Sasol’s record plunge boosts speculation of a rights issue
JOHANNESBURG - Sasol Ltd.’s record share plunge on Monday, coming as the oil price slumped and just days after the company credit rating was cut to junk by Moody’s Investors Service, is raising concern among investors that it may need to hold a rights offer as it struggles with a debt burden of about $8 billion.
The fuel and chemicals producer, South Africa’s biggest company by sales, delayed an investor call scheduled for Tuesday until March 17, noting that its oil-price exposure for the rest of the fiscal year is not hedged. While the company had assumed oil will stay in a range of $50 to $70 a barrel, Brent crude fell as low as $31 on Monday. Its stock plunged 47% by the close in Johannesburg, giving it a market value of 53 billion rand ($3.3 billion).
“If oil prices stay close to current market levels for a long period of time, Sasol may have to consider a rights issue to fund cash shortfalls,” said Asief Mohamed, founder and chief investment officer at Aeon Investment Management in Cape Town, which holds stock in the company.
Sasol’s plan to expand its business abroad with the Lake Charles Chemicals Project in Louisiana has turned sentiment against the company, with costs for the facility surging about 50% to almost $13 billion. The company has also disclosed mismanagement in the way the operation was run, leading to the departure of its co-chief executive officers in October.
“We will continue to keep all of our options under regular review in these challenging market conditions,” said Sasol spokesman Alex Anderson when asked if there would be a rights offer.
The company’s borrowing costs have surged. The yield on $750 million of notes due 2028 climbed for a fifth day on Tuesday to a record high 6.71%. The company’s net debt was 125.2 billion rand as of June 30, more than twice the level two years earlier.
“For Sasol the oil-price collapse means that their already fragile balance sheet will come under even more pressure,” said Michele Santangelo, a money manager at Independent Securities in Johannesburg. “The longer the oil price stays suppressed the more pressure Sasol will have to review and restructure their operations.”
Rescheduling the conference call “allows more time to assess the impact of these latest developments on the market and Sasol in particular,” the company said Monday in a statement. “Balance-sheet protection remains a key priority.”
Sasol’s biggest shareholders are linked to the government. As of June 30 last year, the Government Employees Pension Fund, which holds the retirement funds of South African civil servants, owned 13.1% of Sasol’s stock and the Industrial Development Corp., a state lender, owned 8.2%, according to a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Sasol’s coal-to-fuel plants account for about 40% of South Africa’s motor-fuel consumption, lessening the need to import crude, and it employs about 31,000 people.
Troubled companies often use rights offers to pay down debt.
The covenant on Sasol’s loans for June 2020 is a ratio of 3.5 times earnings before interest, tax and depreciation to net debt, meaning that if it reaches that level it would have to pay the debt immediately or come to an agreement with the banks that lent it money. Its ratio as of November was 2.9 times Ebitda compared with net debt. The company had earlier renegotiated its covenant to a ratio of 3 from 2.5.