Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fiat News-Chrysler to file for bankruptcy

Chrysler to file for bankruptcy

WASHINGTON – Chrysler will file for bankruptcy after talks with a small group of creditors crumbled just a day before a government deadline for the automaker to come up with a restructuring plan, two administration officials said Thursday.

The Obama administration had long hoped to stave off bankruptcy for Chrysler LLC, but it became clear that a holdout group wouldn't budge on proposals to reduce Chrysler's $6.9 billion in secured debt, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the filing plans are not public. Clearing those debts was a needed step for Chrysler restructure by the Thursday night deadline.

Bankruptcy doesn't mean the nation's third largest automaker will shut down. And the privately-held Chrysler is expected to sign a partnership agreement with the Italian company Fiat as early as Thursday as part of its restructuring plan. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing would allow a judge to decide how much the company's creditors would get.

President Barack Obama is expected to discuss the nation's auto sector at noon Eastern.

The Treasury Department's auto task force has been racing in the past week to clear the major hurdles that prevented Chrysler from coming up with a viable plan to survive the economic crisis ravaging nation's automakers.

Along with the Fiat deal, the United Auto Workers ratified a cost-cutting pact Wednesday night. Treasury reached a deal earlier this week with four banks that hold the majority of Chrsyler's debt in return for $2 billion in cash.

But the administration said about 40 hedge funds that hold roughly 30 percent of that debt also needed to sign on for the deal to go through. Those creditors said the proposal was unfair and were holding out for a better deal.

"While the administration was willing to give the holdout creditors a final opportunity to do the right thing, the agreement of all other key stakeholders ensured that no hedge fund could have a veto over Chrysler's future success," said one of the administration officials.

A third person briefed on Wednesday night's events said the Treasury Department and the four banks tried to persuade the hedge funds to take a sweetened deal of $2.25 billion in cash. But in the end, this person said most thought they could recover more if Chrysler went into bankruptcy and some of its assets were sold to satisfy creditors. This person asked not to be identified because details of the negotiations have not been made public.

When it files for bankruptcy, Chrysler would continue operating and Fiat would still sign on as a partner on Thursday, the people said. The government already has promised to back Chrysler's warranties in an effort to allay customers' fears that the automaker wouldn't be around to honor them.

President Barack Obama's auto task force in March rejected Chrysler's restructuring plan and gave it 30 days to make another effort, including a tie-up with Fiat. The company has borrowed $4 billion from the federal government and needs billions more to keep operating. President Obama said Wednesday night while the lender talks were still ongoing that he was "very hopeful" that deals can be worked out to keep Chrysler LLC a viable automaker, and more hopeful than he was a month ago that the company will stay in business.

The UAW agreement, which would take effect May 4, meets Treasury requirements for continued loans to Chrysler Corp., and includes commitments from Fiat to manufacture a new small car in one of Chrysler's U.S. facilities and to share key technology with Chrysler.

Meanwhile, the Fiat partnership means Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli could be out of a job. In an April e-mail to employees, he said that if the deal is completed, Chrysler would be run by a new board appointed by the government and Fiat. The new board, Nardelli wrote, would pick a CEO "with Fiat's concurrence."

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of the Italian automaker, told reporters earlier this month that he could run Chrysler. Obama said Wednesday that Fiat's management "has actually done a good job transforming their industry."

Krisher reported from Detroit. Associated Press Writers Ben Feller in Washington, Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, Kimberly S. Johnson in Detroit and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chrysler Fiat News-Obama praises autoworkers, says Chrysler deal uncertain

President Barack Obama said today he did not know whether a deal preventing a collapse of Chrysler LLC would be done before Thursday's deadline, and praised American autoworkers for their sacrifices to the industry's survival.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Missouri marking his 100th day in office, Obama said his auto task force sent Chrysler and General Motors Corp. back to redo their business plans because their initial sustainability plans were not realistic. GM has until June 1 to deliver its new plan.

As for Chrysler: “We don’t know yet whether the deal is going to get done.”

Chrysler and the administration reached an agreement with large Chrysler debt holders to swap $6.9 billion in secured debt for $2 billion in cash. But 40-odd investment firms and hedge funds have to agree in unison to the swap, or the government will take Chrysler to bankruptcy court to force it into place.

Chrysler must also complete a deal with Fiat S.p.A., which appears close at hand.....More

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chrysler Fiat-U.S. Reaches Deal With Chrysler Banks, Person Says

By John Hughes

April 28 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has reached agreement with banks on terms to reduce debt of Chrysler LLC, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

The banks’ representatives agreed to forgo $6.9 billion in debt in return for $2 billion in cash, said the person, who declined to be identified discussing the private talks. The deal is one of the steps Chrysler needed to avoid a bankruptcy after April 30.

Bankruptcy remains a possibility for Chrysler, the person said. All 46 banks involved need to ratify the terms, and it isn’t likely that all would, the person said. In that case, a quick, surgical type of bankruptcy may be needed to bring any dissenting banks into an agreement, the person said.

Chrysler, operating with $4 billion in U.S. loans, faces an April 30 deadline to restructure its costs or risk losing government support.

