Zombie companies

September 30, 2009

In zombie films, the dead walk the earth and slowly annihilate the living. Such a frightening prospect may be in store for Europe, the Reuters Restructuring Summit was told.

Banks are one of the big problems, speakers said, as they are unwilling to take the size of write-downs necessary to cut firms’ debts down to a manageable size.

Firms owned by private equity, particularly the number two or three in their sector, are particularly at risk of becoming zombie companies because of their high debt levels and the lack of interest in such firms from equity investors, Simon Parry-Wingfield of Morgan Stanley said.

This may offer opportunities for distressed M&A, he said.

“The corporate world is beginning to see an opportunity … to pick up middle-market companies or sponsored companies which are stuck in a zombie world because of their balance sheets,” he said.

Those firms unable to attract new buyers or investors will be forced back into restructuring talks with lenders, he said, but their long-term future may not be bright.

“People are putting off the problem and the longer it takes to address operational issues, the harder and more expensive it is to fix them,” he said.

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