Thomas Cook Collapses, up to 600,000 Travelers Stranded in Hotel & Airline Chaos, Triggers “Biggest Peacetime Repatriation in UK History”

Rescue deal fell through at the last moment. China’s Fosun and other shareholders are toast. Creditors get to fight over the debris. 

By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET:

Thomas Cook, the global travel & vacation-giant with its own airline and hotels, with 21,000 employees globally — 9,000 of them in the UK — and a 178-year history, ceased operations with immediate effect early Monday morning after failing to raise the £200 million of additional funds being requested by its main creditors to complete its rescue. The British government also refused to step in at the last minute to bail out the company.

The travel group has been placed into compulsory liquidation, as opposed to administration, meaning the business will be wound down. The immediate result has been chaos in holiday destinations across Europe, North Africa and North America. As many as 600,000 holidaymakers — 150,000 of them Brits — were left stranded abroad, many of them not knowing how they’re going to get home or whether they have a hotel room left to stay in.

Hotel groups are normally paid by tour operators two to three months after the travelers have already taken their holidays. Now that Thomas Cook is no longer a going concern, some hotels may ask holidaymakers either to leave, or cough up extra to remain in the hotel. In Tunisia holidaymakers at one resort said they were barred from leaving unless they paid a £1,680 fee to cover the costs of their trip.

Thomas Cook package holiday customers are covered by Atol – Air Travel Organiser’s Licence – which protects accommodation and return flights, but payment can take some time to materialize. The UK Civil Aviation Authority said it is contacting hoteliers and other companies likely to be hit by the Thomas Cook collapse to assure them they will get reimbursed.

The government is also mobilizing its largest ever peacetime repatriation plan, code-named Operation Matterhorn, which will involve planes chartered from other airlines including British Airways and easyJet and is expected to set taxpayers back at least £600 million.

“Our contingency planning has helped acquire planes from across the world — some from as far away as Malaysia — and we have put hundreds of people in call centers and at airports,” said Grant Shapps, the UK’s secretary of state for transport. “But the task is enormous, the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history. So, there are bound to be problems and delays.”

As of midday Monday, the government has chartered more than 60 flights, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said. The first rescue flights have already taken off from New York’s JFK airport, for Manchester.

Many more holiday makers have bookings that will never happen. This could end up having a major impact not only on people’s holiday plans but also on the resorts, hotels and other travel-related companies that depended heavily on the business generated by tour operator.

Thomas Cook operated hotels, resorts and its own airline in 16 countries, including France, Spain, Italy, the U.S. and Mexico. One of the worst affected countries will be Spain, in particular its two archipelagos, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, both of which depend enormously on tour operators like Thomas Cook to bring tourists to their resorts and hotels. Thomas Cook sent 7 million visitors to Spain last year, almost 10% of the total number of foreign tourists that visited the country.

The Canary Islands alone was scheduled to receive almost four million tourists this year via Thomas Cook. Many of those trips have already happened. Some haven’t. For the islands’ all-important tourist industry, the timing of the vacation giant’s demise could not have been worse, coming in the midst of a slowdown in the industry, due in large part to the arrival of fewer German and Scandinavian visitors.

In the first eight months of 2019, the total number of foreign tourists visiting the archipelago fell by 4%. Now, one of the biggest providers of visitors to the islands just collapsed, meaning things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Thomas Cook’s downfall can be blamed on a host of factors, including fierce competition from online operators. Shares of two of Thomas Cook’s biggest competitors, TUI and Dart Group, soared 6% today. Dart Group, a “new economy” leisure tourism company, is up about 28% over the past four weeks, given the final portion of Thomas Cook’s death spiral during the period. But that 28% gain reversed only a portion of the beating Dart’s shares have taken since August 2018. And TUI’s shares, despite the jump today, are still down nearly 50% from their peak in May 2018.

