|Lifeline for Angostura |
By Andre Bagoo Sunday, October 18 2009
THE CL FINANCIAL Group and State-owned First Citizens Bank have brokered a restructuring deal which could revitalise the beleaguered books of debt-laden Angostura, the CL Financial Group Chief Executive Officer Steve Bideshi revealed on Friday.
Delivering the feature address at the inaugural Securities Dealers Associations Capital Markets Pioneer Awards, Bideshi said the restructuring of Angostura has been worked out between CL Financial and First Citizens CEO Larry Howai and his team.
“We have just restructured so we have a good breathing space and we will be announcing that very soon,” Bideshi said.
Bideshi gave an overview of the challenges faced by the CL Financial Group in the coming years and hinted that the group, which was founded on the strength of Colonial Life Insurance Co Ltd (Clico), is to give up the insurance business as a whole. He noted that while the State had taken the reins at Clico, the group has continued in the insurance business outside of Trinidad and Tobago. But this is set to change.
“I think ultimately, these businesses will disappear; that the CL Financial of tomorrow will not be engaged in insurance,” he said. Instead the company will forge ahead with its real estate and beverage businesses.
But both already pose challenges. In relation to Home Construction Ltd (HCL), Bideshi said, “obviously when you look at our debt profile, our debts are really structured very badly.” He said HCL was “long on assets.”
“My job is to get that back into equilibrium,” he added. He also mentioned the problem of inter-company debt within the CL group, an issue that has been identified as being at the heart of Angostura’s troubles.
CL Financial owes Angostura money from the deals made over the years but given the conglomerate’s debt, auditors are faced with trying to unravel the accounts.
Earlier this year, Angostura was forced to delay the release of its accounts partially due to issues surrounding the fact that CL Financial had leveraged the company’s profits against deals that looked like a sure bet at the time, including US$676 million used to finance the purchase of Lascelles deMercado in 2008. Angostura has been reported to have been left with a TT$600 million hole in its finances by CL Financial.
On October 2, Minister of Trade and Industry Mariano Browne pledged support for Angostura at the post-Cabinet press briefing as the company faced the prospect of losing access to its lucrative European markets.
On Friday, Bisdeshi also gave his outlook on the status of the local economy, forecasting more cuts in interest rates and a further stemming of inflation.
“Trinidad usually lags a year or two behind developed countries,” he said.
“Whilst other central banks were cutting rates drastically a year ago, we here only now began our rate reduction. I think Trinidad and Tobago will continue to reduce rates, inflation will continue to come down and we’ll have reduced lending rates. But that’s very good for the capital market.”
He urged securities dealers to take advantage of current opportunities and to dare to be more innovative, given the prospect of increased competition from foreign boutique merchandising.
Among the awardees on Friday were former Republic Finance and Merchant Bank Limited (FINCOR) CEO Lloyd Samaroo, who warned of a lack of ethics in modern political life, as well as Suresh Maharaj. Two companies were also awarded, namely: the Unit Trust Corporation and FINCOR.