Mixed results on the Chrysler announcement

The President’s Chrysler announcement last Thursday produced mixed results.

The agreement among Chrysler, Fiat, UAW, the Administration, and the large banks appears to increase the probability (from almost zero) that Chrysler will survive for the long run, albeit as a part of Fiat. This is clearly a good thing.Is it worth the cost to taxpayers and the broader damage caused by government interference in the economy?

Taxpayers will sustain Chrysler during its restructuring. (Fiat is putting up no cash.)The Administration has committed $8.1 billion of new taxpayer funding for a bankruptcy process that they think will take 60 days, followed by a transition period of unknown duration. I think the final cost will exceed this additional $8 B, in part because I doubt the 60-day timeframe. Since the Administration agreed to forgive about $4 B the taxpayer has already loaned to Chrysler, I am also pessimistic about the taxpayer’s chances of getting back this new $8+ B outlay of funds.

It appears the Administration reached agreement first with UAW and the big bank creditors, and then tried to “jam” the dissident creditors with a tough and possibly unfair take-it-or-leave-it offer. When those creditors rejected the Administration’s offer, the President publicly excoriated them.

The result may be a firm that survives, but there are serious adverse consequences of this process and dangerous precedents for the broader economy:

  1. Industrial policy
    1. Leveraging TARP banks – It appears the Obama team pressured TARP-recipient big banks to forgive much of their loans to Chrysler. If so, they have taken a huge step toward making these banks instruments of public policy rather than private firms. This is a primary fear of “managed capitalism” – political leaders start leveraging one sector to influence another.
    2. Bypassing the capital structure and bankruptcy process – There is no such thing as a level playing field when the government negotiates with private parties. The Obama team set themselves up as both the arbiter of the negotiation and a participant in it. It now appears that they are trying an end-run around the Chapter 11 process through a section 363 sale. If they are successful, they will have interfered with the rights of others who thought they could rely on the traditional bankruptcy structure to protect their interests. The Obama team is introducing significant political risk into future business loans by undermining the traditional bankruptcy process. This makes future loans more expensive for firms.
    3. Leveraging Fiat to meet new […]