Deal to cut Israel shipper Zim's debt expected this week
JERUSALEM Jan 21 (Reuters) - A deal that would cut Israeli shipping company Zim's debt by at least half will likely be signed by the end of this week, two sources close to the negotiations said on Tuesday.
An agreement to sharply reduce Zim's $3 billion debt has been approved by most of the company's debtholders but still needs a few more signatures, one source told Reuters.
Zim, the world's 17th largest shipping firm, has been hit hard by a faltering global economy in recent years and little improvement is expected in the near term. Still, it was able to cut its debt from $7.5 billion in 2009.
Following the latest restructuring and write-off, Zim's debt will fall to $1-$1.5 billion. That debt will be cancelled and replaced with new debt.
Zim "will have a very healthy balance sheet post-restructuring," the source said. "Banks and debtors have approved the plan and ... the new balance sheet is adjusted to the abilities of the company to be able to pay the debt."
As part of the deal, conglomerate Israel Corp would inject another $200 million into the company but see its stake in Zim drop to about 32 percent from 99.7 percent.
The rest will be spread out among Zim's creditors - bondholders, shipyards and banks.
Zim declined to comment and Israel Corp was not immediately available for comment.
Israel Corp may keep control of Zim since it will remain the largest single shareholder. Israel Corp's controlling shareholder is billionaire Idan Ofer, whose family made its fortune in the shipping industry.
Zim's business plan, the source said, was based on current freight rates which are not expected to increase for now. Zim is continuing an efficiency drive - including possible layoffs in Israel - to lower costs.
"It's really a new company, a healthy company that will be able to compete in a competitive environment," the source said.
Zim lost $44 million in the third quarter and warned about its ability to continue as a "going concern" in third-quarter results. Last month the Israeli unit of Standard & Poor's cut its rating for Zim to "CC" from "CCC", citing a likelihood of a debt restructuring in the near term. (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Mark Potter)
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