Thames Water Kemble Debt Talks In Limbo as UK Vote Called

(Bloomberg) -- Talks between Thames Water Ltd.’s parent company and its creditors are effectively frozen after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a general election, people with knowledge of the matter said.

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Creditors to Thames Water Kemble Finance Plc, the holding company for Britain’s largest water utility, had appointed Moelis & Co. and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to help manage debt talks with the company, but discussions cannot proceed without a business plan, the people said. That plan is now unlikely to come before the election, Bloomberg reported.

Directors of water regulator Ofwat are due to meet Thursday to make draft determinations on the next five-year price review, known as PR24, that will evaluate bill-hike proposals from water companies including Thames, Bloomberg reported. The firms say they need to raise prices for consumers in order to invest £100 billion ($127 billion) to tackle sewage spills, chronic leaks and the impacts of climate change by 2030. Thames had been asking for more favorable terms on the cost of raising equity and paying dividends

A representative for Moelis declined to comment. A representative for Freshfields didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ofwat had been planning to announce its draft decisions on June 12, but that is now expected to be delayed until after the July 4 election. Under election rules, government bodies aren’t allowed to make announcements that could create competition between candidates, and water investment has become a major political issue in the UK in recent years.

Ofwat’s delay could add pressure to the finances of the UK’s biggest water and sewage supplier, which is running down a £2.4 billion funding pile while it works to find new equity investors. If this runs out, the company will need to be taken into special administration by the government, a form of temporary nationalization.

Read more: Ofwat Expects to Postpone Thames Water Ruling to After Election

Moody’s Ratings said in a downgrade report Thursday that Kemble creditors aren’t likely to take any action until they have more clarity about Thames Water’s finances.

Thames Water and its parent company Kemble were thrown into crisis in March, after Ofwat officials privately indicated that Thames’s business plan proposals were unlikely to be accepted. At the end of March, Thames shareholders declared the business plan “uninvestible” and refused to inject any more equity into the business. Kemble then defaulted on its debts and entered talks with creditors.

Ofwat’s draft determination was due to be the first time it gave a public assessment of Thames’s business plan. A green light would have allowed shareholders and creditors to provide money to Thames Water for essential upgrades. If the plan was rejected, it could have lead the government to nationalize the troubled utility temporarily.

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