MGM granted debt extension

Studio has more time to seek buyer

MGM has a little more time to sort out its future.

The beleaguered Lion received Wednesday another month and a half of relief from payments on its debt, with its lenders agreeing to skip receiving payments until mid-May.

The announcement — which wasn’t a surprise — came on the same day that the previous extension on its debt payments would have run out. It’s the fourth time since September that lenders to MGM have made such an agreement, aimed at giving CEO Stephen Cooper enough time to restructure the storied studio.

The announcement also said that MGM’s received an OK from lenders to forego a payment that was due April 8 on its $250 million credit line.

MGM put itself up for sale in November, drawing a trio of binding offers two weeks ago. Lionsgate bailed out of the bidding last week, leaving only Time Warner and Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries in the running.

Wednesday’s announcement didn’t address what steps MGM could take next — whether it will select a buyer, seek another round of bidding or recapitalize itself, probably through a pre-packaged bankruptcy.

A statement from MGM said its lenders had “agreed to extend the forbearance period and therefore will not seek remedies in connection with the nonpayment of interest and principal due on the company’s bank debt, including the revolving credit facility, through May 14, 2010. The lenders took this action in support of the company’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its financial position, and MGM appreciates their continued support throughout the process.”

MGM debtholders are set to meet Thursday and said to be split into two camps — one that wants to accept the best offer; and the other that wants to prolong the process in hopes of keeping the studio alive. The remaining binding offers for MGM are believed to be in the $1.5 billion range, far below the $2 billion threshold price sought by MGM and its debtholders.

The first round of bidding generated six non-binding offers, including bids from Liberty Media Corp. and Elliot Management. But declining DVD revenues have cooled interest in acquiring the 86-year-old studio.

MGM carries debts of $3.7 billion. MGM’s assets include its name and logo, the United Artists operations, a library with more than 4,000 titles, the James Bond franchise, half of “The Hobbit” franchise and a barebones film and TV operation.

MGM’s only film release this year, “Hot Tub Time Machine,” has grossed a moderate $15.6 million in its first four days.

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