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GM Likely To Join Chrysler In Bankruptcy
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GM Likely To Join Chrysler In Bankruptcy

Economy

GM Likely To Join Chrysler In Bankruptcy

GM Likely To Join Chrysler In Bankruptcy
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A General Motors bankruptcy appears to be just days away. The White House has given GM until Monday to radically restructure or head to court. For Chrysler, its bankruptcy proceedings appear to be moving quickly and smoothly.

DAVID GREENE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

General Motors still has a weekend to try to avoid bankruptcy if it can. GM's patron, the federal government, gave the automaker until Monday to restructure, but it looks increasingly like GM will miss the deadline. It couldn't reach a deal to reduce its debt. So if it can't restructure, the company will have to seek the protection of bankruptcy court. Frank Langfitt covers the auto industry for NPR.

Frank, good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And what does it mean for an industrial company this big to file for bankruptcy?

LANGFITT: Well, first, you know, this - if this happens, it's going to be the largest industrial bankruptcy in U.S. history and one of the largest ever. Bigger than WorldCom, the telecom company. And only really the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which triggered this deep recession, is really bigger. Now, one way of measuring the size of a bankruptcy is liabilities, what a company owes people. And in GM's case it's estimated to be around 60 billion.

INSKEEP: So the numbers are huge. But there's also just the symbolism of having a company that symbolized American industry or even American technology for a little more than a century.

LANGFITT: Exactly. You know, the bankruptcy here - this isn't just any company. GM's wrapped up in this American love affair with cars. It's been a monument to Detroit muscle, ingenuity, but increasingly, especially right now it's seen kind of as a humble giant.

INSKEEP: So if GM has to file for bankruptcy, Frank Langfitt, how much is this going to cost me?

LANGFITT: Well, Steve, this has already cost you a lot. In fact, the American taxpayers have already lent General Motors nearly $20 billion. The estimates are it'll cost tens of billions more just to keep this company operating in bankruptcy and out. Now, you remember originally these were supposed to be loans, but recently I was speaking with Ed Altman. He's a bankruptcy expert and professor at New York University's Business School. And I asked him how much taxpayers might get back of this money, and here's what he said.

Professor ED ALTMAN (New York University): It's hard to believe that the U.S. taxpayer is going to get it all back. I don't think most taxpayers believe they're going to get much back at all. They're willing to bite the bullet, so to speak, because of the so-called greater good in terms of employment levels. But I don't think most people, including myself, believe that we're going to get this money back.

LANGFITT: And of course, Steve, you know, this bankruptcy at Chrysler, it's gone much more quickly than expected. But GM, it's going to be a different kind of bankruptcy. It's probably not going to move as fast. It's a much bigger company. Chrysler, you know, is mostly a North American company, but GM is global. They make the Opel in Europe, Buicks in China. They also have creditors and suppliers all over the globe. So it's expected to take a lot more time and be a lot more complicated.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one question about that, Frank Langfitt, because White House officials have put out a couple of interesting numbers. They've said that Americans need to buy something like, I don't know, 14 million cars a year just to replace the cars that break down or get too old to use or to deal with population growth. And lately, of course, we've only been selling them at a rate of, you know, nine million a year. The idea is there's a huge demand building up for cars and at some point in the future when people feel more confident, these car companies are going to be make a ton of money. Isn't that possible?

LANGFITT: It's possible. I do think they're right about what they call the scrappage rate, that in fact there is a lot of pent-up demand. At the same time, we may have a ways to go till we see that release. And in the meantime, you know, the United States taxpayer is funding both of these companies. They don't have much revenue. Take GM, the first three months of this year it lost $6 billion. So one of the key things for these companies, even if they get through bankruptcy, they get rid of all these debts, is they've got to start making some money.

INSKEEP: You say both of these companies. Of course you're referring to Chrysler, which has already filed for bankruptcy. Could GM's bankruptcy go as quickly as Chrysler's has gone so far?

LANGFITT: It's going to take longer, I think. As I was mentioning earlier, it's such a big company. It's much more complicated. And the other thing is they haven't got the deals. You know, when Chrysler went in, it had almost everything lined up, everything arranged with its creditors.

INSKEEP: Right.

LANGFITT: GM has - it may do a little bit of a battle with its bond holders. So it could take longer.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt, who covers the auto industry.

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Q&A: How Will GM Stay In Business?

Time is running out for General Motors Corp. to either restructure or file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. The U.S. automaker faces a Monday deadline set by the federal government to decide. With too few of its bondholders willing to allow the automaker to exchange bond debt for company stock, the company is expected to file for bankruptcy.