Thomas Cook was also hammered by falling demand for package holidays and the recent £1.1 billion write-down of the value of My Travel, a competitor it acquired in 2007, which left the company shouldering a £1.46 billion loss before taxes for its fiscal first half, ended March 31. The company also blamed its woes on the uncertainty generated by Brexit which, coupled with another unseasonably sunny British summer, was enough to convince many Brits to vacation at home this year.

Thomas Cook’s failure to find a buyer for its airline group at a time when Europe’s airline business is already suffering from acute overcapacity left it little choice but to ask for fresh funding from its investors and more time from its lenders.

Its biggest shareholder, Chinese conglomerate and investment giant, Fosun, said it was willing to inject a maximum £450 million of fresh funds in return for a 75% stake in the group tour operator and a 25% stake in the group airline. Banks and bondholders would match that amount with a debt for equity swap in return for control of 75% of the equity of the Group Airline and up to 25% of new equity in the group tour operator. But at the last minute, the company’s three big lenders — Barclays, Lloyds and majority state-owned RBS — demanded an additional £200 million of funding from investors to close the rescue deal.

For Fosun, it was a bridge too far. Although it had already invested heavily in Thomas Cook and it could have exploited the acquisition to pry open one of the world’s biggest tourist markets (Europe) for China’s growing ranks of big spending holidaymakers, the more likely outcome is that it would have ended up throwing good money after bad. And with Fosun unwilling to step up to the plate, the UK government unwilling to intervene, and a clutch of big hedge funds doing everything they could to prevent a last-minute rescue deal so that they could cash in £250 million on credit default swaps, the fate of the world’s oldest travel company was sealed. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

There has been a gigantic spike in trading interest-rate derivatives, and the UK dominates. Read…  Interest Rate Derivatives Trading Explodes to $6.5 Trillion per Day

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  73 comments for “Thomas Cook Collapses, up to 600,000 Travelers Stranded in Hotel & Airline Chaos, Triggers “Biggest Peacetime Repatriation in UK History”

  1. raxadian
    Sep 23, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Around here tour operators have to at least pay 50% in advance or no deal. Hence why they give you discounts if you pay the package months before you travel. I guess is the same in any country whose currency value deflates a lot over time.

  2. Just Some Random Guy
    Sep 23, 2019 at 11:43 am

    There are still travel agents around? I’m asking this seriously, since I kind of assumed the last travel agent went out of business circa 2005.

    • Sep 23, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Thomas Cook isn’t just a travel agent — it’s an airline with its own planes, a hotel operator with its own hotels, and global package tour operator, and many other things, all of which you could book on the Thomas Cook website, no problem.

      • Javert Chip
        Sep 23, 2019 at 2:12 pm

        Well, no problem except even semi-sophisticated travelers have been reading for at least a year that Cook was a risky purchase.

        It’s inappropriate to wish a bunch (600,000?) of benign travelers ill-will, but caveat emptor.

        Looks like there were extraordinary numbers of emptors…

        Question: does anybody know if this “rescue” ends up being a UK taxpayer expense?

        • Clete
          Sep 23, 2019 at 2:36 pm

          @Javert: You know it will be. We’ll probably have to pitch in too for some reason.

          Why would any Brit capable of paying to go to Tunisia and lie on the beach not just go to Florida for half the cost? (Not to mention that if a manager tried to keep us locked in a hotel, Florida Man would shoot our way out)

        • Maximus Minimus
          Sep 23, 2019 at 3:40 pm

          You would be surprised; not too many read the right news, and now the MSM will explain to them that it’s all due to Brexit…
          According to BI, it will cost UK 100M pounds to get only the British passengers home.
          It’s good time to be a bankruptcy lawyer.

    • Biggie Johnson
      Sep 23, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      I drive past my local travel agent’s office every day, with their electronic sign enticing people to come in and book a trip to the beach.

    • 2banana
      Sep 23, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      Some people, with money, would rather pay for a travel package and let someone else worry about all the details.

