Barclays exposed to Iridium collapse

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The Independent Online
BARCLAYS BANK is understood to be the most heavily exposed of British banks to the collapse of Iridium, the satellite telephone venture which filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US at the weekend.

Barclays,through Barclays Capital, Barclays debt markets arm, is believed to be one of the bondholders which precipitated the move when they filed their own bankruptcy petition in New York late last week after Iridium failed to meet interest payments on some of the $1.5bn of bank loans it owed.

Barclays was also joint lead manager with Chase of an $800m syndicated loan which was one of Iridium's main sources of credit. Barclays officials refused to comment on its Iridium exposure.

But financ ial experts familiar with the situation insisted that the amount on Barclays own books would have been a fraction of the total, although they were unable to give a precise figure.

The group behind the bankruptcy petition claim to speak for 25 per cent of the outstanding bonds. Bondholders are believed to be owed a further $3bn.

The petition was filed after earlier attempts to raise $600m from existing creditors failed last week.

Shares in Iridium which are quoted on the Nasdaq stock market in the US remain suspended pending the outcome of talks on restructuring its debt. Motorola, the American electronics giant, holds 18 per cent of the company.

The company floated in June 1997 at $20 a share. The stock rose to a high of $71 before crashing to earth. They touched a low of $2 3/4 before trade was suspended last week.

The value of Iridium bonds which had already fallen sharply as Iridium's financial difficulties became more widely known dropped 30 per cent on Friday alone.

Motorola said last week it is confident of being able to put together a viable restructuring plan within the 30 days set aside for the purpose by US bankruptcy laws, although others familiar with the situation are less optimistic. Analysts say the bankruptcy filing should have no impact on Motorola's 2000 earnings estimates.

A $90m interest payment was to have fallen due just hours after the company sought voluntary protection in Delaware from its creditors on Friday.

Bondholders include many large American insurance companies, pension funds and mutual fund companies as well as traditional holders of high- yielding bonds.

Iridium had struggled to sign up subscribers for its pricey service and fell well short of revenue projections.