Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Auto Task Force Bailout plan may be stricter than GM, Chrysler expected

By Sharon Silke Carty, USA TODAY
DETROIT — The Treasury Department will announce this week a preliminary plan to help General Motors and Chrysler that sets goals and deadlines that could be more ambitious than the companies themselves have proposed, according to a Capitol Hill staffer briefed on the plan but who wished to remain anonymous because the proposal is not yet public.
Treasury's preliminary plan also could include a bridge loan to Chrysler that's less than the $5 billion the automaker wants, the staffer said. Treasury says details still are being finalized.

A more structured version of the plan will be detailed in April, when additional loan money could become available to the two troubled companies.

The Bush administration in December set a deadline of March 31 for the automakers to prove they would be viable with the help of emergency government loans. But since then, the car market has hit the skids, and both GM and Chrysler have said they need even more money to survive.

GM and Chrysler are operating on a combined $17.4 billion in government loans approved by the Bush administration. The two automakers have asked the Obama administration for another $21.6 billion and say they need it soon.

The president's auto task force is demanding that the car companies get significant concessions first.

GM bondholders are balking at swapping two-thirds of their GM debt for stakes in the company.

Bondholders warned the government this weekend that if they can't strike a deal with the automaker, the car company might be forced into bankruptcy. A group representing bondholders says many are not willing to take stock in place of bonds because they don't believe GM will be survive long enough to make the shares valuable.

That would result in "dire consequences for the company, the tens of thousands of hard-working Americans that GM employs and the economy as a whole," bondholder advisers from investment firm Houlihan Lokey wrote.

And although the United Auto Workers, which represents U.S. hourly workers, has agreed to concessions, the Canadian Auto Workers union hasn't reached an agreement with Chrysler.

Chrysler says that if it cannot get nearly $16 an hour in wage and benefit concessions from the CAW, as well as a guarantee of $2.3 billion in loans from Canadian governments and a break on a tax dispute with Ottawa, it might have to pull out of Canada, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Canada's the source of Chrysler's U.S.-market minivans and line of big sedans that includes the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger.

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