      Many of the packages also have access or VIP tickets to holiday events/sights that the average tourist will never see (unless they are super organized and have booked far in advance)

    • fajensen
      Sep 24, 2019 at 4:48 am

      Sure, there is.

      Most of the good ones are “Boutique” and caters to a smaller crowd who doesn’t care that there is a “service fee”, because they save spending 30 hours on the Internet (and the agent will usually get the same price or better for the hotels anyway).

      If one is planing a trip to a more obscure part of the world or maybe just something like a bicycle holiday or river cruise + trains, where the hotels are booked and luggage shipped forward, then one goes to a travel agent to fix it.

      You really don’t want to be arranging travel and hotels in some place like the Philippines, where some legs of the trip might be 800 km in a Taxi and some regions are not only brutally ugly, but decidedly dodgy too.

  3. John Hope
    Sep 23, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Just think about this:

    1. The UK government could have bailed out Thomas Cook just like that as it did with the banks – especially RBS , a basket case , in 2008 /9.

    2. A great deal of individual hardship would have been averted.

    3. The amount required was chicken feed.

    4. This is a government unable to govern ably enough to sort out the mess of Brexit , a mess Johnson has been a major party to creating.

    • 2banana
      Sep 23, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      Brexit = poorly run travel agency going out of business

      You gonna blame sunspots on Brexit too?

      • Leser
        Sep 23, 2019 at 1:19 pm

        I believe it’s rather the other way round?

        On a serious note, only the bungling British govt manages to spend £1000 on a single trip, with enormous volume discount. (£600m taxpayer bill to fly back 600k people). The mentioned Easyjet and BA surely laughing all the way to the bank.

        Great reporting Nick, thank you! I’m forwarding your article to everyone mentioning the case to me.

        • Old Engineer
          Sep 23, 2019 at 1:47 pm

          And I’m sure their intention is to recover that from the stranded travelers. Who may or may not have it. You have to give it to the UK though, there is no way in hell a U.S. traveller could expect that kind, or basically much of any kind of help from the U.S. government.

        • CRV
          Sep 24, 2019 at 1:51 am

          It’s even worse. GB has to fly back 150k people it says in the article. That makes 4000 p/p.

        • fajensen
          Sep 24, 2019 at 4:54 am

          Last-minute plane tickets are always going to be very expensive.

          I doubt it would be cheaper if they stuffed everyone into C-130 transporters and flew them home on the military budget, they don’t have the logistics nor the paperwork that the airlines have!

      • Just Some Random Guy
        Sep 23, 2019 at 7:48 pm

        “You gonna blame sunspots on Brexit too?”

        That’s silly?
        Everyone knows that’s Trump’s doing.

    • Covey
      Sep 23, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      The UK Government could have put up the £200m, but what would happen in 6 months time when they needed another £200m. When you are running a 100+ plane airline, £200m would not last long!

      Bailing out TC saves the holidays of 500,000 people who are going abroad to spend their money. If it was protecting tourists visiting the UK, it might be a different matter.

      The Chinese are less enthusiastic about pouring treasure in to failing European companies, and the elephant in the room was Fosun. There was doubt that the Chinese Central Bank was prepared to allow the £450m Fosan agreed to put up, on top of some £900m in previous loans to prop up TC.

      • char
        Sep 23, 2019 at 9:05 pm

        They could also put up 150m pound and run Thomas Cook in run down mode. Probably more effective.

    • Javert Chip
      Sep 23, 2019 at 2:17 pm

      John

      Why should UK taxpayers bail out a poorly managed travel business? Yea, a bunch of travelers are being inconvenienced, but most knew they were taking a risk and went anyhow.

      It’s not like their aren’t other (presumably better managed) service providers.

      • Sep 23, 2019 at 10:51 pm

        Why should [government] bail out a poorly managed [ ] business? Yea, a bunch of [ ] are being inconvenienced, but most knew they were taking a risk and anyhow.

        I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say here. Let the people decide. That’s how Democratic I am.

