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Fiat Chrysler shares climb on talk of a merger analysts think is 'half-baked'

Key Points
  • Shares of Fiat Chrysler climbed just over 3 percent Wednesday on talk of a merger with French carmaker Renault
  • At least two analysts who follow Fiat Chrysler say there is reason to be skeptical. 
  • Renault is in the middle of an ordeal with Nissan over allegations leveled at former executive Carlos Ghosn.
A Jeep Renegade 4x4 e is presented at the Geneva Motor Show March 5, 2019. Signage in the background says"'FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles," to which Jeep belongs.
Uli Deck | picture alliance | Getty Images

Shares of Fiat Chrysler climbed just over 3 percent Wednesday on talk of a merger with French carmaker Renault, but analysts are skeptical a marriage between the two companies is likely.

The Financial Times reported Wednesday the automaker is a potential acquisition target by French carmaker Renault, after Renault sorts out its relationship with Nissan, the Japanese manufacturer with which Renault has had a longstanding but lately troubled alliance.

But a merger between Renault and Fiat Chrysler seems just a bit far-fetched, Bernstein analyst Max Warburton said in a research note Wednesday.

"We've been asked to give a view, so here goes: this idea is half-baked, politically almost impossible to deliver and even if achieved, the resulting company would be unmanageable," Warburton said. "We hope it is a banker's fantasy rather than a serious proposal from the key decision makers."

Renault and Nissan have lately had their relationship tested after Japanese authorities jailed the alliance's former leader Carlos Ghosn over allegations of financial misbehavior.

But before going after Fiat Chrysler, Renault wants to restart talks of a merger with Nissan, the Financial Times reported. That is something Ghosn had reportedly been working on himself a few years ago, long before he was ousted from his position over accusations of financial misbehavior. Ghosn has denied all the accusations against him.

Commerzbank analyst Demian Flowers said he thinks the ordeal will drag on.

"Therefore, it's far from clear that the alliance can sort their internal disagreements out in time to be in the running for FCA," Flowers said of Fiat Chrysler. That at least one other automaker has expressed interest in acquiring Fiat Chrysler and that the company's controlling owners, the Agnelli family, seems interested in a deal suggests the automaker is a potential target, Flowers added. If the deal depends on Renault's merger with Nissan, it will be a lot tougher to pull off, he said.

Warburton had even stronger words of skepticism for the hope that Renault and Nissan can reconcile their differences.

The problems between Renault and Nissan do not stem directly from Ghosn himself, said Warburton, but from the wider French control at Japanese Nissan and Renault's "cadre of international 'citizen of nowhere' managers."

"We live in an era of de-globalisation and heightened anxieties about national and regional identities," he said. "This applies to corporations as well as politicians and individuals. Proposing a merger with Nissan would be like demanding the UK's Brexiteers turn 180 degrees and sign up to a European superstate, or inviting the Baltic States to rejoin the USSR. We just can't see it happening. We'd describe hopes of a functional Renault-Nissan merger as delusional."

Automotive history is littered with examples of mergers that have not worked out, he added. The alliance between Renault and Nissan, which Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi later joined, proved critics wrong and functioned largely because it was not a merger, but a loose alliance. Now even that has unraveled.

That said, Renault would probably be a better candidate for a merger with Fiat Chrysler if the alliance breaks up, which seems more likely than a Renault-Nissan merger anyway, Warburton said. Alternatively, a merger between Fiat Chrysler and French automaker Groupe PSA, could be a better fit.

"PSA may not bring electric tech or Asian exposure but it does come complete with a superstar CEO with a proven ability to lead, motivate and integrate," he said of Groupe PSA CEO Carlos Tavares. Groupe PSA owns Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and other carmakers. "And in this industry, that's probably worth more than a few million units more 'scale,' an extra nameplate or the ability to build a battery."