GM could follow Chrysler into bankruptcy: analysts

(SinChew Daily) – General Motors could soon follow Chrysler into bankruptcy protection and the process is unlikely to be simple or swift for either troubled automaker, analysts warned.

"Bankruptcy may indeed be the last, best option to restructure General Motors because of the multitude of challenges the company faces and its deeply entrenched stakeholders," said Doug Bernstein, head of Plunkett Cooney's banking, bankruptcy and creditors' rights law practice group.

"But it's unrealistic to expect that the process will go smoothly and quickly," Bernstein said.

"The company is massive, its operations are complex, and it has thousands of potential claimants and interested parties."

In announcing Chrysler's bankruptcy Thursday, President Barack Obama insisted that "Chrysler and GM are going to come back" and said a restructuring under court protection, along with a partnership with Italy's Fiat, would give Chrysler "a new lease on life."

While Obama said his team would continue to work with GM to develop a long-term viability plan ahead of a June 1 deadline he also warned that "we simply cannot keep this company or any company afloat on an endless supply of tax dollars."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned that both the US and Canadian governments "will insist that all of the stakeholders make the sacrifices necessary to ensure the long-run viability" of General Motors.

"If they do not, governments will not participate in the restructuring," he said after announcing that the Canadian government would allocate US$2.4 billion to help Chrysler emerge from bankruptcy.

A smattering of bondholders were blamed for blocking a deal to restructure Chrysler out of court and GM's bondholders seem equally intransigent.

A committee representing those bondholders went public hours before Chrysler's bankruptcy was formally announced Thursday with demands for a significantly larger equity stake than has been offered by the Obama administration.

The debt for equity exchange at GM also dwarfs that at Chrysler, which had fewer than 100 principal financial creditors.

At GM, any exchange must involve more than 120 major financial institutions, ranging from banks to pension funds, and about 100,000 individual investors.

Another stumbling block to a GM deal is a plan to eliminate the Pontiac brand and selling off Hummer, Saab and Saturn, said Jay Gleischman, managing partner of 4Gen Consulting in Troy, Michigan.

"Everybody knows Treasury is playing hardball," he said.

"But it's going to be for different reasons than Chrysler. It's going to be to sever its relations with dealers."

GM has said it wants to eliminate 42 percent of existing dealerships, reducing the number from 6,246 in 2008 to 3,605 by the end of 2010.

The plan has met resistance from the National Automobile Dealers Association, which has asked dealers to contribute to a legal defense fund.

A further complication is the impact the Chrysler bankruptcy and plant idling at both automakers will have on the already-stressed supply base.

David Allardice, an economist at Walsh College outside Detroit, said suppliers are already bracing for the worst.

"Regarding General Motors, others took the view that they could 'see the train coming' with the announcement of nine weeks of plant shutdowns," Allardice said.

Brad Coulter of O'Keefe & Associates said GM suppliers ought to pay close attention to what happens at Chrysler.

"If certain suppliers are not deemed critical in the Chrysler bankruptcy, then I would expect those same types of suppliers would be very wary of continuing to supply GM without getting paid on prior debts or going to cash in advance," he said.