(Bloomberg) -- An insolvency filing by Signa Holding shines some light on the complex dealings of the umbrella organization of Rene Benko’s property and retail empire.
The court application, seen by Bloomberg, includes a preliminary list of creditors, offering a glimpse of an operation that lured high-profile investors as it lapped up trophy assets like New York’s Chrysler Building, Selfridges department store in London and Berlin’s KaDeWe.
The scope of entities that Signa owes money include banks, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, private security personnel and Schertz Bergmann, a Berlin law firm that represented Signa in disputes with the press.
The document also provides a sobering €5 billion ($5.4 billion) estimate for potential losses in a liquidation, but leaves major questions unanswered, including the origin of billions of euros in contingent liabilities.
Uncertainties persist surrounding Signa’s overall restructuring plans and whether it will be able to secure financing to allow for an orderly divestment process. The court-appointed administrator is set to present his first findings at a creditor meeting on Dec. 19.
A spokesman for Signa didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.
Who are Signa Holding’s creditors?
It’s a big group: 273 entities in all. Some are unusual and illustrate the group’s excess, while others hint at the cross dealings between the various units.
Financial creditors include the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, well-known lenders such as Julius Baer Group Ltd and BNP Paribas SA, as well as German regional savings banks.
Several units across the broader Signa conglomerate also appear on the list, as well as companies related to some shareholders: for example, Madison International Realty. The real estate private equity firm had bought stakes in Signa Prime, the conglomerate’s largest luxury property unit.
There are also dry cleaners, private jet and helicopter charters, as well as restaurants in Vienna and the ski resort town of Alpbach. There are also liabilities to gardeners, farm shops and foresters.
How did Signa get here?
In the filing, Signa Holding gives a detailed explanation of its financial difficulties. It blames the Covid-19 pandemic, supply-chain issues and lower consumer spending for undermining its retail investments.
Read More: Billionaire Benko’s Empire Risks Unraveling From the Pandemic
On the real estate side of the business, the company points to rising interest rates, as well as higher labor and material costs. Signa also said the European Central Bank’s scrutiny of its creditor banks had an impact on their willingness to loan new money.
Signa Holding said it hadn’t been able to secure enough funding to ensure short-term needs, making an insolvency filing necessary.
Where did all the debt come from?
In a liquidation scenario presented in the filing, the company would face about €5.3 billion of liabilities. Major claims would come from other companies within the group, as well as payouts under guarantees, which may be attached to debt issued by other Signa entities.
The biggest contribution comes from a line mysteriously dubbed as “liabilities which are not (yet) counted in the balance sheet.” That totals €1.8 billion.
Signa Holding has typically acted as the organizer for capital increases at the Prime and Development units. Signa Holding often subscribed all new shares before passing them on to external investors. They, in turn, often bought the stock along side an option to sell back their stake. One investor, Roland Berger, has already exercised that option.
What happens next?
As part of the self-administered restructuring, Signa Holding has to repay creditors at least 30% of their claims within two years of an agreement with creditors. The corresponding restructuring plan has to be approved by a majority of them.
In the mean time, Signa Holding is trying to secure more funds, according to the filing. It’s uncertain if Signa Prime and Signa Development, the main property-owning vehicles, will be able to avoid a similar insolvency filing.
In order to raise liquidity, Signa may have to consider selling stakes in units as well as individual properties. The highest-value luxury assets may be among the first to find a buyer given the strong interest in them, but it’s also unclear how much debt might be attached to them.
As the liquidity crunch cascades through Benko’s empire, further Signa units have filed for insolvency procedures. These include two Signa financial services companies in Germany and Switzerland, which managed fund transactions for the group.
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