Foresight Energy files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

March 10, 2020

St. Louis-based coal producer Foresight Energy filed for bankruptcy with plans to hand ownership to its creditors, becoming the latest coal company to fail as power generators switch to cleaner and cheaper fuels, reports Bloomberg News.

The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is another sign that efforts to stem coal’s decline aren’t working. A wave of U.S. miners have filed for Chapter 11 in recent years, including Murray Energy Corp., which owns a controlling stake in Foresight.

Its owner Robert Murray is an outspoken supporter of President Trump, who has pledged to save the industry.

Foresight listed between $1 billion to $10 billion in assets and liabilities in the same range in Chapter 11 documents filed with the court. The restructuring plan, which allows the company to stay in business, would cut debt by about $1 billion by swapping $1.33 billion of debt for equity. The plan would leave Foresight with just $225 million in new secured debt, chief executive officer Robert D. Moore said in a court declaration.

Moore, who is also the CEO of Murray Energy and is Robert Murray’s nephew, would remain the chairman of Foresight, according to a company statement.

Foresight, founded by the late billionaire Christopher Cline, signaled it was in trouble when it suspended its quarterly dividend in May 2019, and again on Oct. 1 when it missed a $24.4 million interest payment. It hasn’t posted an annual profit since 2014, and matters were made worse by 2019’s unusually heavy rains, which made rivers so high and swift that coal vessels had trouble delivering to power stations.

Holders of 69 percent of Foresight’s first-lien loans and 82 percent of its second-lien notes have agreed to support Foresight’s bankruptcy plan, Moore said. In addition, existing lenders agreed to provide $100 million in new money to finance Foresight’s operations in bankruptcy, subject to court approval. Without access to that new money, Foresight would likely run out of cash needed to run the business within a week, Alan Boyko of FTI Consulting Inc. said in a court declaration.

Despite the White House efforts to save coal, the industry continues to decline as utilities forsake the fuel for cheap natural gas, wind and solar. Fifteen years ago, coal accounted for more than half of all U.S. power generation. Today it’s less than 25 percent.

Foresight’s bankruptcy also follows Chapter 11 filings last year by Cloud Peak Energy Inc., Cambrian Coal, Blackhawk Mining LLC and Blackjewel LLC.

Cline, a mining tycoon born into a coal-mining family, died in a helicopter crash in July 2019. He founded Foresight in 2006 and has been credited with reviving the industry in the Illinois basin. The company has been recognized for efficient production, but that wasn’t enough to compensate for slumping demand and prices. Cline stepped down as chairman in 2017 but remained one of the company’s top shareholders, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
 

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