Corporate India is abuzz with the news of KingFisher’s need for a bailout. Though the airlines company has not yet defaulted, but with a debt exceeding Rs 7000 cr and losses mounting to thousands of crores, there is little doubt that the company is at the brink of default.
Again, this is not the first time when the company has sought rescue. The airlines underwent a debt restructuring exercise in April 2011, when a consortium of 13 banks converted their debt into equity, paying a significant premium of 62% over the ruling market price of shares.
In the event of a bankruptcy, the assets are liquidated and proceeds are paid to the creditors in the order of their seniority. The equity holders receive only the portion of the proceeds that is left over after paying off the creditors (which, for a company under distress can reduce to nothing). By agreeing to convert a part of their debt into equity, the banks helped the company to lower its interest payments and thus infused liquidity in the company. In the process, the banks increased their ownership stakes in the company while consenting to forego their interest income. After the conversion, the banks equity stakes in KF increased to 23.37% whereas the promoter shareholding including Vijay Malaya’s and other United Breweries group companies fell to 58%.
The question now is, after a restructuring attempt this year itself, what could be a means to salvage the crisis ridden airline. At this stage, when the company is reeling under debt and is at the point of default, any new investment will benefit the debt providers as the cash flows generated from the business will go towards serving the debt interest. Therefore no one will want to put in new equity, not even the promoters. Neither will the creditors be interested to lend more as the company will/may not be in a position to pay the interest.
In wake of such a situation, both creditors and equity providers would now need to agree upon a restructuring plan wherein creditors could either accept a haircut on debt (by reducing interest/increasing the debt tenure/ granting moratorium) or consent to convert a portion of debt to equity. The company could also go in for supra priority financing where the providers of new money get priority on cash flows over the other existing debt holders.
Restructuring at this stage may require both the promoters and creditors to put in new equity. There has been some news about government having requested Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) to purchase a portion of new equity. In the final shareholding promoters’ stakes is bound to get further diluted from the present 58%. If the promoters holdings are reduced to a level of around 35%, it will open up the possibility for banks, LIC & other shareholders to get together and vote out the current management. It is not uncommon in many parts of the world to vote out a failed management in favour of a competent and professional management.
Such an exercise will send a strong message to founders that restructuring may reduce their stakes to a point where they could lose the ownership and control of the company, if such need arises. This will make them prudent in managing the company and prevent them from taking rash or highly adventurous decisions, as a poor management could cost them the ownership of their company. This will augur well for the India Inc, which is still dominated by family businesses where promoters are generally closed to bringing in outside management. Finally, it will also send a clear signal that incompetent owners cannot flourish at the cost of their employees, while keeping their high salaries and indulging in lavishness.
That, in a free market economy, will be a perfect disincentive to promoters managing their companies poorly.