Is GM a port in the stock-market storm?

Looking for a safe haven in a tanking stock market? How about shares of General Motors?

Sure, it sounds counterintuitive, but one Wall Street analyst is making that case. At least he did before shares fell 6.61 percent.

"GM has powerful defensive properties many OEMs do not have," Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas writes in a research note today.

So Jonas figures that GM -- just two years out of bankruptcy and still sporting a junk-bond credit rating -- might be the automaker best positioned to survive a global downturn.

Here's his thinking:

•  Cash buffer

GM's cash and cash equivalents of $20.5 billion is nearly 60 percent of its market capitalization. Jonas figures GM's cash pile would last even if sales volumes dropped 20 percent from today's level -- and stayed there for nearly four years.

•  Lower breakeven

GM says its business is built to remain profitable in the worst of markets -- something it showed last year while turning a $4.67 billion net profit at an 11.6-million U.S. auto sales year.

"Sounds odd, but GM may be one of the few OEMs to remain profitable in a global downturn," Jonas says.

•  New products

Profits are flowing even with relatively stale products. GM's U.S. models are an average of nearly four years old, among the industry's oldest. Jonas estimates GM will replace nearly 60 percent of its models over the next three years.

So as some on Wall Street roll their eyes at GM's strategy of building a "fortress balance sheet," one that carries little debt, fully funds its pension and ensures consistent spending on product development regardless of how bad the economy tanks, at least one voice on the Street senses an opportunity.

Or is it a case of any port in a storm?

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