GM bankruptcy plan eyes quick sale to government

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If General Motors Corp files for bankruptcy, as widely expected, its healthy assets will be quickly sold to a new company owned by the U.S. government, a source familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

The General Motors headquarters is seen from an old and mostly abandoned warehouse district in Detroit, Michigan, May 14, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The source, who was not cleared to speak with the media and would not be identified, said the U.S. government would pay for the assets by assuming the automaker’s $6 billion of secured debt and forgiving the bulk of the $15.4 billion of emergency loans that the U.S. Treasury has provided to GM.

The government is negotiating the terms on which it will assume GM’s secured debt and might make an the offer to holders of the debt that is far superior to the one made to Chrysler LLC’s secured lenders, the source said.

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in April and has proposed paying its secured lenders about 28 cents on the dollar.

The new GM is likely to distribute stock in the company to GM’s unions in return for concessions on wages and benefits, the source said.

The percentage of stock given to the unions, bondholders and other creditors whose debt is not repaid by new GM has not been determined, the source said.

In addition, the government would extend a credit line to the new company, the source said.

The remaining assets of GM would stay in bankruptcy protection to satisfy other outstanding claims.

The government has given GM until June 1 to restructure its operations to lower its debt burden and employee costs as sales have plummeted in recent years.

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GM will likely take on some of the operations of its bankrupt supplier Delphi Corp to make sure it gets needed auto parts throughout its reorganization, according to the source. The company is currently negotiating terms with Delphi’s estate, the source said.

Delphi, a former unit of GM, has been operating in bankruptcy since 2005.

The board of the new company would be established with the tacit approval of the government. Fritz Henderson, who took the helm of GM earlier this year after the government pushed out Rick Wagoner, will head the new company, the source said.

Setting up a new company to buy the healthy assets is aimed bringing operations out of bankruptcy as quickly as possible. GM is concerned that consumers might not be willing to make a major purchase from a bankrupt company, fearing it would not honor warranties or provide service.

Chrysler is employing a similar strategy in its bankruptcy. The smaller automaker is selling its operations to a group that will be managed by Italian automaker Fiat and wants to have the strongest operations out of bankruptcy in 60 days.

Chrysler’s proposed sale ran into initial opposition from holders of the company’s secured debt, and GM may face similar issues.

Investors who hold GM’s senior secured debt said they are not aware of any negotiations and that they would oppose having the debt move with the healthy assets.

“If that’s right, they will be in for a fight,” said one investor, who declined to be identified.

The investors said GM could not force the transfer of the secured debt without the agreement of all the holders of that debt.

The investors also opposed giving bondholders anything without first paying in full the claims of senior secured lenders, who have higher priority in bankruptcy.

GM could not be immediately reached for comment.

GM shares closed up about 8 percent at $1.27.

Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Steve Orlofsky