  4. GSH
    Sep 23, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    They made the right decision. The government has no business bailing out a defunct travel agency. They should not have insured the travel arrangements either. If you can afford thousands of pounds traveling you should be able to afford insurance.

  5. Traveling Wilbury
    Sep 23, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Yet another giant bailout of a corporation. Hey, lets go spend a lot of money cleaning up another giant mess made by an irresponsible corporation. Yeah. Ain’t socialism for corporations grand!

    If your personal finances fell apart while you were traveling abroad, do you think the government would arrange flights home for you? Not a chance. But hey, when a corporation does the same thing, the government only asks how how shall we jump.

    Of course, responsible corporate behavior would have been to warn travelers that the corporation saw financial troubles ahead and perhaps that they might have trouble coming home. The company certainly knew this deadline was approaching. But no, instead the corporation used travelers as a bargaining chip and said “hey, give us a big check or else we strand all these poor people.” That should add time to the jail sentences, but wait, no corporate leaders ever go to jail no matter what they do. So, no problem.

    • Sep 23, 2019 at 2:31 pm
      • MCH
        Sep 23, 2019 at 3:09 pm

        You know, that’s always a concern right? For example, would anyone buy a ticket on Norwegian or even Hainan airlines. The former is already in some degree of trouble, and the latter is owned by HNA group, which does have some troubles of their own.

        This is not to mention a raft of LCC in Asia, and elsewhere.

        Sooner or later though, the music will stop and someone will be left holding the bag.

      • Rat Fink
        Sep 23, 2019 at 4:32 pm

        The thing is, those people were busy checking their Facebook pages and reading the latest celebrity gossip.

        So they were oblivious to the dire situation over at Thomas Cook.

        And now the UK tax payer is going to bail these good people out.

        What’s next? I lose my life savings on the table at the casino, and my government makes me whole?

        It’s policies like this that reinforce ignorance, stupidity and retardion.

    • max
      Sep 24, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Bailouts started long time ago:

      Central banking in England rose out of the British government’s demand for funds to continue King William’s War in the 1690s, on the heels of the Glorious Revolution.
      Private creditors became hesitant to loan money to the government in this time when revenue ran desperately low.
      In 1694, the British government accepted the proposal from William Paterson to establish the Bank of England; the government received its badly needed loans in return for granting special privileges to the Bank.

      In America it started with revolution 1775 — wars need to be paid for — fiat money, hyperinflation and central banking go hand in hand.

  6. 2banana
    Sep 23, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    Why? To “rescue” well-off to rich holiday travelers who booked vacations with a financially troubled agency?

    Airports, trains and buses are still working all over the world. They will be able to find their own way home very easily without a government repatriation.

    “The government is also mobilizing its largest ever peacetime repatriation plan, code-named Operation Matterhorn, which will involve planes chartered from other airlines including British Airways and easyJet and is expected to set taxpayers back at least £600 million.”

    • raxadian
      Sep 23, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      Not all holidays travelers are well off. But if they didn’t carry some money for emergencies then they are idiots.

      • AlamedaRenter
        Sep 23, 2019 at 1:41 pm

        If they can afford to book a holiday through an agencies…they have a credit card. Put their flights on the ol’ plastic and pay if off once you get home…

      • Harrold
        Sep 23, 2019 at 1:47 pm

        Package tour operators really took off in the 1960’s when currency controls limited British citizens from taking more than £50 out of the country.

        • Clete
          Sep 23, 2019 at 2:38 pm

          @Harrold: This I did not know. Thanks for the info.

      • Old Engineer
        Sep 23, 2019 at 1:50 pm

        Carry money for emergencies? You’ve got to be kidding. And let’s face it, short notice airline tickets are not cheap. But just remember, half the people of the world have an IQ that is below average.

        • Sep 23, 2019 at 11:13 pm

          That’s actually one of the few times math outright lies. True fact.

        • Russell
          Sep 24, 2019 at 7:43 am

          Half the people of the world have an IQ that is below the median.
          Math never lies; only statisticians.

