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Noble Group's $3.5 billion restructuring at risk as authorities block new listing

Stock MarketsDec 06, 2018 09:13AM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Noble Group faces regulatory probe, days before closing $3.5 bln restructuring deal

By Anshuman Daga

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Noble Group’s (SI:NOBG) $3.5 billion debt rescue plan was thrown into doubt on Thursday when Singapore authorities said they would block the re-listing of shares in what was once Asia’s top commodity trader.

Singapore regulators took the decision after reviewing the findings so far of a probe into Singapore-listed Noble by Singapore police, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the city-state's central bank, and Singapore Exchange regulators concluded that "there are significant uncertainties about the financial position of New Noble," they said in a statement, referring to the restructured unit.

"It would be imprudent to allow the re-listing as investors will not be able to trade in New Noble's shares on an informed basis. MAS and SGX Regco (Singapore Exchange Regulation) will therefore not allow the re-listing of New Noble to proceed," the statement said.

Noble has seen its market value all but wiped out from $6 billion over the past four years after its accounting was questioned by Iceberg Research in February 2015.

To save itself, Noble has sold billions of dollars of assets, taken hefty writedowns and cut hundreds of jobs, while defending its accounting.

The company, whose shares were suspended from trading last month due to the restructuring, wants to transform itself into an Asia-focused coal-trading business. Noble was looking to list the overhauled business as part of the restructuring, which is subject to regulatory approval,

Noble had no immediate comment on the decision but it has previously warned that as part of an alternative restructuring plan, it would seek insolvency protection in Britain if the primary restructuring was not completed.

Amid the regulatory probe, Noble had pushed back last month's deadline to complete its debt restructuring deal to Dec. 11 and said it was cooperating fully with authorities.

At the time of the last extension, Noble had said it had made good progress towards completing the restructuring but the timeline was delayed "due to the additional time required to fully address all concerns of the regulators."

On Thursday, Singapore authorities said that after the investigation started, Noble had submitted financial statements which would have cut the restructured unit's net asset value by as much as 45 percent after taking into account potential non-compliance with accounting standards.

Under the proposed debt-for-equity deal, Noble's debt will be halved and it will get access to $800 million in trade finance and hedging facilities, a lifeline in a sector where profit margins are in the low single digits.

In return, Noble's creditors, mostly made up of hedge funds, are to own 70 percent of the restructured business, while existing shareholders' equity would be reduced to 20 percent and Noble's management was to get 10 percent.

Noble Group's $3.5 billion restructuring at risk as authorities block new listing
 

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