European investors play hardball on risky leveraged loans

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Investors in Europe’s leveraged loan market are taking an increasingly hardline approach towards more tricky credits amid volatile macro conditions and a bulging pipeline of new deals. Loans have been getting progressively more aggressive throughout 2015 as borrowers have pushed leverage levels, pricing and structures amid a lack of deals and a number of repayments that left cash-rich investors and warehousing CLOs desperate to deploy capital. While investors have tried to maintain a certain level of discipline throughout the year, this has stepped up in light of a growing nervousness about Greece. With the pipeline of new deals building, investors are becoming more selective on which credits to invest in and on what terms. Repricing exercises for Spain’s Ufinet Telecom, formerly known as GNFT, and for Austrian packaging group Constantia Flexibles were pulled this week due to the current market conditions. Ufinet had been looking to amend its 295 million euro ($329.07 million) TLB that was agreed in July 2014 to back Cinven’s acquisition of Spanish utility Gas Natural’s telecoms affiliate Gas Natural Fenosa Telecomunicaciones. Barclays and UBS were bookrunners on the transaction, which the company was aiming to reprice to 425bp, representing a 50bp margin reduction across the grid – but it failed to gather enough support from investors.“Ufinet was punchy. The market is not as strong as it was, so the weaker deals are getting pushed back,” a senior leveraged loan banker said. Constantia Flexibles’ deal was guided at 300bp–325bp with a 75bp floor, down from existing pricing of 375bp with a 1 percent floor. Some investors wanted a 1 percent floor to remain in place and thought the margin proposed was too low.

They were the second and third deals to be pulled in the last two weeks after IK Investment Partners’ German industrial weighing specialist Schenck Process pulled a 605 million euro leveraged loan, halting plans to refinance existing debt and pay a dividend to its owners, after some investors deemed it too aggressive. SWEETENING THE DEAL Borrowers attracted to a cheaper, more flexible loan market in preference to the bond market have been making adjustments in order to make their loans more enticing to investors. A leveraged loan backing CVC’s buyout of German perfume and cosmetics retailer Douglas was increased by 420 million euros to 1.22 billion euros and the bonds were reduced by the same amount. Pricing was increased on the loan to 500bp from 450bp and a 1 percent floor was added to encourage investors to join the deal.

Although the book was covered on the 800 million euro loan at 450bp, pricing was increased in order to raise the extra amount.“A 50bp margin increase and a 1 percent floor on Douglas is a hell of an increase,” a second loan banker said. Investors and bankers will be watching closely to see whether other deals will clear the market on original terms or will need to be adjusted. All eyes will be on buyout loans for Motor Fuel Group and German-based wheelchair manufacturer Sunrise Medical, which have covenant-lite loans totaling around 300 million pounds ($472.05 million) and 315 million euro, respectively.

($1 = 0.8965 euros)($1 = 0.6355 pounds)