Several analysts expressed skepticism Friday that the Federal Reserve's decision allowing GMAC Financial Services to become a bank holding company would spur many more people to buy cars.
As of late Friday, however, GMAC had not yet cleared a final hurdle in its quest. Completion was contingent on a complicated debt-for-equity exchange that had an 11:59 p.m. deadline.
Daniel Alpert, managing director at investment bank Westwood Capital, said so many consumers already are struggling with existing debt that he doubts the Fed's action will cause them to take on still more.
"I don't think it will suddenly increase auto credit," Alpert said.
The Fed approved GMAC's request Wednesday to become a bank holding company, authorizing it to apply for a portion of the Treasury's $700-billion bailout fund and receive emergency loans directly from the Fed.
Analysts had speculated that without financial help, GMAC would have had to file for bankruptcy protection or shut down, dealing a blow to General Motors' own chances for survival. The Fed cited "emergency conditions" in justifying its decision.
The Fed said its move "would benefit the public by strengthening GMAC's ability to fund the purchases of vehicles manufactured by GM and other companies and by helping to normalize the credit markets for such purchases."
But some analysts said they doubt the Fed will achieve that goal.
"I don't think the Fed decision, per se, will have any impact on the consumers' willingness to buy cars," said Bert Ely, a banking industry consultant in Alexandria, Va. "For many consumers, the willingness to buy a car — new or used — is largely a function of their ability to get affordable financing."
Christopher Whalen, managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, said would-be customers are simply not buying cars. Noting that Toyota has just forecast its first operating loss in 70 years, Whalen sees no end to the slowdown.
"It's not a good situation, no matter what," he said.
The difficulty many homeowners have had in paying mortgage bills has been spreading to credit cards and other forms of borrowing, including auto financing, Alpert said.
Still, those who enjoy excellent credit will be able to borrow at historically low rates, as in the housing market. And others are more optimistic about the Fed's action.
Scott Talbott, a financial industry lobbyist, said the Fed's move is part of a "one-two punch" that, along with the bailout of GM and Chrysler, could get the auto industry moving again.
Access to financing also will help dealers whose lots have been clogged by unsold vehicles, said Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents large banks, brokerages and insurance companies.
"If a car buyer can't get financing to buy a car, the car sits there," Talbott said. "This will get them off the lots so automakers benefit, dealers benefit and Americans benefit."