(Bloomberg) — Pressure is again mounting on embattled Swedish landlord SBB after its second largest shareholder quit the board and a US hedge fund raised serious concerns about the conduct of its directors.
New York-based Fir Tree Partners said the board at Samhallsbyggnadsbolaget i Norden AB — as the firm is officially known — may be held criminally and civilly liable if they don’t act in accordance with their duties, according to a private letter sent to the landlord on Nov. 20 and seen by Bloomberg News. SBB and Fir Tree declined to comment on the letter.
Fir Tree holds about €46 million ($49.6 million) of the landlord’s notes — representing 1% of the overall bond stock, SBB said — and last month demanded its money back based on an alleged breach of debt terms. SBB responded by saying the claim is groundless, and it remains to be seen if the two parties will end up in court.
Adding to SBB’s woes has been the departure of two board members in as many days. Shareholder Fredrik Svensson resigned from the board of directors on Thursday citing “time constraints,” a day after another board member resigned for health reasons.
The latest departures follow a clear-out of top management at SBB since Chief Executive Officer Leiv Synnes took the reins in June. Since then the company has appointed a new finance director, head of accounting and legal counsel. The changes have however failed to address a slide in the company’s bond and share prices, which continue to languish near record lows.
Standard & Poor’s last month warned SBB’s junk credit rating of CCC+ could be downgraded if the company cannot cover maturing debt of about 20 billion Swedish kronor ($1.9 billion) in 2024 and 2025. In an attempt to address those challenges the landlord is planning to split itself into three units and recently ceded control of a portfolio of school buildings to a Canadian investor, the cash from which helped it repay a chunk of bonds maturing next year.
In the November letter, Fir Tree said SBB’s directors could be liable for actions including favoring one creditor to the disadvantage of another, approving the sale of assets below fair market value, or undertaking operations that use significant resources without a corresponding benefit.
The US hedge fund also threatened to take further action if SBB’s directors failed to minimize losses toward all creditors and it urged management to make creditors’ interests the principal consideration in future decision-making.
–With assistance from Anton Wilen.
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