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GF Group lands new loan agreement

Italian importer seeks to draw line under "difficulties" in recent years by selling off non-core parts of its business

GF Group lands new loan agreement

GF Group has spent the past few years building a market for new brand Fratelli Orsero

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More than a year on from the much-publicised financial scandal that left Italian importer GF Group struggling to secure new loans amid huge difficulties in managing an ambitious international expansion plan, the group has secured a new financing deal with a group of banks that promises to place it back on the path to growth.

In a statement, the company said it had signed an agreement on 27 March designed to restructure its debts, which Eurofruit understands were as high as €171m during 2012.

The news marks the start of what many will hope is a more positive chapter in GF Group’s history, providing it with a path towards more sustainable growth following the apparent excesses of the past few years – a period in which the group expanded into areas as diverse as real estate and even private air travel.

Among the banks offering GF Group their support for what will be a notably slimmer GF Group is Carige, which two years ago was itself criticised in a Banca d’Italia report for allegedly offering too much easy credit to customers – GF Group included – over the four years from 2009 to 2012.

The investigation raised doubts over money loaned by Carige to GF Group and, more significantly for the fresh produce business, the long-term future of the importer's financing.

The report also found that GF Group's owners, the Orsero family, were among a number of “friends” who had “received favourable treatment” from the bank during the period in question, allegedly benefiting from “a bias that led to excessive support being extended to a limited number of positions, often linked to shareholder trust members – who were granted loans worth more than a billion euros”.

Carige and its Savona-based subsidiary Carisa are providing 40 per cent of the financing as part of the new deal, while Unicredit, Mps, Intesa, Bnl and Banca Popolare will underwrite the remaining 60 per cent.

Renewed confidence

“This agreement guarantees the group’s relaunch following the difficulties of the recent years, [which were] connected above all to the diversification of the business into non-core sectors that were most deelpy affected by the global financial and economic crisis,” said a spokesperson for GF Group.

Subject to approval by the Court of Savona, the plan will include an €18m increase in capital provided by shareholders by 15 July, with 75 per cent reportedly having signed up already.

The company will focus on core activities only, while selling off a range of non-core businesses – air taxi service K-Air included – to the expected tune of around €78m.

Intriguingly, the future of the Orsero family at the heart of GF Group remains unclear. A new board of directors will be appointed shortly, composed principally of independent members and at least one representative of the participating banks.

A new managing director is also due to take the place of Raffaella Orsero, who recently took over from her brother Antonio at the company’s helm.

“The entire agreement is aimed at relaunching the group through the maintenance of its management of all strategic phases of the core business value chain (production, shipping, import, distribution),” the statement continued.

“This agreement represents the basis for future and new alliances, necessary in a sector currently undergoing radical change, as demonstrated by the strategies recently implemented by other key players.”

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