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Interim CEO confident troubled Sunshine Oilsands will get funding

Sunshine Oilsands Ltd., largely backed by state-owned Chinese enterprises and Asian retail investors, faces 71 lawsuits seeking a total of $94-million for unpaid bills.

Dave Olecko

Sunshine Oilsands Ltd.'s interim chief executive officer is confident the Chinese-backed company can secure the funding it needs to pay millions of dollars in past-due bills and restart its stalled project, even as its shares sink to new lows.

Under an agreement, Calgary-based Sunshine has until the end of May to get money through a securities offering or asset sales to pay suppliers who have filed 71 lawsuits seeking a total of $94-million. That is more than 20 per cent of the oil sands developer's stock market value.

"I've inherited some issues, some self-created challenges, yes. But I'm very impressed with how this current management team has stepped up and taken a look at how we're going to address the issues in front of us, and more importantly the support that we're getting from the board of directors," David Sealock, Sunshine's interim president and CEO, said in an interview.

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"My view is, any time there is a problem, there are really two things you can do: Walk away from it or resolve the issue. This management team is resolving the issue."

Mr. Sealock has been at the helm as the company has searched for a new CEO and chief financial officer following the departures of John Zahary and Robert Pearce in December. At least one analyst has said he believes the market could be waiting for permanent leadership to be in place before providing financing.

The company's 10,000-barrel-a-day West Ells oil sands project in northern Alberta has been on hold since August, when it halted work following a series of cost overruns and delays. The work is about 80 per cent complete after the company invested about about $400-million.

Sunshine faces the funding shortfall despite being partly owned by Chinese financial and energy concerns that together control global assets of more than a trillion dollars. China Life Insurance Co. Ltd., Bank of China, China Investment Corp., China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), and Orient International Resources Group Ltd. own roughly 40 per cent of the company.

Their unwillingness to date to advance more money contrasts with commonly held views in Canada that the Chinese government had directed its enterprises to secure and develop resources around the world at any cost to help fuel its huge and expanding economy.

Mr. Sealock said the focus is now on return on investment and increasing production.

Sunshine and its financial advisers, Scotia Capital and Morgan Stanley, are examining a range of financing options, including debt and equity, as well as joint ventures, asset sales and sale lease-back deals.

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Sunshine shares have tumbled in recent days, falling more than 3.5 per cent on Tuesday to 13.5 cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange, a new low for the company. They are down 40 per cent so far this year.

Mr. Sealock said he could not provide any details about or odds of the possible financing options, citing a blackout period for disclosure in place since 2013. Sunshine has raised $67-million through four equity issues since December.

It has also paid its suppliers 45 per cent of what they are owed.

"My view is that it would be an advantage for us to get a farm-in [a deal in which another company operates on its acreage] or joint venture, but the board of directors is reviewing all the options that we have and making sure that they address them properly," he said.

He acknowledged that some investors and other observers are under the impression that the major shareholders are not helping with the efforts to get the necessary funding.

"The board of directors will issue information as we proceed through this financing initiative," he said. "We do have constant communication with the major shareholders, looking for their advice and their views in terms of the market and what we should be doing and how we're going to resolve the issues."

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About the Author
Mergers and Acquisitions Reporter

Jeffrey Jones is a veteran journalist specializing in mergers, acquisitions and private equity for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2013, he was a senior reporter for Reuters, writing news, features and analysis on energy deals, pipelines, politics and general topics. More

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