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Billionaire Group Pledges as Much as Needed to Save Schmolz

Hugo Miller
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Billionaire Group Pledges as Much as Needed to Save Schmolz

(Bloomberg) -- An investment holding company linked to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg pledged to invest “as much money as necessary” in Schmolz + Bickenbach AG to avert a restructuring of the ailing Swiss steelmaker’s $800 million debt pile.

Liwet Holding AG, which holds a 26.9% stake in Schmolz, said in a statement Sunday that the pledge is conditional on there being no change in control of the company.

The open letter is the latest salvo in a dispute between Liwet and Martin Haefner, a Swiss businessman and the company’s second-largest shareholder, over the future direction of Schmolz. The steelmaker’s shares have plunged 60% this year amid slumping demand from carmakers, and the Lucerne-based company badly needs new money to fend off a potential insolvency.

Haefner recently proposed to double his stake to 37.5% through a 325 million Swiss-franc ($326 million) cash injection, but the Swiss Takeover Board rejected that proposal as insufficient and said it must offer to buy the entire company.

Liwet said in the statement it’s concerned Haefner’s offer would allow him to use the money to buy out the company’s debt rather than for Schmolz’s operational needs. If Haefner succeeded in raising his stake, a so-called change of control clause in the bonds would be triggered, allowing bondholders to redeem their principal from the company.

“This is not helpful for the company,” Liwet said. “Rather, it allows you, Mr. Haefner, to take control of the company at a lower price by violating other stakeholders’ interests.”

An extraordinary general meeting is planned for Monday to try to resolve the company’s future.

In an interview with NZZ am Sonntag on Sunday, Haefner said it’s not too late to find a solution with other shareholders before the meeting.

“I want to help, but I have certain conditions and these must be fulfilled so that S + B has a future,” he was quoted as saying.

Liwet is welcome as a shareholder, Haefner said, while stressing that he wants to “take decisive influence as a major financier. With such a high-risk investment, I also want to gain control.”

Schmolz + Bickenbach is not in danger of immediate collapse, and has enough money to pay its 10,000 employees through December, company spokesman Ulrich Steiner said in comments to Sonntagszeitung on Sunday.

“We certainly do not have to go to the bankruptcy judge on Tuesday,” Steiner said. “From today’s point of view, we have enough liquidity until January.”

(Adds comment on Schmolz’s liquidity in last paragraph)

--With assistance from Albertina Torsoli and Fabian Graber.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Geneva at hugomiller@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Vivianne Rodrigues at vrodrigues3@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Sam Unsted

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