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Thames Water Creditors Rally Amidst Debt Restructuring Concerns


Michael Chen

April 5, 2024 - 17:16 pm


Thames Water Creditors Gear Up for Potential Debt Restructuring

As the financial instability of Thames Water Utilities Ltd.'s parent company becomes increasingly evident, creditors have embarked on a preemptive mission to organize themselves in anticipation of potential restructuring discussions. This initiative aims to forge a consolidated front capable of exerting greater influence over the terms of any forthcoming debt arrangements.

Thames Water Utilities Ltd. creditors brace for restructuring

Credit arrangements for the utility's operating companies, which were previously deemed secure from the parent company's financial woes, are now the focus of concern for lenders and bondholders. Knowledgeable sources have conveyed to Bloomberg, on condition of anonymity, that coordination is taking place in light of the possibility that debt talks with the firm may ensue. At this juncture, Thames Water has declined to issue a statement on the matter.

The Onset of Organizational Moves Among Creditors

The movement towards organization by the creditors is not merely an exercise in solidarity; it signifies a strategic pivot. By uniting, these investors stand to create a more formidable bloc, potentially tipping the scales in their favor when it comes to mapping out the conditions of any restructuring agreement. The impetus for this mobilization came in the wake of Kemble Water Finance Limited's default on approximately £1.4 billion of debt, a significant financial failing marked by the inability to satisfy an interest payment.

The Ripple Effect from Kemble Water's Default

The fallout from Kemble Water’s financial slip-up has pulled the spotlight to the intricate legal and regulatory frameworks that govern Thames Water. While these robust frameworks are designed to maintain the utility's operations independently—even amidst parental default—investors are strategically positioning themselves to ward off potential adverse effects that the restructuring could bring to Thames Water’s group of companies. Those in the know have asserted that steps are being taken to insulate the operating companies from the Kemble Water upheaval.

Fighting Distractions and Protecting Interests

Colm Gibson, Berkeley Research Group's Managing Director, has expressed that while regulatory protections are expected to moderate the impact on Thames Water’s operations, the situation inevitably creates managerial distractions. These serve as hindrances to the utility’s attempt to stabilize its affairs, exacerbating the situation especially if bondholders exercise step-in rights. Such distractions are far from trivial, as they can significantly impede the management’s ability to focus on critical operational matters.

Debt Dynamics at Thames Water

Navigating through the fiscal complexities, Thames Water anchors itself strongly with a substantiated net debt amounting to £15.6 billion at its operational tier. This sum is composed of nearly £11 billion in bonds and an approximate £1.5 billion in bank loans. The recent tremors felt following the uncertainty at Kemble have caused the value of these bonds to falter as the concern permeated investor sentiment.

Bondholders Confront Imminent Losses

Delving deeper into the creditor landscape of Thames Water’s operating companies reveals a high-profile roster that includes entities such as BlackRock Inc., Invesco Ltd., Royal London Asset Management, and Fidelity International. Although the data presented excludes exchange-traded funds and does not reflect the totality of bonds issued, these institutions represent a significant segment of the bondholder community. Despite the lack of complete transparency in the documentable outstanding bond amount, the stakes for these bondholders are undeniably high.

Paul Vickars, Senior Credit Analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, predicates that Thames Water’s Class A bondholders are bracing for a possible debt restructuring scenario that could shear at least 20% off their bond value. This adjustment aims to align the company's gearing with the benchmarks established by the United Kingdom’s regulatory authority. Illustrating the gravity of the situation, Thames Water’s 4.375% bonds, which were issued in January and are due to mature in 2031, are currently trading at 88 pence to the pound, underscoring the turbid waters lying ahead for investors.

A Distressed Debt Perspective

Andrew Lee, a distressed debt analyst at KNG Securities, portrays a grim picture for those invested in Thames Water’s bonds. The company’s precarious position as a political hot potato, with the added uncertainty that an election year brings, further clouds the future for stakeholders. Lee's analysis suggests that the difficulties faced by bondholders are likely to escalate, heightening the unpredictability of the utility's fiscal journey in the near term.

Read more about Rishi Sunak urging Thames Water to clean up its financial status here.

Market responses to the credit rating downgrades of Thames Water have precipitated a decline in the indicative prices for these bonds. This has placed pressure on portfolio managers who are obliged to align their public debt holdings with secondary market valuations, threatening the overall performance of their funds even in the absence of realized losses from sales or restructuring processes.

Fund Managers and Bond Valuations

Reactions to the unfolding event have been guarded among major fund houses. Spokespeople representing BlackRock, Invesco, Royal London, Vanguard, and Schroders Plc have opted to withhold comments regarding their bond holdings. Bloomberg News has also extended inquiries to M&G Plc, abrdn plc, and Fidelity International for their input.

While the Thames Water operating company bonds account for only a modest proportion of each fund’s assets, their potential destabilization could sway fund managers to reassess their portfolios. For managers who prioritize stability as much as yield, such assets could lose their appeal in light of the evolving situation and the fluctuations in Thames Water’s bond prices.

The Search for Opportunistic Entry Points

The unfolding saga has not only been confined to established stakeholders, as opportunistic funds begin to take interest in the bonds issued by Thames Water’s operating entities. These funds are cautiously assessing the scenario, looking for an opportune moment to enter the fray, thus shifting the dynamic within the group’s capital structure.

Analysts Predict a Bumpy Road Ahead

CreditSights analysts Andrew Moulder and Helen Rodriguez have addressed their clientele with a word of caution. In their eyes, the journey ahead for Thames Water is likely to be fraught with substantial volatility. With alternative avenues to achieve comparable yields without the accompanying uncertainty, the analysts suggest that there might be less tumultuous routes to investment success.

Jessica Shankleman also contributed assistance in the reporting of these developments.

As a final note, the 2024 Bloomberg L.P. retains the exclusive copyright of the content in this report.

In conclusion, the financial difficulties of Thames Water Utilities Ltd. are unfolding against a complex backdrop of regulatory safeguards, managerial challenges, and strategic creditor maneuvers. With the looming potential for restructuring, investors and stakeholders are aligning their strategies to navigate the potential aftermath of Thames Water's parent company's debt default as the story continues to evolve.

Disclaimer: This article represents a synthesized version of the facts presented and does not constitute financial advice. Investors are recommended to conduct their own due diligence before making any financial decisions.