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Firm tied to Singapore's Ezra Holdings files for Chapter 11 in US

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Eric Kounce | Wikipedia

Troubled Singapore contractor EMAS Chiyoda Subsea filed Tuesday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, in yet another sign of the damaging impact that the oil price slump has had on the sector.

EMAS Chiyoda Subsea (ECS) is a joint-venture run by the SGX-listed Ezra Holdings (40 percent) and the Japanese listed firms Chiyoda Corporation (35 percent) and NYK (25 percent).

The voluntary petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code was filed in the Texas Bankruptcy Court.

"The restructuring will provide ECS with an opportunity to focus on strengthening its financial and operational systems, enhancing the Company's efforts to weather the current challenges," the company said in the filing.

The decision to file comes after several months of uncertainty for the joint-venture, which had been respected by industry insiders for so far weathering the challenging conditions in its space.

CNBC sources inside the group said doing business had become challenging in recent weeks, given the amplified uncertainty around its future and the tough macro environment. Other sources said they were surprised the filing didn't come sooner.

"The bigger players like SembMarine seem to have weathered the problems better, but smaller players like Swiber and Ezra are in a weaker position and more vulnerable to headwinds," said Margaret Yang, market analyst at CMC.

Macro Dependent

As a major player in the subsea sector, ECS's operational and financial performance is highly dependent on the macro outlook and the expansion plans of the oil and gas majors.

ECS has an order book of over $1 billion, but the commencement dates of many of these projects remain in flux, affecting utilization levels and negatively impacting financial performance.

"The Company believes that this court process is in the best interest of all of its stakeholders, resulting in value creation and a sustainable capital structure," ECS said.

The firm has sought court approval to borrow a saving grace of up to $90 million from Chiyoda Corporation and another partner, Subsea 7, to continue its operations.

The financing will be used to "support the company's continuing business operations, minimize disruption to its worldwide projects and make necessary operational changes," it said.

Exposure Concerns

EMAS Chiyoda Subsea's business affiliates are also on watch, with Singapore's largest bank, DBS Group Holdings, among its top creditors with a $84.6 million exposure, according to the filing.

Norway's DNB Bank also has a $14.6 million claim, and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) has $13.1 million.

"We have been stress testing this sector since the third quarter of 2015, and in the process identified a list of customers that could be negatively impacted," said Koh Ching Ching, head of group corporate communications at OCBC.

The bank said it has created specific provisions and additional general provisions for potential further deterioration in its oil & gas portfolio.

"We have proactively reviewed several related accounts for close monitoring, and assisted customers to reschedule and restructure their loans."

A DBS representative told CNBC: "Liquidity pressures on EMAS Chiyoda became evident towards the end of last year. After extensive reviews with various stakeholders, we agreed that a Chapter 11 filing was the best way to ensure an orderly restructuring of the company. Our exposures (majority secured) were moved to non performing in the fourth quarter, and suitable provisions made."

Other major creditors are reported to include London Marine Consultants, Bibby Offshore, Standard Chartered Bank, Keppel Shipyard, Technip and Gulfmark, according to the trade publication Splash.

Woes in the oil and gas sector dominated discussions earlier this month when the three largest banks in Singapore released their earnings reports.

The three banks were all hit by financial problems faced by their clients in the sector, and set aside combined billions of Singapore dollars for bad loans coming from the industry.

"The Company will continue to engage and work closely with all creditors to achieve the best possible consensual restructuring outcome for all interested parties," ECS said.

The three banks are also the principal bankers for Ezra.

That company also faces headwinds, with the stock being aggressively sold in recent weeks as investors fret over its position amid uncertain revenue and rising debt.

Ezra traded at 1.4 cents on Monday before it requested for a trading halt on Tuesday pending the release of an announcement.

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