Swiber's woes: Warning signs were there 'for some time'

A Swiber logo at their office in Singapore on July 10, 2013.
A Swiber logo at their office in Singapore on July 10, 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

Analyst cites high gearing, poor profitability; global offshore and marine industry also hit hard by oil slump

Right up to the end, oil and gas contractor Swiber Holdings was working furiously to secure projects, with the latest being three contracts in Qatar and South-east Asia worth a combined US$215 million (S$291 million) announced just last month.

But all of that came to naught when the debt-laden firm threw in the towel yesterday.

Swiber has been placed in provisional liquidation while three of its directors - vice-chairman Francis Wong, group chief financial officer Leonard Tay and Mr Nitish Gupta - have resigned in the face of letters of demand amounting to US$25.9 million.

There was no word on executive chairman Raymond Kim Goh.

The company, which had a market capitalisation of $50.2 million, now lies in the hands of Mr Cameron Lindsay Duncan and Ms Muk Siew Peng of KordaMentha, who have been appointed joint provisional liquidators.

The sudden fall from grace of the firm, which supports construction projects on oil rig platforms, shocked the market yesterday.

But for Maybank Kim Eng analyst Yeak Chee Keong, it did not

come as a complete surprise.

"Its high gearing and poor profitability have been a red flag for

quite some time," he said.

The warning lights have been flashing for some time, particularly as the global offshore and marine industry continues to be hit hard by a protracted slump in oil prices.

Earlier this month, the group said the completion of an offshore field development project in West Africa would be delayed due to "weakness in the oil and gas sector".

It also revealed, in response to queries from the Singapore Exchange, that a project off Vietnam worth US$21 million has been cancelled, although it is disputing the termination.

Swiber also said London-based private equity firm AMTC failed to subscribe and pay for the US$200 million preference shares in its wholly owned unit, Swiber Investment.

"The failed preferential share placement dealt the last blow to any chance that the company had in order to survive the current downturn," said Mr Joel Ng, an analyst at KGI Fraser Securities.

With four outstanding Singdollar-denominated and one Chinese yuan-denominated bond, with a total principal amount of about $550 million, bondholders may have difficulty recovering their money.

Earlier in June and this month, Swiber had redeemed two bonds totalling $205 million, which possibly drained its cash reserves.

The group's liabilities stood at US$1.43 billion as of March 31 while its total assets amounted to US$1.99 billion, according to its first-quarter results. The question will be how much these assets, which include vessels, are worth.

 

Trading was halted on Swiber shares on Wednesday, when the stock last traded at 10.9 cents, down 48.1 per cent this year.

When The Straits Times visited the Swiber building at International Business Park yesterday, employees at the office declined to comment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Swiber's woes: Warning signs were there 'for some time''. Print Edition | Subscribe