Monday, March 5, 2012

Berlian Laju Tankers accused of diverting US$ 135 million in cash from company accounts

Last week BLT informed the Singapore Stock Exchange that it has defaulted on its interest payments on bond loans and bank debt.  BLT called in FTI Consulting as a financial adviser for its debt payment freeze and now it has added leading Asian insolvency specialist, Borelli Walsh.  Now there are serious allegations from Delos Shipping that BLT’s largest shareholders, the Surya family, have diverted $135 million in cash from company accounts to their coal business. Will all these high paid advisors be able to turn around this lame duck company or will the fees just increase creditors’ losses?

Until recently, BLT was everyone’s darling in the market. As a rapidly growing company it was an ever-expanding source of brokerage fees and high yield financial placements. Industry rumor has it that AMA Capital Partners earned a 100% mark-up in selling BLT the Chembulk business from the original price that AMA paid Doug MacShane for the Connecticut-based firm. This acquisition needed massive financing, and leasing firms and banks earned exceptional financial yields.

Last year, BLT had to negotiate a massive $685 million senior debt restructuring by a 6-bank consortium plus a $90 million sale leaseback deal for four chemical tankers, including one new building under construction with Standard & Chartered (S&C). S&C also participated in the consortium deal that refinanced $593 million of BLT’s debt to repay 10 outstanding loans. Both the 6-bank consortium and S& optimistically considered the Surya Family’s involvement to make BLT as good as sovereign risk (albeit with the recent Greek PSI+ this sort of risk is what not is used to be….).

Yet, if you take a glance at the BLT balance sheet over the years, this was not a company that was ever making a lot of money. Historically, chemical tankers have seen return on assets below 10%. BLT promoted their Indonesian cabotage business, but in fact the Buana spin-off last year showed a small operation that accounted for only a relatively small part of BLT’s total turnover. Indeed Buana had made losses the previous year.

BLT also pointed investors to its low manning costs. We investigated these claims two years ago with MTM Singapore, who originally managed the Chembulk vessels. MTM told us that such assertions were false and misleading for chemical tankers in international trading. Crew costs for competent chemical tanker crews were converging and under constant upward pressure. One possible explanation could be that BLT was skimping on maintenance with very new vessels to keep costs so low. Declining maintenance standards is a common failure path for chemical tanker companies on the verge of bankruptcy that eventually leads to withdrawal of Majors approvals and increasing operating losses.

BLT’s computer glitch last spring on its accounts seemed rather disingenuous, especially when results later came out that showed widening losses in 2010. Was this a coincidence? Were BLT’s creditors diligent in their credit analysis in their restructuring negotiations last year? Why with such generous terms were there no requests for the Surya Family to support the operation with more equity as a condition for the debt restructuring?

Finally, after the declaration of default, I looked into a recent financial analysis of the company from major shipping investment bank. The analyst forecast a reasonable cash balance through 2011. For these reasons, I can sympathize with the ire of Delos’s Brian Laden. Clearly BLT and the Surya family owe Delos, as well as their other creditors, some serious explanations.

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