GM's Lagging Opel Sale: Hang Tough and Avoid a Dodgy Acquirer

| About: Magna International (MGA)

Last week I hypothesized that the real reason GM was balking at the Magna (NYSE:MGA) deal for Opel was that it wanted nothing to do with Oleg Deripaska and Gaz, widely considered to be the ultimate buyer of the stake originally slated to go to Sberbank. And right on cue, what should I read in yesterday’s news?:

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s carmaker GAZ (GAZA.RTS), the Russian industrial partner in a Magna-led bid for Germany’s Opel, is not interested in an equity stake in Opel, Deripaska told Vedomosti newspaper.

As Gomer Pyle would say: Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Seeing, however, that this involves Deripaska and his moving lips, it’s hardly a credible commitment that GM can rely upon. It is more likely a sweet nothing intended to overcome resistance to the German-sponsored sale to Magna and Sberbank.

I would strongly recommend that even as minority shareholder in any deal that GM (i.e., US taxpayers) signs to sell Opel should give the company a veto over the sale of any large stake. Otherwise, the likely outcome if the deal goes through, and Sberbank gets a big piece, is for Deripaska to say: “What was I thinking? Of course I want an equity stake.” Or: “That was my good twin who said that. He’s been dealt with. Of course I want in.”

GM should hang tough and refuse any deal involving Gaz, or other dodgy companies. It should prevent falling victim to the Lucy-and-the-football scam by insisting that it have veto over any transfer of a material portion of Opel by any of the original equity investors.

It would be interesting indeed to see how German interest, and Sberbank’s, would change in response to GM’s insistence on such a term. I imagine that the interest of both would cool pretty fast. But if I were GM, I would put my faith in a veto, and pay no attention to anything Oleg Deripaska says.

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