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GMAC Woes Unlikely to Torpedo GM, Chrysler

Solvency issues heighten around GMAC, with the U.S. Treasury Dept. revealing earlier this week the bank must raise $11.5 billion to shore up its capital reserves

The survival of General Motors Corp. and a restructured Chrysler LLC is not contingent on the well-being of GMAC LLC, experts say.

“(GMAC is) helpful to GM and Chrysler, but not critical,” says Robert Wiseman, a professor of management at the Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University. “There are a lot of other alternatives out there for dealers to obtain loans for their customers and finance their operations.”

Researchers at MSU recently determined GMAC accounts for 16% of all vehicle financing, while 49% of loans are issued by other institutions. Adding Chrysler to GMAC’s books would push that lending firm’s market share to just under 25%.

Last month, GMAC financed 30% of GM’s new-vehicle sales, down slightly from March but up significantly from last year, when the lender only would do business with consumers that had the very best credit scores.

Van Conway, senior managing partner of Conway MacKenzie, an international financial and management consultancy in Birmingham, MI, says unlike years ago, when GMAC offered the best terms to GM buyers, the playing field between lenders has leveled. But that doesn’t mean GM and Chrysler wouldn’t feel the pinch of a failed GMAC.

“It’s kind of built into the system of GM and Chrysler, so it would be a net-negative to car sales,” he says. “It’s hard to imagine it would have no impact.”

Solvency issues heighten around GMAC with the U.S. Treasury Dept. revealing earlier this week the bank must raise $11.5 billion to shore up its capital reserves. Privately held GMAC says it could raise the money by Nov. 9, perhaps by issuing new equity in the company. The company must present a plan to the Federal Reserve by June 8.

But given the conservatism investors are exercising these days, it might be difficult for struggling GMAC to raise such a large amount of capital. “If you’re an investor looking to get into the financial sector, there might be better investments out there,” Wiseman says. “It’s a fairly high-risk investment.”

Earlier this week, GMAC reported a first-quarter loss of $675 million, still smarting from a meltdown in the mortgage industry and plunging new-vehicle sales. The finance firm late last year became a bank- holding company in order to access federal bailout funds to stay afloat.

“We are in the process of evaluating all potential capital raising options,” GMAC spokeswoman Gina Proia tells Ward’s, when questioned whether the lender would seek an extra capital injection from the government.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Reuters Thursday government funding for GMAC was “likely” and “we’ll be prepared to provide that.” Earlier this year, the government lent GMAC $5 billion, as well as $1 billion through GM’s federal loans.

Wiseman says GMAC could divest well-performing assets, a route a number of banks are pursuing to raise capital. He cites Di-Tech, the retail mortgage operations of GMAC. “It’s a strong brand,” he says.

But if GMAC proves unsuccessful raising the capital, Conway expects the government will provide the money.

“You would think, if this is considered a leg of the (auto industry’s) stool, it would make sense,” he says. “If the government needs to throw more money in, they would consider that. Everything is so interconnected in the auto industry, like no other.”

However, the additional capital GMAC requires is unrelated to its assumption of Chrysler Financial’s lending business, the company says. Money to support that activity will come from the government.

GM sold a majority of GMAC to private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, which owns Chrysler, three years ago. But with GMAC’s government assistance last year, GM regained 60% of the company.

As part of the government bailout agreement with GMAC, GM must take a less than 10% stake in the bank, while Cerberus cannot hold more than a 14.9% share.

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