H2O Asset Management froze several funds at the request of the French financial regulator, which cited uncertainties over the valuation of illiquid assets the firm is selling back to German financier Lars Windhorst at a steep discount.
H2O is selling the assets — for the most part, thinly traded bonds in companies tied to Mr. Windhorst such as La Perla Holding and oil explorer Trent Petroleum — at about half their nominal value, in a process scheduled to be completed by late September. The fund suspension will last four weeks.
France's Autorite des Marches Financiers said Aug. 28 that it requested the freeze to protect the interests of fund investors in the process, the latest twist in a saga that began more than a year ago after revelations about H2O's exposure to Mr. Windhorst. Concerns that the rarely traded securities were not suited for funds that allowed investors to make daily withdrawals triggered about €8 billion of outflows at the time.
H2O, which manages more than $25 billion in assets, is led by Bruno Crastes and Vincent Chailley. The investment firm is one of the top moneymakers for Natixis' asset management arm.
"Natixis supports these measures, which are aimed at protecting investors' interests," Natixis said in a separate statement following the funds' suspension. "The suspension of these funds has no financial impact on Natixis, either on the balance sheet or on the income statement."
Mr. Windhorst, who sold the assets to H2O in the first place, has secured financing from two investors to buy them back through a new vehicle called Evergreen Funding. Evergreen in June issued a €1.25 billion 1-year bond paying a yield of 12.5% to buy back securities with a nominal value of over €2 billion at a 50% discount. The deal is expected to yield a profit of more than €1 billion for Mr. Windhorst's Evergreen, people familiar with the matter said.
"Our regulators are aware of the Evergreen transaction and share our opinion that it is in the interest of our investors to execute it," H2O's CEO Bruno Crastes said in an emailed statement. "They asked us to halt redemptions and subscriptions on three funds over valuation uncertainties."