German EconMin rules out GM buyback of Opel: report

FRANKFURT Sun Jul 19, 2009 12:51pm EDT

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's economics minister ruled out any attempt by General Motors to include an option to buy back majority control of Opel as part of a deal to give up over 50 percent of its German unit in exchange for state aid.

"This is incompatible with our views and cannot happen," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told German Sunday paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview.

The comments could suggest that Belgian financial investor RHJ International (RHJI.BR) may have problems with its bid if the company is viewed as only a short-term player.

Germany is expected to shoulder the bulk of the billions in loan guarantees as part of a deal, and state and federal governments are represented on the board of a trust that has to approve a sale of Opel.

The minister also warned bidders for Opel will have to invest more of their own capital for the package of state aid to obtain EU clearance, since otherwise the only ones risking anything are taxpayers. Zu Guttenberg explained that the size of the state aid requested would not be the deciding factor alone for Berlin.

"That's too simple. What good is an offer that is cheap (to the taxpayers) if the return of the money is in question. The key will be if a concept is so sustainable that there is a high probability that the interest, fees and the money can be paid back," he said.

When asked what was sustainable he responded: "A competitive company that urgently addresses the need to consolidate (capacity and staff)."

Canadian auto parts supplier Magna MGa.TO, little-known Belgian investment holding RHJ and Beijing Automotive (BAIC) have been in a race to acquire Opel, with final binding offers due at the close of business in Europe on Monday.

BAIC has requested only 2.64 billion euros in state aid, while RHJ wants 3.8 billion and Magna 4.5 billion, but the Canadian group is seen as heavily favored within Germany -- a country where the short-term time horizon associated with financial investors is viewed with suspicion.

Magna's board of directors is expected to approve its takeover plan for Opel at a meeting on Sunday evening.

Some executives at GM unhappy about losing control over Opel are pushing for a deal with RHJ in part because of the higher likelihood that the Detroit carmaker could reacquire control over its former German subsidiary, sources familiar with the talks told Reuters.

Previously called Ripplewood Holdings Japan, RHJ is loosely tied with the eponymous U.S. private equity firm founded by Timothy Collins but refers to itself as a "diversified" group that creates long-term value for shareholders.

(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by David Cowell)

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