Gunmaker Colt heads toward bankruptcy showdown with bondholders

Sales of Colt’s modern sports rifles and handguns fell 30 percent last year and the company’s cash had dwindled to $11.1 million by May 22, according to regulatory filings.

Colt Defense LLC, whose M1911 was the primary sidearm for the U.S. military for most of last century, missed a $10.9 million payment last month to holders of $250 million in its senior bonds.

Usually a company in such a dire position would be forced to surrender ownership to creditors, which are often hedge funds that scooped up the company’s bonds as a takeover strategy.

But with Colt forecasting sales growth of 24 percent in 2015 and 2016, the company’s private equity owners, Sciens Management, intend to retain ownership, even if bondholders get stuck with big losses.

The West Hartford, Connecticut-based company has proposed issuing $450 of new securities for every $1,000 of outstanding bonds – a 55 percent discount.

Colt has said that as of June 1, it has the consent of just 5.9 percent of bondholders, represented by the law firm Brown Rudnick. Without near unanimous bondholder consent by Saturday, Colt could opt for bankruptcy, according to regulatory filings.

“Their message to creditors is to take the 45 cents or get flushed,” said Leonard Klingbaum, a partner with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, who is advising lenders in the talks.

If bondholders reject the debt-cutting plan, Colt has said in regulatory filings it will sell its assets in bankruptcy, with the possibility that no bid will be enough to cover the company’s $105 million in secured debt, leaving nothing for bondholders.

Kevin Starke, an analyst with CRT Capital in Stamford, Connecticut, said a sale might be best for the stumbling company and its bondholders.

He drew a comparison to Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies, which like Colt suffered poor labor relations and was liquidated during its 2012 bankruptcy. Two years later, the snack company was booming after new owners took over.

“Sometimes the best way out is to sort of scrap the whole thing and start again,” Starke said.

Colt’s Chief Restructuring Officer Keith Maib, John Rapisardi of O’Melveny & Myers, which represents Colt, and Robert Stark of Brown Rudnick did not respond to a request for comment.