Cerberus Said to Seek Buyers for Chrysler Financial

Cerberus Capital Management LP is seeking buyers for auto lender Chrysler Financial, which the private-equity firm acquired as part of its takeover of Chrysler LLC in 2007, said people with knowledge of the matter.

Cerberus in recent days began soliciting interest in the Farmington Hills, Michigan-based business from large banks, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private. The former lending arm of Chrysler has a book value, or assets minus liabilities, of about $6 billion or $7 billion, the people said yesterday.

Wells Fargo & Co., and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are among banks that could benefit from expanding auto lending as sales rebound, said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Portland, Maine. An improved used-car market and more conservative underwriting standards are reducing losses on bad loans, he said.

“Auto-lending is a very attractive line of business for the commercial banks,” Cassidy said. “The banks that are in the business are making very good money in the business because the credit losses are unusually low.”

A sale of Chrysler Financial would represent another step in unwinding Cerberus founder Stephen Feinberg’s bet on the U.S. auto industry. His takeovers of General Motors Corp.’s auto lender in 2006, followed by Chrysler the following year, preceded a decline in U.S. auto sales that sent both carmakers into bankruptcy.

‘Juicy Asset’

Feinberg, 50, subsequently lost control of both GMAC and Chrysler and held on to Chrysler Financial. The lender repaid its $1.5 billion in U.S. Treasury Department bailout funds last year and in July sought to return to large-scale lending.

Peter Duda, a spokesman for Cerberus, declined to comment yesterday. A representative of Chrysler Financial didn’t return a call.

There are only a “handful” of commercial banks, also including Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp and Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc., that could afford Chrysler Financial, Cassidy said. The company would be a good fit for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which already has an auto-lending arm, he said.

“Here’s a juicy asset that has incredible yield to it and if you know how to run the auto business like Wells, it may make a lot of sense to consider this one,” Cassidy said.

Mary Eshet, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, declined to comment.

Chrysler Financial Portfolio

Capital One Financial Corp. and Banco Santander SA are among banks that have acquired U.S. loan portfolios this year. McLean, Virginia-based Capital One bought a credit-card portfolio from General Electric Co., and Santander bought a $4 billion car-loan portfolio from HSBC Holdings Plc.

“This is the best time that I’ve seen in my 22 years of building Capital One to actually do acquisitions,” Chief Executive Officer Richard D. Fairbank, 60, said during a Nov. 17 investor conference. “Properties that would normally not be available are from time-to-time becoming available. There are a lot more sellers and strikingly fewer buyers.”

Chrysler Financial had $26 billion of loans and had issued less than $100 million of new loans in the first half of this year, a person with knowledge of Chrysler Financial’s business said in July. Cerberus hired New York-based JPMorgan, Citigroup Inc., and Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP to help it run the auction, said the people with knowledge of the plans.

Chrysler Stake

The past few years have seen both GM and Chrysler severed from their captive lenders. GM sold Cerberus a 51 percent stake in GMAC in 2006. Bailouts of that lender, now known as Ally Financial Inc., left the U.S. government in control of the company and shrunk Cerberus’s stake to 14.9 percent.

Cerberus bought a majority stake in Chrysler for $7.4 billion from DaimlerChrysler AG in 2007. Chrysler, the third- biggest U.S. automaker, went bankrupt in 2009 along with General Motors Corp., and Ally supplanted Chrysler as the primary lender for Chrysler dealers.

The surviving Chrysler automaker is now controlled by managers from Fiat SpA.

Meanwhile, General Motors Co. this year got back into captive lending, acquiring subprime lender AmeriCredit Corp. for about $3.5 billion as its new finance arm.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary R. Mider in New York at zmider1@bloomberg.net; Cristina Alesci in New York at Calesci2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jennifer Sondag at jsondag@bloomberg.net.

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