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John Fredriksen is racing against time to save his empire

A multiple year boom could be coming to an end for the colorful Norwegian shipping magnate John Fredriksen's crown jewel, Seadrill, as the company has turned out to be USD 14 billion in debt and at which a race against time and unsatisfied bond holders has begun.

Only rarely is a former executive colleague this publicly and so directly criticized – or to say it as it is, completely dissed by his partner of many years in the executive group.

But this was what happened when the controversial Norwegian shipping magnate John Fredriksen, backed by Seadrill CEO Per Wulff, took to the media a few days ago and placed full responsibility for the drilling company's spectacular downfall on one man, the former colleague Tor Olav Trøim.

As former CFO of Seadrill, Trøim is undoubtedly partly responsible for the fact that Seadrill, after an almost decade-long boom, is now left as a company which, with a debt of around USD 14 billion, is so weighed down by the debt commitments that the company is facing a real risk of defaulting within the next couple of months. Things are looking so bad that Seadrill has acknowledged that the company is preparing contingency plans in case it is unable to resolve the situation within the near future.

Fighting on several fronts

A collapse would be close to an ultimate setback for John Fredriksen's empire, which in addition to Seadrill – at one point the world's biggest rig company by market value – also consists of key companies such as tanker carrier Frontline and salmon farmer Marine Harvest, as well as other companies in the hard-pressed offshore sector, including Songa Offshore.

As such, it looks like Fredriksen, in the midst of the biggest crisis ever for his shipping and energy group, has launched a battle on multiple fronts, undoubtedly in an effort to protect his companies as much as the considerable stakes he owns in these businesses. The attack on Trøim was merely one of the fronts drawn up this week.

Fredriksen himself was the one to state publicly that he and his current management team are stuck in a bind now after Trøim's work. Trøim had simply been too optimistic, said Fredriksen, who has before made somewhat polemic statements, although this time it stands out as unusual for a business executive to speak this way about a former colleague of 19 years.

"He was in charge of finances. It has been hard for us and there is a lot of cleaning up to do, " he added.

Seadrill makes impairment of USD 882 million

He is known to some people as "Big John", and he has never really been a fan of political correctness, which has given him a controversial reputation in Norwegian business circles as well as Norwegian shipping. What is more surprising: that his CEO at Seadrill, Per Wulff, followed suit with the statement that "the strategy we followed with Trøim has gone completely wrong," adding that "The party is over after this postlude".

The actual numbers back up the bleak story. When Seadrill peaked, the share price on the Oslo Stock Exchange was NOK 298, and over the course of this week it dropped down to DKK 17, reflecting the downturn in the oil and not least rig industry. Calculations show that NOK 140 billion have been lost since the best period until today.

The company is now publicly talking about filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the US version of receivership, as Seadrill is also listed on the NYSE. And a solution is needed which can garner support from banks, shareholders, and bondholders by the end of April, so pressure is monumental. "If we don't get everyone on board, we will need the court's help in financing," as Wulff says.

"Assuming we achieve this target, we expect the implementation of an agreement to occur during the second quarter of 2017. We are also actively preparing various contingency plans in the event we do not reach a consensual agreement. While discussions with the banks, potential new money investors, the advisors to the ad hoc committee of bondholders and Hemen Holdings Ltd are continuing, the company has not yet reached an agreement amongst all counterparties," the company wrote Monday morning.

Seadrill is trying with a new business plan to convince not least bondholders that it is worth entering a refinancing deal. This plan states that the total debt in rig company is now USD 14 billion in secured as well as unsecured loan deals. USD 2.3 billion of this is bond debt. But bondholders are hesitant and have presented an alternative proposal, as they are unwilling to accept the plan from Seadrill. The bondholders are only interested in injecting USD 700 million in fresh capital, which is USD 300 million less than the company is demanding. Furthermore, they want to convert bond debt worth more than USD 1 billion into net capital and put the rest of the debt into a new bond loan set to expire in 2024.

One condition in the business plan is that the price for rigs must go up significantly over coming years, especially for floaters, where Seadrill expects that the price will shoot up from the current USD 180,000 for one day to USD 420,000 for one day in 2020. Many analysts are skeptical of this calculation.

Hemen Holding is John Fredriksen's personal investment company, which has secured massive profits and landed Fredriksen a spot on Bloomberg's index over billionaires, where it was estimated that his fortune last year came to about USD 10 billion. According to Norwegian newspaper Finansavisen, Hemen Holding has made around USD 2.5 billion on Seadrill since the beginning of May 2005. The dividends have amounted to about USD 1.2 billion, so throughout the years the drilling rig company has been an overall good business for Fredriksen with 23 percent of the current shares owned by him and his family, including the two daughters who are set to take over his fortune and possessions.

Fredriksen takes aim at former Seadrill management

Media: Seadrill's debt has reached USD 14 billion

Seadrill working actively on contingency plans for the company

Seadrill makes impairment of USD 882 million

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