Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg

Singapore Faces Risk of More Oil Bond Defaults

  • Swiber’s plan to operate under judicial management fuels woes
  • Debt loads in industry threaten a key Singapore export sector

Singapore bondholders and lenders, already stung by Swiber Holdings Ltd.’s woes, face mounting pain as a drop in oil leaves more companies in the industry starved for cash.

Investment bank UOB Kay Hian Pte warned last week that the sector may suffer a "cascade" of defaults. Bank of Singapore Ltd. said sustained weakness in crude prices could increase risks. Oil-related firms face S$1.4 billion ($1 billion) of Singapore dollar bonds maturing through 2018, with S$325 million due by the year end, according to Bloomberg-compiled data.

The borrowing that helped build one of Singapore’s biggest export industries is showing signs of strain as crude has tumbled about 19 percent from its high for the year in June. The pain is part of a broader global trend in which smaller, independent oil and gas companies have stumbled. U.S. firms Halcon Resources Corp. and Atlas Resource Partners LP filed for bankruptcy at the end of July.

"We wouldn’t be particularly surprised if there were further defaults coming from the oil and gas industry, particularly if oil stays below $40 per barrel for a prolonged period of time,” said Todd Schubert, head of fixed-income research at Bank of Singapore, the private banking unit of Oversea-Chinese Bank Corp. "Some bonds are trading at levels that indicate a not insignificant probability of a restructuring.”

Debts Due

Bank of Singapore and UOB Kay Hian were commenting on the industry overall, and not on specific companies.

Oil dropped below $40 a barrel last week for the first time since April amid renewed concerns over a supply glut, before trading around $42 on Monday.

The nearest-term bond repayment among oil- and gas-related firms that have outstanding Singapore dollar bonds is on Perisai Petroleum Teknologi Bhd’s S$125 million notes that mature in October. The Malaysia-listed offshore drilling and construction firm had 36 million Malaysia ringgit ($8.9 million) of cash and bank balances as of March 31, according to company results.

“Based on their current cash balance, it will be very difficult for them to repay 546 million Malaysian ringgit of short-term obligations due in October, which includes their S$125 million bond and other loans,” said Kong Ho Meng, Kuala Lumpur-based senior analyst at UOB Kay Hian Securities (M) Sdn Bhd.

Perisai Notes

A Perisai spokesman said the company has been keeping in close discussions with its bankers and financiers to address the bonds, and is confident it will be able to reach an amicable solution for all stakeholders.

The firm’s S$125 million 6.875 percent notes due 2016 were quoted at a bid of 75 cents, according to DBS Bank prices on Friday.

Ezra Holdings Ltd., whose services for the oil industry include making wellhead platforms, had $1.2 billion of total group borrowings and debt securities as of May 31, according to its financial statements. The group had $43.6 million in cash and cash equivalents.

Ezra’s S$150 million 4.875 percent bonds due 2018 fell to about 70 cents on the dollar Friday, the lowest since at least November 2014, according to Bloomberg-compiled data.

Click here for a story on Ezra said to be seeking fresh capital.

A spokeswoman for Ezra said that the firm continues to focus on deleveraging its balance sheet and optimizing its debt structure. She said Ezra is seeking to rationalize non-core assets and the proposed divestment of the firm’s vessel Lewek EMAS would allow the group to streamline its resources. Ezra said in a separate filing on Aug. 3 that it is in discussions with parties on potential transactions that may include fund raising via new loans, the issue of new securities and the sale of non-core assets.

Swiber stunned the market when it filed to be wound up late last month. The oil services firm subsequently dropped liquidation in favor of a plan to operate under judicial management. That turnaround only delays the “inevitable cascade” of defaults within the sector, UOB Kay Hian analysts Foo Zhiwei and Andrew Chow said in an Aug. 1 report.

“There are a few companies that have similar scenarios as Swiber, meaning high debt levels and weak cash flows,” said Joel Ng, an analyst at KGI Securities in Singapore, without specifying any companies. “They still have the option of raising cash through equity markets. If that fails then they may have a problem.”

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