The latest apparent disaster is the failure of the Las Vegas Monorail, which is putting pressure on bond insurer Ambac. The dual threat of delisting by the New York Stock Exchange and the specter of running out of cash loom large over the company. Still, shareholders shouldn't be overly concerned.
The monorail hasn't made bond payments since at least July. According to monorail trustee
documents, Ambac is responsible for the first tier of bonds, limiting Ambac's liability to about $1.6 billion. Ambac made a payment of $16.8 million in December because the monorail couldn't come up with payments due in January.
This is good news on a couple fronts. It means there will be no further negative cash-flow effects until at least the end of June. The January payment, made in December, will be included in the year-end numbers. Additionally, the payments are relatively small and will be considered as a normal part of doing business. Ambac indicated, through spokesman Peter Poillon, that it has already increased its reserves to accommodate the potential bankruptcy of the monorail.
Ambac isn't commenting because of the so-called blackout period prior to its earnings release. It has filed a motion to disallow the Las Vegas Monorail's Chapter 11 filing because it believes it should be considered a government entity. The monorail disputes Ambac's claims because it says Nevada didn't opt in to the legislation. The
Las Vegas Business Press
reported the next hearing will be Feb. 17.
Frustrated small shareholders, though, are bemused by an almost complete lack of communication from senior management at Ambac. They express their views on message boards, such as
, but many appear to have an almost blind faith in the ability of the company to pull through the financial crisis.
Ambac's stock price, in the meantime, is continuing on a gradual decline. Almost nothing has changed since the results of the Ambac Assurance subsidiary were reported for the third quarter, except for two issues. First, a 20% increase in the stock held by
, bringing the total to 6.2%. Second, the filing of a lawsuit against
claiming misrepresentation with the hope that it can eventually generate millions of dollars in positive cash flow.
There is no news on the progress for raising the stock price to $1 by May 31, as required by the NYSE.
-- Reported by Gavin Magor in Jupiter, Fla.
Gavin Magor is the senior analyst responsible for assigning financial-strength ratings to insurance companies. He conducts industry analysis and supports consumer products. Magor has more than 22 years of international experience in operations and credit-risk management, commercial lending and analysis. His experience includes international assignments in Sweden, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. He holds a master's degree in business administration from The Open University in the U.K.