Seadrill CEO has debt deal 'in sight' promising bitter pills

Seadrill CEO is eyeing a new plan for the struggling company, which still targets raising about $1 billion in new capital. "We don't just kick the can down the road," said Per Wullf in an interview Friday.

Seadrill Ltd., the offshore driller controlled by billionaire John Fredriksen, pummeled by a massive plunge in its stocks and bonds, said a deal is in sight after managing to again push back a negotiation deadline.

"We don’t just kick the can down the road," Chief Executive Officer Per Wullf said in a phone interview on Friday. "It’s because we see there is a deal in sight, it just takes a longer time for us to do that."

The company still targets raising about $1 billion in new capital, which is unchanged from an estimate in January. But the current plan is “different” from the earlier version, Wullf said, confirming comments from Fredriksen this week.

What shape Fredriksen’s contribution will take remains to be seen, and could come as a loan, new equity, or both, the CEO said. Whatever happens, "we all have to take a little bit of medicine," Wullf said.

Fredriksen working around the clock to save Seadrill

Seadrill, which has been working for more than a year to restructure the offshore-drilling industry’s biggest debt load, on Tuesday postponed a deadline for talks by three months to the end of July by extending maturities. The company said shareholders and bond owners would suffer steep losses in any restructuring deal, which it expects to involve some sort of court proceedings.

The statement sent the shares to their biggest plunge ever, with a 38 percent drop on Tuesday followed by a further 31 percent slump over the next two days. The company’s bonds are trading at about 37 cents on the dollar, indicating bondholders are expecting minimal recovery. Seadrill shares recovered some on Friday, rising about 6 percent.

Most analysts said the company’s comments this week weren’t a big surprise, but SpareBank 1 Markets’ Vidar Lyngvaer said they were an "even clearer sign" of the losses to come. It’s important for Seadrill "to stay as transparent as we can," Wullf said. "We spoke about the dilution in January."

Seadrill buys time with postponement of major debt

The company’s assessment earlier this week that a deal "will likely involve schemes of arrangement or chapter 11 proceedings" is no different from earlier warnings about the risk of bankruptcy protection, the CEO said.

"If there’s one stakeholder that doesn’t want to play with us, well, we might have to do an in-court solution," Wullf said.

"If we can’t get them across, it will happen -- we will go to court and get it done because we owe that to the other stakeholders of the company."

Meanwhile, the company is negotiating with its banks and investors in new capital, before presenting a new plan to its bondholders. Wullf didn’t know when the company would present a new proposal to a committee representing bondholders, which had engaged in formal talks until the end of January.

Seadrill, once the crown jewel of Fredriksen’s business empire, was built up to be one of the biggest offshore drillers in the world during the oil-boom decade that ended in 2014. The company was left with a pile of debt as it entered the industry’s deepest downturn in a generation, amounting to about $8.5 billion at the end of last year, excluding other liabilities.

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The value has dropped by 97 percent since the middle of 2014. Fredriksen and Wullf in local media interviews earlier this year suggested the billionaire’s former top adviser, Tor Olav Troim, had left a financial mess behind when he left Seadrill in 2014 after falling out with Fredriksen.

Wullf on Friday stood by those comments, but added he included himself in the criticism, having joined Seadrill as chief operating officer in 2009 before taking the top position in 2013.

"When you have these skyscrapers of maturities and you can’t refinance it, that’s what’s put the company into trouble," he said. "I don’t think Seadrill was the only one that was surprised when the music stopped."

Seadrill has already started simplifying the structure of the company, which has loans from 42 banks, on a clear instruction from Fredriksen, its chairman.

Still, Wullf said management doesn’t regret the generous dividends to its shareholders, a trademark of Fredriksen’s companies.

"Of course we had an aggressive dividend policy," he said. "That was also what actually built the company. That was done right."

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