White House to look into mega-mergers

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The Independent Online
THE US government yesterday announced an investigation into the rash of corporate mergers in the United States, as it emerged that top executives of the Chrysler Corporation stand to pocket as much as $1bn (pounds 600m) in a shares windfall if the planned Daimler-Chrysler merger goes through.

The revelation is sensitive because it raises a question about the motives of company executives in seeking to consummate mergers. The issue is certain to be one of those put under the microscope by the White House. It said it was forming a panel to look into the recent tide of mergers and consider whether they are doing unacceptable harm to competition in the US economy.

The White House mergers panel is expected to be headed by Gene Sperling, chairman of the National Economic Council, with Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin among its members. What action the administration could take to slow down the pace of corporate mergers is unclear, however.

One White House official commented: "When there is a major trend like this in American business, there is a presumption that you need to take a look at it. There is no presumption that you need to act."

Aside from the Daimler-Chrysler pact, American business has been mesmerised in recent weeks by such mega-mergers as Travelers-Citicorp and, in the telephones business, SBC-Ameritech, which was unveiled this week.

Documents filed by Chrysler with the Securities and Exchange Commission show the company's top executives will make the money by converting options granted them under their current pay deals into shares of the merged entity. Robert Eaton, Chrysler's chief executive officer, could on his own collect shares worth $100m. The executives would free to sell of the shares immediately.

The $1bn likely to land in the laps of the Chrysler executives is calculated on the assumption that the merger would price Chrysler at $61 a share.

In addition, any Detroit executives who lose their jobs as a result of the deal are to be offered multi-million-dollar golden parachutes.

Asked about the status of his own options at last week's press conference announcing the deal, Mr Eaton was unwilling to comment.

"My personal situation never came to mind. We are trying to create the leading auto company in the world for the future of all stakeholders," he retorted.