursue big changes like a merger to shake up its business

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    NEW YORK — General Motors may need to consider big strategic changes like a merger or partnership with a competitor, a Morgan Stanley analyst said Thursday.

    Analyst Adam Jonas noted that GM is returning lot of cash to shareholders, but its stock has made only small gains this year and it's little changed since the company's November 2010 IPO. Jonas said GM is aware that it's facing big challenges and might need to make a correspondingly major shift. In his view the company has too many brands, platforms, dealers, and overlapping businesses.

    "Investors remain unsatisfied by the pace and scope of change at the company, contributing to nearly 80 percent underperformance vs. the S&P 500 since the IPO," Jonas wrote. "We see an alignment of forces that may lead GM to consider more radical strategic changes."

    Jonas said he's not able to assess how the likelihood of any of those moves. He upgraded the shares to "Equal-weight" from "Underweight" and maintained a price target of $28 per share.

    GM did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In April CEO Mary Barra dismissed talk of merging with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, an idea that had been floated by Sergio Marchionne, the top executive of Fiat Chrysler.

    General Motors Co. recalled 2.6 million of cars in 2014 because of a problem with ignition switches in its small cars. The switches can slip out of the "on" position, causing the cars to stall and disabling some important safety features. More than 100 people were killed in crashes linked to the faulty switches, and GM says it may have to pay as much as $600 million in lawsuits.

    The company has acknowledged it knew about problems with the switches for more than a decade, and the Justice Department is investigating GM for failing to disclose those problems, which could lead to even larger penalties.

    GM emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2009. It went public again the next year with an IPO that priced at $33 per share.

    Its stock rose 58 cents, or 1.6 percent, to close at $36.39 on Thursday. Its shares are up more than 5 percent over the past year.

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