Shawn Morgan, a Chrysler spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chrysler, Fiat Make Progress

Italian carmaker Fiat took a step closer to clinching a crucial deal with Chrysler after the U.S. carmaker's unions gave their strongest signal yet that they were willing to ratify a tentative deal and Chrysler's chief executive expressed his commitment to qualify for U.S. emergency loans.

Chrysler, which has 8,000 unionized workers in Canada, is under immense pressure to secure a partnership with Fiat after the Obama administration threatened to suspend federal aid for Chrysler unless it secured a deal with the Italian carmaker.

In a first significant step toward meeting the deadline, Chrysler's Canadian and U.S. unions signalled that they were willing to pave the way to an agreement. On Sunday, the Canadian Auto Workers union ratified a new collective agreement with Chrysler to allow layoffs and pay cuts by about C$19 ($15.61) an hour, that would save the automaker about $198.0 million annually, the union said. It also includes the elimination of a third shift at a plant in Ontario, Canada.

Separately, the United Auto Workers union announced that it had also reached a tentative agreement with Chrysler, Fiat and the U.S. government on further concessions on a contract and a healthcare trust agreed with the automaker in 2007.

But while a thumbs-up from unions makes a deal between Chrysler and Fiat more likely, another obstacle is Chrysler's large debt pile. "The bigger unknown at the moment is the banks," said Massimo Vecchio, an analyst with MedioBanca. Lenders to Chrysler are reportedly owed $7.0 billion, but Fiat and the U.S. government are pushing the lenders to forgive $5.5 billion of the debt in exchange for a 5.0% stake in the company, the analyst said.

"It's difficult to say if at the end they will clinch a deal under the current terms. But Fiat will only take Chrysler if Chrysler's debt is negotiated," the analyst said.

Chrysler also signalled its willingness to avoid having to file for bankruptcy protection. The company's chief executive RobertNardelli said that German automaker Daimler was working with Cerberus Capital Management to divest Daimler's 19.9% stake in the struggling U.S. automaker. The top priority was to preserve Chrysler and the entire leadership team was focused on completing the required deals to qualify for emergency U.S. government loans, Nardelli said in a memo obtained by Reuters.

Last week, Sergio Marchionne, Fiat's outspoken chief executive, said that he was confident his company could reach a deal with near-bankrupt Chrysler. "In light of what I know today, I see no reason why it won't happen," Marchionne told reporters in Milan. (See "Can Sergio Marchionne Save Chrysler?")

Still, Fiat could even explore a potential partnership even if Chrysler files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors, a source close to the Italian carmaker told the Associated Press. Chrysler and the U.S. Treasury Department were preparing paperwork for bankruptcy filings, one as a reorganization in Chapter 11 with government funding and the other as a liquidation if no government money is available, sources in the United States have said, the AP reported.

But on Monday Chrysler said it was working "diligently to finalize our alliance with Fiat and restructure our business by the government's April 30 deadline".

Thursday, April 16, 2009

UAW focusing on talks with Chrysler

DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union has placed concession talks with General Motors Corp. on the back burner as it tries to reach a deal with Chrysler LLC before an April 30 government deadline, two people briefed on the negotiations said Thursday.

The decision likely means that any deal with Chrysler will set the pattern for concessions granted to GM as both companies try to show the government they have cut costs enough to get more government loans.

The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private, said the union is focusing on Chrysler because its government deadline to cut labor costs and swap debt for equity is just two weeks away.

Chrysler also has to ink an alliance deal with Fiat Group SpA by April 30 to get more government aid. Without further help, Chrysler likely would be auctioned off in pieces under bankruptcy court supervision.

GM's government deadline is June 1, but the Obama administration said it will provide bankruptcy financing if the company can't successfully restructure outside of court.

GM spokeswoman Sherrie Childers Arb and UAW spokeswoman Christine Moroski would not comment on the negotiations. Chrysler spokeswoman Shawn Morgan would not comment beyond a statement that the company has a goal is to reach a conclusion by April 30.

The Canadian Auto Workers union has said that it plans to resume negotiations with Chrysler on Monday after Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said the Italian automaker will walk away from the proposed tie-up unless Chrysler's unions agree to major cost cuts.

Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement said Thursday that the CAW must make significant concessions to ensure Chrysler survives. Without a deal in the next two weeks, the Canadian government will also shut down its support for the troubled automaker, Clement said.

Chrysler, GM and Ford Motor Co. all reached concession deals with the UAW in February to limit overtime, cut lump-sum cash bonuses and eliminate cost-of-living pay increases. The union also agreed to suspend the jobs bank in which laid-off workers are paid most of their wages.

Workers at Ford, which is not receiving government aid, ratified their deal, but the GM and Chrysler agreements were never presented to union members because they got hung up on funding for a union-run trust that will take over retiree health care expenses next year.

Then, the Obama administration said last month that the cuts outlined in GM and Chrysler's viability plans didn't go far enough, and the union would have to give up more. Just how much more has not been stated publicly.

