BHP-Vale Mine Bondholders Hire Lawyers for Debt Talks

  • U.S. firm Hogan Lovells said to be seeking Brazilian partner
  • Samarco iron-ore mine is facing coupon payments this month

Samarco bondholders hired U.S. law firm Hogan Lovells for help with debt-restructuring talks as the stalled Brazilian iron-ore miner runs out of money, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

With a coupon payment looming, Hogan Lovells is seeking a Brazilian law firm to work with it on negotiations to alter repayment terms, said the people, asking not to be named because the matter is private.

The mining venture owned by BHP Billiton Ltd. and Vale SA is exploring options with creditors as its mining operations remain on hold 10 months after a deadly tailings dam spill. While Melbourne-based BHP and Rio de Janeiro-based Vale are putting up money for Samarco’s working capital and repair and relief work, they aren’t covering debt payments.

Samarco, Vale, BHP and Hogan Lovells all declined to comment.

The mine -- the world’s second-largest producer of iron-ore pellets before the spill -- is also seeking an agreement on about $1.6 billion in bank loans to postpone payments until it resumes mining, people with knowledge said last month.

While its dollar-denominated bonds don’t start maturing until 2022, coupon payments are scheduled for as early as September. The notes are trading at about 36 cents on the dollar from about 60 cents in early May after hopes faded for a swift resumption of operations.

After previously flagging a 2016 restart, the mine may not get new permits until late next year or 2018 amid regulatory scrutiny into an incident that killed as many as 19 people and was described by authorities as Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster. Vale is eying a mid-2017 restart at Samarco, Investor Relations Directer Andre Figueiredo said last week.

Samarco hired JPMorgan Chase & Co to help it with restructuring talks, BHP hired Rothschild & Co., Vale has Moelis & Co. advising it, while banks holding the mine’s debt are working with FTI Consulting Inc., people with knowledge said in June.