BY Richard Summerfield
In yet another blow for a depressed industry, coal mining company Armstrong Energy, Inc. has announced that it, and substantially all of its wholly owned subsidiaries, has filed for reorganisation under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.
The collapse of Armstrong is the first such bankruptcy since president Donald Trump vowed to end the so-called ‘war on coal’, though it is one of many companies to have opted for bankruptcy in light of the emergence of cheap natural gas in the US in recent years.
Armstrong Energy has taken the Chapter 11 route (in the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri) in order to consummate the transfer of substantially all of its assets to a new entity to be jointly owned by Knight Hawk Holdings, LLC and Armstrong’s secured noteholders. Once the proposed assets have been transferred, Knight Hawk will take control of Armstrong Energy’s ongoing operations.
A producer of low-chlorine, high-sulfur thermal coal from the Illinois Basin, Armstrong Energy operates both surface and underground mines. As of 30 June 2017, the company controlled over 445 million tons of proven and probable coal reserves in Western Kentucky and currently operates five mines. Armstrong also owns and operates three coal processing plants and river dock coal handling and rail loadout facilities, which support its mining operations.
"We remain firmly committed to serving our customers and to being a good employer by maintaining safe, productive operations as we undertake this process," said J. Hord Armstrong, III, executive chairman of Armstrong Energy. "We are confident that this court-supervised process is the best way forward.”
Citing “recurring losses from operations”, the beleaguered company had initially stated in an August filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it foresaw a need to reorganise under the protection of a federal bankruptcy court.
Armstrong Energy has filed various motions with the Missouri Bankruptcy Court, including requesting authorisation to continue paying employee wages and providing healthcare and other benefits. The company has also asked for authority to continue existing customer programmes and intends to pay suppliers in full under normal terms for goods and services provided after the filing date of 1 November 2017.
Kirkland & Ellis LLP is serving as legal adviser, MAEVA Group LLC is serving as financial adviser and FTI Consulting, Inc. (FTI) is providing interim management services to Armstrong Energy in connection with the Chapter 11 process.
Armstrong Energy expects its mining operations and customer shipments to continue in the ordinary course throughout the Chapter 11 process.