Tiphook rescue under threat: German bank warns it may break ranks

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The Independent Online
ONE OF THE bank lenders to Tiphook, the troubled container leasing operation, is threatening to break ranks in a move that could force the group into receivership.

Directors at Tiphook believe they have successfully averted a crisis. However, smaller bank lenders to Tiphook insist they have been poorly treated in the delicate negotiations to refinance the group.

Tiphook and its lead lenders were given an ultimatum last week by Hypo Bank, a German bank with a small exposure to one of the group's leasing subsidiaries. The implied threat was that if matters were not resolved by Monday, Hypo would demand that the loan either be repaid or that other lenders buy it out.

Hypo Bank was eventually persuaded to withdraw the ultimatum, but the situation is still described as 'extremely delicate' by one banking source.

It has also emerged that Tiphook is being forced to cut the pounds 830m sale price of its container division after completion of due diligence procedures by the purchaser, Transamerica.

Tiphook and its advisers, National Westminster Bank and Morgan Grenfell, have promised Hypo Bank further meetings over the next week in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

A Tiphook spokesman said on Friday that no bank had given the company notice of intention to demand repayment.

Hypo Bank is believed to be concerned about its priority as a creditor and whether it is receiving as much information about Tiphook as banks with larger exposures.

NatWest, lead bank to Tiphook, insisted that no bank lenders to Tiphook had broken ranks nor did it believe they would do so.

Hypo Bank's exposure to Tiphook relates to loans outstanding to its subsidiary, TFS Leasing. The bank has instructed Norton Rose, a firm of City solicitors, to act for it in negotiations with the company.

One banking source said Hypo Bank was angry that information about Tiphook contained in a report by the accountancy firm, Coopers & Lybrand, had not been distributed to smaller bank lenders. Letters of complaint from the German bank have been sent to NatWest.

A spokesman for Tiphook said Hypo Bank may not have realised that the Coopers report had been prepared specifically for the banks that had put up additional bridging finance for the company.

Last week, Tiphook held a number of one-to-one meetings with banks that are putting up new money to help it meet financing needs.

Tiphook, with debts of more than pounds 1bn, is confident that it can survive the latest difficulty.

The company and its primary lenders insist that no bank can be singled out for priority treatment. It is common in complex refinancings of the Tiphook type for smaller lenders to attempt to get those with bigger exposures to buy them out by threatening receivership.

Concern among lenders over the company's future should lessen after Tiphook's planned sale of its container division to the American transport giant, Transamerica, for a hoped-for price of pounds 830m goes through.

Agreement in principle was announced three weeks ago, but the deal is conditional on an adequate due diligence, which is being carried out by Transamerica's advisers, Goldman Sachs.

A Tiphook spokesman said that the due diligence had now been completed and that a circular giving details of the transaction, and the company's delayed results, would be sent to shareholders in January.

The spokesman said that Transamerica remained committed to the transaction but that after the due diligence it had negotiated the price it is paying down 'marginally, but not significantly'.

Ten days ago, the company announced that its results would be delayed because of negotiations over the sale of the division.

In its statement, it referred to the recessionary conditions being witnessed in some of its main markets.

A small consolation is that the company is being viewed as a beneficiary of last week's Gatt agreement.