Heron in early debt repayment to banks

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HERON Corporation, which was rescued by its banks in September, has completed the repayment of pounds 150m of debt four months early.

It said yesterday it had been able to beat the business plan agreed with its bankers by using the proceeds from sales of investment and other properties in the UK.

The good news for the bankers came despite a warning in September - at the time of the pounds 1.4bn refinancing - that conditions in some of the company's markets had continued to deteriorate.

The property market had improved in the UK, but Spain, France and Germany continued to be a problem.

The company said then that 'as a result, the risk of not meeting both the short and long-term obligations has increased'. Some improvement in the markets would be required to meet longer-term senior debt repayments.

Heron's 82 banks, which took 18 months to negotiate the rescue deal, have 43 per cent of the equity, and bondholders have 52 per cent.

One of the main issues in the long-running argument between banks and bondholders over the restructuring was whether the company would be able to sell its property interests by March 1997.

Banks have first claim on some of the proceeds, and some bondholders remain sceptical about the chances of repayment of the longer-term debt.

The next instalment of bank debt of pounds 160m is due in March.