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Published: Monday, 5/4/2009

Financial adviser: Unlikely Chrysler will repay government loans

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK One of the top financial advisers overseeing Chrysler LLC's restructuring testified in bankruptcy court Monday that there is a "low likelihood" that the automaker will be able pay back its billions of dollars in government loans.

But Robert Manzo, an executive director with the restructuring group Capstone Advisory Group LLC, said he doesn't view the government financing as "free money."

"They're offering financing with a low likelihood of being repaid," he said.

Under a plan announced Thursday for Chrysler to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and partner with Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA, the government agreed to provide $8 billion in financing on top of the $4 billion Chrysler has received since January.

Earlier in Monday's hearing, Judge Arthur Gonzalez postponed his decision on whether Chrysler can start the process of selling its most valuable assets to a new entity partnered with Fiat.

Gonzalez delayed the issue until Tuesday afternoon after attorneys for a dissident group of Chrysler's lenders objected to taking up the issue because it needed more time to review the proposed deal. Chrysler lawyers did not file its motion until late Sunday.

A group of Chrysler's lenders have refused to wipe out most of Chrysler's debt and go along with the government's restructuring plan. A lawyer for some of the creditors, Tom Lauria, said they have not had time to review Chrysler's 300-page filing.

Lauria also objected to a Chrysler motion to allow the automaker to pay taxes, and he indicated that he also would object to the payment of other costs and expenses. He said if the sale to Fiat fails to go through, any money spent would be taking away from what left for the lenders later.

"We're opposing at this point everything that the debtor is doing that is premised on the assumption that value that would be preserved through the sale," he said. "Because if we didn't have the sale, none of these actions make sense.

"What we're doing is spending money today that we're going to have to fight to get back later."

Lauria, whose group includes lenders such as OppenheimerFunds Inc. and Stairway Capital Management, also said that some of the holdout lenders have asked to remain anonymous for now, citing fears about their safety.

"People in the group have received death threats that they believe to be bona fide and contacts with the police have been made," Lauria said.

Chrysler executives testified during the afternoon about the relationships between Chrysler and its suppliers and dealers. A Chrysler dealer also took the stand to talk about how vehicle sales tumbled in the months leading up to the Chapter 11 filing, along with his concerns about how the bankruptcy filing will affect dealers' sales in the future.

Other issues set to be decided Monday include approval for Chrysler to start using $4.5 billion in government loans so it can keep operating under bankruptcy protection.

Chrysler, the nation's third-largest car manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday. The company plans to emerge in 30 to 60 days as a leaner company, with Fiat potentially becoming the majority owner.

The biggest obstacle to the plan appears to be Chrysler's secured lenders who hold $6.9 billion of the company's debt.

Four banks holding 70 percent of the debt agreed to a deal that would give the lenders 29 cents on the dollar. But a collection of hedge funds refused to budge, saying the deal was unfair because they deserve to recover more than other creditors like the United Auto Workers.

President Barack Obama on Thursday chastised the funds for seeking an "unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout" after Chrysler and his auto task force cleared the company's other hurdles, including the Fiat deal and a cost-cutting pact that the UAW ratified last week.



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