Fitch predicts contentious battle over Enron assets

— Credit rating agency Fitch IBCA Friday questioned whether Enron Corp. could secure funding for a bankruptcy reorganization and said it appeared the company might have to liquidate assets to satisfy creditors.

The ratings agency said in a report it anticipates a lengthy and contentious battle over the struggling Houston energy company’s assets. Enron would require a sizable debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing to fund ongoing operations and induce energy traders to resume business with it, Fitch said.

“It is uncertain whether Enron has adequate unencumbered or over-collateralized assets to obtain a DIP large enough to enable the resumption of wholesale operations,” according to the report.

Fitch said it would assign a very “conservative” valuation to the wholesale trading business because previous valuations of bankrupt trading operations have usually been low. Secondly, Fitch said the ongoing investigation of the Securities and Exchange Commission calls into question the accuracy of Enron’s historical earnings reports. Finally, the rating agency said cash flow to the retail segment will be limited as long as the wholesale unit remains shut down.

Fitch estimated Enron’s total senior unsecured debt is currently about $11 billion, excluding the debt associated with two off-balance sheet entities called Marlin and Osprey. Fitch estimated that unsecured creditors will get 20-40à‚¢ on the dollar.

“This opinion considers the deterioration in the value of the wholesale business, the pledge of assets to secured creditors, uncertain cash flow from the retail business, the opaque and uncertain accounting, and off-balance sheet liability issues,” Fitch said.

The secured creditors of Marlin and Osprey would have to be repaid by the sale of underlying assets. In the event that is not sufficient, creditors would have a claim on Enron assets. Fitch said these creditors could be subordinate to the claims of other creditors in a bankruptcy.

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