Wirecard files for insolvency amid calls for state inquiry
For Germany, the Wirecard scandal is an embarrassment, with its CEO arrested and still no sign of that missing €1.9bn
London — Wirecard has filed for insolvency, the culmination of a stunning accounting scandal that led to the arrest of its CEO and left the German payment-processing firm unable to find more than $2bn missing from its balance sheet.
Wirecard management cited over-indebtedness as the reason behind the decision to seek court protection in Munich, according to a statement. The company also said it’s considering whether the insolvency proceedings should be applied to its subsidiaries.
Wirecard said it was unable to come to an agreement with lenders and is now facing the likely termination of €800m worth of loans on June 30 and that of another €500m loan on July 1.
“With this step, Wirecard wishes to protect the appropriate interests of all parties involved with the company, including creditors, customers and employees”, the statement read.
Wirecard Bank is not included in the proceedings, the company said in the statement. German regulator BaFin has already appointed a special representative to oversee the bank and “the release processes for all payments of the bank will be located exclusively within the bank and no longer at group level”.
Until earlier last week, Wirecard was still a hot growth story that had shaken off allegations of accounting fraud. Then came the admission that €1.9bn of company funds had gone missing. Shares and bonds collapsed and in less than a week, the company once hyped as the future of German finance saw its CEO Markus Braun resign then be arrested in an accounting-fraud probe, after almost two decades at the helm of the company. Braun has since been released on bail.
Wirecard’s shares plunged further on Thursday, dropping 80% to €2.50 in Frankfurt after trading resumed. Its €500m of bonds due 2024 fell 6c on the euro to a record low of 12c, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The insolvency proceedings now leave Wirecard’s creditors facing lengthy negotiations with court-appointed administrators over how much they’ll get back out of the money they’re owed. Banks who lent to Wirecard, including Commerzbank, ABN Amro, LBBW and ING, have been demanding more clarity from the company in return for the extension of almost $2bn in debt.
Holders of €1.4bn in euro bonds and convertible debt are also standing in line to try to recoup at least a potion of their money. The company’s euro notes due in 2024 traded at a record low of just 12c on the euro on Thursday.
The banks hired FTI Consulting and Allen & Overy as advisers. Wirecard has retained Houlihan Lokey.
The insolvency also raises questions on the future of Wirecard’s licences. The company has licences with Visa, Mastercard and JCB International, through which its banking arm issues credit cards. If Wirecard is unable to find the missing cash, Visa and Mastercard may have cause to revoke the licences.
“The big question is whether they retain the Visa and Mastercard licences,” Neil Campling, analyst at Mirabaud said. “Without those they have no business.”
For Germany, the affair represents an embarrassment. While the country has seen the likes of airline Air Berlin and renewable-energy firm SolarWorld file for insolvency in past years, critics say that Wirecard’s troubles could have been spotted earlier.
Wirecard’s spectacular fall from grace is the first for a DAX 30-listed company. In terms of assets, its insolvency has the potential to rank below only those of giant retailer Arcandor and manufacturer Babcock Borsig, which collapsed in 2009 and 2002, respectively.
Germany’s financial regulator BaFin has come under intense pressure for its handling of the scandal and the company’s collapse is already prompting calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s responsibility.
Fabio De Masi, a member of the German Bundestag said “if the biggest stock market crash in German history can take place under the eyes of the BaFin, then heads must roll. Should Felix Hufeld, the head of BaFin, not be able to dispel doubts about the supervision, it is questionable whether he can remain head of the supervisory authority.”