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Who will be CIT’s Buffett?

July 17, 2009

The behind-the-scene negotiations surrounding CIT Group’s threatened bankruptcy filing is bringing to mind the 2001 collapse of Finova, another sizeable mid-market lender.

 On the eve of Finova’s bankruptcy filing in March 2001, Warren Buffett seemingly came to the rescue with a $6 billion loan package to help keep the financial firm running in bankruptcy and payoff creditors. The financial package, which Buffett put together with Leucadia National Corporation, came from a new company called Berkadia.

The offer from Buffett set-off an usual bidding war for the right to provide rescue money to the bankupt company. Rival bids soon emerged from GE Capital and Goldman Sachs.

Ultimately, the Buffett and Leucadia partnership prevailed. Finova, which did a lot of factoring for mid-sized companies like CIT, emerged from bankruptcy and the loan was paid off several years ago.

Finova shareholders, of course, lost out in the bankruptcy. But the firm’s creditors were treated rather well and the firm was able to continue running some of its lending business.

Right now, Reuters and others are reporting that Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are talking about providing some short-term financing of up to $3 billion to CIT. But CNBC is also reporting that the banks may be talking about providing CIT with bankruptcy financing to continue operating.

If I had to place a bet, it’s looking like a Finova all over again.

UPDATE: Here’s a good overview of the Finova saga.

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