With auto sales expected to hit a 28-year-low in 2009, the pressure will be high, the time short and the scrutiny intense as GM moves toward March 31, when it must demonstrate it can get sufficient concessions from bondholders, the United Auto Workers, suppliers and others.
In a recent report entitled "Now for the Really, Really Hard Part," CreditSights analyst Glenn Reynolds wrote that even after bailout money starts to flow, "the sense of doom will stay acute" as GM stars in a three-month-long soap opera.
"The market can expect a lot of posturing and positioning in what will be the most complicated and contentious set of negotiations imaginable," Reynolds wrote. "The next chorus of 'file bankruptcy now' will be sung throughout by the bankruptcy proponents. In other words, one way or another, the heat will not let up."
Late Wednesday, the Treasury Department turned over to GM the first $4 billion of a promised $13.4 billion in funding from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The funding is intended to enable the company to pay its bills while it undertakes a hasty restructuring. The money came late in the afternoon on the last day of 2008.
"We appreciate the administration extending a financial bridge to GM at this critical time for the U.S. auto industry," GM said in a prepared statement. "We are committed to successfully executing the (restructuring) plan we submitted on December 2."
Release of the money lifted GM shares, which were trading Monday morning at $3.58, up 38 cents. Shares in
were trading at $2.39, up 9 cents.
When the White House agreed to the bailout Dec. 19, President George W. Bush said the intent was "to give the auto companies an incentive to restructure outside of bankruptcy -- and a brief window in which to do it." President-elect Barack Obama may be a better friend to the UAW, but he also warned on Dec. 19 that "the American people's patience is running out."
By March 31, GM is expected to have received another $9.4 billion, with scheduled payouts of $5.4 billion on Jan. 16 and $4 billion in February. As the date approaches, Obama may find himself under intense pressure, trying to determine whether to provide GM with more money -- many experts say it will need more, particularly with sales so low -- or to let it file.
At least GM has its first tranche. Chrysler was also expected to receive $4 billion, but instead negotiations continue on the terms.
"We recognize the magnitude of the effort by the Treasury Department to complete these multiple financial arrangements quickly and sequentially," Chrysler said Wednesday, in a prepared statement. "The discussions relating to Chrysler LLC have been positive and productive, and we look forward to finalizing the details of our financial assistance in the immediate future."
Ford is not a party to the initial bailout package, but it has requested a $9 billion line of credit in the event, now likely, that sales conditions worsen.
According to CreditSights' Reynolds, the best case for negotiations "could be a constructive, ambitious, and frantic-if-hell-bent restructuring program where the parties 'do the right thing' and allow GM and Chrysler to avoid liquidation risk and a more damaging scale of operational shutdown.
"The worst case is that all parties seek to maximize their relative position, poison the process with zero-sum gamesmanship and delusionary misrepresentations of their relative sacrifice, and then threaten to bring the whole process to a damaging if not fatal end," he said.
GM's negotiations are expected to begin Jan. 5, with the UAW and the bondholders presenting the principal obstacles, although dealers, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., suppliers, retirees and secured lenders also are seeking to maximize the value of their claims.