    • Leser
      Sep 23, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      Apparently the govt also considered the names ‘Project Ben Nevis’ and ‘Project Dover Cliffs’, but then the consensus was for something better underscoring Britain’s renewed imperial ambitions though unfortunately nobody could recall the name of a Chinese mountain. Finally Matterhorn was settled on as both distant enough and also a safe choice for spelling.

  7. Wisdom Seeker
    Sep 23, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    Between the stories about Thomas Cook and the Australian factoring fiasco, Nick is on fire!

    • bungee
      Sep 24, 2019 at 1:12 am

      I agree. Really good articles. Keep up the good work.

  8. Covey
    Sep 23, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    A lot of folk who book with TC have package tours and they are protected by ATOL who cover most of the losses. ATOL is funded in the UK by a surcharge on every package holiday sold in the UK. Those who have yet to go on their package tour will get a full refund and those on holiday will finish their holiday. Those who do “flights only” on UK airlines are not covered by ATOL, and would normally seek to recover from their credit card companies.

    The credit card companies are fairly wise to the travel industry, and at the first whiff of trouble, they start withholding funds from the merchant to cover potential losses, which can be severe. With TC turning over £9bn+ with most of their customers paying by plastic, the “withheld payments” for TC were said to be over £90m.

  9. nick kelly
    Sep 23, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    The government could have kept it afloat for 250 mil but now must pay 600 mil as result of refusing?

    It’s one thing to avoid throwing good money after bad but you are going to throw 3 times as much (the 600 will grow).

    For your 250 you get the big Chinese outfit in for much more AND save the benefits you will have to pay to former employees, and avoid chaos, etc. etc.

    It would be interesting to read the government’s reasoning.

    • SomethingStinks
      Sep 23, 2019 at 1:28 pm

      I think giving them 200 mil would be a bailout using taxpayer money, and I don’t think people are going to stand for that any more. Using 600 mil to “rescue” stranded vacationers might sound retarded, but its money being used directly to help taxpayers, and many businesses that are involved in the “rescue” will benefit as well. I think this was a good call by the government.

      • char
        Sep 23, 2019 at 9:12 pm

        For a lot less than 600m you could close the shop orderly. I doubt many people would complain

    • Covey
      Sep 23, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      The £600m figure was an error, and the Civil Aviation Authority say it should be about £150m to bring the 150k passengers home. The £600m apparently included the value of holidays booked but yet to be taken. A large proportion of the cancelled bookings are covered by ATOL and are not a Government cost. The flights are expensive because the planes fly empty one way!!

      TC did not go into Administration, but went straight to being Liquidated by the Official Receiver. That means there was no money to pay a firm of accountants to hawk the bits around. The moment TC signed the Liquidation papers their Civil Aviation Authority and EU Aviation licenses will have been revoked which is why the TC fleet ain’t flying, except for ferry flights back to their owners.

  10. Stephen
    Sep 23, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Well, if they can get the people on to the coast of Northern France, they could do a Dunkirk 2.0. Barring that, Trump may let the UK government borrow the US Military Airlift Command (MAC). I think we can spot them reasonable freight rates.

    • Harrold
      Sep 23, 2019 at 3:18 pm

      MAC was replaced by Air Mobility Command (AMC) a few decades ago.

      • Stephen
        Sep 24, 2019 at 1:26 pm

        I am an old dude. Marine Officer from the 80’s.

  11. doug
    Sep 23, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    It does seem like there could have been an orderly shutdown. Who benefits that there was not one? Perhaps no one directly involved?

    A bankruptcy event was not unexpected to readers here ..

  12. RON
    Sep 23, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Maybe they saved lives today but shutting down. If you’re running out of money and putting off plane maintenance this is a disaster waiting to happen.

