Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NewLead in forced asset sales

NewLead is reported to be offloading the 135,000-dwt Newlead Spartounta (built 1989) and the 34,700-dwt Newlead Prosperity (built 2003) after breaching a loan with FBB-First Business Bank. They recently hired the Moelis & Company and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson to help it fight its debts, which stand at US$ 581.9 mio. The bad news adds to an ever longer list of struggling shipping companies: TBSI, Omega, Top Ships, Zachello, etc. selling assets or fighting with their creditors.

Initially I was not a fan of the GrandUnion - Aries merger, posing a number of questions. Thereafter, I felt sympathy to the efforts of Michael Zolotas to clean up the mess at Aries and make a turnaround in NewLead.

The basic issue is that Aries was always a big lemon. I pleaded with Stephanie Kasselakis and John Sinders at the time of this controversial IPO and offered in good faith to assist Jefferies. The facts are that their investors got badly burned from this IPO and now the successor NewLead is in jeopardy. I always felt strongly that this could have been avoided.

Looking back at the time of the GrandUnion merger, really no one else would have accepted to take on Aries. Certainly not Scorpio Tankers, which is healthy company with conservative management, who forthrightly warned investors last fall of coming tanker market turbulence.

Aries suffered from horrible technical management, lousy assets and overleverage. GrandUnion was not a strong company in terms of its ability to recapitalize Aries from its losses. They financed the merger with drop down assets and more debt. They made a valiant effort to shed bad assets, clean up the technical management and restructure, but the losses continued. They had no advantages of capital market access to dilute with additional equity or to refinance existing debt with a bond issue, but all the administrative and reporting overheads.

When the dry cargo market started to collapse this year, they were badly exposed with their elderly Capesize tonnage and high debt levels. Their current debt load is crushing. Senior lenders are forcing sales to reduce debt.

It seems to me that NewLead is going to face a difficult fight for survival. The issue for them is to save as much as they can of the GrandUnion resources put into this merger. The risk of two weak companies merging is that this drives both of them to oblivion.

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