A major New York hedge fund, York Capital, is understood to have bought into a portion of the €1.2bn debt owed by the Quinn Group, raising the danger some debt holders might push to take over the company.
Sean Quinn and his family remain the owners of the industrial holdings group, but are locked in intensive talks with banks and bondholders. Some of the debts owned by the company mature within weeks.
The Irish Independent has learned that York Capital has been buying up Quinn Group debt that is being sold at prices more than 40pc below face value.
Market insiders suggest the Quinn paper is being acquired with a view to potentially executing an 'own-to-control' or 'loan-to-own' strategy that could see them wrestle ownership of the business away from the Quinn family in exchange for cancelling debt.
Performing debt normally trades close to or above face value; prices below that reflect the perceived inability of the borrower to repay the loans, which is generally remedied by taking the business to make up the shortfall.
Another source said it was no surprise that some of the debt paper would be sold on at this stage, but the source said the majority of it remains in the hands of major banks. The notes involved rank equally with bank debt, both are unsecured.
York Capital would not comment on its plans for Quinn Group but it is believed to be at least one of the buyers of Quinn-issued private placement notes that are selling at below 60c in the euro.
Holders of the debt get a strong hand to block any restructuring plans put forward by the borrower and its advisers. Quinn Group's assets range from quarrying and hotels in Ireland to manufacturing operations in the UK and the continent.
With hedge fund Oaktree involved in McInerney, this is the latest instance of international investors targeting distressed Irish companies. Private equity and hedge funds looked at the bank sector unsuccessfully in 2008.
It now seems they are homing in on corporates that racked up unsustainable debt piles at the top of the boom, but have attractive assets if some of the debt can be made to disappear.
York Capital is among the biggest hedge funds in the US, managing more than €10bn of funds, and operating from offices in New York, London and Hong Kong.
The firm has a long track record as a distressed debt investor. Earlier this year it was part of a group of investors that engineered a debt for equity deal that forced private equity owners to hand over control of the UK's Gala Coral in exchange for writing off £700m of its £1.9bn of debt.