Fiat Chrysler should mull selling Europe business, spin off Maserati, Alfa, investor says

MILAN/NEW YORK -- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' board is being urged by a small investor to consider selling its European business and eventually spinning off the Maserati and Alfa Romeo divisions to focus on its profitable U.S. brands.

ADW Capital Management, a longtime shareholder, is pressing these and other proposals to lift the automaker's shares and "eliminate its turnaround valuation," it said in a letter sent to the board Thursday.

The fund is not among FCA's top 100 shareholders.

FCA's reliance on the U.S. was clear during the third quarter, when hot-selling models such as the Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler led to North American operations generating 97 percent of profits.

While return on sales in the region overtook Ford and matched General Motors' margin, FCA's valuation continues to trail both its rivals.

"While Fiat has premium brands which are secularly growing, the strongest balance sheet and highest growth profile of all U.S. carmakers, the company trades at a significant discount to its closest peers, GM and Ford," ADW founder Adam Wyden wrote in the letter obtained by Bloomberg News.

Wyden would change the company's name to JeepRam to reflect its strongest brands and have it adopt U.S. GAAP accounting principles to enable more U.S. index funds to invest in the shares. Here's a rundown of the fund's more aggressive proposals:

• Combine Europe's Fiat brand with another automaker focused on the region, such as PSA Group. This would focus management on the higher-margin American businesses that are primed for international growth.

• Spin off or sell shares in a combined Maserati and Alfa Romeo business.

• Merge with a North American peer, such as GM, for cost savings.

FCA had no immediate comment on the letter. The company has said it plans to remain independent through its five-year plan to 2022.

ADW manages $150 million, and FCA is its biggest investment. The fund has previously sought to take an active role in companies where it holds stakes. In October, it urged U.S. software provider PAR Technology to pursue a sale.

Wyden wrote a similar letter advocating for Diamond Resorts International to sell itself, months before Apollo Global Management acquired the company in 2016.

FCA is controlled by the Agnelli family's Exor, which holds more than 50 percent of voting rights. That level of control has left little room for investor requests to gain traction.

ADW, founded in 2011, has been a shareholder since 2014.

FCA shares have more than tripled since listing in 2014. Sergio Marchionne, the deal-making, globe-trotting former CEO who died in July, helped revive Chrysler from bankruptcy by restructuring the business and separating assets formerly owned by Fiat. Profit has more than doubled since 2013 from higher Jeep sales and the elimination of net nonfinancial debt. Supercar maker Ferrari was spun off in 2015.

Since July, when Mike Manley replaced Marchionne, FCA's U.S. shares have declined 13 percent. The company also has lowered its profit outlook for the year on weaker sales in China.

"We too miss our coach, but our team was hard conditioned for excellence over the last 14 years," Wyden wrote in the letter. "It is our turn now to make the boss proud and play offense."

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