  13. DR DOOM
    Sep 23, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Thomas Cook and its (with benefits)employees will be replaced in the market with fly by night out-fits and Internet liars feeding on the fools who want something for nothing or Mega Operators such as cruise lines.Thomas Cook was an old line British concern which once depended on referral and as such is no longer considered useful . Neo-liberalism took down Thomas Cook.My last trip to the Orkney Islands was designed around missing a cruise ship assault on Kirkwall. I was amazed when the locals in Kirkwall said that most stay on the ship . The freshly caught Haddock and chips would not not have been in peril after all , and the Highland Park scotch supply was intact also.

    • Javert Chip
      Sep 23, 2019 at 6:22 pm

      Dystopian world views remind me of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner character, Joe Btfsplk, who spent his life followed by a dark rain cloud & bringing bad luck to others.

      I used to laugh at that; when I see modern versions, I still do.

  14. Seneca's cliff
    Sep 23, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    I expect to see quite a bit of this sort of thing about halfway in to the upcoming recession. Air Travel and overseas tourism have boomed with 40 years of decreased costs to the customer. But as many recent articles have shown this cost cutting has pretty much stripped the airlines, hotel chains , and tour operators of their margins and left them as hand to mouth operations. When things get tough they will shut down left and right leaving stranded tourists as comedy fodder for late night tv hosts. Those who traveled in the 70’s and 80’s noticed the beginning of the “bus people” era and knew it would not end well.

  15. Gian
    Sep 23, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    I have booked several trips on Gate1 tours. They do a bang up job with hotel accommodations and airline reservations, not to mention ground transportation and activities. They are very inexpensive and leaves one wondering how they turn a profit. Perhaps I should worry they too will meet the same fate while I am abroad, stranded far from home?

  16. Rcohn
    Sep 23, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Many more zombie companies in Great Britain and the continent to disappear in the next couple of years because of the asinine policies of our central bankers.

    • walter map
      Sep 24, 2019 at 6:32 am

      There are reasons why central banks did not pursue their present policies in past crises. And there are reasons why these policies could not be avoided in the present crisis. These policies were always an extremely bad idea. And they enable even worse policies, and even worse ideas. It was all they could do, but now we see that they were a trap, and that they’re stuck with them, and that there is no going back. These policies cannot resolve the crisis, but they can and have maintained the status quo. For a little while.

  17. MCH
    Sep 23, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Ok, so the nice thing about this, if one were to look at the upside of Thomas Cook going kaput. It is that it will take 34 aircraft out of service. 34 less Airbus in the skies to contribute to global warming. May be people will decide to enjoy where they live instead, or perhaps use more ecologically friendly alternatives for travel like… solar powered sail boats.

    • char
      Sep 23, 2019 at 9:25 pm

      That is only the British part. They operated also airlines in Scandinavia, Germany and Spain

    • Xabier
      Sep 24, 2019 at 4:16 am

      In much of Britain at least, neither the built-environment nor the weather (for 8 months of the year) are seen as enjoyable by most people.

      The National Parks are small and over-crowded, and the beauty spots are being eaten away by further truly nasty housing development enabled by cheap debt.

      Hence the appeal of sunnier foreign holidays: and in many cases they are necessary to avoid divorce from a discontented wife!

      • MCH
        Sep 24, 2019 at 9:17 am

        Oh, I get it, to get away from the discontented wife or husband. Makes sense. :). Discontented other? Time to take a vacation, see you in three weeks.

  18. Just Some Random Guy
    Sep 23, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    The govt doing anything for the travelers is stupid. But if they are going to waste tax dollars, wouldn’t it be easier to just tell them book your own flights home and we’ll reimburse you? The idea of “rescuing” 600K people from beach resorts is beyond absurd.

    • Ann Cavlovic
      Sep 23, 2019 at 10:15 pm

      The UK is sorta stuck with the entire Brexit ordeal and the fact that they have been deporting long time residents of the UK. They definitely would not want a foreign government jailing their citizens when they run out of money.

    • walter map
      Sep 24, 2019 at 6:37 am

      It is absurd, but the alternatives are worse. Besides, damage control is always worthwhile, and they’re going to need the practice.

