Is it the end of the line for Gulf Keystone Petroleum Limited?

What will happen now Gulf Keystone Petroleum Limited (LON: GKP) looks set to default on debt?

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Gulf Keystone Petroleum (LSE: GKP) has been having cash flow problems for some time — you don’t need me to tell you that.

The company has been receiving its agreed monthly payments, from the Kurdistan Regional Government in payment for oil supplied from its Shaikan development, of $15m gross per month. But there’s been not a penny yet to cover the arrears from before that deal was struck, when the government was taking the oil and not paying for it.

On top of that, Gulf’s debts and interest payments are building up while its cash reserves are dwindling — the company has been keeping afloat thanks to a standstill agreement with creditors that had been extended as far as 1 July.

But then, after the markets had closed on Friday, Gulf Keystone revealed the bad news — the standstill agreement has not been extended, the company doesn’t intend to make its delayed April 2016 coupon payments, and in the absence of the agreement the company will be in default. Gulf reiterated that it’s discussing a possible agreement with some stakeholders that could lead to a restructuring, and that the discussions will continue.

Is it all over?

What does this all mean? Gulf Keystone shares fell 30% in early trading when the markets opened Monday, but at the time of writing the price had recovered half of the drop to 4.1p for a 15% loss on the day. What does the future hold now for Gulf Keystone?

I’m reminded of the disaster that befell Afren last year, when, overtaken by debts it couldn’t service, a debt-for-equity restructuring that would have handed most of the company to its creditors looked to be the only way out. Despite a protest from some shareholders, the deal looked like it would be struck until the last minute, when the state of the company turned out worse than expected and Afren ended up in administration.

Gulf is clearly not in such a dire situation as its Shaikan reserves are large and the oil is pumping away at daily volumes of 40,000 barrels per day. But the company has said its wells might begin to exhibit natural declines later in 2016, and that more capital investment will be needed to maintain current volumes and to raise production to a possible 55,000 barrels per day.

Deal in the pipeline?

Now that the standstill agreement has been suspended, there has to be a possibility that a deal with lenders isn’t far from being inked — I reckon they’d be mad not to come to some sort of agreement given the genuine long-term potential of Shaikan. I see it as inevitable that Gulf will survive — its finances are all in the open and there shouldn’t be any Afren-like skeletons in the closet. The big question is how much of the company will be left for existing shareholder after any debt-for-equity swap takes place.

Considering that Gulf’s debt repayments are set to rocket next year, with $250m due in April 2017 and another $325m due in October, and with its market cap standing at only $40m today, I can’t see there being much left at all. I’ve been bearish on Gulf Keystone as an investment for a long time now, and I certainly wouldn’t be buying in the hope of recovery now.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be assessed. Consider taking independent financial advice.

Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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