DealZone

Unions deal as Chrysler deadline looms

CHRYSLER/FIATWith just days left to complete deals to slash labor and debt costs or face bankruptcy, Chrysler has won union concessions aimed at paving the way for a deal with Fiat and the U.S. government to save the privately held automaker. The UAW said that deal must be ratified by Wednesday and meets conditions mandated by the Treasury as part of an emergency loan program for Chrysler. Treasury’s deadline is Thursday.

“The patience, resolve and determination of UAW members in these difficult times is extraordinary, and has made it possible for us to reach the agreement we will present to our membership,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement. The UAW represents about 26,800 Chrysler workers in the United States. The company also has a contract buyout offer on the table for those workers, which expires today. GM is expected to announce a fresh round of cost cutting later this morning.

The U.S. Treasury was expected to make a new debt restructuring offer to Chrysler’s lenders, who are owed $6.9 billion, as soon as today. Attention has shifted back to creditors. Whether they will show patience, resolve and determination remains a question.  Whether doing so will produce a deal is an even bigger one.

Deals of the Day:

* American International Group has received second-round bids from three groups for its aircraft leasing business, valuing the unit at under $5 billion, a source familiar with the matter said.

* Shares of Japan’s Shinsei Bank and Aozora Bank soared after sources said the two money-losing lenders were in merger talks to form Japan’s sixth-largest bank.

Good news for some: bankruptcies head to record year

mall2This week’s mega-bankruptcies by mall operator General Growth Properties and Canadian newsprint company AbitibiBowater, have put 2009 well on its way to being the worst ever for filings, according to a report released Thursday by research firm BankruptcyData.com.

General Growth had pre-bankruptcy assets of $29.6 billion, overtaking chemical maker Lyondell Chemical as the biggest bankruptcy of the year so far. While far behind, AbitibiBowater is no slouch, with $10 billion.

According to BankruptcyData.com, these new entrants in the bankruptcy sweepstakes bring to 79 the number of bankruptcies by public companies this year, with total assets of $145 billion, 69 percent ahead of the pace of 2002, the worst year ever. Measured by the number of filings, 2009 is on pace to best 2001′s record bloodbath of 263 bankruptcies in a year, according to BankruptcyData.com.

When life gives you lemons, make limoncello

FRANCEIt may be a raucous bit of speculation gone awry, but reports in Italy that Fiat is angling to pick up General Motors’ Opel operations in Europe if the Chrysler deal falls through are too good to dismiss out of hand.

The denial from Fiat’s Chairman, Luca Cordero de Montezemolo, left a little room for intrigue in its dramatic flair. “They’ve written about it in the newspapers? No, no,” he told reporters. Fiat shares raced higher in relief. “Opel is linked to GM and Fiat has already got out of that,” said a Milan dealer, referring to a previous partnership. “Plus, it (Opel) is a clunker. Heaven forbid!”

Meanwhile, over at Chrysler, Chief Executive Bob Nardelli has been telling it like it will be. In an internal memo to staff, he said the company would cede control of its board, and ultimately senior leadership, if it completes the planned Fiat alliance. Given the Fiat deal is for only a fifth of Chrysler initially, rising eventually to 35 percent, that might seem odd. Then again, it’s the U.S. auto sector we’re talking about.

The Value of Experience

BRITAIN/(Corrected – Bank of America did not purchase Countrywide early this decade)

Now that the nation’s top public servant is wielding The Donald-like powers over chief executives of bailed-out companies, expectations are high that more heads will roll, and Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis is looking like the next contestant on a new economic prime-time drama: The Executive.

Rick Wagoner, ousted as General Motors CEO, had spent more than three decades in the company and had been in the driver’s seat for most of the last one. He also presided over the era of the energy-unfriendly Sport Utility Vehicle and is criticized for sticking with trucks far longer than he should have.

Fiat a compli

GENERAL-MOTORS/In retrospect, GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s demise was perhaps the most inevitable twist in the autos overhaul saga to date. The chance that he would present a radical plan to Obama this week, one dramatic enough to save his job, was slim at best. A more shocking result, one clearly less viable for Obama, would have been to make a few more threatening noises and hand out the cash that the company so desperately needs without demanding a very public pound of flesh – a head, in this case.