  19. ZeroBrain
    Sep 23, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    Wow – that needs some explaining: “a clutch of big hedge funds doing everything they could to prevent a last-minute rescue deal so that they could cash in £250 million on credit default swaps”, especially in light of the 600 million-pound rescue operation being more costly than the 200-milllion to finalize the deal.

    Also, maybe it’s time to revisit antitrust law and reduce the maximum allowed company size (perhaps by revenue, employee count, or customer count, etc) and commensurate impact of a company going under.

  20. Rob73
    Sep 24, 2019 at 2:16 am

    TC was a dinosaur. The airline part was basically unsellable in the current market. They will be replaced by other operators who are more tuned in. It’s a pity for the customers who are being stranded now but hey that’s why one books travel insurance, right?
    About the hedge funds opportunity, I like also to know more about it. Anybody here?

    • MC01
      Sep 24, 2019 at 2:59 am

      Rob, I am scrambling to add Thomas Cook Airways (and sister companies) to a piece for Wolf Street I have written on Sunday.
      While you all impatiently wait for it, let’s talk about those hedge funds.

      Over the past six months Thomas Cook shares were the most shorted on the London Stock exchange: as they lost about 90% of their value over that timeframe a lot of people made a lot of money.
      Yesterday over 10% of Thomas Cook shares were being shorted before the company was placed in compulsory liquidation and shares stopped trading. Profits on this final deal are estimated to be around £6 million, but over the previous six months those same hedge funds made far more money betting against Thomas Cook.

      On top of this there are several other financial products, derivatives really, of which Credit Default Swaps (CDS) are the best known which work like this: the issuer, usually the investment arm of a large bank like Italy’s Intesa-Sanpaolo or France’s BNP-Paribas, will pay you face value plus a premium if Company X defaults on its obligations and/or enters liquidation by a certain date. If the company doesn’t default you usually get back just a fraction of your starting capital (70% being common).
      It’s effectively a bet thinly disguised as a financial instrument.

      According to Bloomberg the payout for Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy will be in the region of $250 million, with the main beneficiary being Sona Asset Management, which was also a TC shareholder which gained notoriety for threatening to block any rescue plan. How much of this was just macho posturing and how much weight Sona really had to scuttle a rescue deal is open to debate. Regardless, TC was a dead man walking, having been so mismanaged for years it was only a matter of when.

      • fajensen
        Sep 24, 2019 at 5:23 am

        … shorted before the company was placed in compulsory liquidation and shares stopped trading. …

        In that case, how will the shorters holding ‘all the way to the bitter end’ close out their positions?

        • MC01
          Sep 24, 2019 at 6:23 am

          Those who held to their Thomas Cook positions to the bitter end lost their money, but remember here we are dealing with professional traders.
          Professional traders engage in a thing called High-Frequency Trading (HFT), a highly sophisticated combination of software and hardware which allows them to buy, sell and hold in microseconds.
          Walk by any stock exchange worth its salt and you’ll notice a forest of antennas on the roof, many of them unlike anything else you see around. Those are not just there for yuppies to order their lunch, but mostly to allow professional investors to cut transmission times to the minimum allowed by present technology. Let’s just say a big driver behind Free-Space Optical Communication (FSO) is the promise to make HFT communication even faster and more secure.

          Armed with these tools and over three decades of experience, professional traders have no problem unwinding their short positions in far less than a second, making a nice bundle in the meantime. I am ready to be a shining sixpence over 90% of short positions had been unwound by the time TC ceased trading.

        • ZeroBrain
          Sep 24, 2019 at 7:07 am

          I thought they are cash settled when they stop trading? Any daytraders care to chime in?

        • fajensen
          Sep 27, 2019 at 3:17 am

          Did some Googling. The answer is, that It Depends on the broker, the kind of liquidation, and the path taken by the liquidators.

