Greensill, Gupta and the Fragile Tower of Money and Metal
Greensill, Gupta and the Fragile Tower of Money and Metal
(Bloomberg) -- Lex Greensill’s business has unraveled at a blistering pace, leaving a tangled trail of destruction all around it.
On Monday, Greensill Capital filed for administration in the U.K., capping a stunning collapse for its founder. The bank that he owns in Germany has been shut down by regulators, the funds he ran in partnership with Credit Suisse are being liquidated and his firm is in the process of being broken up with its core perhaps sold to Apollo-backed Athene Holding Ltd.
Greensill himself has lost his billionaire status, and the myriad strands tangled up in the collapse involve everything from investment funds to the steel industry to Britain’s healthcare system.
Here’s a rundown of the key figures, what happened, and what could be next:
Lex Greensill: The financier’s rise took him from his family’s farm in Queensland, Australia through to Wall Street banks, and then to founding his own firm. It provides supply-chain finance to firms, accelerating payments to suppliers in return for a fee. It had planned a fund raising last year that would have valued it at $7 billion.
- Read more about Lex Greensill here
Sanjeev Gupta: A former commodities trader sometimes dubbed the “Man of Steel,” Gupta heads GFG Alliance. Much of the business, which spans steel, aluminum and renewable energy, was built at a breakneck pace that saw him spend about $6 billion over a five-year period buying and revamping unloved metal assets. Greensill was by far his largest financial backer and the collapse at the lender leaves him in search of new funding.
Credit Suisse Group AG: The Swiss lender ran a $10-billion suite of funds that bought securitized loans from Greensill. It’s winding down the funds and returning money to clients. Swiss asset manager GAM Holding AG also decided to shutter a Greensill-linked fund. At Credit Suisse, the ties additionally include $140 million in bridge loans it extended to Greensill last year.
SoftBank Group Corp.: The Japanese financial institution’s Vision Fund, a mammoth investor in tech startups, put $1.5 billion into Greensill in 2019. It’s now written down the valuation and is considering dropping it close to zero, according to people familiar with the matter.
The crisis began at Bond & Credit Company, the Sydney unit of insurance giant Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. last summer. It decided not to extend policies covering the loans Greensill made, and has fired a manager who had a key role in signing off on that business. Compounding Greensill’s problems, around the same time, the German regulator BaFin started a probe into his fast-growing bank in Bremen.
BaFin was concerned that too many of the assets of Greensill Bank were tied to the same source: Gupta. The investigation found irregularities, including that the bank had booked claims for transactions by Gupta that hadn’t yet occurred but which were accounted for as if they had. During this slow buildup of pressure, in late 2020 Softbank wrote down its investment in Greensill, though this only came to light in recent weeks.
The situation accelerated in February, when pressure from BaFin saw Greensill seek out potential buyers for its exposure to Gupta. It started talks with Athene and Apollo Global Management Inc. to sell some assets, but deteriorating situation had put Greensill’s backers and investors on alert.
In Australia, Greensill lost a legal fight to get Bond and Credit Company to extend insurance that lapsed on March 1. Without that coverage, credit quality was questioned, asset valuations became tougher, and Credit Suisse froze the Greensill-linked funds, citing “considerable uncertainty.” GAM followed suit, and on March 3, the German financial regulator shut Greensill Bank to save money for depositors and creditors.
Greensill executives desperately tried to save the company as insolvency loomed. But there was no denying the panic as multiple directors jumped ship and left the company, including Lex Greensill’s brother.
There’s also been a real-world fallout. In the U.K., the National Health Service has had to pay pharmacies directly rather than rely on Greensill Capital, putting further strain on its pandemic-hit finances. German municipalities that parked funds at Greensill Bank are now at risk of losing their money.
For Gupta, it appears Greensill may take GFG down with it. Court documents show GFG warning that if it lost Greensill financing, then it “would collapse into insolvency.’’ Spain’s government has already asked a division of GFG to prove it’s solvent before being allowed to push ahead with a takeover of an aluminum plant, according to people familiar with the matter. Athene, which is in talks to buy assets tied to Greensill, has reportedly excluded Gupta-linked assets from discussions.
The situation is fraying multiple parts of Gupta’s empire. The Bank of England has ordered Gupta to inject 75 million pounds into Wyelands Bank, owned by GFG, to return retail deposits.
The Next Steps
Greensill: Talks continue with Athene after the insolvency filing, with the Bermuda-based annuity seller offering about $60 million for Greensill’s IT and intellectual property, court documents show. Greensill will still have to deal with the fallout from BaFin's criminal complaint.
Gupta: Greensill’s fall from grace cuts off a key source of finance for the array of businesses that make up his empire. Without fresh cash, that could spell trouble for GFG Alliance and the 35,000 people it employs across 30 countries. Gupta’s operations churned out 5 million tons of steel in 2019 and have the capacity to make more than 300,000 tons of aluminum per year. GFG is in talks to negotiate a reprieve on its debt obligations to Greensill, which would help the group stave off insolvency and avoid an asset fire sale.
Credit Suisse: The episode is another black eye for the Swiss bank's risk policies and one more blow for an asset management unit that was already under scrutiny. Now, funds that the bank was touting as a success story as recently as December are set for a long winddown. Investors will get some cash right away, but face a long wait to see how much their assets were really worth.
SoftBank: The investing giant can mark this down as a bet that didn't work out. Now, it will turn its attention to ensuring other startups it backs that got financing from Greensill can find ways to replace that funding.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.