ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi-based conglomerate Al Jaber Group has signed a debt restructuring deal with its bank creditors, the conglomerate said on Monday, addressing one of the United Arab Emirates' last big debt hangovers from the global financial crisis.
Al Jaber, a family-owned group with operations in aviation, construction and retailing, had been in talks with bank creditors to renegotiate its obligations since 2011.
Like many family-owned groups in the Gulf, Al Jaber looked to expand beyond its core business - in Al Jaber's case, construction - during the boom years of the mid-2000s.
But it was dragged down by a poor performance in the new business, the weight of debt raised to achieve the expansion, and a slowdown in the local construction sector.
No figure for the amount of debt renegotiated was given in Monday's statement, but bankers had previously said it was in the region of $4.5 billion.
"This is a great milestone for both the group and the banks," Obaid Khaleefa Al Jaber Al Marri, chairman of Al Jaber Group, said in the statement.
Al Jaber joins other UAE firms which have sealed debt restructuring deals worth billions of dollars, including Dubai World, property developer Nakheel and Dubai Group.
Still outstanding is a restructuring for real estate finance firm Amlak, which is renegotiating around $1.9 billion of debt but now has a tentative agreement with its creditor committee, a member of the committee said last month.
Its shares have been suspended since late 2008.
Al Jaber's creditor committee is chaired by National Bank of Abu Dhabi and includes Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, HSBC, RBS and Union National Bank.
Negotiations between Al Jaber and its banks were complicated by the lack of tried and tested bankruptcy law in the UAE.
The need to have 100 percent agreement on the final deal before it could be signed meant all lenders' issues had to be accommodated, which dragged out the process.
Despite agreeing on a five-year plan to repay obligations in March 2013 with the creditor committee, some banks - including Citigroup and International Bank of Qatar - initially refused to sign up.
Citi sold its debt to Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, sources told Reuters earlier this year, while International Bank of Qatar and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp have now also been bought out by local banks, two banking sources said, declining to give details.
Given the length of time taken to secure a deal, attention now turns to whether the firm's main construction business can regain lost ground in its main Abu Dhabi market.
"Throughout the negotiations period, Al Jaber Group has continued to successfully operate, winning significant new business in the UAE, the region and Asia," Marri said.
However, backed by state-linked Aabar Investments, Dubai-based Arabtec has been making inroads into the UAE capital - in February, for example, Arabtec signed an agreement to build 37 mixed-use, residential and hotel towers for Aabar in Abu Dhabi and Dubai worth $6.1 billion.
"Now that the debt restructuring is done, the group has to compete in the market for deals. A lot will depend on how much support it would get from the Abu Dhabi government in terms of contracts," said one local banker involved in the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity. (Reuters)