DealZone

Battered car-makers rounding blind corner

AUTOSHOW/(Update: This piece was written, as several commenters have pointed out, before GM clinched a sale of Saab to Spyker on January 26.)

By Quentin Carruthers

(Acquisitions Monthly) Automakers face a demand slump in Europe and the longer-term challenge of addressing climate change. Both pressures are expected to lead to further restructuring, consolidation and M&A activity.

The North American International Auto Show, held each January in Detroit, Michigan, is just coming to an end. Detroit is the hometown of America’s “Big Three” automobile makers – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler – and the show constitutes one of the most important events in the industry’s calendar.

Touring the floor with a group of her fellow Congressmen was Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who told reporters: “We came to listen, to learn, to observe, to measure, to judge what has happened to the investment that we made.”

US state investment includes US$60bn of government loans to support automotive assemblers, in return for control of GM and a minority stake in Chrysler, both of which came out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in mid-2009. A further US$3.5bn has been used to support parts suppliers, and US$3bn to support car retailers.

The afternoon deal: Tiny Spyker wins a car

USA AUTOSHOWIt’s been an auto-fueled day with investors on tenterhooks awaiting  the now announced $400 million Spyker/Saab deal. Although Saab kept the spotlight, there is news from Chrysler, Opel, Porsche, Mitsubishi, Peugeot and Geely’s Volvo.

From Reuters, get the Saab deal wrap up here, along with a Saab factbox, timeline and profile of Spyker’s CEO Victor Muller. Find some additional facts about Spyker from The Swedish Wire here.

The Guardian has a great story on the mystique around the car brand called, “How did it all go wrong for Saab?”, and in a warning before the deal was announced, Fiat and Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said: “Marginal players will continue to be marginalized.”

DealZone Daily

Auto maker General Motors is grappling with the future of its European units Saab and Opel after one sale collapsed and the other was pulled, targeting the bulk of its 9,000 job cuts at Opel’s German factories.

Bookseller Borders UK called in the administrators yesterday, adding its name to a growing list of failed British high street retailers. Administrator MCR is hoping to sell the business, bought by Valco (the private equity arm of turnaround specialist Hilco) in July this year, as a going concern.

Lachlan Murdoch, son of News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch, sold some $27.6 million of his shares in his father’s company as he bought 50 percent of Daily Mail & General Trust’s radio operations in Australia.

Next in M&A: the WordPress Hug?

Maybe it’s time to add a new weapon to the old M&A arsenal of poison pills, dawn raids, and white knights — the corporate blog. You could call it the WordPress Hug.

Late on Monday, Cisco’s Ned Hooper used the company’s blog to insist it had offered “a very good price” for Tandberg, after some shareholders of the Norwegian videoconferencing company said the price was too low. (See his full post here.)

The “Driving Conversations” blog of General Motors Europe has also been a source of news on the long-running (and now abandoned) talks to sell Opel, hosting posts from GM’s chief negotiator, John Smith. (See some of his posts on the topic here.)

GM’s Opel Surprise

“You wonder if your chance will ever come or if you’re stuck in square one.”

When I heard about GM keeping its Opel unit, that line from a song by British band Coldplay came to my mind. After all those long nights of paltering on job cuts and money, GM was having a change of heart.

The sale of Opel to a group led by Canadian car parts maker Magna — announced in September — was widely considered a done deal. Turns out, it was less done than more. Citing improving business conditions and the strategic importance of Opel, GM decided it would be better to alienate the German government that provided it with a loan to sweeten the sale of the unit to Magna than to lose the business. GM said it would repay the rest of the 1.5 billion euro ($2.2 billion) bridge loan if Berlin requested. The loan helped save Opel from being sucked into GM’s dip into bankruptcy this year.

Magnum’s Opel

General Motors may soon get the long-delayed green light to sign over carmaker Opel to Canada’s Magna. EU antitrust regulators have no plans to block Magna’s acquisition of GM’s European arm, a European Commission spokesman said in Brussels, easing fears the transaction could run out of gas in debate over German state aid to the mostly German-staffed company.

Magna hopes to conclude the deal within weeks of signing a contract. That should be that, right? Well, hardly. For one thing, Spanish workers at Opel’s plant at Figueruelas have voted to strike in protest at cuts included in the Magna package. And European politicians say GM and the Opel Trust should have the option of reopening the bidding process.

But the jilted other bidder, RHJ, says it is no longer interested in doing a deal, so going back to the auction block is probably a nonstarter. And with European auto titan Volkswagen saying sales will likely stay stalled next year, the political will to get a deal done is about all Opel has going for it right now. The company is poised to run out of cash by mid-January.

from Commentaries:

Should Volkswagen demand a Magna Carta?

GERMANY/Magna International seems to be taking seriously threats from Volkswagen to pull its business following the Canadian car parts maker's Opel victory.

Magna's co-CEO Donald Walker is saying that after talking to them, most of his other customers are happy that the car parts group -- which along with Russian backer Sberbank is buying a 55 percent shareholding in GM's Opel -- is able to protect their technologies.

Apparently VW is still unconvinced, so Magna will "finalising the internal procedures" and will have more talks with the German carmaker.

from Commentaries:

Is Goldman’s Chinese convertible really a taxi?

BRITAIN/The number of London's trademark black taxis booked and waiting outside the European headquarters of Goldman Sachs -- meters running -- was once used by some as a barometer of the health of London's investment banking business.

When times were good, the queue was long and it was impossible for anyone else in the vicinity to hail a cab. But when the fees dried up, or markets turned, the cabbies who'd been at Goldman's beck and call suddenly had to find new customers.

Last year, Goldman was reported to have stopped free taxis home for staff working in the office after 9pm, extending this to 10pm.

from Commentaries:

China picks European cars off scrapheap

GERMANY/Chinese carmakers are seeking to step into the gaps left by U.S. companies in Europe -- but while acquisitions may give them access to badly-needed technical know-how, global brands and exposure to new markets, the question is whether they have learnt from past failures.

With China now the world's largest car market, it's no surprise that Chinese carmakers -- which have few if any really solid brands within their home market -- want to start making more of a mark.

In theory, foreign acquisitions offer a quick way to do so. Meanwhile the credit crunch has thrown world-renowned but now distressed car marques such as Volvo, Opel or Saab onto the block at what look like rock-bottom prices.

The Car Business: Self-loathing and Chinese Takeaways

Nobody hates cars as much as the car industry does these days. The business is crippling some of its biggest players and behold the dearth of industry names queuing up to buy other automakers.

Opel in Germany is being sold yet are Volkswagen, Porsche, BMW or Daimler anywhere to be found? Spot the empty parking lot.

Without the Chinese, auto sector M&A right now is about as exciting as a 1981 Yugo.