The receivers for Wellington firm Ebert Construction expect most of the $33.8 million owed to tradespeople and subcontractors won’t be repaid.
by Paul McBeth
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PwC’s Lara Bennett, John Fisk and Richard Longman said there isn’t likely to be any surplus for unsecured creditors from the administration process, the first significant insolvency using a new retentions regime intended to improve the likelihood of payment for sub-contractors.
However, Ebert had banked only $3.7 million of sub-contractor retentions, which will need to be divided up among claimants by an order from the High Court.
“The receivers are conscious of the importance of this matter. However, until we are able to confirm a pathway and funding for addressing the issues with application of the legislation, we are unable to confirm a timeframe for resolution of this matter,” they said.
Ebert’s directors requested receivers be appointed on July 31 after deciding actual and expected losses on some contracts were too large for the business to remain solvent. At the time of PwC’s appointment, the company was involved in 15 active projects, employed 100 staff and was forecasting turnover of $171 million in the year through March 2019. Some $640,000 was owed to staff as preferential creditors, with a further $1.3 million owed to employees on an unsecured basis, the receivers said in their first report.
Bank of New Zealand was owed $6.1 million as a secured creditor at the time of receivership. Ebert co-founder and managing director Kevin Hale is also a secured creditor, owed $3.5 million, which he loaned to the business on July 24 as a short-term measure before new capital was raised from other shareholders. That capital injection didn’t go ahead.
PwC’s Bennett, Fisk and Longman expect the secured creditors will face a “substantial shortfall”.
The receivers have confirmed $45.7 million of total debt so far but said that could rise as creditors submit invoices and claims. The firm’s assets totalled $30.2 million, including the $3.7 million of sub-contractor retentions, $18.6 million of contract receivables, $4.8 million of client retentions, and $2.4 million of income tax assets.
Unlocking the value of the contract receivables and client retentions will likely be a complex and lengthy process, they said. The receivers will engage third parties to complete remedial work, reach settlements on the basis of agreed allowances for uncompleted work, and pursue formal action if needed.
The receivers said plant and equipment used by the construction company was leased from a related entity that isn’t subject to a receivership.
Ebert was also embroiled in a material dispute on one of its contracts in receivership, which will lead to more claims on the company once the additional costs and delays are quantified.
The building company’s receivership came a month after it renewed its loan with BNZ. The bank first registered itself as a secured party in July 2013, the Personal Property Securities Register shows. That was renewed on June 26 this year and was set to expire in 2023. A separate facility with BNZ’s wholesale financial services was registered in October last year and runs to October 2022, letting Ebert sell accounts receivable to the bank, a service known as factoring, to speed up a firm’s cash flow.