May 10, 2019
In what ought to come as a surprise to absolutely no one, Cloud Peak Energy Inc. ($CLD) and a slate of affiliates FINALLY filed for bankruptcy.
Let’s take a moment of silence for coal country, shall we? If this is what MAGA looks like, we’d hate to see what happens when a global downturn eventually hits. There’s gonna be blood in the water.
Sounds like hyperbole? Note that since 2016, there have been a slate of coal-related bankruptcies, i.e., Westmoreland Coal Company, Mission Coal Company LLC, and now Cloud Peak Energy Inc. Blackhawk Mining LLC appears to be waiting in the wings. We suppose it could be worse: we could be talking about oil and gas country (and we will be, we certainly will be…and SOON.).
Cloud Peak is an impressive company. Since its formation in 2008, it has become one of the largest (subbituminous thermal coal) coal producers in the US — supplying enough coal to satisfy approximately 2% of the US’ electricity demand. Its three surface mines are located in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana; it sold approximately 50mm tons of coal in 2018 to 46 domestic and foreign end users.*
In the scheme of things, Cloud Peak’s balance sheet isn’t overly complicated. We’re not talking about billions of dollars of debt here like we saw with Walter Energy, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal or Alpha Natural Resources. So, not all coal companies and coal company bankruptcies are created equal. Nevertheless, the company does have $290.4mm of ‘21 12% secured notes (Wilmington Trust NA) and $56.4mm of ‘24 6.375% unsecured notes (Wilmington Trust NA as successor trustee to Wells Fargo Bank NA) to contend with for a total of $346.8mm in funded debt liability. The company is also party to a securitization facility. And, finally, the company also has reclamation obligations related to their mines and therefore has $395mm in third-party surety bonds outstanding with various insurance companies, backed by $25.7mm in letters of credit. Coal mining is a messy business, homies.
So why bankruptcy? Why now? Per the company:
The Company’s chapter 11 filing, however, was precipitated by (i) general distress affecting the domestic U.S. thermal coal industry that produced a sustained low price environment that could not support profit margins to allow the Company to satisfy its funded debt obligations; (ii) export market price volatility that caused decreased demand from the Company’s customers in Asia; (iii) particularly challenging weather conditions in the second quarter of 2018 that caused spoil failure and significant delays in coal production through the remainder of 2018 and into 2019, which reduced cash inflows from coal sales and limited credit availability; and (iv) recent flooding in the Midwestern United States that has significantly disrupted rail service, further reducing coal sales.
To summarize, price compression caused by natural gas. Too much regulation (which, in turn, favors natural gas over coal). Too much debt. And, dare we say, global warming?!? Challenging weather and flooding must be really perplexing in coal country where global warming isn’t exactly embraced with open arms.
Now, we may be hopping to conclusions here but, these bits are telling — and are we say, mildly ironic in a tragic sort of way:
In addition to headwinds facing thermal coal producers and export market volatility, the Company’s mines suffered from unusually heavy rains affecting Wyoming and Montana in the second quarter of 2018. For perspective, the 10-year average combined rainfall for May, June, and July at the Company’s Antelope Mine is 6.79 inches. In 2018, it rained 10.2 inches during that period. While certain operational procedures put in place following heavy flooding in 2014 functioned effectively to mitigate equipment damage, the 2018 rains interrupted the Company’s mining operations considerably.
It gets worse.
The problem with rain is that the moisture therefrom causes “spoil.” Per the company:
Spoil is the term used for overburden and other waste rock removed during coal mining. The instability in the dragline pits caused wet spoil to slide into the pits that had to be removed by dragline and/or truck-shovel methods before the coal could be mined. This caused significant delays and diverted truck-shovel capacity from preliminary stripping work, which caused additional production delays at the Antelope Mine. The delays resulting from the spoil failure at the Antelope Mine caused the Company to have reduced shipments, increased costs, and delayed truck-shovel stripping in 2018. Consequently, the reduced cash inflows from coal sales limited the Company’s credit availability under the financial covenants in the Amended Credit Agreement prior to its termination, and limited access to any new forms of capital.
