DETROIT – For General Motors Corp., the task at hand is so difficult that experts say a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is all but inevitable.
To remake itself outside of court, GM must persuade bondholders to swap $27 billion in debt for 10 percent of its risky stock. On top of that, the automaker must work out deals with its union, announce factory closures, cut or sell brands and force hundreds of dealers out of business – all in three weeks.
“I just don’t see how it’s possible, given all of the pieces,” said Stephen J. Lubben, a professor at Seton Hall (N.J.) University School of Law who specializes in bankruptcy.
GM, which has received $15.4 billion in federal aid, faces a June 1 government deadline to complete its restructuring plan. If it can’t finish in time, the company will follow Detroit competitor Chrysler LLC into bankruptcy protection.
Although company executives said last week they would still prefer to restructure out of court, experts say all GM is doing now is lining up majorities of stakeholders to make its court-supervised reorganization move more quickly.
“If we need to pursue bankruptcy, we will make sure that we do it in an expeditious fashion. The exact strategies I’m not getting into today, but we’ll be ready to go if that’s required,” Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said last week.
The threat of bankruptcy, however, may be just a negotiating ploy to pull reluctant bondholders into the equity swap deal. In Chrysler’s case, some secured debtholders resisted taking roughly 30 cents on the dollar for what they were owed, but most gave in after they were identified in court documents.
Henderson, who took over in March when the federal government ousted Rick Wagoner, said last week there’s still time to get everything done by the deadline, although he conceded it will be difficult to meet a government requirement that 90 percent of its thousands of bondholders agree to the stock swap.
The biggest obstacle to GM restructuring out of court appears to be its bondholders, who have been reluctant to sign on to the stock swap when the government and United Auto Workers union would get far more stock in exchange for debts owed by GM.
Even though the U.S. government has agreed to back up GM and Chrysler new-car warranties, potential car buyers already view GM as if it is in bankruptcy, reflected by the company’s steep revenue drop in the latest quarter, Lubben said. On Thursday, GM posted a $6 billion first-quarter loss and said its revenue plunged by nearly half, largely because bankruptcy fears scared customers away from showrooms.
“I don’t think anyone is buying cars from a company who is wringing their hands about a potential bankruptcy for the past year or so,” he said.