Chrysler Renews Credit Facilities But Cuts Amount

Chrysler's finance arm said Sunday it had renewed its credit facilities, but had reduced the amount to $24 billion from $30 billion due to tough credit markets and changes in its retail strategy.

Chrysler Financial said 90 percent of all banks that were part of the original financing participated.

Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Royal Bank of Scotland, led the syndication of the loan facilities.

Chrysler Financial will use the credit facility as a source of funding to make loans to Chrysler dealers financing inventory of unsold vehicles in showrooms and to make loans to consumers financing vehicle purchases.

Those loans are then typically bundled up and sold to investors in the asset-backed securities market.

Last month, Chrysler, which is majority-owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, said the financing arm would stop offering vehicle leases.

On Friday, the auto maker said the decision to suspend lease financing, a risky form of vehicle financing that has saddled Chrysler's U.S. rivals with large losses, had been a positive move in negotiations with its bank syndicate.

Chrysler did not specify the interest rate it was paying on the financing.

Chrysler Chief Financial Officer Ron Kolka said Friday the financing cost would be higher because of the tighter credit markets.

Chrysler Financial spokesman Bill Porter said $24 billion raised in the refinancing was sufficient because of the company's decision to abandon lease financing.

In lease financing deals, automakers and affiliated finance companies essentially rent cars and trucks to consumers, typically for terms of about three years.

The setup allows consumers to buy bigger and more expensive vehicles than they would otherwise because it keeps monthly payments low, sometimes at rates subsidized by the automakers.

But the sharp decline in the popularity of SUVs and trucks in recent months has exposed the risk of lease financing for automakers, who have been forced to sell vehicles coming off lease for as much as 25 percent less than they had forecast.

The result in recent months has been losses of thousands of dollars for every SUV and truck sold on a lease contract.

Chrysler, which is only liable for the leases it wrote in the year since it was purchased from Daimler by Cerberus, was the first major automaker to pull away from vehicle financing.

Like its larger competitors General Motors and Ford Motor , Chrysler has faced scrutiny over its ability to ride out a downturn in U.S. auto sales that many analysts expect to stretch through 2009.

GM has said it expects to cut its lease financing by about half, to near 9 percent of sales.

Ford has said it will take steps to limit its risks from lease financing through steps that will make the option more expensive for consumers.

All three U.S. automakers have been hit hard by the sharp decline in sales of pickup trucks, SUVs and vans that followed the rise in gas prices this year.

Chrysler sales are down 23 percent through the first seven months of the year.

The company, which has released limited financial data going private a year ago, said last week it ended June with $11.7 billion in cash and had earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $1.1 billion in the first half of the year.

Chrysler officials said those figures were a sign of strength given the pressure on the U.S. auto industry, now in its third year of declining sales.