Oops, the rot runs even deeper than Muddy Waters could have imagined.
This wildly turbulent year just produced its first Enron-like scandal. At the rotten heart of it is NMC Health, a FTSE 100 company that has health-care operations in 19 countries and is based in the United Arab Emirates. Last Thursday, the company’s shares were suspended after an internal review uncovered a morass of dodgy accounting and fiduciary shenanigans. Now it was revealed that those shenanigans had helped to conceal at least $2.7 billion of undisclosed debt.
The discovery more than doubles the size of NMC’s debt mountain to around $5 billion, up from around $2.1 billion last June. The proceeds from much of that debt were used for “unauthorized purposes,” the company now admits, although it’s not yet clear what those purposes were. NMC also apparently has no cash on hand to service that debt and is currently receiving support from Daman Insurance, a health insurance company that is 80%-owned by Abu Dhabi’s government and the rest by Munich Re, to pay overdue bills to suppliers.
For some time, NMC’s cash flow was supplemented by reverse factoring deals. Reverse factoring is a form of financial engineering, an arrangement with a lender that turns the company’s trade accounts payable into debt that is owed to a financial institution. But since that debt does not have to be disclosed as debt, the company appears to have less debt than it actually has. Once these shenanigans are discovered, as just happened to NMC as well as to UK outsourcing giant Carillion and Spanish green energy behemoth Abengoa before it, the cash can quickly run dry.
NMC is reportedly two weeks behind in paying February salaries to its staff. Now, banks are wary about lending the company fresh funds. Earlier this month, it even asked lenders for a temporary standstill on its existing facilities.
There had been hopes that NMC might be bought out before things got this serious but those hopes were dashed damning findings of the internal review published last month. One of the two companies that were reportedly mulling a takeover bid, GKSD, has pulled out, while the other, KKR, denies even discussing the matter.
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