September 20, 2019 / 6:51 AM / 24 days ago

Britain's Thomas Cook scrambles for $250 million to avert collapse

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Thomas Cook (TCG.L) needs to find an extra 200 million pounds ($251 million) to satisfy its lenders or one of the world’s oldest holiday company risks collapse, potentially stranding thousands of holidaymakers across Europe.

Demand for an extra funding facility puts that deal at risk, as well as the jobs of Thomas Cook’s 21,000 employees and the holidays of 600,000 customers, mostly from Germany, Britain and Scandinavia.

Thomas Cook said the recapitalization posed “a significant risk of no recovery” for the diluted shareholders. Shares in the company hit a record low of 3.22 pence following its statement. The stock was down 15% at 0733 GMT.

Lenders are demanding another 200 million pounds in underwritten funds to support Thomas Cook in its winter trading period, when its cash is usually at a low ebb.

“Discussions to agree final terms on the recapitalization and reorganization of the company are continuing between the company and a range of stakeholders,” Thomas Cook said.

“These discussions include a recent request for a seasonal standby facility of 200 million pounds, on top of the previously announced 900 million pounds injection of new capital.”

Thomas Cook has struggled with competition in popular destinations, high debt levels and an unusually hot summer in 2018 which reduced last-minute bookings. The firm has 1.7 billion pounds of debt.

A source close to the discussions said on Thursday that Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) (RBS.L) had hit Thomas Cook with a last minute demand for the extra funding, adding that the situation “was becoming more critical”.

A spokesman for RBS said the bank did not “recognize this characterization of events” and was working with all parties to “try and find a resolution to the funding and liquidity shortfall at Thomas Cook”.

Under original terms of the plan, Fosun - whose Chinese parent owns all-inclusive holiday firm Club Med - would contribute 450 million pounds ($552 million) of new money in return for at least 75% of the tour operator business and 25% of the group’s airline.

Thomas Cook’s lending banks and bondholders were to stump up a further 450 million pounds and convert their existing debt to equity, giving them in total about 75% of the airline and up to 25% in the tour operator business, the group said.

(Graphic: Thomas Cook shares, here)

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If that deal is not finalised before a creditor vote on Sept. 27, then holidaymakers could be facing the second major collapse of a tour operator in as many years, after the failure of Monarch in 2017.

When Monarch collapsed, the British government repatriated all customers abroad, both those with package holiday protection from Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) and flight-only passengers who were not protected.

If Britain does the same for Thomas Cook’s customers, then the 160,000 Britons abroad that would need repatriation would eclipse the number brought home after Monarch’s collapse.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport declined to say if there were plans for a similar repatriation effort. Asked about Thomas Cook, he said: “We do not speculate on the financial situation of individual businesses.”

British pilot union BALPA, whose members have previously gone on strike in a disagreement over pay with Thomas Cook’s management, have supported the restructuring and urged the banks and government to support the travel group.

FILE PHOTO: The Thomas Cook logo is seen in this illustration photo January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas White

“The government sat on the sidelines wringing its hands when Monarch Airlines was let down by its financiers, this time government needs to get a grip and do its bit to save Thomas Cook,” General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement.

(Graphic: Thomas Cook CDS, here)

Reporting by Alistair Smout; Graphics by Josephine Mason; Editing by Alexander Smith and Edmund Blair

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