The spector of bankruptcy once again has been raised in the tense negotiations over the government-backed plan to save Chrysler Corp.
Chrysler officials warned a holdout banker yesterday that continued opposition to the government-backed aid plan would force Chrysler into bankrupcty court to work out a repayment plan for creditors. Chrysler's chances of surviving such a complex, drawn-out operation are not considered good.
A Chrysler spokesman said yesterday that no such move is planned because the company believes the half-dozen holdout banks in the end will accept the aid plan. "We're out even considering it," said Chrysler spokesman Baron Bates.
But with pleas, pressures and threats ringng in his ears, David W. Knapp, president of the small American National Bank and Trust Co. of Rockford, Ill., said yesterday his bank remains opposed to the Chrysler aid plan.
"When we make a loan, we expect it to be paid under its terms and conditions," Knapp said in an interview yesterday after he met with Chrysler Assistant Treasurer Robert S. Miller Jr. and Vice President Gordon Areen.
His bank believes Chrysler cannot survive even with the $1.5 billion in government-guaranteed loans that Congress has promised.
A Chrysler subsidiary owes Knapp's bank $525,000, which is a nearly invisible part of the $4.4 billion that Chrysler owes 400 U.S. and foreign banks. The aid plan permits Chrysler to put off debt repayment for several years while it tries to regain its competitive strength.
Unless the Rockford bank and the other holdouts acceept the Chrysler financial reorganization plan, however, it cannot take effect. Without an approved plan, Chrysler cannot qualify for desperately needed cash from government-guaranteed loans. The government's loan guarantee board, headed by Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, put off a final meeting scheduled yesterday to approve the Chrysler loans. It will try again Friday.
Chrysler, which suspended payments to its suppliers this month, maintains that it must have the cash tranfusion by the end of June. Without a loan agreement, Chrysler soon would be forced into bankruptcy court seeking protection from creditors' lawsuits while a court-approved debt repayment plan is negotiated under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy statue, outside experts say.
"They said they're prepared to file under Chapter 11," said Knapp, following his meeting yesterday with the Chrysler officials.
Chrysler's chances of surviving under a Chapter 11 reorganization are not good, according to Frank W. Kennedy, a University of Michigan law professor and a Treasury Department consultant on the Chrysler case.
It would take years for various categories of creditors to approve a court-supervised repayment plan, and in the meantime, sales would suffer and dealership would be lost, Kennedy said. "There would be a stigma," he added. d
If Chrysler's bank lost confidence in its prospects, the company would be forced into liquidation, he said.
Most of Chrysler's banker want it to have another chance. But not the American National Bank & Trust, a national bank owned by a few hundred shareholders in Rockford, west of Chicago.
Formed in 1910 as the Swedish American National Bank, it is as conservative as the community it serves. Knapp, a 44-year-old Iowan, and Roger Reno of Rockford, a bank director, major stockholder and legal adviser, are known as firm, indpendent men.
"They're extremely conservation. That's the picture of the whole bank," said Matt Cicero, a friend of Reno and a fellow Rockford attorney.
The bank is coming under increasing pressure to accept the Chrysler plan, Knapp said. Officials of United Auto Workers Local 1268 have urged their members at the Chrysler plant in Belvidere, near Rockford, to boycott the bank.
Chrysler officials have been calling some of the bank's outside directors, reminding them that their businesses will suffer if Chrysler goes under, Knapp said. "And we've had calls from other banks," he added. "Yes, I'm feeling the pressure."
But his bank has opposed the Chrysler rescue plan from the onset last October. "I have serious reservation about the role of federal government in private enterprise," said Knapp. The bank's objections have been unheeded by Chrysler's other creditors -- until now.