Debt restructuring plan gets Oceanus off the hook

Mr Koh, CEO of Oceanus, says the next step is to lift the firm's profitability. It is looking to diversify its products and expand into new markets in Asia-Pacific.
Mr Koh, CEO of Oceanus, says the next step is to lift the firm's profitability. It is looking to diversify its products and expand into new markets in Asia-Pacific.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Converting debt to new shares, sale of farms boost seafood supply chain manager

Oceanus Group's proposed debt restructuring has set it firmly on the road to recovery, the company's head honcho said.

Earlier this year, the home-grown seafood supply chain manager announced that its key creditors will convert 76.4 per cent of Oceanus' outstanding debt to new shares.

About $32 million worth of debt will be bundled with $6 million funds injected by new value investors and Oceanus' management.

This will be converted into shares for the new value investors and the company's management.

A further $29.57 million of debt will be converted to new shares and issued to Oceanus' biggest creditors.

This leaves Oceanus with a remaining debt of $20 million, which it expects to get rid of with the $38 million sale of 13 abalone farms to the Gulei Zhen People's Government in China by year end.

This debt restructuring measure is the latest in a string of efforts over the last two years to revive the company, said Mr Peter Koh, the chief executive of Oceanus Group.

"When I took over at the beginning of 2015, the company was very sick. We needed to admit that we had a problem before we could look to solve it and turn the company around," he said.

Mr Koh said the plan to restructure the company started right when he took over. "In the first year, I focused on cost cutting and cleaning up our operations. Back then, the company was burning money at a rapid rate. We set up various checks and balances within our system to consolidate our operations. This allowed us to cut our operations costs by more than 50 per cent," he said.

For example, Oceanus has since installed CCTVs in its Chinese farms to monitor them from here.

More local staff have also been posted to live on the farms to maintain standards, he said.

Strengthening the company's balance sheet was a natural next step.

"Although the conversion of debt into new shares will inevitably dilute their value, there was no alternative. The previous management loaded the company with secured debt. If we can't pay, the shareholders will end up with nothing. This option allows us to maintain some value while continuing to develop."

Mr Koh cited the rise in Oceanus' share price since the announcement as proof that shareholders believe this is the better option.

Oceanus' share price was half a cent on Jan 25 when the restructuring was unveiled. It has since risen 140 per cent to 1.2 cents yesterday

In the next step of his resuscitation programme, Mr Koh will focus on lifting the firm's profitability.

"We want to further diversify our operations, moving from a single-product to multi-product company. We are also looking at other markets. Currently, our farming operations are in China, but we are considering other Asia-Pacific countries to expand our business."

As technology evolves, Oceanus has to go into research and development and science-based farming to be more efficient and productive.

"We will be working with various institutions to develop innovative solutions for the future. This is the only way Oceanus will survive."

Mr Koh is confident of a bright future for Oceanus. "Things are changing, but food will be here to stay for a while. There will always be demand for food production. There is no other listed company with as much potential in this industry."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'Debt restructuring plan gets Oceanus off the hook'. Print Edition | Subscribe