DealZone

GMAC plays its too-big-to-fail card… again

The Treasury, as major shareholder of such credit boom casualties as Citigroup and General Motors, showed with its $3.8 billion infusion into GMAC that it can still be counted on to safeguard the financial system from systemic collapse. The auto-loan company, which had dutifully spread its wings into mortgages in the housing boom, wound up becoming a bank to qualify for TARP bailout funds a year ago – the day after Christmas 2008, to be precise. How could Treasury say no?

Now taxpayers are plonking another $3.8 billion into GMAC to help cover mortgage losses. That gives us another majority shareholding in a company that could not have survived to pay its bills, workers and its executives without aid. No, it’s not much in terms of the government’s balance sheet. But it should rankle in Congress when lawmakers come back from holiday.

Not far behind the brouhaha over universal health care lays the still smoldering debate over “too big to fail”. Is it naïve to note that the timing of GMAC’s new lifeline came when legislators were safely tucked away at home? Arguing that AIG was too big to fail, with its myriad confusing and distracting derivative contracts, and that GM was too big to fail, with its strategic position just behind the aorta of the American manufacturing heartland, or even that Citigroup, with its corner office (sans fireplace) in the U.S. superbanking community can somehow be extended to GMAC might seem farfetched to fiscal hawks.

A report in the New York Post last week certainly would have helped GMAC’s cause. The paper said that Warren Buffett was looking at taking on at least part of ResCap, GMAC’s real estate lending operation. That would probably have gone some way to convincing Treasury folk that GMAC was moving in the right direction. Many analysts see GMAC’s mortgage assets, which make up about a third of the company’s $178.2 billion balance sheet, as the main obstacle to the lender reaching profitability. GMAC said after the capital infusion it does not expect to record more major losses from its mortgage lending unit, which should help stabilize results. Well, if majority government ownership doesn’t stabilize the situation, too big to fail would not be an issue.

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.

GMAC’s Christmas present

Santa ClausThe Fed donned the red suit on Christmas eve for GMAC, giving the troubled auto finance company the nod to become a bank holding company.

The speedy approval should not come as a surprise, given that GMAC lends to consumers and GM depends on the finance company to sell cars — factors that could make its survival seen as key to fixing the economy.

The new status gives the company access to government lending programs and should allow it to continue financing loans for GM cars.

20 percent = zero

At the end of December 2007, Daimler’s 20-percent stake in Chrysler was valued at about $1.18 billion.

At the end of June, Daimler valued that investment at about $219.6 million.

Today, Daimler said the book value of that 20-percent stake is zero.

That’s right, zero.

To put that zero in perspective:

A year ago, after Daimler sold 80 percent of Chrysler to U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, the German automaker listed the value of its minority interest at $1.8 billion.

Ten years ago, Daimler paid $36 billion for all of Chrysler.

For Daimler to disclose that the book value of its stake has come to nothing, and to do it at a time when it is in talks to sell that stake to Cerberus, is bad news for Chrysler.