SBB offer fails to address creditor obligations, US hedge fund says

By Marie Mannes

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -U.S. hedge fund Fir Tree Partners, a bondholder in property group SBB, said on Monday the Swedish company’s debt buyback offer placed too much weight on the interests of shareholders and did not address its obligations to creditors.

Loss-making SBB, which is at the centre of a wider Swedish property crash, said on Thursday it would offer to buy back hybrid and senior securities for up to $650 million as the group looks to cut debt on its balance sheet.

In response, credit rating agency S&P on Friday placed SBB on credit watch for a potential downgrade to a selective default, as purchasing debt at a substantial discount to the original amount could be considered tantamount to default.

“SBB appears to be devoting its scarce resources to preserving equity value, rather than focusing on near- and long-term senior obligations,” Fir Tree said in an “open letter” to fellow bondholders.

Fir Tree, which said it holds bonds maturing in 2028 and 2029, also questioned SBB’s offer to buy back hybrid notes with no maturity, arguing that this was not required.

The hedge fund urged bondholders to consider Fir Tree’s concerns before potentially participating in the tender offer, whose deadline is Nov. 22.

SBB was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

Earlier this month Fir Tree requested that SBB immediately repay a bond, saying the group was in breach of a debt clause, a claim the company has denied.

Danske bank credit analyst Marcus Gustavsson said Fir Tree raised some important questions in its open letter such as why SBB was offering to buy back hybrid bonds.

“It was also why we (Danske Bank) were a bit surprised to see the tender offer to begin with,” he said.

(Reporting by Marie Mannes; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)