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Noble Group gets another credit extension, but future remains uncertain

By Kane Wu and Henning Gloystein

By Kane Wu and Henning Gloystein

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Troubled commodity trader Noble Group on Thursday said it had received an extension on a loan until May next year, giving it crucial time for negotiations over debt restructuring.

But the firm, based in Hong Kong and listed in Singapore, said the outcome of the discussions with creditors remained uncertain.

The loan had already been extended twice until mid-December, as Noble <NOBG.SI> battles to recover from years of crisis.

"The company has obtained an extension on a waiver in relation to the financial covenants in its committed unsecured revolving credit facility to 18 May, 2018," Noble said in a written statement on Thursday.

The company, which has bank debt of about $1.2 billion and bonds aggregating about $2.3 billion, did not indicate the size of the credit being extended.

"Noble ... continues to be in discussions with its creditors," it said. "No assurance can be given as to the outcome of these discussions."

Noble's chairman Paul Brough, a restructuring specialist who was appointed this year, said last Friday it was the company's priority to keep out of insolvency.

Noble was plunged into crisis in 2015 when Iceberg Research started questioning its accounts, resulting in sharp share price falls, credit downgrades and its bonds trading at distressed levels. Noble has refuted such criticism.

Once Asia's biggest commodity merchant with ambitions to rival dominant European trading houses like Glencore <GLEN.L> and Vitol, Noble's stock price has crashed from a peak of S$17 ($12.65) in 2011 to 25 cents. That gives it a market capitalization of just S$318 million, compared with over $70 billion for Glencore.

Noble was also hit by a commodities downturn that started in late 2014.

Its financial woes resulted in the company's retreat from most financial commodity markets, including oil, natural gas and even coal, Noble's traditional strongpoint.

The downsizing has also played a part in Noble's failure to profit from resurgent commodity prices this year.

Despite soaring oil, natural gas and coal markets, the company lost around $3 billion in the first nine months of this year.

The turmoil at the company has also resulted in several high level departures, including chief executive officer (CEO) Yusuf Alireza in 2016, and co-CEO Jeffrey Frase in November.

(Reporting by Kane Wu in HONG KONG and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Editing by Joseph Radford)