          The outcomes vary from:

          The stock being cancelled, in which case one is in the clear, or

          Closing out via the ‘Pink-sheet/OTC’ market which can be a problem because ‘Pinks’ can be really volatile,

          Or the business emerges restructured, the stock may rise a lot and one might suddenly be sucked into a short squeeze,

          Or the stock ends up suspended while the liquidators very slowly wind up all the assets. While this is going on, one may be paying borrowing fees up to 100% p/a to the broker, with no way of getting out of that position.

          The dice is loaded with: 1 Good and 3 bad-to-catastrophic outcomes.

          I.O.W: Riding a short all the way to Zero is a very risky venture, one gets an image of that guy riding the nuke in Dr Strangelove!

  21. Jos Oskam
    Sep 24, 2019 at 3:01 am

    Huh?
    From the article:
    “…after failing to raise the £200 million … to complete its rescue…”
    “…largest ever peacetime repatriation plan … is expected to set taxpayers back at least £600 million…”

    So, there was _no_ 200 mil to rescue poor old Thomas, but there _is_ 600 mil to spend on the consequences.

    What am I missing here?

    • fajensen
      Sep 24, 2019 at 5:28 am

      What am I missing here?

      Isn’t it normally the case that management gets their well-deserved golden parachute service, with all the hardship and stuff they suffered busting out the joint in the first place?

      Perhaps even with an ‘unfair dismissal bonus’ on top, because, darn, those 2500 EUR/hr legal people around HR, they just screw up all the time, which can triple the ‘exit bonus’ (I have seen that happen twice).

  22. Paddy Lewis
    Sep 24, 2019 at 3:55 am

    it is with great shame to see TC go in the way it did, but closing it down straight away when everything was there in plain sight. the planes could have flown the passengers back over a 2 week time frame and left everybody on the beach until home time. The planes if leased (most likely) would have a cancelation cost so that would need covered then the staff will have some redundancy package including the pilots so if ATOL covered these costs for the 2 weeks needed problem would have been solved and hopefully the employees would have new jobs too.

  23. Snydeman
    Sep 24, 2019 at 11:28 am

    I’m going out on a limb here, but is there any chance this is why there were tremors in the repo markets last week? Is T.C. even a big enough fish to make those kinds of waves in such a massive market?

  24. nick kelly
    Sep 24, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    Couple of follow ups:

    ‘You shouldn’t bail out a company with bad management.’

    Obviously in these circumstances you can replace management.

    Re: these quite odd low- ball estimates of the costs of the collapse. The fact that a portion is covered by insurance does not alter by a farthing the cost. The outlay will be paid from customer surcharges and the funds will be replenished by higher charges in the future. Thomas Cook as a complete package seller will have been responsible for all kinds of extras not included in this $500 per: e.g. , land transport, hotels.

    There seems to be no consideration, including the financial consideration, of the complete disruption of 600 thousand schedules. People are not going to get to work on time. All kinds of other arrangements will fail.

    If the govt couldn’t see its way to the loan of 200 million, couldn’t a fraction of that kept the planes flying for another two weeks for an orderly shutdown.

    Most annoying: the idea that the customers are financially independent and do not need help. I suspect this idea has US origins, where anyone flying to a European beach is a person of means because after all it’s a long way.

    Spain, Morocco, and Italy are closer to the UK than Fargo, North Dakota is to Las Vegas. And you can’t drive to the first three. Many of the UK folks on holiday will be no wealthier than the Fargo cashier or waitress saving for a few days in Vegas. Many of these people will not own cars.

    Any co with 600, 000 customers is worth taking a very close look at before dropping the ax. A striking feature is the much larger investment of the Chinese company, both former and new money. China has the fastest growing tourist market and having a Chinese majority owner should have pulled in a lot of this traffic.

    One more number to throw in: how much will the UK spend trying to create business relationships with China? A big one was just thrown away.

  25. Work is All Right for Killing Time, but it's a Shaky Way to Make a Living
    Sep 24, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Fiji calling. Please advise on how to get out of here. Another Mai Tai in the meantime.

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