Fiat SpA Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said his efforts to merge the Italian automaker with Chrysler Group LLC may have hit a snag as a retiree health-care trust that owns a minority stake pushes instead for an initial public offering of the American carmaker.
The United Auto Workers’ trust may try to sell part of its 41.5 percent holding through an IPO by the first quarter, said Marchionne, who runs both automakers. Fiat then may buy the trust’s holding at the market price, he said.
“The dialog is going on; we are not getting closer but we keep on talking,” Marchionne said. An eventual share sale at Chrysler “may delay” the merger.
The CEO said Chrysler will file IPO documents by the end of the month with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to list a 16.6 percent stake, which the trust has the legal right to do. The two are also in a court dispute over the value of part of the trust holding which Fiat has options to buy.
“It gets much trickier for Fiat to buy out Chrysler minorities after an IPO,” said Erich Hauser, an analyst at ISI Group in London. “Marchionne’s plan to merge the two carmakers and get his hands on Chrysler cash may be at risk.”
Fiat shares have gained about 62 percent in 2013, valuing the company at $10.2 billion.
Marchionne has spent the past four years seeking to unify the companies so they can better compete with Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen. A fully integrated automaker would feature the mass-market Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, along with the high-end Maserati and Ferrari lines.
“I will work ... to get the best possible reception in the equity market but there’s a limit to my talents,” Marchionne said.
“I can do whatever I like at the time,” he said when asked if Fiat would buy the holding at price set by the IPO process.
Marchionne also said that the retiree trust, also called a VEBA, “should buy a ticket for the lottery” if they want to get at least $5 billion for its holding. Fiat has the right to buy the entire stake for $4.25 billion, plus 9 percent annual interest calculated from January 2010.
Fiat will update its targets for 2013 at the end of October after taking into account “positive and negative signs,” he said. “Pricing in Latin America is not as exciting as it was in the first part of the year, so we need to be careful,” Marchionne said when asked if 2013 targets are still reachable.
Fiat stuck in July to a forecast in the euro currency for 2013 trading profit in a range of 4 billion euros to 4.5 billion euros, up from 3.81 billion last year. At the time Marchionne lowered its profit forecast for Chrysler as the American carmaker spends more money on rolling out new models.
Marchionne said he did not attend this week’s Frankfurt auto show because of more pressing engagements, without elaborating.
Marchionne also said that CNH Industrial will be listed in New York as of Sept. 30. The new company is being created from the merger of CNH Global NV with its parent Fiat Industrial SpA.