Fiat holds off on buying more of Chrysler

Nov. 14, 2012 at 3:40 PM
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Nov. 14 (UPI) -- The chief executive officer of Fiat-Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne, says he is temporarily backing away from plans to buy more of U.S. automaker Chrysler Group.

Fiat SpA owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler and as of July had the option to increase its stake. It could exercise an option that comes around every six months, The Detroit News reported Wednesday.

But Fiat is spending money on plants in Europe in an attempt to nudge forward while other automakers in Europe pedal backward, closing factories to compensate for the economic slowdown on the continent.

Given Fiat's funds are tied up, "It is clear that, given Fiat's capital requirements and the availability of liquidity today ... it is highly unlikely that we will be able to finance the take out of the minority stake in Chrysler -- unless something extraordinary happens and we find liquidity through other means," Marchionne said when revealing Fiat's plans to reinvest in European markets.

Complicating the matter further, the remaining 41.5 percent of Chrysler Group is owned by a United Auto Worker union healthcare trust fund for retirees and that trust may take its share of the company public next year, the News said.

The trust can do so as of Jan. 1. After that, "It takes several months to go through the Securities and Exchange Commission filing process," said Reena Aggarwal, an initial public offering expert at Georgetown University.

Looking at the situation from the other side of the street, by the time a IPO can take place, Fiat has, potentially, the ability to own 70 percent of Chrysler Group. That means the trust can go public with only 30 percent of the company. Investors, at that point, would be buying into a company in which they have little say in the company's decisions.

If it needs to, Fiat could raise the funds to buy Chrysler by taking its luxury brand Ferrari public. Fiat at this point owns 90 percent of the iconic sports car company.

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