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Chrysler Won't Pay Back Government Money Loaned So Far.

Buried in the Chrysler filings was the revelation that US government investments in Chrysler will not be paid back, though the government will probably take an 8% equity interest in Chrysler:

Chrysler LLC will not repay U.S. taxpayers more than $7 billion in bailout money it received earlier this year and as part of its bankruptcy filing.

This revelation was buried within Chrysler's bankruptcy filings last week and confirmed by the Obama administration Tuesday. The filings included a list of business assumptions from one of the company's key financial advisors in the bankruptcy case.

Some of the main assumptions listed by Robert Manzo of Capstone Advisory Group were that the Treasury would forgive a $4 billion bridge loan given to Chrysler in the closing days of the Bush administration, a $300 million fee on that loan, and the $3.2 billion in financing approved last week by the Obama administration to fund Chrysler's operations during bankruptcy.

An Obama administration official confirmed Tuesday that Chrysler won't be repaying the loans, though a portion of the bridge loan may be recovered by Treasury from the assets of Chrysler Financial, the former credit arm of the automaker which is essentially going out of business as part of the reorganization.

"The reality now is that the face value [of the $4 billion bridge loan] will be written off in the bankruptcy process," said the official, who added that the 8% equity stake that Treasury will be receiving as part of the company's reorganization is meant to compensate taxpayers for the lost money.

"While we do not expect a recovery of these funds, we are comfortable that in the totality of the arrangement, the Treasury and the American taxpayer are being fairly compensated," said the official. . . .

The Obama administration official said that other money being made available to Chrysler, such as the $4.7 billion that will go to the company as it exits bankruptcy, will be a loan that the government expects to be paid back. In addition, that loan will be secured by company assets, unlike the previous loans to Chrysler.

According to the filing, the company's financial advisor also foresees the need for an additional $1.5 billion loan from the Treasury Department by June 30, 2010. . . .

Typically lenders who loan bankrupt companies funds to operate during reorganization go to the front of the line on getting the money they are owed repaid. But [Senator Bob] Corker said Chrysler's dire financial situation left it no chance to even pay back the bankruptcy financing.

He said the fact that Chrysler isn't paying what is owed should be a warning that the $15.4 billion loaned to General Motors by Treasury since December, as well as any bankruptcy financing it might need, is also at risk.

Even the 3.2 billion loaned by the Feds just last week will not be paid back, though we might recover something from the liquidation of Chrysler Financial.

David Yermack wrote in the Wall Street Journal last fall that it would have been better if the government had simply written a check to each worker — or even just burned the money:

Today, our government is being asked to put tens of billions of dollars in GM, Ford and Chrysler, but we would be much better off if Washington allowed these companies to go bankrupt and disappear.

In 1993, the legendary economist Michael Jensen gave his presidential address to the American Finance Association. Mr. Jensen's presentation included a ranking of which U.S. companies had made the most money-losing investments during the decade of the 1980s. The top two companies on his list were General Motors and Ford, which between them had destroyed $110 billion in capital between 1980 and 1990, according to Mr. Jensen's calculations.

I was a student in Mr. Jensen's business-school class around that time, and one day he put those rankings on the board and shouted "J'accuse!" He wanted his students to understand that when a company makes money-losing investments, the cost falls upon all of society. Investment capital represents our limited stock of national savings, and when companies spend it badly, our future well-being is compromised. Mr. Jensen made his presentation more than 15 years ago, and even then it seemed obvious that the right strategy for GM would be to exit the car business, because many other companies made better vehicles at lower cost.

Roger Smith, who retired as chairman in 1990, seemed to understand that all too well, and so did Chrysler's management, which happily sold their company to Daimler Benz for $30.5 billion in 1998. That deal, one of the savviest corporate divestitures ever, ended very badly for Daimler, which essentially paid Cerberus a few billion dollars (by agreeing to retain pension liabilities) to take Chrysler off its hands in 2007.

Over the past decade, the capital destruction by GM has been breathtaking, on a greater scale than documented by Mr. Jensen for the 1980s. GM has invested $310 billion in its business between 1998 and 2007. The total depreciation of GM's physical plant during this period was $128 billion, meaning that a net $182 billion of society's capital has been pumped into GM over the past decade — a waste of about $1.5 billion per month of national savings. The story at Ford has not been as adverse but is still disheartening, as Ford has invested $155 billion and consumed $8 billion net of depreciation since 1998.

As a society, we have very little to show for this $465 billion. . . . Yet one can only imagine how the $465 billion could have been used better — for instance, GM and Ford could have closed their own facilities and acquired all of the shares of Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen.

The implications of this story for Washington policy makers are obvious. Investing in the major auto companies today would be throwing good money after bad. Many are suggesting that $25 billion of public money be immediately injected into the auto business in order to buy time for an even larger bailout to be organized. We would do better to set this money on fire rather than using it to keep these dying firms on life support, setting them up for even more money-losing investments in the future.