Company That Runs Channel Tunnel ‘At Risk’ As Revenues Fall Short
LONDON (AP) _ The company that operates the Channel Tunnel warned today its disappointing revenues after a slow start might not be enough to meet big debt payments.
``Eurotunnel is at risk,″ Eurotunnel co-chairmen Sir Alastair Morton and Patrick Ponsolle said in a statement. ``In 1995, we may succeed or we may fail. Our debt service costs may overwhelm us.″
This summer will be the first in which the $16 billion ``Chunnel″ operates undersea service, which started in November. The peak vacation period is a crucial test for the France-to-England tunnel and its passenger shuttle.
Eurotunnel said it lost $600 million last year on revenues of $50 million. The loss was only a few million greater than what Eurotunnel had forecast.
More importantly, revenues were less than a quarter of what Eurotunnel had projected about a year ago, when it tapped shareholders for $1.3 billion to keep the project in business. Eurotunnel has said the shortfall was inevitable because the tunnel opened to the public months late.
Even though all of the tunnel’s main services have been operating this year, they are not at full capacity, and Eurotunnel said revenues were still coming up short through the end of the first quarter.
Revenues in March covered operating costs for the first time, but the company’s debt is still worth $12.8 billion, and interest charges now come to about $3.2 million a day.
Investors responded to today’s news by dumping Eurotunnel stock. Early in the afternoon, Eurotunnel was down 9.9 percent at 218 pence _ $3.49 _ a share on the London Stock Exchange.
``If our analysts and our shareholders are worried when we confirmed we’re at risk, which you already knew, then so be it,″ Morton told a news conference.
Some analysts doubt Eurotunnel can meet these goals or even stay in business without being refinanced, perhaps by asking shareholders for more money.
``It’s ultimately going to mean restructuring the loans and-or raising more equity or something in between,″ said Mark McVicar, a stock analyst who follows Eurotunnel for NatWest Securities Ltd. in London. ``It’s in nobody’s interest to let the thing go bust.″
Eurotunnel operates ``Le Shuttle″ trains that take freight trucks and passenger cars between Folkestone, England, and Calais, France. The tunnel also gets user fees from the Eurostar trains that run between London and either Paris or Brussels, as well as from freight trains running between Britain and continental Europe.