Here, a look at the challenges GM faces as it moves forward.

Chrysler is already in bankruptcy protection and is trying to finalize its sale to Italy's Fiat. What are the options for GM?

GM's board plans to meet to decide what steps it might take now that its plan to exchange $27.2 billion in debt for 10 percent of its stock is no longer viable.

This week, the Treasury Department sweetened the deal offering bondholders up to 25 percent of the new GM. Bondholders have until 5 p.m. Saturday to accept or reject the offer.

With the approaching Monday deadline, analysts expect that the company will also have to seek bankruptcy protection in order to survive. Bankruptcy experts have insisted for months that the automaker should file for protection in light of its enormous liabilities and losses.

The government hopes Chrysler moves out of bankruptcy within a matter of weeks. How would a GM bankruptcy compare?

Auto analysts say that GM is likely to follow the same template as Chrysler, but any GM bankruptcy will ultimately be a lot more complicated.

"Chrysler was essentially a North American operation with some minimal presence in overseas markets," says Paul Eisenstein, bureau chief for The Detroit Bureau, an independent auto news service. "General Motors is a massive entity — truly global, with more than half of its business — in terms of unit sales — coming from abroad."

In the U.S., GM is about twice the size of Chrysler, but when you factor in its international operations GM is about four to five times larger. If GM files for bankruptcy protection, then it also stands to lose 100 percent ownership in many operations overseas including those in Europe, Latin American and Eastern Europe.

"With GM you're shedding numerous brands simply by shutting them down as is the case with Pontiac," Eisenstein says. "Some are being sold off, like Hummer. We're waiting to see what happens with Saab and Saturn."

What's happening with Chrysler?

Chrysler is holding out hope that its deal with Fiat Group SpA, which is scheduled to close by June 15, will allow the company to survive intact rather than being dismantled and sold off in pieces. But the agreement still faces opposition from bondholders, dealers and former employees.

Chrysler and GM have inherent differences when it comes to how the companies are structured. Chrysler was taken over by a private equity fund, while GM remains a publicly traded company.

How much money has the federal government spent on GM so far, and how much more might it need to invest in the company if it goes into bankruptcy?

GM has received $19.4 billion in federal loans. This money may be written off or converted to equity under bankruptcy protection. Some analysts, however, estimate the company may need an additional infusion of $35 billion or more.

On Thursday, GM said in a SEC filing that it will need at least $30 billion in additional financing.

In the case of Chrysler, the government put money into the company before bankruptcy and then added two additional infusions — one to wind down operations and a second to help the new company that emerges stay afloat.

GM's larger size and more complex operations will likely determine how much money it will require. With bankruptcy protection on the horizon, the government's stake in the company could expand to 72.5 percent — up from the 50 percent that was cited in the automaker's regulatory filings. And the Canadian government may contribute up to $8 billion in exchange for equity in the company.

GM's failure would have a big impact on the economy, which is struggling to emerge from a deep recession. The company has said it will need to cut thousands of jobs and dealerships. How many jobs are involved?

It's unclear exactly how many jobs will be at stake. Eisenstein, of The Detroit Bureau, estimates as many as 40,000 jobs could be cut.

GM has already said that restructuring — in or outside of bankruptcy protection — will reduce its U.S. work force from 91,000 total workers at the end of 2008 to 71,250 by the close of 2009. The downsizing will affect 17,000 hourly workers and 2,750 salaried workers. Tom Wilkinson, a spokesman for GM, says these reductions are due to layoffs, the sale of brands, retirement and attrition. By year end, the number of hourly workers will be reduced to 45,000 from 62,000; the number of salaried workers will decline to 26,250 from 29,000.

Filing for bankruptcy protection offers some advantages for GM, including allowing the company to terminate contracts with dealers, which the automaker is presently prohibited from doing under state law.

And then there are GM's suppliers, which have also received federal help. How would GM's bankruptcy affect them?

If GM follows the path of Chrysler, then it will continue to pay most auto parts suppliers on time. That means there will be little disruption for suppliers in the short term. But it doesn't mean that they will be out of the woods or that their business will improve.

Analysts worry that the real cash crunch for suppliers will come in July or August, at which point they will no longer be able to rely on a cash supply from either GM or Chrysler.

"But the reality is that suppliers have been devastated even before a bankruptcy at GM, so any sort of setback could be fatal or near-fatal for many suppliers who are already on life support," Eisenstein says.

And it's not just GM or Chrysler suppliers that stand to lose. Eisenstein says suppliers for Toyota and Honda could also be hurt by any further downturn.

With reporting by NPR's Joshua Brockman, Frank Langfitt and The Associated Press

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