Buyers rush in as banks sell MCC debt

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The Independent Online
ARBITRAGEURS, including funds controlled by the New York financier George Soros and Texan billionaire Robert Bass, have bought pounds 500m worth of the bank debt of Maxwell Communication Corporation.

Nearly a third of the banks which lent to the former flagship of Robert Maxwell's empire have sold their debt in the growing market for distressed company loans. At least a quarter of the pounds 1.6bn of Maxwell debt has now changed hands.

The arbitrageurs' interest has pushed up the price of MCC debt from around 28p in the pound last autumn to 42 1/2 p last Friday. First National Bank of Chicago auctioned dollars 60m ( pounds 39m) of MCC debt last week and found 12 bidders.

The scale of the debt sales by banks was described as unprecedented in British insolvencies by Mark Homan, who leads the Price Waterhouse administrators at MCC.

Among the banks believed to have sold their MCC debt are Union Bank of Switzerland, Toronto Dominion Bank, WestPac, Credit Agricole, Bank of New York and Istituto Bancario San Paolo do Torino.

Mr Homan said he thought the banks had sold because 'they feel their business is lending money and they do not want to spend management time dealing with problem loans'.

The buyers include Mr Bass's Arcadia, Mr Soros's Quantum Fund, Fidelity and Mutual Shares, all of which run specialist debt funds.

Other companies whose debt has been traded with some regularity include Eurotunnel, Magnet and WPP. One bank recently swapped its Eurotunnel debt for Bulgarian promissory notes.

Financiers are concerned that the development of the market may affect the ability of troubled companies to agree refinancings, as arbitrageurs will not feel bound by the London rules which govern how banks behave in these circumstances.