Bad debt from Venezuela frequent footnote in Crane & Co. sale

The central bank of Venezuela owes an undisclosed amount to Crane & Co., the Berkshires company that is about to be sold after more than two centuries of local ownership. Pictured are bills of the country's currency, the bolivar.

DALTON — Nearing its last day as an independent company, Crane & Co. is still waiting for Nicolas Maduro to make good on a debt.

But it looks like the clock will run out on getting money out of the president of Venezuela and his government, leaving Crane & Co. in the position shared by countless other American companies.

The South American country's central bank owes an undisclosed amount to Crane & Co., presumably for banknote paper for its currency, the bolivar, or for the security technology services the firm provides to customers around the world.

The storied local manufacturer, which employees 350 in the Berkshires and 1,100 around the world, is expected to be sold as soon as this week to a Connecticut company.

The sellers are over 100 members of the Crane family and a private equity firm.

The buyer, oddly enough, shares a name — Crane Co. — but has no connection to the Cranes who founded a paper mill in the Berkshires in 1801.

The word "Venezuela" appears 244 times in the sale agreement reached between Crane & Co., operator of Crane Currency, and Crane Co.

When the $800 million deal closes, some of the money will be kept apart — with that unpaid Venezuelan debt in mind.

"Certain funds will be held in a separate escrow fund to cover outstanding receivables and inventory related to contract obligations with the Venezuelan government," according to a copy of Form 8-K filed Dec. 5 with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Craig Conrad, a Crane & Co. spokesman, said it does not comment on particular customers, or in this case, countries. He said Crane & Co. counts as many as 60 central banks as customers around the globe.

The sales agreement refers, dozens of times, to both a "Venezuela Escrow Account" and to a "Venezuela Escrow Amount."

The SEC filing, posted at the time of the sale announcement, does not specify that unpaid amount.

Conrad suggested the terms are standard in transactions such as this.

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"Those are designed to highlight what lawyers see as potential risks," he said of the 244 references to the Venezuelan debt.

That legal language is full of talk of "outstanding receivables," "contract obligations with the Venezuelan government" and "sequestered inventory collections."

It also includes a raft of definitions, including this one: "'Venezuelan Government' means any Governmental Entity in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela or any instrumentality of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, including el Banco Central de Venezuela."

For years, American companies have been cutting their losses in Venezuela, whose economy, now in depression, has been battered for years by long-term declines in oil prices and by rampant inflation and political conflict.

Prices rose 274 percent 2016, according to a Reuters report.

CNN Money reported in July that Pepsico had written off its business in the country, taking a $1.4 billion loss. Other companies hightailing it out of Venezuela include airlines, General Motors, Bridgestone and the consumer goods makers Colgate and Kimberly Clark.

A coalition of airlines is trying to retrieve $3.8 billion in profits seized by the government, the trade journal of the International Air Transport Association reported.

Conrad said Crane Co.'s purchase of Crane & Co., which had been tentatively scheduled to close Wednesday, could be completed this week.

"From the financial side, there are a lot of moving parts," he said.

Though the Venezuelan government hasn't settled with the supplier of its own currency paper, there is evidence people down there are not opposed to handling the paper on which U.S. dollars are printed — courtesy of Crane & Co.

According to multiple press accounts, Maduro's son, Nicolas Ernesto Maduro Guerra, was seen at a family friend's March 2015 wedding, held in a luxury Caracas hotel, being showered with American dollars.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.