Monday, April 6, 2009

Government Auto Task Force May Split Up Chrysler's Equity

Instead of Cerberus Capital Management and Daimler AG holding 80.1% and 19.9%, respectively, of Chrysler LLC, there will be a larger cast.

Under the latest scenario proposed by the U.S. government, Fiat SpA will have the largest block of Chrysler, at 20%. The remaining 80% will be allocated among a variety of secured creditors that include at least five banks and U.S. taxpayers.

Cerberus and Daimler likely will hold much smaller stakes because they still hold loans that helped finance the August 2007 acquisition of the Auburn Hills-based automaker.

Even the UAW could end up owning a piece of the company.

"They are trying to trade debt for equity among the current creditors," said Tom Stallkamp, a former DaimlerChrysler vice chairman and president. He is now a partner in Ripplewood Holdings LLC, a private equity fund. "It's all based on how much of a haircut the debt holders will accept."

Coincidentally, those debt holders include some of the giant banks -- J.P. Morgan Chase, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs -- that auto industry advocates argue have benefitted from a double standard in how they accounted for government loans.

Debt-for-equity talks
There are three levels of Chrysler debt secured by such assets as manufacturing plants, equipment, vehicles, parts and real estate. The first level, valued by Chrysler at $6.9 billion, was borrowed from the banks. The second is $2 billion borrowed from Daimler ($1.5 billion) and Cerberus ($500 million). The third is the $4.3 billion in government loans committed in December and January.

If Chrysler were to file for bankruptcy, the banks would be first in line to sell assets, followed by Cerberus and Daimler, and finally the federal government.

"This is the worst possible time to be selling an auto plant," said Shelly Lombard, a credit analyst with Gimme Credit in New York.

Chrysler, Fiat and President Barack Obama's auto task force are working hard to avoid that outcome. To succeed, they must secure breakthrough agreements with the banks and the UAW. Then, the task force has said it would release up to $6 billion more to fund Chrysler's operations.

Unlike GM, which is dealing primarily with bondholders, Chrysler's debt is owed to banks and the government. Some of the bank loans have been sold to hedge funds and other investors. "It's hard to know who bought what, even with bonds, and it's harder still with bank loans," Lombard said.

One of the banks likely will act as an agent for the hedge funds. Then, the task force leaders, Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom, will negotiate for a settlement that offers the banks a fraction of the loans' face value in exchange for shares in the new Chrysler.

Challenges ahead
Fiat so far has not offered cash and has said it will not assume any current debt to partner with Chrysler. While Chrysler has valued Fiat's vehicles and powertrain technology at $8 billion to $10 billion, that won't likely satisfy the banks.

"Fiat is in many ways a reasonable long-term solution," said Craig Fitzgerald of Plante & Moran. "The big question is will $6 billion more from taxpayers be enough to fund Chrysler's turnaround."

The challenge with the UAW is to find a non-cash method to cover half of $10.6 billion Chrysler owes in 2010 to the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, trust fund. The trust was created to cover health care insurance for UAW retirees.

If Fiat doesn't offer cash or its own stock, Chrysler may offer the union stock in the new company. Such a deal would save $5.3 billion, which could be enough to satisfy Obama's demand for more concessions, and bring the UAW into partnership with banks, taxpayers, Cerberus and Fiat.....More

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