Merger with U.S. firm brings cash to Spanish company

Cash-strapped Spanish conglom Prisa, owner of satcaster Digital Plus, has received a cash infusion of almost E660 million ($898.3 million) from a merger with U.S. investment company Liberty Acquisition Holdings.

Merger will be put through via a share swap between Prisa and Delaware-based Liberty, a U.S.-listed special purpose acquisition company headed by Nicolas Berggruen and Martin Franklin.

The Prisa stake, owned by the Polanco family since the firm’s launch in 1972, will most likely be halved from 70% to around 35%.

The Polancos will retain control of Prisa, however, through statutes limiting voting rights of other shareholders. Prisa will list on the New York Stock Exchange via American depositary receipts.

According to Liberty, deal will close mid-year.

Franklin said Liberty had been impressed by Prisa’s growth potential in digital markets, print and film/TV contents and Latin America.

Deal allows Prisa “to consolidate its financial position,” Prisa CEO Juan Luis Cebrian said.

In December 2007, Prisa borrowed $2.4 billion from a seven-bank syndicate led by London-based HSBC, to raise its stake in Digital Plus-owner Sogecable from 50% to 100%.

Media stocks crashed soon after, making the acquisition look vastly overpriced.

Prisa has been battling its multibillion-dollar debts by divestments.

In November it sold a 20% stake in Digital Plus to Spanish telco Telefonica. A month later, it sold a 22% stake in Digital Plus and a majority stake in its terrestrial web, Cuatro, to Spanish broadcaster Telecinco, which is owned by Italy’s Mediaset.

That cut Prisa’s debt to around $5.4 billion by the end of 2009.

Key issues of the merger still have to be clarified, including the terms and conditions of the HSBC $2.4 billion bridge loan, which was recently extended until 2013.

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