Marchionne the 'hawk' ready to swoop on 46% Chrysler stake

TURIN, Italy -- Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is known by many nicknames in the companies he runs, from his initials, SM, to "the boss," or "il dottore" (the doctor), a reference to the various academic titles he possesses, both earned and honorary.

A less well known nickname is "il cinghialone," the big wild boar. This was coined in Turin back in 2004 as recognition that, like a hungry boar, he never leaves a stone unturned in running companies in which he has no prior experience.

Actually, the one I personally prefer and which applies perfectly to his latest (alleged) bold move, is "il falco," or the hawk.

Like a hawk, in his weekly flights between Fiat's headquarters in Turin and Chrysler's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., he identified his prey down on the ground in the form of a call option for Fiat to buy an additional 16 percent of Chrysler.

His initial plan was to increase Fiat's stake in Chrysler to 35 percent in exchange for technology transfers and management assistance and only then to pay cash for the additional 16 percent needed to grow to a 51 percent controlling stake.

But talks with banks to refinance Chrysler's $7.4 billion debt with the U.S. and Canadian governments are taking longer than expected. In addition, a $3 billion soft loan Chrysler had expected to receive from the U.S. Department of Energy by the end of last year has not arrived yet -- and doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight.

So the hawk decided to act quickly: if Fiat now buys 16 percent of Chrysler, the Italian automaker's total stake would move to 46 percent from 30 percent, still staying below the 49.9 percent threshold Fiat is not allowed to pass before Chrysler has repaid its government debts.

Stretching to a 46 percent stake will require Chrysler to secure $3.5 billion in new bank loans to reduce its government debts below $4 billion.

I'm pretty sure ''il falco'' is already actively working to strike such a deal.

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