Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Dana Gas: Creditors Negotiating With Themselves?

The Chicago Way But Not Milton Friedman's Way

As reported by Bloomberg, DG’s tragically unfortunate creditors made DG an offer to restructure the approximate USD 700 million of outstanding sukuk with the following terms:
  1. An upfront repayment of USD 300 million (par value) in principal.
  2. A maturity extension of three years. 
  3. Maintenance of the existing interest rates:  7% on the exchangeable sukuk and 9% on the ordinary sukuk. 
  4. A request for a dual listing of DG shares on the London Stock Exchange. 
  5. Maintenance of the existing conversion price at AED 0.75 for the exchangeable sukuk. 
  6. Payment of interest amounts due last July and this October. 
DG rejected the offer and is said to be pursuing a litigation-based strategy. Bloomberg cited an unnamed party not authorized to speak on DG’s behalf.  The FT was more categorical that the company had rejected the offer.  FT article here. 
Some comments. 
AA wonders about the creditors’ negotiating strategy.  In Middle Eastern carpet stores, the seller’s initial price is a long way from the price at which he sells.  The prospective buyer needs to have a similar negotiating strategy.  Once the buyer begins negotiations and gives his first price, it's hard to go lower. 
But DG’s creditors face a more complicated situation that buying a rug from a reputable merchant.  DG has adopted an extreme position.  Its current “offer” to the creditors is (a) you owe us money or (b) in worst case we owe you no more than USD 60 million.   
That’s what Herb Cohen would describe as a “Soviet” negotiating strategy.   The appropriate response is not to make a typical counteroffer and then split the difference because the Soviet tactic moves the frame of reference way off market terms.  
Often the counterparty (the party not adopting the Soviet style tactic) proceeds as though it’s in a “normal” negotiation, replies with a counteroffer to the extreme offer, and winds up in effect negotiating with itself to its detriment. 
DG’s creditors need to be very careful not to embark on that path. 
They’ve made an offer (their first price in rug shop terms) from which they will most likely negotiate less favorable (to themselves) terms.  So what does that mean?  A five year tenor?  A USD 100 million principal payment?  An interest rate of 3%?  All of the above. 
A Jimmy Malone (pictured above) strategy seems to be more appropriate given DG’s negotiating strategy and its less than sterling behaviour.  When you’re negotiating with someone you don’t trust, the typical rules of negotiation go out the door.  There’s no “win-win” when the other party is trying to cheat you.  
One other bit of unsolicited advice for creditors: a single word “amortization”. 
No doubt some clever mind has stated that with a three year instead of a five year tenor the average life of the sukuk has been drastically reduced – 5 to 3 years.  But –a rather large but—a bullet is a bullet.  Payment is promised in one lump sum in the future. Creditors would be better off with recurring principal payments (amortization).  Money in the hand now is much more valuable than a promise of money in the future, particularly when the integrity/ethics of the party making the promise to pay are doubtful. 
AA was particularly intrigued by the creditors’ request for a dual listing on the LSE. 

Listing this mutt on the LSE is not going to turn it into a purebred. Or magically create investor demand.  The dumb money is already present.  

Is this an attempt to try and force better corporate governance on DG or somehow bind them closer to English law?   Corporate governance is fundamentally a people issue.  Listing on the LSE doesn’t by itself change that.   Unless DG reincorporates, it is a Sharjah company with all the drawbacks of UAE law. 

Is this an attempt to scare shareholders that the creditors intend to convert the sukuk and take some or all of this “gem” of an investment from their hands, thus, prompting shareholders to put pressure on DG’s board to be more accommodative?  Not bloody likely, the shareholders are a disparate group.  From ADX trading statistics, they appear to be primarily retail investors who no doubt are right now calculating how they will spend their share of the USD 1 billion they imagine will soon be in DG’s hands. The major shareholder is a related party no doubt on board with DG’s “clever socks” strategy. 
To AA’s surprise Goldmine and Blackrock are apparently holders of DG paper.  Unless they bought their stakes at a deep discount and have a reasonable prospect of turning a profit with a fractional return of nominal principal, they should not be DG investors. 
Side note: If they purchased their stakes at a discount, then “whole” dollar creditors should understand there is a fundamental conflict between their own full price interests and  creditors whose entry price is much less. 
In defense of Goldmine and Blackrock, you might be inclined to remind AA about the role of risky securities in a well-diversified portfolio. 
AA is well-schooled in how such a portfolio can tolerate some risky securities.  DG paper certainly falls into that category.  The promised return is tempting, particularly in the current low rate environment.  But there are some risks that one shouldn’t take.  Or if one mistakenly takes them, one should exit.  Despite widespread belief to the contrary, finance theory doesn’t magically protect one from unwise investment decisions. 
Some of the "red" flags on this paper.
  1. This company defaulted five years ago. 
  2. Since then, its performance (ROE and ROA) and cash generation are dismal -- clear signs of likely future inability to repay. 
  3. The sukuk is structured as a bullet which is not appropriate for an issuer like DG nor one that operates in squirrely markets (that’s a technical finance term). 
  4. If that weren’t enough, DG is based in a country whose fine legal system motivated the government of one of its constituent emirates to set up an offshore regime, including offshore laws and an offshore court system.  It doesn’t take a law degree to figure out that legal protections for creditors are uncertain (you knew I’d slip a euphemism in somewhere) in DG’s home “court”. 
  5. Exacerbating that factor, the deal is highly structured with cross-jurisdictional legal issues abounding.  The fundamental (“Islamic”) structure is not well tested in courts.  Courts in more “certain” legal jurisdictions are unfamiliar with Shari’ah and likely to defer to local courts, undermining to some extent the benefits cross-jurisdictional legal structuring was designed to confer. 
Just one or two of these factors should disqualify this paper. But all of these? One can surely find other high yield securities with less risk baggage.   
One further point for those who read the FT article cited above.  To get more insight into the KRG settlement take a look at my earlier post. And don't miss the posts in reply.  Despite a comment in the FT article about the settlement removing DG’s “ability to pay” defense, cash is not about to rain down on DG.    

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