By Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia
DUBAI (Reuters) - NMC Health said it would ask for an informal debt standstill to stabilise the UAE-based hospital operator's finances as it confirmed on Monday that Moelis would advise it in talks with banks.
NMC shares have lost more than half of their value since December when U.S. based short-seller Muddy Waters questioned its financial statements.
London-listed NMC said in a statement on Monday it was "asking for continued support and an informal standstill in relation to existing facilities from its lenders to achieve an immediate stabilisation of the group's financing."
It also said it had hired PwC as an operational adviser to assist on liquidity management and operational measures, while Allen & Overy has been hired as a legal adviser.
Reuters reported on Sunday, citing sources, that NMC, which was founded in the mid-1970s and became the largest private healthcare company in the United Arab Emirates, had hired Moelis to advise on a debt restructuring.
One NMC lenders told Reuters that Moelis is expected to meet its banks this week to discuss the way forward on its debt.
Moelis, whose appointment comes after lenders were blindsided by sudden changes at NMC's top management, has not responded to a Reuters request for a comment.
NMC last week removed Chief Executive Prasanth Manghat with immediate effect and granted its finance chief extended sick leave.
"There is a squeeze on their (NMC's) ability to generate cash," the NMC lender told Reuters.
Britain's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on Feb. 27 it would investigate the finances of NMC, whose shares were suspended on the London Stock Exchange last week.
A separate review of NMC's finances is being led by former FBI boss Louis Freeh.
NMC also said on Monday that its key shareholders, former co-chair B R Shetty, former vice-chairman Khaleefa Butti Omair Yousif Ahmed al-Muhairi and Saeed Mohamed Butti Mohamed Khalfan al-Qebaisi, own a combined stake of less than 30% its shares.
This had triggered a change of provision for NMC's debt facilities as its principal shareholders cease to own more than 30% of stake in the company, affecting a $2 billion loan facility and certain other facilities, it added.
Loan commitments that are yet to be utilised are cancelled and outstanding debt becomes due if requested by an individual lender, NMC said.
In 2018 NMC raised a $2 billion loan from a consortium of banks including Citi, JPMorgan and Standard Chartered, sources told Reuters at the time. That loan included the refinancing of an existing facility of more than $1 billion and a bridge loan.
First Abu Dhabi Bank and HSBC are also lenders to the company, sources told Reuters on Sunday.
NMC's debt as well as its shares have lost value, with a spike in yields on $400 million in sukuk, or Islamic bonds, issued by NMC in 2018 and due in 2023 last week to almost 25% from a yield of around 4% before the Muddy Waters report.
The paper gained in value after the Moelis appointment, "but it's still quite distressed," a fund manager said.
Credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service downgraded NMC's corporate family rating to Caa1, from Ba2.
"The recent removal of the CEO, absence of the CFO and suspension of a member of the treasury team points to significant weaknesses in terms of oversight, financial management and operational controls," it said, adding it will subsequently remove all ratings.
(Reporting by Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Alexander Smith)