No. 2 U.S. Coal Miner Sparks Bankruptcy Fears

Arch Coal may have to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy unless bondholders approve a debt swap.
Matthew HellerSeptember 23, 2015
No. 2 U.S. Coal Miner Sparks Bankruptcy Fears

Debt-laden Arch Coal may be edging closer to joining smaller coal producers in bankruptcy amid an industry-wide downturn caused by sinking prices.

The second-largest U.S. coal miner has $5.1 billion in debt, far outstripping a $74 million stock market value. Wednesday was the deadline for creditors to approve a debt swap deal on which Arch Coal’s future may hinge.

Some creditors, Reuters reports, have been pushing for a bankruptcy while the company still has cash to pay them, but others favor giving it time to ride out the downturn. Last week, junior creditors filed a lawsuit asking a court to keep other bondholders from blocking the debt swap deal.

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Ahead of the deadline, Arch Coal stock fell 12% on Tuesday as investors worry that failure to seal the deal could result in a chapter 11 filing. On Wednesday, the stock dropped another 12% to $2.76.

“A successful debt swap for Arch could add to the liquidity runway, deleverage the balance sheet and motivate management to keep the company alive,” Amer Tiwana, senior analyst at CRT Capital, told Reuters. “But barring some sort of miracle in the coal market, liquidity is still stretched,” he added.

The fall in coal prices has caused mining companies including Walter Energy, Alpha Natural Resource and Patriot Coal Corp. to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Prices have been sinking as energy companies seek cheaper and cleaner generation sources.

Arch Coal, with 5,500 employees in nine states, has been saddled with debt since it acquired International Coal Group for $3.4 billion during a coal price peak in 2011. Its debt-to-EBITDA ratio reached an alarming 18 times in 2014, Reuters noted, though it has since come down slightly.

The company has suspended dividend payments and proposed swapping existing debt for longer-term securities to boost liquidity before $1.9 billion in loans mature in 2018.

“Absent [the debt exchange], it is a near certainty that the company will file for bankruptcy,” the junior bondholders said in court papers.