GM Judged Too Big to Fail as Pelosi Embraces Rescue

Vehicles are parked at the Jefferson Chevrolet dealership in Detroit on Nov. 7, 2008. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News

Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has thrown her support behind the premise that General Motors Corp., the largest U.S. automaker, is too big to be allowed to fail.

In urging Congress to enact emergency aid for the ailing auto industry, Pelosi rejected calls to let GM collapse and sided with the company and its allies in trying to prevent a “devastating” domino effect that would cost millions of jobs.

“Trying to reorganize the auto industry in bankruptcy would be as close to reorganizing the whole U.S. economy as you could get,” said Alan Gover, a bankruptcy lawyer with White & Case LLP in New York. “The vast supply chain involves thousands of businesses, millions of existing jobs and just as many retirees, as well as whole communities and states.”

Passage of an industry bailout plan may keep GM from running out of operating cash by year’s end, which it says may happen without U.S. help. GM is the second-biggest provider of private health-care benefits and was the third-biggest advertiser in this year’s first half.

“It’s truly one of those companies that’s too big to fail, and everybody understands that,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. “If it does collapse, it could make the recession deeper and longer.”

Behravesh said a GM bankruptcy could send the U.S. jobless rate as high as 9.5 percent, up from a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October, and produce a recession comparable in length to that of 1980-82.

Share Performance

GM shares traded in Germany rose 10 percent to the equivalent of $3.21 as of 10:19 a.m. in Frankfurt. The stock declined 13 percent yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, chopping its value almost in half in a week.

Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC both likely would be forced into bankruptcy eventually if GM were to fail, Mark Oline, a Fitch Inc. credit analyst, said in an interview.

GM, Ford and Chrysler want $50 billion in loans to boost liquidity and cover union retirees’ medical costs, people familiar with the matter have said. That would be on top of $25 billion in low-interest borrowing Congress approved in September to help retool plants to build more-efficient vehicles.

The trio employs 240,000 people in the U.S., or about 70 percent of U.S. auto workers, according to the Automotive Trade Policy Council in Washington, the industry group for the U.S. companies. Health insurance for 2 million people is tied to auto workers’ jobs.

Job Losses

Another 5 million jobs at dealerships, suppliers and service providers are supported by the automakers, the council estimated. The companies spent $156 billion on auto parts in the U.S. in 2007.

Job losses would total 2.5 million from an automaker failure in 2009, including 1.4 million people in industries not directly tied to manufacturing, according to a Nov. 4 study by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Those disruptions would cost $125.1 billion in lost personal income in the first year, and $275.7 billion over three years, the study concluded.

While Pelosi, a California Democrat, didn’t cite GM by name in her statement yesterday, she said an automaker collapse would have a “devastating impact on our economy, particularly on the men and women who work in that industry.”

She didn’t specify the size or the rules for the aid package she is seeking for the industry, whose 2008 U.S. sales are headed toward a 17-year low. That slump is overwhelming cost-cutting efforts including elimination of 46,000 U.S. jobs at GM since 2004, when the company last posted an annual profit.

Bush, Obama

President George W. Bush hasn’t said whether he plans to approve further aid to the automakers. The administration is waiting to see the details of Pelosi’s proposal before reacting to it, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. President-elect Barack Obama talked with Bush on Nov. 10 about the urgency for aid to U.S. carmakers.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has resisted a proposal by Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to tap the $700 billion bank-bailout fund to help automakers, and investors including New York-based hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman have said GM should reorganize in bankruptcy, not receive a bailout.

“Let the company default, maybe manage the process a little,” said Martin Fridson, chief executive officer of investment-and-research firm Fridson Investment Advisors in New York. “There’s no reason for taxpayer dollars.”

`Textbook’ Versus Reality

Such an approach is too risky, said Gary Hindes, managing director of distressed investments at Deltec Asset Management in New York.

“With all due respect to the free-market, or moral-hazard types out there, it’s all wonderful in a textbook,” Hindes said. “But in a real world this would be disastrous.”

A GM failure would ravage an auto-supply base battered by bankruptcies or companies nearing failure, said Maryann Keller, an automotive consultant in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Delphi Corp., GM’s largest supplier and former parts unit, has been in court protection since 2005. Automakers and suppliers cut 140,000 jobs in the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

“At the current level of production nobody’s healthy, nobody’s making money, and many are running out of working capital just like GM,” Keller said.

Effect on Suppliers

Suppliers such as American Axle Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and Lear Corp. would be affected the most by a failure at GM, because it’s their largest customer. They also make parts for automakers including Ford, Chrysler and Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp.

“We’re worried. We’re concerned about it,” said Mike Goss, a spokesman for Toyota’s North American manufacturing unit in Erlanger, Kentucky. “The vehicles we build in North America use about 75 percent local content, and much of that is coming from the same companies that supply the Detroit Three.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Ramsey in Southfield, Michigan, at or Alex Ortolani in Southfield, Michigan, at

Last Updated: November 12, 2008 04:27 EST
By Mike Ramsey and Alex Ortolani

Source: Bloomberg

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