| Glenn MacDonald |
The US bankruptcy process is designed to be an orderly way to preserve any value that is left in the bankrupt business, and treat the creditors fairly and consistent with their contractual rights. This process has been honed through use and generally functions highly effectively. The point of preserving value is obvious enough. Fair treatment of creditors is not about fairness per se, but rather about investor investor protection generally, i.e., in the US, to promote efficient credit markets, investors are generally well protected, including in bankruptcies. The recent GM bankruptcy is an interesting case of how this process can be made to fail, mainly through rushing the process and dictating its outcome rather than by letting the process do what it was designed to do.
Specifically, much value was wasted. For example, among car aficionados, there are few brands more revered than the Pontiac GTO; this persists despite the weak offering brought out in 2004. Where is the GTO? On the scrap heap with the rest of Pontiac. A more deliberate bankruptcy would have preserved this value, e.g., by folding parts of Pontiac into Chevrolet. Second, GM’s creditors rightly claimed they were wronged by allowing the sale of all good GM assets to the new GM, owned mostly by the government and the UAW, and denying them the rights to argue their case to the bankrupcy court. They correctly argue they were robbed.
Who are the main beneficiaries of this mess? To the extent that despite the poor reorganization, GM is actually worth something, obviously the Federal government and the UAW benefit from the treatment of creditors. But more importantly, this is terrific for GM’s competitors, who have much to gain from GM’s remaining value being wasted through a weak product line, politically driven lack of cost reduction as inefficient facilities are retained, etc.