Thursday, August 19, 2010

Will Liverpool Last Another 37 Weeks Without Going into Administration?

Liverpool may have begun their season with a decent battling performance against Arsenal in their 1-1 draw on Sunday, but the many demons that haunt the club are still casting a long shadow over the famed Shankly Gates.
Despite all the doom and gloom that has surrounded the club, particularly this summer, hope is high at Anfield for the coming season. Rafael Benitez's departure may have left some fans thinking the club would then spiral uncontrollably, but if anything Roy Hodgson's signing as manager has actually helped quell those fears and install a new confidence that has been missing over the last 12 months.

When KPMG released their first audit into the bleak financial situation at Liverpool in June 2009 it seemed to spark a war of attrition between Benitez and the clubs American owners. A long running battle between the Spaniard and Rick Parry culminated with the Chief Executive tendering his resignation, however, it reached its zenith when Robbie Keane was packed off back to Spurs after the striker was used as a stick, by Rafa, to beat Parry with a board level.
It would be fair to say that the political in-fighting in the corridors of power at Anfield took some of Benitez's, and his player's, attentions away from on-field matters. Despite this, Liverpool finished a highly credible second place in the Premiership that season but the bad news had really yet to hit.
Financially, that was Liverpool's most successful season of all time with record profits of some £10 million. The scary thing was the size of the loan and the "material uncertainties" warned of by KPMG. Because, even with that record profit of £10 million Liverpool debt levels grew, substantially.
In other words, KPMG were warning the club that the very future of LFC as a whole depended upon getting into the Champions League, every year, and challenging for the league title, every year.
We all know what happened last term as the club slumped to their worst season in living memory. A seventh place finish meant that Liverpool would not be playing in the Champions League, and would not benefit from the vast amount of money to be made in Europe's elite competition.
All that within the space of 12 months and then KPMG dropped another bombshell in May of this year.
Kop Holding's recorded a record loss of £54.9 million and the club had sunk deeper into debt, from £237 million owed to Royal Bank of Scotland to £381 million in debt after the clubs loans increased by £144 million.
With RBS under intense pressure from the EU to get its house in order before 2013, after the biggest tax-payer bailout in European banking history, the club has until October to satisfy the bank by paying them back in full.
At the end of last season almost every Liverpool fan rejoiced when it appeared that the clubs debts had been reduced at the last minute from £350 million to £237 million. But it would appear that RBS forced Kop Holdings to take on the debt after Liverpool's loans from them increased from £86 million to £144 million, at a loan rate of 10 percent.
That would explain why the club are now losing around £10 million a month on interest alone. In other words, Liverpool FC is at the stage where they need loans just to pay off the interest from previous loans.
In the face of complete disaster Tom Hicks and George Gillett had contacted investment bank Goldman-Sachs about refinancing the club in February 2010.
Under the terms of the "new" takeover the £237 million debt to RBS and Wachovia would be cleared and monies for a new stadium and improving the team would be provided. All seemed to be going well until the world's biggest investment bank pulled the plug in April after concerns about the American owner’s valuations of the club.
Even for Goldman-Sachs it would appear as if Liverpool was too much of a risk.
That left Hicks and Gillett needing to pay RBS £100 million by July 2010, a deadline they did not meet.
This immediately opened the door from prospective buyers.
The Kenny Huang led China Investment Corporation was the first consortium to announce that they were interested in taking over the beleaguered club, followed closely by Yayha Kirdi entering the fray for the ruling Sharjah family from the United Arab Emirates.
As the penalty fees from RBS mount at an alarming rate it appeared that the club was willing to talk to anyone about the sale of the club.
Strangely enough, both potential investors said they would not be interested in the club if Fernando Torres was allowed to leave. Under intense pressure, as the very future of the club he loves was held in his very hand, the Spanish striker did the honourable thing and announced that his immediate future lay with the club.
A negotiation of sorts then began in the press with Huang stating that he would only pay off RBS' loans and not give Hicks and Gillett any of the £300 million to £400 million they were demanding for the sale of the club.
This left Kirdi, the only other viable suitor, in the driving seat of sorts after he had proposed to pay Hicks and Gillett the money they were asking for.
Martin Broughton, Liverpool's chairman, then asked for the Middle Eastern consortium to produce a "proof of funds" before negotiations could go any further.
That led us up to August 11 and a board meeting at Liverpool FC where Chairman Martin Broughton, owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre would all meet to discuss the sale to potential bidders.
It was also a deadline day set for the bidders to officially announce their intent.
The meeting was called off after the board noted huge doubts about the credibility of the foremost potential investors, and Liverpool limps on.
In the weeks leading up to the board meeting Martin Broughton had contacted up to six potential investors and asked them to formulate an official offer. Not one obliged.
However, when you look a little further it is perhaps easy to see why.
In the lead up to the deadline RBS renegotiated the terms of their loan and invoked a penalty clause on the club.
£110 million of the initial £237 million was converted into a payment-in-kind loan with interest of £2.5 million per week.
Effectively making RBS the king makers at Anfield.
And if the club is not sold by October 6 the bank have the power to take over and sell it for the price of their loan.
In a double whammy it would also appear that the bank have installed another penalty clause upon the club whereby if Hicks and Gillett and still in charge of the club by the end of August a fine of some £20 million must also be paid, and up to £60 million if the club remains unsold by October.
Laughably, should this occur, it would mean that RBS would have made £200 million alone on interest from a £185 million loan that was given to Hicks and Gillett in February 2007.
What all that adds up to is that any investor would be crazy to spend his millions too quickly when the club could, potentially, be picked up for far less in the last week of August or for just £237 million on October 6.
With none of the potential buyers having provided anything concrete to say they have the funds available to them there is the very real prospect that Liverpool FC could be plunged into administration come October.
If that were to happen the asking price of the club could be driven down even further, but at the cost of Champions League qualification and the loss of one or two key players at the least.
The unfortunate thing in all of this is that RBS will not care in the slightest who takes over the club once the debts are cleared. Liverpool's fans are almost guaranteed to believe that a new regime, whoever it may be, has to be better than the last after everything the club has been through, but that is not always the case.
One thing is for sure; Liverpool is one of the jewels in the crown of Premiership if not European football, and there is a major bargain to be had given the valuation of rival clubs.
However, the main problems with Liverpool when compared to its chief rivals of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal are twofold. 1) The club badly needs a new stadium and 2) The first team squad has to be radically over hauled if they are to challenge for the title.
For these two minor items an investment of near £1 billion over a period of time would not go astray.
The Allianz Arena is of a similar size stadium to what Liverpool would need and cost approximately £500 million to build from start to finish. A construction time to two to three years combined with up to five of six years of serious league winning investment could easily bring that figure higher.
The problem with Liverpool going "cheap" is that potential investors may come in and "decide" to run into similar stadium problems as Hicks and Gillett and neglect to build. This would effectively leave the potential owners in a similar position to the Americans and hoping to turn a quick profit.
The present trajectory of descent that Liverpool is on began on February 6 2007 when Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought the club. The way the club has unravelled in that short space of time is frightening to say the least and a huge warning to everyone on how the running of a club should be handled.
There is little doubt that Liverpool have been in purgatory for time and everyone associated with the club hopes the future is brighter.
But as everyone knows; the road to hell is begins with good intentions, just ask David Moores.