Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Leverage| GM, Chrysler, UAW| TNT

Leveraging a deal for Chrysler could help GM's long term survival
DETROIT, MI - JULY 23:  Rick Wagoner (L), Chai...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Cable television network TNT will debut the new series drama series LEVERAGE on December 7, 2008. LEVERAGE stars Oscar® winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People, Nero Wolfe) and is executive-produced by Dean Devlin (Independence Day, TNT’s The Librarian) and John Rogers (Cosby).

The series follows a team of thieves, hackers and grifters who act as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking revenge against those who use power and wealth to victimize others.

Maybe they will take a cue from another long running drama series and use plot lines "ripped from the headlines" a la the "Law and Order" franchise.

An article in the October 20 Detroit Free Press updates a rumor on a proposed merger between General Motors and Chrysler, and discusses how such a deal may benefit GM.

By saving Chrysler, it would provide GM with leverage in opening new negotiations for concessions with the United Auto Workers.

If GM is seen as a savior for Chrysler, keeping them out of bankruptcy and saving jobs, it could benefit the company in talks that would occur with the UAW over the possible merger., according to a Wall Street analyst.

A merger would be a high-risk deal but may give the combined automaker leverage to renegotiate with the UAW, J.P. Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel wrote in a note to clients.

"GM desperately needs a reason to renegotiate many parts of its 2007 UAW contract," Patel said.

According to the Free Press article, court records filed by the UAW shows a 50% chance of Chrysler becoming insolvent by early 2013. This has left workers fearful.

Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, said Chrysler should be allowed to file for bankruptcy.

"The simple fact is that the best solution for Chrysler is Chapter 11 to remove the burdens of the UAW contract and scale down the company to something one half to two thirds its current size," Morici wrote in an e-mail Monday. "That would serve GM's interests, too -- both Ford and GM would benefit from some capacity and cars going off the market."
Morici noted that if GM acquired Chrysler's Jeep brand and minivan program, "GM would still have to pay heavy severance bonuses to workers it laid off streamlining their operations, similar payments would be required to shutter much of Chrysler's unattractive truck and car operations, and GM would still have to fund the union health care fund for retired Chrysler employees.

"Those costs" are "simply more than the Jeep and minivan franchises are worth."
The UAW has already agreed to substantial concessions in the 2007 contracts negotiated with GM and Chrysler. Negotiations were difficult, and resulted in union agreement to a lowered starting wage rate and to shift billions of dollars of retiree health care spending to an independent trust fund called a VEBA (Variable Employee Benefit Annuity).

The VEBA was seen as a way to ensure retiree health care benefits even if the automakers were to go broke. Payments into the VEBA fund have been delayed through 2009.

Patel, the J.P. Morgan analyst, said he sees a need for GM to renegotiate with the "VEBA funding level being the most obvious, but perhaps also wages for 'core' workers."

Patel wrote that saving Chrysler "from insolvency could go a long way toward achieving some of these goals with the UAW."

Patel also wrote that the merger could give GM greater leverage with its banks, another key stakeholder.

"By saving Chrysler from a liquidity event," Patel wrote, "GM may also be able to get itself much-needed secured bank financing from the same banks that are currently holding Chrysler debt."
Whether this deal gets done or not, it is likely that there will be further reductions at both auto makers before the economy recovers.


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