Chrysler Lenders Drop Opposition to Sale Plan

By Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 9, 2009

NEW YORK, May 8 -- The small but staunch lenders group that stood against the sale of Chrysler disbanded Friday, removing the only major obstacle in the Obama administration's plan to quickly restructure the automaker in bankruptcy court.

The breakup of the organized opposition improves the government's odds of getting Chrysler out of bankruptcy quickly and could portend a similar road for General Motors should it also be forced to file for protection.

The decision came after the asset manager OppenheimerFunds and hedge fund Stairway Capital, who were leading the effort, told the group in a conference call Friday morning that they were dropping out, according to several people involved in the process. They were doubtful that the coalition, given its shrinking size, would be effective in court and were weary from the "intense pressure" they were under, said Tom Lauria, an attorney for the group.

"After a long and very difficult conversation, the group concluded that it was no longer a viable enterprise," Lauria said. "People aren't up to taking the heat from publicly fighting with the government."

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a briefing with reporters that the development was "another important and promising step in Chrysler's favor."

"Despite some skepticism that Chrysler could do this quickly, I think the auto team and the President are heartened that this appears to be happening as quickly as we had hoped."

On Tuesday, Chrysler won a major victory in bankruptcy court when a federal judge, over the strenuous objections of the lenders group, approved a key part of the automaker's plan to quickly restructure by selling most of its assets to an entity jointly owned by Fiat, the United Auto Workers and the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy last Thursday after some of Chrysler's senior secured lenders rejected the government's debt repayment plan. The Obama administration had made a final offer of 33 cents on the dollar for the loans after negotiations that spanned several weeks. A majority of the lenders, including four large banks, had agreed to the deal. But it was not enough to keep the carmaker out of court.

In a televised speech last Thursday, Obama characterized the holdouts as "speculators" who "endanger Chrysler's future by refusing to sacrifice like everyone else."

The group began to shrink soon after the comments. Initially, members said they represented 20 financial firms holding about $1 billion of Chrysler's $6.9 billion in senior secured loans.

Perella Weinberg Partners, a boutique investment bank in New York, was the first major lender to withdraw. By Wednesday, the group revealed in a court filing that its number had dwindled to five, collectively holding just $295 million of the debt.

Despite dropping the legal challenge, fund managers in the group said they were still opposed in principle to the government's plan and would not sign on to the offer.

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