Everyday investors may once again be able to own a slice of Chrysler, four and a half years after the Detroit giant swerved away from the brink.
The company filed paperwork late Monday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering, thereby complicating takeover plans byFiat (F:IM), the Italian automaker that owns Chrysler shares and has been angling to buy the rest of them. The chunk of Chrysler headed for Wall Street belongs to the United Auto Workers under its health-care trust, which was granted an ownership stake in the car maker’s 2009 bankruptcy. The IPO filing doesn’t list how much stock will be sold or at what price.
Fiat offered to buy the union’s stake—now at 41.5 percent of Chrysler—but the UAW has so far balked at the Italian company’s offers. The union is reportedly seeking $5 billion for its shares, and Fiat Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has suggested the group buy a lottery ticket if it wants to drum up that much cash. “The dialogue is going on,” Marchionne said last week. “We are not getting closer, but we keep on talking.”
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Fiat largely controls Chrysler through its 58.5 percent ownership but must enlarge its stake beyond the 75 percent level before it can mingle the two companies’ cash and unlock almost $12 billion in the coffers of its Detroit partner.
For many reasons, Chrysler has been a great partner for Fiat. Its trucks and Jeeps are selling fast, bolstering Fiat’s line of fuel-sipping vehicles. Chrysler’s heft has also helped Fiat torque big savings out of suppliers. But Fiat evidently doesn’t think Chrysler is worth as much as the auto workers do.
A string of strong sales reports may have emboldened the union to try its luck on public markets. August was Chrysler’s best month for U.S. sales in almost five years. The company sold about 166,000 vehicles, including 4,200 Fiats—a 12 percent increase over the year-earlier period. With numbers like that, it’s easy for workers on the assembly line to dream of a stock market payday.
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