Hyflux says Utico's offer to small investors 'exploratory in nature'

Hyflux says that apart from Utico, it is also in talks with two other parties, one of which is said to be among the world's top 10 largest desalination companies. ST FILE PHOTO
Hyflux says that apart from Utico, it is also in talks with two other parties, one of which is said to be among the world's top 10 largest desalination companies. ST FILE PHOTO

Ahead of today's High Court hearing on whether Hyflux will get a further reprieve from creditors, the beleaguered firm clarified yesterday that there is no binding agreement with potential investor Utico, and that their talks last week "entailed no conclusive numbers or percentages" for its junior creditors.

The clarification, made in a statement to the Singapore Exchange yesterday, came after the United Arab Emirates utility's overtures to some 34,000 retail perpetual securities and preference (PNP) shareholders on Sunday.

Utico, which has offered to invest $400 million in the debt-ridden water treatment firm, offered the junior creditors "part cash redemption and also a hope for full redemption with a plan and exit option". The junior creditors are now trying to recover around $900 million that they had invested in Hyflux.

"Full details can only be revealed later, but... small investors of up to $2,000 to $3,000 could get 50 per cent cash redemption along with full redemption opportunity, while the rest of the investors could get a similar, but staggered and cascade deal," Utico chief executive Richard Menezes said on Sunday.

When asked by The Straits Times why Utico is offering to help the junior creditors even though their votes are not needed for its offer to be accepted, Mr Menezes said: "We are white knight investors. Water and utilities are based on public necessity and should be based on ethics too... They (PNP investors) cannot be ignored whether they have votes or not. It is ethical."

But Hyflux clarified that the discussion at last week's meeting was "focused on high-level views which entailed no conclusive numbers or percentages, or indeed any binding agreement, whether in respect of the PNPs or any other stakeholder groups".

The company and its advisers understand that Utico's statements are "exploratory in nature and are approaches currently contemplated by Utico".

NECESSITY AND ETHICS

We are white knight investors. Water and utilities are based on public necessity and should be based on ethics too... They (PNP investors) cannot be ignored whether they have votes or not. It is ethical.

MR RICHARD MENEZES, chief executive of Utico, on helping Hyflux's junior creditors.

Mr Menezes said on Sunday that a town-hall meeting for PNP shareholders will be planned with the Securities Investors Association Singapore.

But he added that this meeting is "predicated on Hyflux signing a binding agreement, and subject to the High Court granting a moratorium to complete a desirable restructuring in time".

Hyflux reiterated that it has not accepted or entered into the term sheet it received on May 6 from the advisers to Utico.

Apart from Utico, Hyflux said it is in talks with Mauritius-based multi-strategy investment firm Oyster Bay Fund for an investment of up to $500 million, and a third unidentified investor that Hyflux described as one of the world's top 10 largest desalination companies. The third investor has issued a non-binding letter of intent for its assets.

Hyflux got a slight extension on its debt moratorium to May 29 from May 24, but further extensions will depend on whether it can provide "disclosure of running costs, including all of its restructuring efforts, and a timeline of the expected completion of restructuring effort", among other conditions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2019, with the headline 'Hyflux says Utico's offer to small investors 'exploratory in nature''. Print Edition | Subscribe