A flurry of good news about Exide Corp. is helping restore confidence among participants in a $650 million loan to the company and has taken pressure off Lehman Brothers, the lead lender.
In the last week, shares of the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., battery maker have rebounded, and the company has named a charismatic new chief executive.
The developments appear to have helped defuse what was becoming an embarrassing controversy for Lehman. After Exide suffered one of the worst quarters in its history-one that included a $6 million payment to Lehman for a derivatives-related settlement-Lehman was blasted by its bank group for its handling of the loan, which was syndicated last year.
Bankers who bought pieces of the loan say they weren't told of the company's weak financial condition nor of Exide's derivatives deal with Lehman. They also said Lehman had pushed for amendments on the loan without disclosing that key information.
But on Monday, Lehman insiders said they felt a measure of relief about Exide after it announced that former Chrysler Corp. vice chairman Robert Lutz had been named CEO, effective Dec. 1. "The dust is beginning to settle," said a banker close to Lehman.
Even members of the bank group who were most critical of Lehman's management of the loan hailed Mr. Lutz's appointment. Mr. Lutz, 66, is a respected manager with 35 years in the auto industry. He is cited as a key player in Chrysler's 1990s turnaround.
"It's great, great news," a banker said. "We feel it's an outstanding choice."
Exide's announcement sent its share price up 21%, to $17.625 on the New York Stock Exchange. The rise came after a 40% jump on Friday that was fueled by rumors Mr. Lutz would take over.
What's more, the implication that Lehman had misled the group appeared to be unraveling after recent disclosures.
New filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that the $6 million payment from Exide was actually a negotiated settlement. The filings said that Exide owed Lehman $26 million through its interest rate swap agreement.
Terms of the interest rate swap were disclosed not only in SEC filings as far back as September 1997 but also in the loan packet given potential investor banks.
Lehman and Exide considered asking bankers for revised amendments for the loan in May but never did. It was previously reported that Lehman had asked the bank group for such a change in August. "I'm sure they feel a little vindicated," said a bank group member who has been a critic of the deal. "But let's not give them too much credit."
Had Lehman not negotiated the derivatives loss, the source said, bankers were prepared to side with Exide in fighting the payment. That is because members of the group believe the derivatives deal violated the loan agreement or was squeezed through a loophole.
"The fact is, the negotiated settlement saved them from a very embarrassing confrontation with the syndicate," the bank group member said.
Sources familiar with Lehman's management of the loan argued that the bank group was well aware of the derivatives deal. But they also conceded that many in the group may not have understood the interest rate swap or just ignored it. "This didn't look like a material issue," the source said. Lehman "didn't think the market for their bonds would get that low, and it's clear that no one else did."