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Once-soaring Noble Group now 'in dire need of a transformational transaction' after mixed response to credit extension

Key Points
  • Noble Group once boasted a $10 billion market cap, but it is now suffering after an aggressive commodity price decline in recent years
  • Todd Schubert, head of fixed income research at Bank of Singapore, said the company is "in dire need of a transformational transaction"
  • Noble Group said Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with lenders to extend its revolving credit facility by 120 days from 20 June, 2017.
What investors should note about commodity players before investing

Crisis-hit commodity trader Noble Group has extended a major debt deadline, but analysts warn it may not be enough to restore confidence around the long term viability of the once-soaring firm.

At its peak in 2010, Noble was Asia's largest commodity trader with a market cap of more than $10 billion. Shares hit an all-time high of 17 Singapore dollars in 2011, but have since fallen to about 50 Singapore cents, as it struggles with the aggressive commodity price decline in recent years.

Noble has been forced to shuffle management, sell down assets and slash costs to boost liquidity. At the same time, its management has been navigating a series of credit downgrades, write-downs and accusations of improper accounting standards — all of which contributed to the dramatic collapse in its share price.

"We believe that the company is in dire need of a transformational transaction such as a strategic partner or sale of a significant portion of its assets to arrest the negative feedback loop," said Todd Schubert, head of fixed income research at Bank of Singapore.

On Tuesday, Noble Group said it had reached an agreement with lenders to extend its revolving credit facility by 120 days from 20 June, 2017.

"The Group continues to be in talks with potential investors concerning the sale of an interest in the Group or its subsidiaries or parts of its business," Noble Group said in a Tuesday statement.

Noble Group
Nicky Loh | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Whilst no assurance can be given that these discussions will result in a transaction, they are ongoing and constructive," it added.

Schubert said the announcement of the four-month credit extension "sounds positive," but added that "it is not the grand type of transaction needed to arrest the company's negative momentum."

While Noble Group did manage to obtain a short term solution to a major debt obligation, it also pushed back on the payment of a coupon for its $400 million dollar Perpetual Capital Securities bond — a move validating its tight liquidity position.

"Not only do we not know the specific terms of the transaction, but the announcement today that the company was deferring the coupon on its perpetual bond erased any positive drive that the company hoped to achieve with the credit extension announcement," Schubert added.

The $12 million payment would have been due on June 26.

Moody's steps in

Moody's Investors Service said the extension of its credit facility didn't impact its Caa1 corporate family rating or Noble Group's negative rating outlook.

"Although the extension of the maturity on the secured credit facility temporarily alleviates the significant pressure on Noble's liquidity, we expect the company's liquidity risk to remain elevated given its large debt maturities over the next 12 months," said Gloria Tsuen, vice president and senior analyst at Moody's.

"We also expect its cash flow to remain weak over the next 12 months, given its deteriorating operating performance and working capital constraints," added Tsuen.

Noble had around $600 million outstanding in loans under the secured credit facility as of end-1Q 2017.

In addition, it has $378 million in senior notes due in March 2018 and $1.1 billion in bank debt due in May.

Moody's warned that the combined $2.1 billion in debt due over the next 12 months cannot be covered by Noble's liquidity headroom, and said the company is unlikely to return to profitability this year.