Singapore millionaire, Jerry Tan, joins bondholders uniting to protect their interests

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Jerry Tan, a 77-year-old retired Singaporean businessman, was among dozens of bondholders in the city who joined forces last week to submit their demands as more companies seek to restructure debt payments.

"The only way to put ourselves in a position of some strength is to come together as a group," said Mr Tan, who said he owns more than S$8 million of notes. "The whole bond market is really bad and you can expect a lot more defaults. The authorities should step up to protect investors and Singapore's reputation as a major financial centre."

Mr Tan was among a crowd of housewives, former traders and entrepreneurs who gathered outside a trustee's office to deliver a demand for immediate payment on S$100 million of notes issued by shipping trust Rickmers Maritime, which is seeking a debt-equity swap. A separate group issued a similar notice of acceleration on S$125 million of bonds sold by Malaysian oil services company Perisai Petroleum Teknologi Bhd., after talks on a reorganisation broke down.

Three defaults in the past year and at least seven restructuring proposals have shaken Singapore's reputation as an Asian finance hub, prompting the government to tighten oversight of private banks and aid businesses caught up in a global oil and shipping slump. Singapore is also reeling from a penny-stock crash, the worst quarter for home prices in seven years and the highest bad loans since 2009.

"For financially-savvy investors, they need to know what they're buying into and not just look at the yields," said Mr Benedict Koh, a professor of finance at Singapore Management University. "In workout situations, they must acknowledge that a haircut is inevitable, get some independent advice and decide whether the discount is fair or too deep."

The number of Singapore's high net-worth individuals rose 27 per cent between 2009 and 2015 to 103,600, according to Capgemini, becoming major buyers of higher-yielding notes. While their ranks include former traders and executives, many were classed as wealthy investors based on the apartments they live in rather than their ability to absorb losses.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said last month it is working to boost investor safeguards investors by year-end, while the government plans to enhance legal provisions for debt restructuring.

Rickmers isn't expected to revise its debt-equity swap proposal despite the bondholders' action, Mr Soeren Andersen, chief executive officer of Rickmers Trust Management, the manager of the trust, said on Sept 28. Its 8.45 per cent notes are trading at 35 cents on the dollar, according to DBS Bank Ltd. prices.

"So far, the company's proposals have been most inequitable to bondholders," said Mr Jeffrey Sia, a retired trader who owns less than S$1 million of Rickmers bonds. "We will stand united to protect our interests."

Perisai didn't reply to two e-mails seeking comment on its plan to defer its bond repayment by four months, which was rejected by bondholders on Monday. Investors that pool their holdings beyond a 25 per cent threshold are allowed to make demands for immediate repayment. Its 6.875 per cent notes were at 55 cents.

"Yes, it's our responsibility that we bought the bonds but the company can't just brush us aside," bondholder Cheng Fong Kiew said after rejecting the plan.

Investors holding 25 per cent of Pacific Andes Resources Development Ltd.'s S$200 million in defaulted 2017 notes, trading at 15 cents, are getting legal advice amid restructuring. Swiber Holdings missed payments on S$460 million of bonds and the oil services provider said any liquidation outcome would return 2 cents on the dollar for unsecured creditors.

"Bondholders were treated very roughly" in recent cases, said Mr Lee Ka Shao, a former hedge fund manager who now runs a family office in Singapore. "If bondholders are not in the know, they could be easily ran over because there is no platform for them to group and there is no process for going through a fair restructuring."