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    GM/Chrysler talks intensify, Europe carmakers warn

    25.10.2008 - 12:13 | Son Güncelleme:

    General Motors intensified talks to acquire Chrysler LLC on Friday amid a worsening global auto downturn that forced deep cuts of salaried jobs at Chrysler and a warning from France's PSA Peugeot Citroen.

    Shares of U.S. automakers and parts suppliers also fell under a broader stock market decline on Friday, including a 26-year low at No. 2 U.S.-based automaker Ford Motor which is also cutting back due to the industrywide slowdown.

    Chrysler aims to cut about 5,000 salaried and contract workers, or 25 percent of the white-collar staff, amid the auto industry downturn, including extending buyout offers starting in November and involuntary cuts by year end.

    However, a combination of GM and Chrysler, and its potential wide-ranging impact on the auto-parts supply base that encompasses thousands of companies and millions of workers, holds center stage in North America.

    The core of the discussions between GM and Chrysler owner Cerberus Capital Management would be an asset exchange that leaves Cerberus with all of GMAC LLC and a stake in the automaker itself, sources told Reuters.

    Cerberus owns a 51 percent stake in GMAC, GM's former captive finance arm, and would retain ownership of Chrysler Financial, the captive finance arm for Chrysler.

    United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said on Friday the union had met with automakers to discuss the status of potential pending deals, but declined to say which ones, industry publication Automotive News reported.

    U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, also told reporters that GM and Chrysler had not as yet sought government financial support to fund a merger, Automotive News said.

    Sources also told Reuters that GM is exploring other plans if the talks fail, including approaching outside investors and the U.S. government, while Cerberus remains in talks with other parties, including Nissan Motor.

    In Europe, PSA became the latest to join a growing list of European carmakers to issue warnings, leaving investors wondering whether Volkswagen could hit its own unambitious 2008 targets.

    The PSA profit warning came less than a day after German luxury carmaker Daimler cut targets for a second straight quarter and French rival Renault all but junked its long-held 2009 guidance.

    Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said the PSA warning confirmed growing weakness in Western Europe and suggested expectations may be at risk for the rest of Europe and beyond.

    The warning "raises the likelihood of slowing in other formerly growing markets such as China and South America," Johnson wrote in a note to clients.

    Volkswagen, the world's third-largest carmaker, reaffirmed on Friday that it still expects to deliver more cars to customers than last year.

    Even Japan's Toyota, considered the healthiest automaker as reflected by its AAA debt rating, is expected to post its first quarterly sales decline in seven years because of the downturn in the U.S. market.

    GM, which has been vying with Toyota for world's largest automaker based on sales volume, plans to report third-quarter global sales results next week.

    Honda Motor also is not expected to escape the downturn in auto markets. The Nikkei business daily reported that Honda's operating profit is expected to fall by about 40 percent in the year to March.

    U.S. auto industry sales have fallen to rates unseen since the early 1990s in October amid weak consumer confidence and a slowing economy.
    The downturn has hit U.S.-based automakers harder than rivals due to their weaker financial footing.

    Ford and GM are thought to have sufficient liquidity through 2008, but the global downturn could pose challenges for both in 2009, according to ratings agency Standard & Poor's.

    GM, Ford and Chrysler all have been shedding assets to raise cash and paring production and closing plants in North America to match capacity with declining demand.

    Chrysler said on Friday that it was reviewing multiple bids on its Viper sports car business, but did not disclose a sale timeline for the low-volume unit.

    GM is expected to circulate a sales prospectus for its Hummer brand within days.

    Tata Motors, which bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford, and Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd are among those expected to look at the books, a source familiar with the matter said.

    GM has delayed until January the unveiling of a new Buick LaCrosse model, which was originally scheduled for November. It has also scrapped a working plan to show a Cadillac CTS coupe in November, to cut costs.

    In Europe, analysts already inured to a string of bad news from the industry were stunned by the magnitude of problems at PSA and Renault, in part since both have benefited from a French car market propped up by government incentives to buy smaller cars built by its two domestic manufacturers.

    S&P on Friday cut its rating on Renault, reflecting "our expectation that the recessionary scenario ahead will penalize the carmaker's cash generation and profitability," credit analyst Barbara Castellano said in a statement.

    S&P also put PSA and Fiat on a negative outlook.

    PSA and Renault are insulated from a crumbling U.S. market, which has forced both Daimler and BMW to charge against their earnings a combined sum of more than 1 billion euros for losses related to their leasing businesses.

    Renault's Japanese ally, Nissan, gives it exposure to the U.S. market, while PSA has no exposure at all.

    Compared with their cash-strapped U.S. peers, many European carmakers still enjoy a comfortable financial cushion in their core industrial businesses but "this can change very quickly," WestLB's Oliver Kaemmerer said.

    GM shares fell 2.46 percent to $5.95 and Ford shares rose 1 cent to $2.01 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. Ford had set a 26-year low at $1.80 during the session.

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