Chrysler Shareholders Meet in St. Louis; Kerkorian Showdown Unlikely
DETROIT (AP) _ Chrysler Corp. officials and representatives of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who wants to buy the company, are saying little about what might happen at Chrysler’s shareholder meeting Thursday in St. Louis.
Michael Claes, a spokesman for Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp., declined to discuss what Kerkorian is doing to pursue his $22.8 billion proposal to buy the 90 percent of Chrysler he doesn’t already own.
But it seemed unlikely that he would use the meeting as a forum.
``It’s an opportunity for Chrysler to finally demonstrate what it’s going to do for shareholder value,″ Claes said. ``This is the company’s forum. I think its shareholders are expecting something.″
Kerkorian has said he wants to take over the automaker to enhance the value of his investment, which is 36 million Chrysler shares, worth about $1.6 billion at the current stock price.
In December, he successfully pushed the company to raise its dividend and announce a program to buy back $1 billion in stock on the open market, measures aimed at boosting the stock price. But Chrysler shares have languished, trading far below their early 1994 peak of more than $60. They were down 50 cents at $43.75 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
There was speculation that Chrysler might announce a dividend increase Thursday, to appease shareholders who agree with Kerkorian’s logic that the company is keeping too much cash in reserve. In a recent letter to shareholders, Chrysler Chairman Robert J. Eaton said the company would consider using excess cash to raise the dividend or buy back additional stock, but he gave no timetable.
In rejecting Kerkorian’s buyout proposal, the Chrysler board has repeatedly stated its conviction that the company should have a $7.5 billion cash cushion to help it weather the next recession without gutting product development programs.
``I don’t think they’ve gotten that much pressure from institutional holders to change course,″ said Ted Shasta, who manages about 3 million shares of Chrysler stock for Loomis Sayles & Co. in Boston.
``I don’t think there’s a lot that the management can do, short-term, to increase shareholder value,″ said Shasta, who was among major shareholders Eaton visited last week. ``A cash position of about $7.5 billion is right where they should be.″
The Chrysler cash reserve was about $7.3 billion at the end of March.
Kerkorian would use $5.5 billion of the cash to help finance the buyout.
He would have to borrow $12 billion or more, and his inability so far to line up lenders to back his $55-a-share proposal has led many analysts to pronounce it dead. He also is looking for other investors to provide about $3 billion in equity for the transaction.
``The real issue is if Mr. Kerkorian can get equity financing,″ Shasta said.