With only another 60 days to effect a U-turn in defiance of a skidding market, former GM COO Fritz Henderson doesn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. It’s hardly enough time for Washington to have installed a new crash-test chief executive.

The Chrysler bailout story is more intriguing. The private-equity owned car maker has been given 30 days to do a deal with Fiat, which has in deal talks to date pledged somewhere around zero in financial support. If that price was too much for the Italian auto maker, they may think that the ticking of the clock could give them some leverage to squeeze a few billion out of either Chrysler’s private-equity owners or U.S. taxpayers.

Going… going…

USA/General Motors said it expects auditors to cast doubt on its ability to remain viable as it endures the worst market in decades. Posting a deeper-than-expected quarterly loss as revenue plunged by more than a third, the automaker said it could receive a “going concern” notice from its auditors.

It will be interesting to see how the auditors, in assessing GM’s viability, value the billions of dollars of government bailout injections. The automaker has asked for up to $30 billion in aid and says it can’t survive without it.

GM argues it is turning the corner on production efficiency, design and quality, but that may be an even harder computation for auditors to crunch than state support.

Saab Story

GM/SAABIn its latest turnaround plan, General Motors made clear that its money-losing Swedish unit Saab would be independent within a year. Wasting no time, Saab said it would seek protection from creditors and restructure. Better to start with a clean slate.

Saab said it would seek funding from public and private sources through the reorganization, and that GM would provide liquidity.

On another front in the same war, talk of bank nationalization has been dragging down financial markets. Alan Greenspan is talking about it, giving even Republicans an excuse to support this most abhorrently socialist of measures. Even the dire and vague positions of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner seem designed to ease Americans into accepting what would normally be unthinkable to a God-fearing capitalist.

from Global Investing:

Sen. Corker to Chrysler: best hope is merger

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (right, in the driver's seat next to Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas), who pushed for tough conditions on the $17.4 billion U.S. government bailout for General Motors and Chrysler, said at the Detroit auto show that he hoped Chrysler would find a merger partner to survive.

"Chrysler probably needs to merge with somebody, not necessarily disappear from the standpoint of existence," said Corker, who added the automaker owned by Cerberus Capital Management was not making the needed investment to remain competitive. He spoke to reporters as he toured the show before meeting with executives for GM, Chrysler and Ford.

Corker, whose home state includes the U.S. headquarters for Japan's Nissan, also said he felt GM's debt load was too heavy and it may not meet the restructuring targets set out under the $13.4 billion loan granted to the company by the Bush administration.

Santa for automakers, Grinch for taxpayers?

grinchA company in the U.S. auto industry fails — and the government steps in as savior. Yet again. That’s right. Santa visits the automakers this year while the Grinch steals taxpayers’ Christmas.

The Bush administration is buying $5 billion in equity in GMAC – the finance arm owned by GM and Cerberus Capital Management. The Treasury has also offered a new $1 billion loan to GM so the automaker could participate in a rights offering at GMAC.

Yes, this in addition to the recent $17.4 billion emergency loan to save GM and Chrysler from bankruptcy.  In fact, the government already helped GMAC last week, when the Federal Reserve approved the finance company’s application to become a bank-holding company.

Autos closer to life support

CAMBODIA-BIRDFLU/The lame duck may have some quack in it yet.

When President Bush said on Thursday that his administration would not allow a “disorderly” bankruptcy or collapse of the U.S. automakers — leaving “orderly” bankruptcy on the table — it seems to have spurred on the negotiations between Detroit and the White House. General Motors and Chrysler are now close to securing emergency loans as part of a U.S. government aid package, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The aid package being spearheaded by the White House would demand that both automakers restructure by seeking new concessions from unions and creditors, two people briefed on the talks said. With the automakers and the United Auto Workers both desperate to stave off a Chapter 11 filing, which they say would be disastrous, the White House’s discussion of “orderly bankruptcy” may have kickstarted negotiations that have been dragging on ever since Congress rejected the bailout bill once and for all.

UPDATE: Bush is now due to make an announcement on the auto rescue plan at 9 a.m. Eastern time.