Chrysler Debt Effort Stalls: Goverment Loans Not So "Shyster" After All?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

As Steve Rattner described in his book “Overhaul,” the Presidential Auto Task Force very nearly decided not to rescue Chrysler, with the decision coming down to a single vote. Now, it seems, that with Chrysler blaming the “shyster” interest rates on its government loans for its lack of profitability, Chrysler’s viability now depends on rounding up a “lender of second to last resort.” And, according to the latest reports, that rescue-of-a-rescue effort is still very much hanging in the balance as well. If CEO Sergio Marchionne thought the government’s loan terms were “shyster”-ish, he was clearly in need of some context from Wall Street… and he doesn’t seem to be liking it.

Though Chrysler needs about $7b in fresh debt to get out from under its oppressive government rescuers, the WSJ [sub] reports that Chrysler’s current debt proposal includes only $3.5b in loans and $2.5b in bonds. And, as the Journal describes, one of those elements is facing some trouble

While the bonds, which yield more than the loans, attracted strong interest from the beginning, the loan portion is off to a slow start. The loan will likely now be reduced, with a corresponding increase to the bond, according to people familiar with the matter. The loan will also likely carry a higher interest rate than previously proposed, they said. Overall, that shift will slightly increase the cost of the new debt.

Chrysler, which currently pays around 10 percent on its government loans is looking for loans at 5.5-5.75 percent. The fact that it’s having trouble getting loans at that rate means it’s more likely to have to take a disproportionate amount in bonds, which yield a not-insignificant 7.5%. The takeaway: nobody wants to lend Chrysler money at what it considers fair interest rates, and it will likely reduce its interest costs by less than half. Perhaps those government loans were more fair than Marchionne gave them credit for?

So what’s the problem? Well, the market, for starters.

The loan market’s limits have been stretched this month by the appearance of a number of large leveraged transactions, including multi-billion dollar deals by Delphi Automotive and Asurion Corp. The timing of Chrysler’s deal was complicated by the process of getting consensus from the U.S. government, the Canadian government and Fiat, said the people familiar with the matter.

The pool of money available for leveraged loans has shrunk because new collateralized loan obligations, known as CLOs, have disappeared. Also, many of the hedge funds that previously specialized in either loans or bonds are now buying both and are searching for attractive values across both markets.

Other problems? Well, Chrysler’s profitability has to be one of them. With $337m in interest expenses in Q1, a 33% reduction on a quarterly basis (a conservative best-case scenario for the re-fi), would still leave the firm with just under a billion dollars per year of interest costs. Given that Chrysler’s first profit in years was a razor-thin $116m, few of the lending banks are likely to delude themselves into thinking this re-fi will unshackle a slumbering giant that’s poised on the brink of huge profits. Add to this, the fact that the auto industry largely sees Chrysler’s rescue as negative for the health of the industry as a whole, and banks are going to be very hesitant about wading into a lot of Chrysler exposure.

Reuters adds some investor perspective to the picture, noting

Chrysler’s loan deal has struggled in part due to the troubled history of the company, as well as a pickup in supply of new leveraged loans that launched for syndication in recent days, potential investors said.

“In a market like this, trading sideways and with so much supply, people can afford to be choosy, especially when it comes down to a name where you have lost money before,” one of the investors said.

A second investor looking at the deal earlier this week said that pricing on the transaction may not adequately compensate lenders for the risk involved in the loan.

A third investor who was shown the deal said that given the large size of the loan, lenders didn’t feel pressed to rush in.

“Worst case, they can always pick it up in the secondary,” he said, adding that Chrysler’s car lineup consists mainly of larger cars that use more gasoline and that the company is relying on the Fiat brand, which is not widely known in the U.S. market.

Chrysler’s four underwriting banks, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, have each committed $200m to a $1.5b Chrysler revolving credit line, and though that facility is fully subscribed, the larger term loan is where the hesitation is taking place even though the revolver and the term loan are being priced identically, as follows:

400 to 425 basis points over Libor with a 1.25 percent Libor floor, along with a discount of 99 to 99.5 cents on the dollar.

Will Chrysler wrap up its financing and pay back the government? No matter what terms it finally gets, it will certainly save money with the re-fi, and will want to reap the PR benefits that come from misleading taxpayers into thinking the bailout payback is complete. Whether a Wall Street re-fi really changes much in the fundamentals of Chrysler’s business remains very much to be seen.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Beerboy12 Beerboy12 on May 16, 2011

    Sometimes I wish the auto industry was about cars... :-(

  • Junebug Junebug on May 17, 2011

    "National Debt ballooned under conservatives" - REALLY, I seriously thought Obama and the Democrats in the house were liberals. Sorry pal, but you are koolaid drunk! Not to forget that Bush I and II were not conservatives either, BTW Keynesian economics failed under FDR and failed under Obama too.

    • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on May 17, 2011
      Not to forget that Bush I and II were not conservatives either This line of reasoning always bugs me. You can say what you like about them being "not real conservatives" but, by and large, this is what you get when you elect an erstwhile-conservative. The proof is in actions; you can't retroactively decide that they weren't conservative and can be safely ignored for the sake of ideological warm fuzzies. Is the same reasoning that people who say "Well, Stalin wasn't a real Communist! Real Communism has never been tried" use, and it's just as specious here. What it means is that conservative principles are irreconcilable with the real world, and/or are un-electable in the first place. This is why the Tea Party revolution is going to disappoint a lot of people: those starry-eyed candidates and their starrier-eyed supporters are going to be in for a shock when the real world comes calling. I'm actually looking forward to the schadenfreude after the unsurprising and deserved hay made on "Hope and Change"
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
  • ToolGuy I agree with everyone here. Of course there are exceptions to what I just said, don't take everything so literally. The important thing is that I weighed in with my opinion, which is helping to move things forward. I believe we can all agree that I make an important contribution (some will differ, that is their prerogative). A stitch in time saves nine. Life isn't fair, you know. I have more to say but will continue at our next meeting. You can count on that, for I am a man of my word. We will make it happen. There might be challenges. I mean, it is what it is. This too shall pass. All we can do is all we can do. These meetings are never really long enough for me to completely express all the greatness within me, are they? Let's meet to discuss. All in a day's work. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. At the end of the day, I must say I agree with you. I think you will agree. When all is said and done, there is more said than done. But of course that is just one man's opinion. You are free to disagree. As I like to say...(I am working on my middle management skills -- how am I doing?)
  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.