News maps out $2 bil trip to bond markets

Fox parent News Corp. looks as if it’s about to follow Time Warner and TCI to the bond markets to restructure its balance sheet at lower interest rates.

The company announced Friday that it has filed a shelf registration with the Securities & Exchange Commission to permit the offering from time to time of up to $ 2 billion in new bonds.

In a press release, the company said the debt securities may be senior, senior subordinated or subordinated.

Time Warner and TCI also have tapped the bond markets so far this year with at least one $ 1 billion offering apiece. Unlike those two companies, however, News is not rated investment grade by either Moody’s Investors Service or Standard & Poor’s. Last October, the company offered $ 850 million of seven-year and 12-year bonds, scaled back from $ 1 billion, which were rated junk by both agencies. The offering sunk in a market oversupplied by junk bonds.

Low interest a key

While the bond market may be more receptive to the company’s next issue, it is vital for News to position itself to take advantage of the current low interest rate environment. The market window for low rates could rapidly change due to investor uncertainties over policies that could be adopted by the new presidential administration and its impact on the long-term interest environment. “News is just getting its house in order,” said Mark Riley, a principal of Grippo and Riley, a money management firm.

News has been actively restructuring its balance sheet for the past two years by issuing new debt, renegotiating its bank loans, and selling assets. The company successfully sold $ 700 million in new stock last fall.

News Corp. has until February 1994 to repay the $ 2.5 billion that it owes banks. Another $ 3.2 billion payment comes due in 1997. Currently, the company has $ 7 billion-plus in debt, most of it to banks. For its latest fiscal year, which ended in June, 1992, the company paid out net $ 678 million in annual interest. That results for an overall interest rate of about 9.7% on its debt holdings.

The company could end up saving significantly on this amount by locking in fixed rates through new bond offerings. Riley estimated that News could finance new debt at coupons comparable to those of the Time Warner issue this past week. TW financed a $ 500 million offering of seven-year notes with a coupon of 7.95% and another $ 500 million of five-year notes at 7.45%.

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