GM has received $13.4 billion in government loans and may need more money this month as it tries to survive the worst auto sales downturn in 27 years. Chrysler has received $4 billion and may also need more funding to stay alive until its deadline.

The government said it will lend Chrysler up to $6 billion more if it completes a deal with Fiat and gains concessions from unions and debtholders.

But creditors that hold $6.9 billion in Chrysler debt — mostly banks and hedge funds — have rejected an offer from the Treasury Department to erase the debt for $1 billion. They are preparing a counteroffer that likely will include more cash and an equity stake in the company.

A committee representing the holders of $28 billion in GM bonds is awaiting an offer from the company that aims to slash its unsecured debt by at least two-thirds.

Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fiat CEO: Concessions or no alliance with Chrysler

Santiago Esparza / The Detroit News

Fiat Group SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne is ready to walk away from a proposed alliance with beleaguered Chrysler LLC if the automaker's union workers do not agree to concessions that would put their pay on the same scale as workers at U.S. plants owned by foreign car companies.

In a story posted today on The Toronto Globe and Mail's Web site, Marchionne said not getting concessions from the UAW and CAW are a breaking point for talks.

"Absolutely we are prepared to walk," he said in the story. "There is no doubt in my mind. We cannot commit to this organization unless we see light at the end of the tunnel.".......More

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chrysler's new deal-Different owners and Marchionne-led management team

Different owners, a new board of directors and maybe a Marchionne-led management team

TURIN, Italy — As Chrysler LLC negotiates an alliance with Fiat S.p.A. that would satisfy the Obama administration, sources say the companies are discussing a revised ownership structure, a new board and possibly a different management team for Chrysler.

Among the options being discussed is a direct role in Chrysler's operations for Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne — possibly even the chief executive's job.

Sources close to the merger negotiations say that after completing the deal, the plan is to elect a seven-member Chrysler board that would include representatives from Fiat and possibly President Barack Obama's automotive task force.

But the companies face major obstacles in getting the deal done. The ownership of the future Chrysler is still subject to complex negotiations involving Cerberus Capital Management LP, Daimler AG, the UAW and the big banks that hold Chrysler's debt.

A person familiar with the negotiations said the new management structure would divide the roles of CEO and chairman between two executives. The job of Chrysler chairman would be held by an American, the source said.

Since 2007, Chrysler's chairman and CEO jobs have been held by Bob Nardelli, appointed by Cerberus.

On March 30, Obama gave Chrysler and Fiat until the end of April to prove their alliance is workable. The government then would grant Chrysler up to $6 billion in additional loans. Chrysler already has received $4 billion.

Obama impressed

Marchionne (mar-kee-OHN'-nay) — the energetic, chain-smoking architect of Fiat's turnaround — has led the Italian automaker since 2004. In his March 30 speech about the auto industry, Obama praised Marchionne and described Fiat as a company where "the current management team has executed an impressive turnaround."

Another source familiar with the negotiations said Obama's task force may even dictate that Marchionne be directly involved in running Chrysler.

It's unclear whether Marchionne would try to exert hands-on control of Chrysler in the style of Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault and Nissan. But there is evidence that he might try. The 56-year-old executive already spends several days each month in the United States, usually at the offices of Fiat's Case New Holland subsidiary in suburban Chicago.

Every other Friday evening, Marchionne boards a chartered overnight flight, snatching a few hours of sleep and arriving Saturday morning in Chicago. After two days working in America, he catches the red-eye return flight on Sunday.

Marchionne, who speaks accent-free English, holds both Italian and Canadian citizenships and earned university degrees in Toronto and Windsor, Ontario. He spent a decade working in Canada.

Asked about possible changes, Chrysler spokesman Todd Goyer issued a statement: "Chrysler has no management changes to announce. The job of Chrysler's current management team is to get the company on a solid foundation moving forward."

Obstacles remain

Speaking last week at the New York auto show, Chrysler co-President Jim Press said he is optimistic that Fiat and Chrysler can meet the government's requirements and form an alliance.

But he cautioned that Chrysler is preparing for bankruptcy if the alliance does not work out. "We've got to be prepared to take care of the equity and the assets," he said.

Besides the negotiations over the ownership of the future automaker, Chrysler negotiators are in talks with UAW officials about reducing Chrysler's $10.6 billion obligation to the union's health care trust.

The Treasury Department also is negotiating with the major banks holding $6.9 billion in Chrysler debt, according to a Bloomberg News Service report. Bloomberg said the four largest lenders are JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley.

Cerberus has offered to give up its stake in Chrysler. Cerberus Chairman Stephen Feinberg is involved in the negotiations. Cerberus also must iron out a dispute in its effort to acquire Daimler's 19.9 percent stake in Chrysler. Cerberus aims to consolidate its ownership as part of the overall plan to restructure the company.

Speaking at a shareholder meeting last week in Berlin, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said Cerberus was making "unacceptable" demands in negotiations to acquire the remainder of Daimler's stake.

The two sides have been wrangling since November over a Cerberus request to acquire Daimler's stake. Daimler sold majority ownership of Chrysler to Cerberus in 2007.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fiat would own biggest slice of Chrysler under latest scenario proposed by U.S.

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