Giant coal company Alpha Naturals seeks bankruptcy court protection

By MoneyTimes

Aug 06, 2015 01:26 AM EDT

The U.S. coal industry is hit by another major blow as Alpha Natural Resources Inc. will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection on Monday.

Alpha Natural Resources is based in Bristol, Virginia. Founded in 2002, it has since become the biggest company in its sector through acquisitions. When coal prices became unstable, it was left with huge debts accumulated from financing the purchase of coal mining assets.

It has assets of $10.1 billion with liabilities of $7.1 billion.  Filing for Chapter 11 will give enough time for the company to reorganize and pay its creditors.  The debtor has a proposal of reorganizing his business and keeps it alive so he could pay his creditors over time.

With almost 8,000 employees, Alpha Natural Resources is also a big employer in certain areas including West Virginia, Wyoming, Kentucky and southwestern Pennsylvania.

Alpha Natural Resources was founded by Mike Quillen together with the private equity firm called First Reserve in 2002.  By that time, the company quickly grew allowing it to acquire Foundation Coal in 2009 for $2 billion and in 2011, the Massey Energy for $7 billion through debt-fueled deals.

According to Alpha Natural Resources in its court filing, American coal producers "encountered a variety of macroeconomic headwinds along with the regulatory obstacles", causing problems to the domestic coal industry. The company also added a loss of $875 million in 2014 for its filing of Chapter 11.

As the market became abundant with cheap gas produced by the use of new technologies and drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, Alpha Natural Resources claims to be partly a victim of the U.S. shale revolution.

It also blamed the slow growth of economy both in U.S and China forcing them to close 80 mines or more since July 2011, leaving 6,500 workers jobless.  Capital expenditures were cut down by 55% to $225 million in 2015, but these measures were not sufficient to prevent the filing of bankruptcy on Monday.

Alpha Natural Resources however, remains positive that there is a future for US coal industry and the company itself if they could just get rid of at least $3 billion in debt.

According to Philip Cavatoni, Alpha Natural Resources' chief financial and strategy officer, the company believes that Chapter 11 will allow the "restructuring of their operations and debt while riding out the storm that beset the coal industry".

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