MGM expected to buy equity stake in Carolco

MGM is expected to strike a deal this week to acquire a 20% equity stake in Carolco Pictures for about $ 50 million to $ 60 million. In return, MGM picks up distribution rights to the struggling indie’s pictures once its pact with TriStar Pictures expires in June 1994.

The deal was orchestrated by the state-owned French bank Credit Lyonnais, to which Carolco already owes as much as $ 42 million. MGM, on the other hand, is costing CL about $ 1 million a day.

Carolco’s other foreign partners — Japan’s Pioneer, France’s Canal Plus and Italy’s Rizzoli — reportedly have been lobbying the bank to pony up more cash as a price for assuming a stronger role in Carolco.

Once the dust settles, the good news for MGM is that it would end up with a new injection of high-end product. Under its present game plan, MGM is limited to producing relatively low-cost pictures.

Meanwhile, Carolco gets a new lease on life but is left with an ambivalent and potentially quarrelsome board of directors.

As for CL, sources suggest it is following its traditional strategy: Assembling all of its troubled loans into one basket.

That move may mean CL is setting up another potential clash: Alan Ladd Jr. vs. Mario Kassar.

One source close to both companies says Kassar could outshine Ladd with his signature big-event pictures unless Ladd — the force behind “Star Wars”– is able to punch up MGM’s past gloomy B.O. performance. But other sources inside MGM say it’s premature to draw such a conclusion.

More pressing is the question of melding bloated overhead.

One of Carolco’s biggest problems to date has been its enormous overhead. Add that to MGM’s, and the costs could be exorbitant. But insiders say that’s specifically why CL may be interested in eventually merging the two in some fashion. It would be a way to dunk a lot of that debt and increase product flow.

Aside from the additional cash CL is expected to put up in the form of an equity stake for MGM, sources noted late Friday that Carolco’s three foreign partners, which have essentially kept it alive for the past year, are expected to put up several million extra themselves, although a firm amount was unknown late last week.

The partners currently hold about $ 152.8 million in preferred stock. The breakdown on their equity stake in Carolco common shares stands at: Canal Plus, 15%; Rizzoli, 15%; Pioneer, 18.5%.

Sources said late last week that the partners were a bit annoyed at the thought of CL retaining a 20% hold with all of the millions they have already plunked down. If CL were to get that amount, sources said the bank should be willing to come forward with more cash.

Their repeated investments in the overextended indie have come at a high price for Kassar. Case in point: On the upcoming Memorial Day release “Cliffhanger,” Carolco is a net-profit participant in its own picture, with the rest going to the partners.

Financial restructuring

Carolco is already in the midst of yet another comprehensive financial restructuring. The focus primarily is on renegotiating its 13% subordinated and 14% senior notes with bondholders. It is currently not paying interest on those notes, which total about $ 3.4 million. Carolco reportedly is mulling the possibility of buying back some of those notes, offering new notes at higher interest rate to be paid out over a longer period of time or a combination of both.

Separately Friday, MGM announced plans to buy back some of its bonds–an announcement that sparked strong trading, spiking bond prices on the news.

Trading on $ 112 million (face value) of outstanding 12.625% notes, due Dec. 15, 1993, bounced three points to 94 cents on the dollar, while $ 161 million in 13% notes due 1996 jumped eight points to 71 cents on the dollar.

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