NewSat in Credit Bind after Coface Rebuffs Waiver Request

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PARIS — Struggling startup satellite fleet operator NewSat of Australia on April 8 said negotiations with its lenders were at a standstill because one of them — the French export-credit agency, Coface — refused to approve loan waivers that would permit funding to resume.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, the company said Coface’s decision has had a domino effect on the company’s other creditors, notably Coface’s U.S. counterpart, the Export-Import Bank. As a result, some $222 million in loans and loan guarantees have been frozen.

Jabiru-1 NewSat
Despite NewSat’s financial difficulties, Lockheed Martin Space Systems is continuing to work on the startup’s Jabiru-1 telecommunications satellite (above). Credit: NewSat

NewSat said it was looking for other finance options. In the meantime, Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California, was continuing work on the large Jabiru-1 telecommunications satellite, the company said.

NewSat announced earlier this year that its two principal suppliers, Lockheed Martin and the Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, had sent formal notification that the company was in breach of contract for nonpayment of $21 million to Lockheed and $42.4 million to Arianespace.

In its April 8 statement, NewSat said Lockheed continues to work on the satellite, which could be ready for a launch by June 2016 if new funding is made available. At this point the satellite is more than a year behind schedule.

The company said Arianespace on April 3 issued a contract-termination notice that will take effect on May 3 unless NewSat resumes contract-milestone payments.

Coface headquarters
Headquarters of the French export-credit agency, Coface. Credit: Chaix & Morel et Associes

NewSat concluded terms in late 2011 on a loan package from the Export-Import Bank totaling $390.1 million, mainly to fund construction of the satellite. A separate loan guarantee of $102.74 million was concluded with Coface, mainly in support of a launch aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket.

The U.S. and French credit-agency financing followed a long negotiation given NewSat’s history as a relatively small Australian teleport operator. An Export-Import Bank official said after the loans were approved that the bank had protected itself against a possible NewSat default by arranging for a “Plan B” that was not detailed but presumably entailed selling the satellite and the Arianespace launch contract to a third party.

NewSat said it had agreed with lenders on a waiver that would oblige the company to execute a $30 million rights issue and to raise between $50 million and $70 million in additional financing by Sept. 30. The company said it is continuing these efforts despite the currently frozen negotiations with lenders, and that it is exploring avenues to raise more cash should that be necessary to reopen its credit lines.

NewSat said it had hired Peter J. Solomon Co. of New York, an investment adviser that specializes in corporate restructuring, to assist the company in raising new capital. “NewSat intends to review all available strategic alternatives,” the company said.

The company said its chief financial officer had left following an “agreed termination” in the latest departure from NewSat’s executive ranks. Mark C. Spragg of FTI Consulting has been named interim chief financial officer.

The company said Spragg’s satellite industry history includes work with LightSquared, TerreStar Networks, Globalstar and Iridium — all of which went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedures.

Coface is the major lender to mobile satellite services providers Globalstar and Iridium for these companies’ second-generation low-orbiting satellite constellations. Covington, Louisiana-based Globalstar, whose second-generation satellites are in orbit, has had difficulty in recent months satisfying its Coface loan requirements.

Whether the Globalstar experience has caused Coface to take a tougher line with NewSat is unclear. But the NewSat statement suggested that the Export-Import Bank was OK with the company’s proposed loan waiver and that only Coface was opposed.

The 5,900-kilogram Jabiru-1 would occupy the Ariane 5 rocket’s upper berth, which is reserved for the heavier of the two telecommunications satellites the rocket carries on a typical mission. Arianespace has been able to raise prices for upper-berth customers in the past year because of difficulties encountered by the company’s Russian and Ukrainian competitors.

Unlike the Export-Import Bank, Coface does not issue direct loans, but provides guarantees to commercial banks, typically for up to 95 percent of the loan. The banks then must cover the remaining 5 percent on their own.

NewSat said its Coface-affiliated lenders — Credit Suisse, Standard Chartered Bank and Societe Generale — have refused to make further funds available until Coface agrees to continue the guarantee.