Unstructured Finance

Pilgrim’s Pride: a bankruptcy gone right

The turnaround of Pilgrim’s Pride may have been long by 2009 standards, but as Emily Chasan reports creditors probably made out better from the chicken producer’s reorganization than any other bankruptcy in the past year.

On Monday, just over a year after the company entered bankruptcy protection, it emerged with new ownership, new management, and a new business plan, proving the traditional route through bankruptcy is not quite dead. Unsecured creditors got paid back in full, in cash, and stockholders — who usually get wiped out in bankruptcies — got a 36 percent equity stake in the reorganized company.

In a year, which featured the one-to-two-month bankruptcies of lender CIT Group and automakers Chrysler and General Motors, Pilgrim’s Pride took a more traditional trip through the process — staying in court just long enough to conduct a business turnaround.

Icahn takes a shot at CIT “Tammany Hall” financing

As if CIT didn’t have enough problems digging itself out of a credit morass, now it has Carl Icahn to contend with. Troubled by what he sees as sweetheart deals between CIT and its largest creditors, at the expense of the little-guy bondholder, Icahn has offered to underwrite the $6 billion the small-business lender says it needs to survive. Icahn’s offer sent CIT shares soaring by double digits … to well above a dollar.

In a letter to CIT’s board, Icahn said certain large bondholders are being offered an opportunity to purchase secured loans at prices well below their fair market value.

In the end, Icahn underwriting offer may serve more as a publicity stunt than a White Knight vanguard attempt to save CIT, which is busy searching for a new CEO — presumably, a restructuring artist.

Miracle worker wanted at CIT

CIT Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Peek plans to retire at the end of the year, but the company could well be bankrupt before it concludes its search for a replacement.

Dan Wilchins and Paritosh Bansal report that bondholders are showing little interest in exchanging their debt for equity in the troubled lender to small- and medium-sized businesses. Earlier this month it said it was looking for investors to approve a large debt exchange that would reduce its borrowings, or to approve a prepackaged bankruptcy. CIT listed $71 billion of assets on its balance sheet as of the end of June.

Peek, formerly an executive at Merrill Lynch, has led CIT since 2003. He has been widely criticized for being slow to recognize the extent to which the credit crunch would stress the company’s business model by lifting its borrowing costs. If a white knight is anywhere in sight, he better have something more convincing to sell bondholders than green shoots and the promise of a better tomorrow, as about $3 billion of debt comes due in the fourth quarter.

Morning line-up

Hedge fund stories from the past 24 hours from Reuters and elsewhere:

rtxcg5sLondon loses HF market share to NY – Hedge Fund Journal

Funds FAIL! - FT Alphaville

‘No truth’ to CIT-IndyMac talk - Reuters

Uptick in new hedge funds - NY Times DealBook

Lending CIT a hand

An almost heart-warming effort is being mustered by CIT bondholders to keep the troubled lender from getting put under the TARP or stumbling into a much-anticipated bankruptcy. Some $3 billion in survival cash is seen in the pipeline — money that could strengthen CIT’s finances and allow it more time for a debt restructuring. An announcement is expected before the markets open this morning.

What kind of terms might bondholders extract from CIT? Before TARP was modified to target executive pay for those who sought its shelter, banks such as Citigroup and then-independent investment house Merrill Lynch paid what were seen as shockingly high terms on mandatory convertible debt. They were the kind of rates Citi customers paid on credit cards; nothing like traditional bank funding rates.

So, a CIT deal could, and perhaps should, come with a variety of stringent terms. If these are effectively passed on to desperate small and medium-sized businesses that CIT serves, the cost of this rescue could be blamed for stifling the recovery.

C it collapse

With government talks aimed at averting its collapse having, er, collapsed, CIT appears to be headed for bankruptcy. Dire predictions about a wave of failures by small and medium-sized businesses are still echoing, sustained by uncertainty. The suggestion that other lenders are going to step in and offer financing to CIT clients sounds hollow in the lingering recession.

Paritosh Bansal and Jui Chakravorty spoke with investment bankers who said asset sales under duress would not only draw fire-sale prices in depressed markets — a lethal combination, as AIG found — but could also lead to legal challenges from creditors if deals are rushed through ahead of a bankruptcy filing. Much like AIG, CIT is having trouble valuing its loans. Private Equity is also unlikely to show much interest.

Government efforts to avoid or manage bankruptcy elsewhere in finance and in the auto industry have led, at best, to inefficiency in clearing the dross from the boom years. At worst, the result has been a degradation of faith in investing in credit.

CIT’s strong hand

CIT, the small-business financing company that provides funding for airlines, railways, retailers and manufacturers, should have little trouble securing some kind of government aid, whether in the form of a short-term loan, as seems to be the most likely scenario, or even a TARP or FDIC bailout.

Public antipathy toward bailing out financial companies was pretty much exhausted months ago. Plus, with banks still skittish about lending, CIT serves a clientele that has both ready demand and strong support in conservative corners of Washington that have long touted small business as their base.

The more hearty free marketers say CIT clients will be able to find funds elsewhere if the company does go under. But in the current environment, might a government agency be just as likely to fill that role as the banking sector?

Deals du Jour

Despite the sluggish performance of the stock markets recently, there is no shortage of deals to report.

Some corporate finance stories in the newspapers include:

* AIG (AIG.N) has resumed talks to sell its American Life Insurance Co unit to MetLife Inc (MET.N) in a deal that could help the stricken insurer raise more than $15 billion, according to the Financial Times.

* Datang Telecom (600198.SS) is in talks to sell a 20 percent stake to China’s national pension fund worth as much as 3 billion yuan ($428.6 million), China Daily reported.

Energy asset on block at Blackstone?

USAOne intriguing remark that Blackstone COO Tony James let slip on today’s earnings call is that it could be gearing up to sell an energy asset. 
James explained that while opportunities to exit investments weren’t numerous, it had succeeded making a profit on the sale of pharmaceutical company Stiefel. 
“We have another company in our portfolio… in the energy sector, which had some very, very exciting results finding unbelievable amounts of hydrocarbons and… that might be something we’d look to exit,” James said on a call to the media. 
He didn’t identify the company so we’re doing the guessing ourselves — out of the current energy investments Blackstone lists on its website, we reckon Kosmos Energy, which has a significant oil field in Ghana, could fit the bill.

(Additional reporting by Mike Erman)

Another deal in healthcare: what’s the magic pill?

pillsAs dealmakers everywhere struggle to get deals done, the healthcare industry seals yet another one.

Express Scripts has agreed to buy health insurer WellPoint’s prescription business for $4.68 billion in a significant expansion for the U.S. pharmacy beenfit manager. The deal will be a concoction of cash and up to $1.4 billion in common stock, and will generate more than $1 billion of incremental EBITDA.

This comes on the heels of Pfizer’s $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth, Merck’s $41.1 billion takeover of Schering Plough and Roche Holding’s $46.8 billion buyout of Genentech. Granted, this isn’t a pharma deal, but it still falls under the umbrella of the healthcare sector.