Ford Uses Assets For First Time To Secure Loans

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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ford said yesterday that it arranged $18 billion in bank loans, for the first time using company assets such as its U.S. assembly plants and its Swedish luxury brand Volvo as collateral.

Analysts said Ford had to seek some secured financing because its deep losses and junk ratings on Wall Street made other borrowing avenues nearly impossible.

"I think this is the last shot to maintain the company at its current level," said Gerald C. Meyers, a former auto executive who teaches at the University of Michigan. "It's do-or-die time for Ford as the company we know."

The borrowing would bolster Ford's cash position. Automakers have enormous cash demands from suppliers and creditors, Meyers said. The automakers also have cash-intensive costs for new vehicle programs, including equipment to assemble engines and manufacture body panels. "It takes a huge amount of cash to change those," Meyers said. "Those bills go on no matter what's happening to sales."

Ford spokeswoman Becky Sanch said the company was not facing a cash crisis. She said the 103-year-old company was using the new debt financing to address near- or medium-term operating losses, including paying for restructuring moves and providing a cash cushion in case of unforeseen events, such as a U.S. recession. She said Ford expected to end the year with $20 billion in cash.

The three new loans are a $3 billion unsecured loan, a $7 billion secured loan and a secured revolving line of credit for $8 billion, which replaces an existing $6.3 billion unsecured credit line. Ford's loans, arranged by Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase, are expected to close by the end of the year. A Ford spokeswoman said final terms have not been set, including what interest rates Ford would pay.

Among the other assets Ford was using as collateral are its intellectual property, such as patents or significant trademarks; real estate; and its automotive financing unit, Ford Motor Credit.

As part of Ford's restructuring, Alan Mulally, the company's new chief executive, is trying to refashion the automotive lineup, partly with more fuel-efficient vehicles. Jim Sanfilippo, senior industry analyst at AMCI, an automotive consulting firm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said the reorganization of Ford's finances was the first step in charting a business plan for the automaker and rebuilding credibility on Wall Street.

Ford has idled plants around the country to reduce dealer inventory as consumer demand has continued to slide for Detroit's big trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Company officials, including Mulally, gave analysts hints about the borrowing plan last month but did not outline the scale, which analysts said was larger than expected. Ford did not make top executives available for comments yesterday.

In the third quarter, Ford spent $3 billion, or $250 million per week. It lost $5.8 billion during the period, its largest quarterly loss in 14 years, and executives signaled that more dreary results were coming. The automaker's losses this year have totaled $7 billion.

David Healy, auto analyst for Burnham Securities, said he expected Ford to spend $14 billion to $15 billion a year in 2006 and 2007. "Short of government-guaranteed loans, they had to do this," he said. "Otherwise the numbers come out to Chapter 11."

In their latest struggles, the Detroit automakers have ruled out asking the federal government for loan guarantees, as Chrysler did in the late 1970s as it was running out of cash. Two weeks ago, after a long-delayed meeting with President Bush, the chief executives of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler were asked by reporters if the automakers were seeking a bailout. "Absolutely not," Mulally responded.

GM, which has sought secured loans, announced last month that it received a $1.5 billion loan for seven years backed by machinery, equipment and tools at its U.S. manufacturing facilities. In July, GM completed a $4.48 billion line of credit secured by inventory, accounts receivable, plants, property and equipment of GM of Canada and 65 percent of the stock of GM of Mexico. Previously, the credit was unsecured.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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