WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department said that it will provide $5 billion to GMAC Financial Services LLC, the ailing financing arm of General Motors Corp., in a move that's expected to stave off a bankruptcy protection filing at the company but also severely limit GM's control over it.
In exchange for the slice of the $700 billion bank rescue package, the government will receive preferred shares that pay an 8 percent dividend and warrants to purchase additional shares in return for the money, the department said.
Treasury also said it will lend up to $1 billion to General Motors so that the company can purchase additional equity that GMAC is planning to offer as part of its effort to raise more capital.
The government aid is also expected to provide a needed boost to domestic auto sales by freeing up more credit for consumers. GMAC said Tuesday that it would immediately resume lending to certain customers it had previously said were too great a risk for auto loans as a result of the tight credit markets.
The assistance is part of a new, auto industry-focused program within the Treasury's bank rescue effort known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. The auto program includes the $17.4 billion in loans the Bush administration agreed to provide the industry Dec. 19, the department said.
A Treasury official said there is no dollar limit on the auto assistance effort.
Analysts had speculated that if GMAC didn't obtain financial help it would have to file for bankruptcy protection or shut down, which would be a serious blow to GM's own chances for survival.
Last week, the Federal Reserve approved GMAC's application to become a bank holding company, which made it eligible to receive money from the financial rescue fund. The Fed's approval was contingent on GMAC raising additional capital.
But at the same time, the automaker is losing control of the financing business, which may or may not have positive results down the road.
"GM is now on a path to become the first global carmaker to have no influence/control over a captive auto finance company — this may prove a disadvantage to GM sales or, if not, it may prompt other (original equipment manufacturers) to follow," Patel wrote in a note to investors.
The analyst said that the moves could allow GMAC to pickup market share in the long term, or may even eventually spur a public offering.
Separately, GMAC said Monday that it has accepted all the bonds tendered in a debt-for-equity swap that was also part of its capital-raising efforts. The company released few details about the results of the swap, but said that the conditions of the offers had been satisfied.
GMAC "intends to act quickly to resume automotive lending to a broader spectrum of customers," the company said in a statement.
The company's goal is to reach $30 billion in capital, the majority of which would come from the debt-for-equity exchange. GMAC has struggled to get bondholders to convert 75 percent of their debt into equity of the company and has yet to say whether it has met its goal.
The Treasury Department's investment in the company does not mean it is "passing judgment" on whether GMAC has met the Fed's requirements to raise additional capital, the official said.
GMAC, meanwhile, said the government's $5 billion investment was completed Monday. The $1 billion loan is still in progress, the Treasury official said.
GMAC accepted additional restrictions on executive compensation than were imposed on banks that have received money from the program. The bonus pool for top executives will be 40 percent less than it was in 2007, the Treasury official said.
The Treasury Department said after initially bailing out the auto industry earlier this month that it had committed the first $350 billion of the bank bailout fund, and said Congress should release the second half.
But in several cases the Treasury hasn't actually spent all the committed funds, and the department will use money that hasn't yet been spent to fund the investment in GMAC, the official said. For example, the department allocated $250 billion for a program to inject capital into banks, but has so far spent only about $162 billion of that amount.
General Motors' partial ownership of GMAC has kept the finance arm lending to dealers and car buyers, even as credit from traditional banks has dried up. If GMAC went bankrupt, other institutions would be unlikely to step in to replace the credit lost by GM's dealers and customers.
GMAC said Tuesday that it will resume offering automotive financing to customers with credit scores as low as 621, eliminating restrictions put in place two months ago that mandated a minimum score of 700.
"We will continue to employ responsible credit standards, but will be able to relax the constraints we put in place a few months ago due to the credit crisis," GMAC President Bill Muir said in a statement. "We will immediately put our renewed access to capital to use to facilitate the purchase of cars and trucks in the U.S."
Muir said the change will allow the company to return to "more normal" financing volumes and help stabilize the domestic auto industry.
GM owns 49 percent of GMAC, while the rest is owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.
As part of its order last week approving GMAC's application for bank holding company status, the Federal Reserve said GM will reduce its stake to less than 10 percent of the voting and total equity interest of GMAC. Cerberus, which led an investment group that bought a 51 percent stake in GMAC from the automaker for $14 billion in 2006, will reduce its stake in GMAC to no more than 33 percent of total equity.
AP Auto Writer Bree Fowler in New York contributed to this report.