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GM 'baby bond' investors hire lawyer, seek better deal

Small investors in GM bonds push for equal status with major creditors; also, a look at Saturn post-GM

Small investors who bought General Motors "baby bonds" for as little as $25 have hired lawyer Michael Richman, partner at Patton Boggs LLP, to plead their case in federal bankruptcy court in New York, where they don't trust institutional bondholders and speculators to represent them, says bondholder activist Mark Modica, business manager at Saturn of Doylestown.

"We're going to file today for committee status as the 'Family and Dissident Bondholders of GM,'" in the company's New York bankruptcy proceedings, Modica told me. "We'll seek equal standing with the institutional bondholders." He said his group has identified 1,500 investors who own about $500 million of the roughly $5 billion in GM "baby bonds." Institutions hold another $20 billion+.

Why do small investors need their own strategy? Unlike institutions and speculators, "we don't have access to hedging strategies. We don't use credit default swaps. We don't have access to federal TARP funds," Modica told me. "That's why we're requesting a seat at the table," to try and get more than the pennies on the dollar that Obama appointees have offered bondholders.

I also asked Modica about Roger Penske's purchase of the Saturn dealer network. "We're pretty optimistic about that," Modica told me. "His companies have done well, it looks like. So we'll continue to sell what we're selling, and he'll eventually find some other manufacturers" to make new cars "under the Saturn name."

That's turning into an interesting question: "Normally when you have an industry in trouble ou use players. But we're getting more carmakers. You've got Fiat, you've got these Chinese players coming in."