Fiat closes in on Chrysler after $1.27bn share buy

Fiat will control the historic US carmaker Chrysler by the end of the year, the Italian company believes, bringing it closer to its goal of becoming a truly integrated global auto giant.

Yesterday, Fiat lifted its stake in Chrysler to 46 per cent by buying a 16 per cent slug of the company for $1.27bn, and said it expected soon to be able to acquire the 5 per cent extra it needs to assume full control when Chrysler hits performance milestones set out by the US government. The acquisition of the latest stake took the industry by surprise, since it means Fiat is likely to control the US company more than a year ahead of its plan.

The US government brought Fiat on board as a partner for Chrysler when the company went bust in 2009 and Sergio Marchionne, Fiat's chief executive, has been running both companies since then. When Fiat has secured control, the rest of the company's shares are expected to be sold in a stock market flotation that will allow the US taxpayer to cash out.

Fiat shares were up almost 5 per cent yesterday as analysts hailed the cheaper-than-expected cost of its stakebuilding, but Standard & Poor's, the credit rating agency, sounded a note of caution.

Barbara Castellano, credit analyst, told S&P clients: "This limits Fiat's financial flexibility and leaves it more exposed to a weaker-than-expected performance in 2011." There were "very substantial operating and financial risks related to Fiat's increased exposure to Chrysler", she said.