Commodities Billionaire Came Within Weeks of a Debt Crunch

Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the billionaire owner of one of the world’s largest agricultural commodity trading houses, struck a deal to sell a stake in her company just weeks before almost half a billion dollars in loans came due.

Along-running debt drama for the Russian-born heiress culminated in November with an agreement to sell 45% ofLouis Dreyfus Co. to an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund. While it was known that Louis-Dreyfus was rushing to pay down loans fromCredit Suisse Group AG, a previously unreported document reveals how close to the wire she came in her race to find an investor.

Louis-Dreyfus faced a debt crunch, with Credit Suisse loans totaling $650 million due to mature in 2020, according to a filing from her holding companyAkira BV. While $200 million was repaid in May, the remainder was due to mature in November and December, the document filed last month in the Netherlands shows.

Louis-Dreyfus ran up debts to buy out family members and consolidate her control of the storied trading house. She paid top dollar for shares whose value was boosted during the commodities super-cycle, but when a trading downturn curbed profits the billionaire found herself squeezing the business for cash to repay Credit Suisse.

It’s not clear what would have happened if Louis-Dreyfus hadn’t reached a deal with ADQ of Abu Dhabi. Louis Dreyfus Co. declined to comment on its owner’s behalf. Credit Suisse also declined to comment.

What is clear is that Louis-Dreyfus gained some respite when she reachedthe deal with ADQ. The maturity of two loans totaling $100 million was extended on Nov. 10, the day before the deal was announced. Another loan of just over $300 million was extended on Dec. 21, according to the filing.

Louis-Dreyfus told Swiss business magazine Bilanz at the end of November that she will use some proceeds from the ADQ deal to settle her debts with Credit Suisse.

While the deal with ADQ should resolve Louis-Dreyfus’s debt problems, the drama hasn’t quite concluded yet. The stake sale to ADQ is expected to close in mid-2021, according to a bond prospectus.

But if anything should go wrong, another debt deadline looms: $350 million of the loans from Credit Suisse that were extended now mature on Nov. 30 this year, according to the filing. In addition, an unspecified portion of a longer-term $200 million facility is also due to be paid off during the year.

— With assistance by Andy Hoffman, and Patrick Winters

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