Abu Dhabi said to study restructuring options for $1.2bn Etihad-linked bonds

An Etihad Airways Airbus A380 taking off in London. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Abu Dhabi said to study restructuring options for $1.2bn Etihad-linked bonds

  • Bonds issued through SPV with other airlines
  • Etihad asks Abu Dhabi government for help

DUBAI: The government of Abu Dhabi is looking at proposals to restructure some $1.2 billion of troubled bonds that were issued by Abu Dhabi state-owned carrier Etihad Airways in partnership with other airlines, sources familiar with the matter said.
Etihad issued $700 million of bonds through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) called Equity Alliance Partners (EAP) in 2015, and $500 million in 2016. Proceeds of the paper went to Etihad and other airlines it partially owned at the time, including Alitalia and Air Berlin, which are now both insolvent.
The notes were seen as strengthening Etihad's partnerships with those airlines after it spent billions of dollars in acquisitions.
The EAP bonds have been trading at a significant discount for over a year, however, after Alitalia entered special administration and Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy.
Etihad has no legal responsibility to bail out the portion of the bonds which benefited the two European airlines as the notes have no cross-default provision.
But with over $500 million of the paper held by United Arab Emirates investors, it has asked the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance to find a way to reduce losses for investors and limit any damage to the reputation of the local debt market, sources familiar with the matter said.
The department is now working with a financial adviser to find restructuring solutions, said the sources. One option being discussed could involve adjusting the structure of the paper to obtain a better credit rating. Rating agency Fitch has been involved in some of the discussions, the sources said.
Etihad declined to comment while a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance did not respond to a request for comment. Fitch declined to comment.
Any type of restructuring would require bondholders’ approval.
Etihad agreed to cover Alitalia’s portion of the debt, equivalent to around $230 million, at maturity through an agreement between the airlines which was signed before Alitalia entered special administration. But Air Berlin’s portion, of roughly the same amount, has no such guarantee.
Any intervention by the Abu Dhabi government, which could materialise before the end of this year, might see Abu Dhabi inject around $200-300 million into the issuing vehicle, said the sources.
This amount would be applied towards a partial early redemption of the notes at a discount of around 15 percent to par value for note holders seeking an early exit, the sources said. That would imply a write-off of Air Berlin’s obligation under the structure, while Alitalia’s debt would be honoured.
Creditors unwilling to exit at a discount might swap their notes into new instruments with a higher credit rating. The notes could feature a credit enhancement in the form of a guarantee of the obligations of Air Serbia and Air Seychelles, which are part of the borrowing structure, the sources said.
The first tranche of the notes, due 2020, is rated CC by Fitch, while the second tranche due 2021 is rated C.
With an Abu Dhabi intervention, the notes would become investment grade because of the oil-rich emirate's strong credit profile, so any capital injection by the government could be partially offset by a reduction in interest payments.
Last month, the SPV said it received a bid of just over $4 million in cash for the debt obligations of Alitalia and Air Berlin across the two EAP bond tranches.
The bid included around $6 million that would become payable to the SPV in case of recovery of an equivalent amount from the obligations, and a payment of 60 percent of money recovered after a 35 percent recovery threshold was reached.
The bid had an expiry date of Aug. 31; the SPV asked the bidder to extend the deadline to give note holders time to review terms. Since then, the SPV has given no update on the bidding process.


To fight off unemployment, Iraqi youth plant start-up seeds

Updated 2 min 26 sec ago
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To fight off unemployment, Iraqi youth plant start-up seeds

  • Iraqi entrepreneurs are taking on staggering unemployment by establishing their own start-ups
  • Under current legislation, private sector employees are not offered the same labor protections or social benefits as those in the public sector
BAGHDAD: Stuck between an endless waitlist for a government job and a frail private sector, Iraqi entrepreneurs are taking on staggering unemployment by establishing their own start-ups.
The first murmurs of this creative spirit were felt in 2013, but the Daesh group’s sweep across a third of the country the following year put many projects on hold.
Now, with Daesh defeated, co-working spaces and incubators are flourishing in a country whose unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent but whose public sector is too bloated to hire.
Many self-starters begin their journey at an aptly named glass building in central Baghdad: The Station.
There, they sip on coffee, peruse floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for ideas and grab a seat at clusters of desks where other stylish Iraqis click away at their laptops.
“We’re trying to create a new generation with a different state of mind,” said executive director Haidar Hamzoz.
“We want to tell youth that they can start their own project, achieve their dreams and not just be happy in a government job they didn’t even want,” he said.
Youth make up around 60 percent of Iraq’s nearly 40 million people.
After graduating from university, many spend years waiting to be appointed to a job in the government, Iraq’s biggest employer.
Four out of five jobs created in Iraq in recent years are in the public sector, according to the World Bank.
And in its 2019 budget, the government proposed $52 billion in salaries, pensions, and social security for its workers — a 15 percent jump from 2018 and more than half the total budget.
But with graduates entering the workforce faster than jobs are created, many still wait indefinitely for work.
Among youth, 17 percent of men and a whopping 27 percent of women are unemployed, the World Bank says.
When Daesh declared Mosul its seat of power in Iraq back in 2014, resident Saleh Mahmud was forced to shutter the city’s incubator for would-be entrepreneurs.
With Mosul now cautiously rebuilding after the militants were ousted in 2017, Mahmud is back in business.
“Around 600-700 youth have already passed by Mosul Space” to attend a seminar or seek out resources as they start their own ventures, said the 23-year-old.
He was inspired after watching fellow Mosul University graduates hopelessly “try to hunt down a connection to get a job in the public sphere.”
“A university education isn’t something that gets you a fulfilling job,” he said.
Another start-up, Dakkakena, is capitalizing on Mosul’s rebuilding spirit, too.
The online shopping service delivers a lorry-full of home goods every day to at least a dozen families refurnishing after the war.
“On the web, we can sell things for cheaper than stores because we have fewer costs, like no showrooms,” said founder Yussef Al-Noaime, 27.
Noaime fled Daesh to the Netherlands, where he was introduced to e-commerce. When he returned home, the computer engineer partnered with another local to found their venture.
A similar service, Miswag, was set-up in the capital Baghdad in 2014 and last year reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits.
On an autumn day, some 70 young Iraqi innovators converged for a three-day workshop in Baghdad on founding start-ups.
They flitted among round tables planning projects, their Arabic conversations sprinkled with English terms.
“What we’re doing is showing youth what entrepreneurship is — not necessarily so they succeed, but so they at least try,” said organizer Ibrahim Al-Zarari.
He said attendees should understand two things: first, that the public sector is saturated. And second, that oil isn’t the only resource on which Iraq — OPEC’s second-largest producer — should capitalize.
More than 65 percent of Iraq’s GDP and nearly 90 percent of state revenues hail from the oil sector. Many youths turn to it for work, but it only employs one percent of the workforce.
Widespread corruption and bureaucracy also weaken Iraq’s appeal for private investors. The World Bank ranks it 168th out of 190 for states with a good business environment.
Under current legislation, private sector employees are not offered the same labor protections or social benefits as those in the public sector.
And Iraq’s stuttering banking industry appears too cautious to dive in, said Tamara Raad, 26, who researches start-ups.
“The banks have a role to play. They must make loans without interest and help young entrepreneurs,” she said.
Banks or no banks, Mahmud in Mosul is already planning how he’ll grow his business in 2019.
“We will open a new, larger space for new gatherings,” he said excitedly, to bring together returning designers, developers and other inventors.