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.

But the Fed’s approval was conditional on GMAC raising new capital.

GMAC said it had raised enough capital to satisfy the Fed’s conditions just as the Treasury announcement on Monday.

The Treasury’s generous moves help Cerberus just as much as they help the auto industry. Cerberus bought 51 percent of GMAC in 2006 and 80 percent of Chrylser last year. The private equity firm has been stung by both those investments as U.S. auto sales have plunged to record lows amid a sinking economy following its purchases.

Who’s your boss, Mr. Liddy … and for how long?

Edward Liddy was appointed chief executive of insurer American International Group Inc within hours of a Sept. 16 government rescue, averting the 89-year-old insurer’s collapse.

On Monday, fifty-five days after stepping into the corner office, Liddy unveiled the company’s biggest-ever loss. Concurrently, the U.S. government restructured most elements of  its initial AIG bailout in favor of a new better-for-AIG scheme, overshadowing the bad quarterly news.

Under the revised plan, AIG gets easier repayment terms and, most importantly, the U.S. Treasury will sink $50 billion  into a fund that will buy and hold mortgage derivatives, including those underlying AIG credit default swaps — a thorny area that has led to massive losses for the insurer.

GM comes up empty

GM went trick-or-treating early but it looks no one answered the door. Either that, or its trick wasn’t very good. Either way, it appears to have come up empty-handed in its bid for government goodies.

The much-talked about General Motors-Chrysler merger is off the table for now. Reuters is reporting that talks hit an impasse after the Bush administration said “no” to funding for the deal, citing three people with direct knowledge of the talks.

GM had approached the Treasury in recent days about support for the merger through some $10 billion in new funding that would have included taking an ownership stake in the merged company, people familiar with the talks have said.

Because “a zillion” would be overkill

How exactly did the U.S. Treasury come up with the $700 billion price tag for its bailout package, recently known in the financial blogosphere as “the Splurge”?

“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told last week. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

Well, that’s reassuring.

UPDATE: It seems that HBO’s Bill Maher first coined the term “The Splurge,” as seen in this YouTube video. Thanks to Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, an early proponent of the phrase.