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by Brett Davis

Fiat has increased its Chrysler Group stake by five per cent, edging closer to a complete merger between the two companies. Fiat now holds 58.5 per cent stake in Chrysler.

In 2009, the US Government bailed Chrysler out of bankruptcy while Fiat invested around $2 billion. Part of the Fiat and bailout deal was to meet a set of investment levels over a period. This latest investment meets those agreements and will allow for a merger to take place.

The additional five per cent stake steps closer to tying the two companies together as part of Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s plans. He has already helped turn Fiat around in recent years and wants to use Chrysler to become one of the top five or six automakers in the world. Marchionne recently said,

“The acquisition of a further five per cent of Chrysler is a fundamental step in completion of the integration between our two groups.”

The remaining 41.5 per cent of Chrysler lays in the hands of VEBA, a healthcare trust in connection with the United Auto Workers union. If VEBA decides to sell the last remaining stock, Fiat might find it difficult to buy the stake, given its 5.8 billion euro ($7.2 billion) net industrial debt (as of September).

Analysts say that Fiat doesn’t necessarily need to purchase the remaining stake as it already has control over Chrysler. Chrysler is very important to Fiat though, with the US brand accounting for 66 per cent of Fiat’s profits for Q3 of 2011.