Swiber makes surprise bid to survive

Swiber's decision to be placed under judicial management instead of winding up will help calm the nerves of the investing community, analysts say. It is Singapore's largest casualty so far in the oil and gas slump.
Swiber's decision to be placed under judicial management instead of winding up will help calm the nerves of the investing community, analysts say. It is Singapore's largest casualty so far in the oil and gas slump.PHOTO: REUTERS

Singapore-listed Swiber Holdings' decision late last Friday to drop its winding-up plans and be placed under judicial management instead was every bit as dramatic as its move to file for liquidation just two days earlier.

Market watchers saw the turnaround move as a last-ditch effort to save the offshore services company - founded by executive chairman Raymond Kim Goh, 48, in 1996 - after news of its liquidation plans sent shockwaves through the market.

The fate of the company now lies in the hands of the creditors.

"It seems the management no longer holds the cards in terms of the decisions the company makes. The creditors are the ones with the bigger influence," KGI Fraser Securities trading strategist Nicholas Teo told The Straits Times.

He noted that Swiber's initial move to liquidate the company could have been triggered by one creditor, which then sparked a snowball effect among other lenders, culminating in claims that the group found itself unable to resolve.

"We've seen this happen during the financial crisis, the Lehman Brothers collapse - all it takes is for one creditor, big or small, to say, 'I don't have faith in the company any more', and things will go downhill from there."

On Friday night, Swiber said the board and the liquidators had discussions with the company's major financial creditor, who indicated it was supportive of an application for judicial management instead of liquidation.

Sources told The Straits Times that besides DBS Bank - whose exposure to Swiber totalled $700 million and is reckoned to be Swiber's largest financial creditor - there were other key lenders involved in the discussion leading up to Friday's decision.

The paper understands that Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, Citibank and Deutsche Bank are Swiber's major financial creditors.

A DBS spokesman said in a statement: "Judicial management allows for the possible rehabilitation of the company under a court supervised process, or better realisation of the value of assets than in a winding up.

"This is a better option for all stakeholders, including creditors and equityholders."

An observer who declined to be named added it could be possible that Swiber had filed for liquidation first as a tactical move.

"By filing for liquidation, they're declaring to everyone that they may not have enough money to pay for their debts. So now, they're offering their creditors something (in returns).

"The creditors would now be more willing to accept that 'something'."

With the market rocked by news of Singapore's largest casualty so far in the oil and gas slump, the move towards judicial management will help to calm the nerves of the investing community, analysts say.

Under judicial management instead of liquidation, it would continue its operations under court supervision while attempting to turn around the business.

Under liquidation, companies are wound up and assets sold, but usually with little likelihood of raising much money.

Mr Roger Tan, chief executive of Voyage Research, said that opting for judicial management instead will help "prolong the life of the company" and give it another shot at survival.

He warned however, that "for shareholders and bondholders, they will have to be prepared that they may get very little back, or even nothing".

"The whole process will be an extremely long-drawn one, especially with the sector still deep in the doldrums."

Creditors have lost no time in putting in their letters of demand. Swiber on Friday said that its subsidiaries have received further letters of demand, bringing the total sum of claims to US$50.5 million (S$67.7 million), up from US$4.76 million on July 8, when it first announced the claims.

Swiber also said separately that group chief financial officer Leonard Tay remains as its CFO, as the earlier announcement of his resignation was "an error".

It clarified that Mr Tay, vice- chairman Francis Wong and executive director Nitish Gupta remain as directors of certain subsidiaries of the group.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Swiber makes surprise bid to survive'. Print Edition | Subscribe