By Anshuman Daga
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Commodities merchant Noble Group has finalised a restructuring agreement with a group of senior creditors holding 46 percent of its debt, and is in talks with others, as it races to launch a deal crucial to its survival.
The embattled firm has been negotiating a $3.4 billion debt-for-equity swap for months, after selling billions of dollars of assets, taking hefty writedowns and cutting hundreds of jobs over the past three years.
Singapore-listed Noble, once Asia's biggest commodity trader, also said it would move its "centre of main interests from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom," to support the restructuring. It did not provide details.
Noble's Restructuring Support Agreement (RSA) has been signed by creditors known as the Ad Hoc Group and the firm is seeking support from another senior creditor, Deutsche Bank, and trade finance provider, ING Bank, Noble said in a statement on Wednesday.
Joseph Swanson, senior managing director at Houlihan Lokey, financial advisor to the Ad Hoc Group, said the signing of the RSA was a landmark moment for Noble, and the Ad Hoc Group was looking forward to getting consent from creditors outside the core group.
Noble said the Ad Hoc Group was also in contact with other senior creditors who were holding an additional 15 percent of claims and had indicated their broad support for the deal.
Noble is seeking to halve its senior debt and hand over 70 percent of the restructured business to the Ad Hoc Group. It said on Wednesday that existing equity holders could be diluted to 15 percent, marking an improvement for equity holders from earlier discussions of the deal. Company management could end up owning 15 percent.
Noble's debt restructuring deal has been opposed by some bondholders and shareholders such as Goldilocks Investment Co, an Abu Dhabi Financial Group equity fund.
IFR, a Thomson Reuters publication, reported that the restructuring proposal requires a vote of senior creditors holding at least 75 percent of its debt, of which 75 percent must vote in favour for the measure to pass.
Founded in 1986 by Richard Elman, who rode a commodities bull run to build one of the world's biggest traders, Noble was plunged into crisis in February 2015 when Iceberg Research questioned its books. Noble has defended its accounting.
Noble's market value has fallen to just S$217 million ($166 million) from $6 billion in February 2015. The company has a $379 million bond that matures on March 20.
The company said its move to the United Kingdom would facilitate an alternative restructuring if one is needed.
Noble said Deutsche Bank has signed the RSA, and ING Bank was in the process of signing it. Together, they represent 4 percent of Noble's claims.
Noble plans to launch its restructuring this month and said senior creditors keen to participate in the trade financing deal had to sign up by April 6.
($1 = 1.3101 Singapore dollars)
(Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Tom Hogue)