Ezra shares touch record low as debt concerns mount

Ezra shares touch record low as debt concerns mount
PHOTO: Ezra Holdings

Shares of Singapore-listed offshore services company Ezra Holdings hit an all-time low on Wednesday as concerns over its debt obligations continue to mount.

The company's shares were sold down to 2.6 cents Singapore - the second fresh record low this week after problems with one of its joint ventures, EMAS Chiyoda Subsea, emerged.

The company said in a filing to the Singapore Exchange on Friday that it could possibly write down US$170 million (S$241 million) due to issues at EMAS. Adding to concerns, Ezra said on Tuesday that it received a statutory demand from a customer for a payment amounting to approximately S$4.4 million that, if not paid up within three weeks, could lead to the company being wound up.

"Debt issues for Ezra have been surfacing to the market and the latest statutory demand creates solvency concerns, fuelling the aggressive selling," said Pan Jingyi, a Singapore-based market strategist at IG.

Ezra could not be reached for comment on the latest movements in its share price.

Latest developments at Ezra reflect the troubles still faced by Singapore's oil and gas sector despite the recent pick up in oil prices. Another company, First Ship Lease Trust, also warned of "significant net loss" for the financial year 2016, citing impairment provisions on vessels and a loss on the disposal of two vessels.

Jonathan Chan, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore, said the sector could see more challenging days ahead.

"(Singapore's) oil and gas sector is mainly involved in oil support services. The revenue for this sector is expected to stay weak as the current price strength is caused by reduction in global production. This has led to a lower demand for oil support services," said Chan.

"Even though the oil production in the U.S is picking up, given Trump's 'America First' policy, there might not be much positive spill-over for our oil and gas industries."

The beleaguered oil and gas sector could weigh on the performance of Singapore banks, who have had to take provisions after offshore services firm Swiber Holdings unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy last year.

A CIMB note last week estimated that DBS Group Holdings has a S$637 million exposure to Ezra - the largest among Singapore's three biggest banks. Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation's (OCBC) exposure is estimated to be S$300 million, while that of United Overseas Bank (UOB) is at S$166 million, according to the CIMB note.

DBS and UOB declined to comment as they are in a "blackout" period pending the release of their quarterly earnings next week.

Koh Ching Ching, OCBC's head of group corporate communications, reiterated that while problem in the bank's oil and gas portfolio has not broadened, it has deepened.

"We have been stress testing this sector since the third quarter of 2015, and in the process identified a list of customers that could be negatively impacted… We are however unable to share details of specific customer loans because of banking secrecy restrictions," she said.

A pickup in oil prices above US$50 a barrel in the past two months as major producers led by OPEC move to curb production from levels as weak as US$26 last February have so far failed to help the hard-hit offshore marine industry in Singapore, the Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday.

Keppel, one of the largest oil-rig builders in the world, announced that it would close three of its nine yards in January.

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