Detroit / New York: The US treasury department is directing General Motors Corp. (GM) to lay the groundwork for a bankruptcy filing by a 1 June deadline, despite GM’s public contention that it could still reorganize outside court, people with knowledge of the plans said during the weekend.
Surgical remedy: General Motors’ assembly plant in Kansas City. Under one plan, a new company would be created that will buy the good assets of the car maker almost immediately after it files for bankruptcy. Dave Kaup / Reuters
Members of President Barack Obama’s automotive task force spent last week in meetings and on conference calls with GM officials and its advisers in Detroit and Washington. Those talks are expected to continue this week.
The goal is to prepare for a fast, “surgical” bankruptcy, the people who had been briefed on the plans said. GM, which has been granted $13.4 billion (around Rs67,000 crore) in federal aid, insists that a quick restructuring is necessary so its image and sales are not damaged permanently.
The preparations are aimed at assuring a GM bankruptcy filing is ready should the company be unable to reach agreement with bondholders to exchange roughly $28 billion in debt into equity in GM and with the United Automobile Workers union, which has baulked at granting concessions without sacrifices from bondholders.
Obama remained concerned about potential risk to GM’s pension plan and wants to avoid harming workers, these people said.
None of these people agreed to be identified, because they were not authorized to discuss the process. Spokesmen for GM and the treasury did not comment.
One plan under consideration would create a new company that would buy the “good” assets of GM almost immediately after the car maker files for bankruptcy.
Less desirable assets, including unwanted brands, factories and health care obligations, would be left in the old company, which could be liquidated over several years.
Treasury officials are examining one potential outcome in which the “good GM” enters and exits bankruptcy protection in as little as two weeks, using $5-7 billion in federal financing, a person who had been briefed on the prospect said last week.
The rest of GM may require as much as $70 billion in government financing, and possibly more to resolve the health care obligations and the liquidation of the factories, according to legal experts and federal officials.
Since replacing Rick Wagoner on 31 March, GM’s chief executive Fritz Henderson has sent increasingly clear signals that bankruptcy is probable unless agreements are reached with labour and the bondholders by the administration’s 1 June deadline.
Unlike Wagoner, who refused until his final days at GM to consider a Chapter 11 filing, Henderson has deployed staff to work with legal and government advisers, although he does not agree a bankruptcy is inevitable.
Last week, he said GM was proceeding on a dual track, hoping to restructure out of court, but also preparing for a filing.
“If we need to resort to bankruptcy, we have to do it quickly,” Henderson said in an interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
John Paul MacDuffie, an associate professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said he saw little chance of an out-of-court restructuring, given that the Obama administration had rejected GM’s proposed revitalization plan in March. It was submitted without the concessions that were required from bondholders and the union, and which have still not been reached.
“The simplest way to frame it is that they took the loans, there were conditions on the loans, they didn’t prove their case for financial viability, and they didn’t meet the deadline, either,” MacDuffie said.
Lawyers for GM and the government have much work to do before any bankruptcy case can begin, executives with bankruptcy experience said last week.
First and foremost, GM would have to formulate a business plan that addresses virtually every aspect of the company that it hopes to transform while under bankruptcy protection.
It would have to show how it would save billions of dollars through agreements with its bondholders and unions, how many dealers it plans to keep, and the plants and offices it plans to either close or preserve.
The plan also needs to give a candid forecast of the car market, a tricky prospect given the sharp fall-off in sales over the last few months, these executives said.
The treasury has hired Boston Consulting Group to help with the business plan, according to a notice posted 8 April on FedBizOpps.gov, a government procurement website.
Participation from banks also may be needed, and because of the weak economic climate, lenders are likely to insist that GM wring as much out of its operations as possible.
Finally, legal experts said, GM would have to try to prevent panic among consumers in the event of a bankruptcy filing. The government has said it will guarantee GM’s vehicle warranties.
Since then, GM has started an aggressive advertising campaign stressing that car buyers should have confidence in the company, and offering to make nine months of payments, up to $500 each, for owners who lose their jobs.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES