Genting empire stumbles as virus restrictions continue to bite

Genting’s reliance on travel and leisure makes it vulnerable to border closures and restrictions imposed by countries seeking to curb the spread of Covid-19.

KUALA LUMPUR: One of Southeast Asia’s biggest conglomerates faces its gravest challenge yet as the pandemic roils Genting group’s collection of casinos, cruises and resorts.

Cracks were already starting to show even before cruise operator Genting Hong Kong Ltd said it would suspend payments to creditors. This week, the group holding company and a Malaysian unit could show some of their worst declines to earnings as second-quarter results are due.

Genting adds to a growing list of global business empires whose reliance on travel and leisure made them vulnerable to border closures and restrictions imposed by countries seeking to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The conglomerate has resorted to unprecedented moves to adapt, including embarking on its first group-wide pay cuts and shrinking its workforce at its Malaysian unit.

“There’s a risk, of course, of a related party transaction with one of the Genting group bailing out Genting HK. If that happens, then clearly the group can be hurt,” said Mak Yuen Teen, associate professor at the National University of Singapore Business School, who specialises in corporate governance.

While Genting Hong Kong is a separate entity and defaults at that level won’t trigger cross defaults on the group’s debt, group chairman Lim Kok Thay’s role as a common shareholder has sent jitters across the conglomerate.

It’s likely that Lim will be able to work out a deal with creditors considering the family name and their reputation, said Banny Lam, head of research at CEB International Investment Corp. The cruise operator may have deliberately slipped into a technical default to force creditors to work with them, he added.

“The message to creditors is clear: If you insist on a default, we may declare bankruptcy and you lose everything,” Lam said.

“They’re pushing creditors and banks for a restructuring and more time.”