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Void Benko Trusteeship Reveals Swiss Investor’s Signa Stake

Rene Benko Photographer: Georg Hochmuth/AFP/Getty Images

  • Arthur Eugster owns 11.5% of Signa Holding, filing shows
  • Signa has been in last-minute talks to secure a cash lifeline
28. November 2023 at 12:03 MEZ

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Swiss businessman Arthur Eugster revealed a stake in Signa Holding GmbH after cancelling a trusteeship that had previously handed founder Rene Benko control of his shares.

AE Familienholding AG and Eugster/Frismag AG — two companies controlled by the Swiss coffee-machine component maker - own 11.5% of Signa Holding, according to a filing published in the Austrian corporate registry. The stake had previously been assigned to Familie Benko 2017 Zwei GmbH as trustee, a company fully owned by the Benko Family Private Trust.

The cancellation may be a sign of maneuvering around the embattled property and retail group as it holds last-ditch talks to secure emergency funding. Benko’s trust still owns about two-thirds of Signa Holding after the change, though it’s unclear if any of those holdings are a result of similar trusteeships.

“This trusteeship has now been cancelled and the stakes transferred,” a spokesperson for the Eugster family said in a statement Tuesday. He declined to give a reason for the change but said the family’s stake hadn’t increased from earlier levels.

A representative for Signa didn’t respond to a call and message seeking comment.

While the filing may not give a full scope of any underlying transactions, it reflects jostling among shareholders of the €23 billion ($25 billion) property empire that’s privately held. Signa may file dozens of insolvencies across a complex network of companies unless it can secure fresh cash, according to people with direct knowledge of financing efforts.

As of July, Eugster’s two investment vehicles held a 7.2% stake in Signa Development AG, the smaller property unit majority owned by Benko. The Austrian registry didn’t show any recent filings for Signa Development as of Tuesday.

Benko and Other Stakeholders Could See Losses Across Empire

Shareholder breakdown of Signa Holding and its main subsidiaries

Sources: Company filings; Bloomberg

Note: As of most recent shareholder meetings in July and October 2023

Bids for Signa Development bonds were as low as less than 10 euro cents, while asks ranged from around 15 cents to near 30 cents, according to runs seen by Bloomberg News.

Shareholders stand to lose most in the case of an insolvency due to their lower ranking in the hierarchy of investors. Signa’s shareholders include high-profile investors from Europe’s elite, including Austrian construction tycoon Hans Peter Haselsteiner, German transportation magnate Klaus-Michael Kuehne and France’s Peugeot family.

Haselsteiner was instrumental in efforts to remove Benko from Signa’s advisory board earlier this month. Kuehne has already taken over a Signa project in Germany and has been considering whether to invest in Signa’s flagship Elbtower project in Hamburg, according to the Handelsblatt newspaper.

Several shareholders in Signa Prime and Signa Development, including German consultancy expert Roland Berger and the U.S. real estate investor Madison International Realty LLC, have put options to offload their shares under certain conditions.

    — With assistance from Giulia Morpurgo

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