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AMR Bonds Signal Plan to Ditch Older Jets in Bankruptcy: Corporate Finance

AMR Corp. (AMR) bonds signal its American Airlines unit will retire older jets in bankruptcy, punishing investors in debt backed by the planes while those secured by newer aircraft indicate lenders will be paid in full.

American’s notes maturing in May 2021 and backed by 32 out- of-production jets traded at 51.5 cents on the dollar yesterday, while bonds due in July 2019 and secured by newer Boeing Co. aircraft traded at 103.5 cents. The McDonnell Douglas-83 jets tied to the 2021 notes were delivered beginning in 1997 and have “no value,” said CreditSights Inc. analyst Roger King.

The carrier became the last large U.S. full-fare airline to seek protection from creditors on Nov. 29, listing $24.7 billion in assets and $29.6 billion of debt in Chapter 11 papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR is seeking to pare expenses, likely leading to job and flight reductions, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tom Horton said in a conference call with reporters.

Bonds secured by MD-80 series planes are “likely candidates for rejection or, if they’re kept at all, they’re going to be renegotiated,” said Bill Warlick, a Chicago-based analyst at Fitch Ratings. While “there will be a desire to affirm a lot of the aircraft-related debt because they want to keep flying the aircraft” notes backed by older planes are “most at risk,” he said.

Fleet Reductions

American may cut 10 to 15 Boeing 757s and 767s from its fleet, with the carrier’s MD-80s also “clearly at risk,” Mark Streeter, a debt analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note to clients yesterday.

Unloading older jets should help AMR shrink its fuel bill, which rose 33 percent to $6.3 billion in 2011’s first nine months from a year earlier. American began taking deliveries in 2009 on an order of 137 Boeing 737-800s that are about one-third more fuel efficient than the MD-80s being replaced.

Yields on AMR’s debt soared to distressed levels and the company’s stock tumbled in recent weeks amid speculation that a Chapter 11 filing was inevitable as losses drained cash reserves. AMR had $4.1 billion in unrestricted cash and short- term investments as of Nov. 25, Chief Financial Officer Bella Goren said in an affidavit.

Negotiations between the airline and its pilots union stalled on Nov. 14 after the Allied Pilots Association board decided not to send American’s latest offer to members for a vote. AMR had been seeking to close what it said was an $800 million annual gap in total labor costs with larger rivals United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc.

Biggest Airlines

American’s cost structure, compared with other airlines, had become “untenable,” said Harvey Miller, the company’s bankruptcy lawyer, at a court hearing Nov. 29 in Manhattan.

The carrier lost its position as the biggest airline by traffic after Delta bought Northwest Airlines Corp. in 2008, then slid to No. 3 last year when UAL Corp.’s United Airlines and Continental Airlines Inc. merged.

Delta, Northwest and UAL were all under bankruptcy protection late in 2005. US Airways left Chapter 11 in September of that year through a merger with America West Holdings Corp.

Investors in AMR’s $840 million of unsecured debt may recoup “next to nothing” in the reorganization, Fitch’s Warlick said. The company’s $75.5 million of 9 percent senior unsecured notes due in August 2012 traded at 16.25 cents on Nov. 29, Trace data show.

‘Worthless’

American’s $177.7 million of 6.977 percent notes backed by the 32 MD-83s were issued at par in May 2001, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company’s $450 million of 10.5 percent notes maturing in October 2012 and secured by 141 aircraft, including 73 jets in the MD-80 family delivered from 1985 to 1992, tumbled to 87.8 cents today from as high as 101.8 cents on Sept. 29, Trace data show.

“Basically half of the portfolio by plane count is worthless,” CreditSights’s New York-based King said of the collateral backing the 10.5 percent bonds. “The question is, is there enough value in the other planes to keep your par?”

The $488.2 million of 10.375 senior secured notes due in 2019 are backed by collateral including 16 Boeing 737s delivered in 2009 and 2010, Securities and Exchange Commission filings show.

American Airlines Inc.’s $1 billion of 7.5 percent bonds maturing in March 2016 and backed by airport slots, gates and routes are trading as much as 20 cents lower than other first- lien debt because the structure has never been tested in court, analysts said. It’s unclear how the assets backing the bonds could be transferred to creditors.

The collateral includes 392 airport slots at Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and Haneda, Shanghai Pudong, Beijing and New York’s John F. Kennedy and was valued at $2.3 billion by Morten Beyer & Agnew in February, Streeter wrote in the report.

The debt was quoted at a mid-price of 77.6 cents yesterday, according to Bloomberg Valuation, while American’s $725.7 million of 8.625 percent notes backed by jets and issued in September traded at 97.1 cents, Trace data show.

“We still think AMR’s equity is worthless and likely the unsecured debt as well,” Vicki Bryan, an analyst at Gimme Credit LLC, wrote yesterday in a note to clients. “There also is an increasing risk that at least some of AMR’s secured debt may be impaired,” particularly the bonds backed by gates, routes and slots, she wrote.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Catts in New York at tcatts1@bloomberg.net; Thomas Black in Dallas at tblack@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Goldstein at agoldstein5@bloomberg.net; Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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