Chrysler and Cerberus

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Chrysler is the smallest of the Big Three automakers, but it stands apart from its peers in another crucial respect. While General Motors and the Ford Motor Company are public corporations, Chrysler is controlled by one of the world’s richest and most secretive private investment companies.

That investment company is Mr. Snow’s employer, Cerberus Capital Management, which has used its wealth and deep connections in Washington to shape the debate over the foundering automakers to its advantage.

In recent weeks, Mr. Snow has personally lobbied Mr. Paulson and others for a federal rescue that would salvage Cerberus’s investments in Detroit. Cerberus has also deployed a corps of lobbyists and former government officials to secure a bailout and protect its interests.

Whether its efforts will work is unclear. But if they fail Cerberus and its partners could lose their daring bets on Detroit. Without a bailout Cerberus could lose about $2 billion and suffer a stinging blow to its reputation. With one it might eventually profit from its troubled deals.

Last year, Cerberus and about 100 co-investors bought 80.1 percent of Chrysler for $7.4 billion from the German carmaker Daimler. It also bought a controlling stake in GMAC, the finance arm of General Motors. Since then Chrysler has eliminated more than 30,000 jobs and struggled to keep itself afloat while its sales have plummeted. Cerberus is pressing to have Chrysler merge with G.M., but G.M. has said a tie-up is off the table. Chrysler is asking the government for $7 billion to get through the next few months.

Cerberus, named after the mythical three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades, has a fierce reputation on Wall Street. Many bankers and investors are reluctant to talk openly about the company, which is renowned, even feared, for its hard-nosed deal-making.

Update: Open Secrets hat tip Anna Lee

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