But, wait. There’s more:
Additionally, the severe weather affecting the Midwest region of the United States in mid-March 2019 caused, among other things, extensive flooding that damaged rail lines. One of Cloud Peak’s primary suppliers of rail transportation services – BNSF – was negatively impacted by the flooding and has been unable to provide sufficient rail transportation services to satisfy the Company’s targeted coal shipments. As of the Petition Date, BNSF’s trains have resumed operations, but are operating on a less frequent schedule because of repairs being made to rail lines damaged by the extensive flooding. As a result, the Company’s coal shipments have been materially impacted, with cash flows significantly reduced through mid-June 2019.
More about Moore here: the tweet, as you might expect, doesn’t tell the full story.
The company has been burning a bit over $7mm of liquidity a month since September 2018. Accordingly, it sought strategic alternatives but was unable to find anything viable that would clear its cap stack. We gather there isn’t a whole lot of bullishness around coal mines these days.
To buy itself some time, therefore, the company engaged in a series of exchange transactions dating back to 2016. This enabled it to extinguish certain debt maturing in 2019. And thank G-d for the public markets: were it not for a February 2017 equity offering where some idiot public investors hopped in to effectively transfer their money straight into noteholder pockets, this thing probably would have filed for bankruptcy sooner. That equity offering — coupled with a preceding exchange offer — bought the company some runway to continue to explore strategic alternatives. The company engaged J.P. Morgan Securities LLC to find a partner but nothing was actionable. Ah….coal.
Thereafter, the company hired a slate of restructuring professionals to help prepare it for the inevitable. Centerview Partners took over for J.P. Morgan Securities LLC but, to date, has had no additional luck. The company filed for bankruptcy without any prospective buyers lined up.
Alas, the company filed for bankruptcy with a “sale and plan support agreement” or “SAPSA.” While this may sound like a venereal disease, what it really means is that the company has an agreement with a significant percentage of both its secured and unsecured noteholders to dual track a sale and plan process. If they can sell the debtors’ assets via a string of 363 sales, great. If they have to do a more fulsome transaction by way of a plan, sure, that also works. These consenting noteholders also settled some other disputes and support the proposed $35mm DIP financing
*Foreign customers purchased approximately 9% of ‘18 coal production.
Jurisdiction: D. of Delaware (Judge Gross)
Capital Structure: $290mm 12% ‘21 secured debt (Wilmington Trust NA), $56.4mm unsecured debt (BOKF NA)
Legal: Vinson & Elkins LLP (Paul Heath, David Meyer, Jessica Peet, Lauren Kanzer, Matthew Moran, Steven Zundell, Andrew Geppert, Matthew Pyeatt, Matthew Struble, Jeremy Reichman) & (local) Richards Layton & Finger PA (Daniel DeFranceschi, John Knight)
Financial Advisor: FTI Consulting Inc. (Alan Boyko)
Investment Banker: Centerview Partners (Marc Puntus, Ryan Kielty, Johannes Preis)
Claims Agent: Prime Clerk LLC (*click on the link above for free docket access)
Other Parties in Interest:
Major shareholders: Renaissance Technologies LLC, The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, Kopernik Global Advisors, Blackrock Inc.
DIP Agent: Ankura Trust Company LLC
Legal: Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP (Damian Schaible, Aryeh Ethan Falk, Christopher Robertson) & (local) Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell LLP (Robert Dehney, Curtis Miller, Paige Topper)
Financial Advisor: Houlihan Lokey
Prepetition Secured Noteholder Group (Allianz Global Investors US LLC, Arena Capital Advisors LLC, Grace Brothers LP, Nomura Corporate Research and Asset Management Inc. Nuveen Alternatives Advisors LLC, Wexford Capital LP, Wolverine Asset Management LLC)
Indenture Trustee: BOKF NA
Legal: Arent Fox LLP (Andrew Silfen, Jordana Renert) & (local) Womble Bond Dickinson US LLP (Matthew Ward)
Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (BOKF NA, Nelson Brothers Mining Services LLC, Wyoming Machinery Company, Cummins Inc., ESCO Group LLC, Tractor & Equipment Co., Kennebec Global)
Legal: Morrison & Foerster LLP (Lorenzo Marinuzzi, Jennifer Marines, Todd Goren, Daniel Harris, Mark Lightner) & Morris James LLP (Carl Kunz III, Brya Keilson, Eric Monzo)
Investment Banker: Jefferies LLC (Leon Szlezinger)
Update: 7/7/19 #379