Taking advantage of prevailing low interest rates, a slew of entertainment companies have been restructuring their balance sheets and flooding the public debt market with new offerings. Overall activity (entertainment and non-entertainment) has been tremendous, with up to $ 10 billion of new debt being issued during each of the last several weeks.
Revenues in film, cable, broadcast TV and radio climbed to an estimated $ 6.7 billion in the first quarter, with another $ 3.2 billion in the second quarter to date, according to the Securities Data Co.
On Wall Street, the biggest winner for the first half is Merrill Lynch, which dominated the market as manager or co-manager of nearly three-quarters of the paper.
First Boston was a distant second, handling $ 1.8 billion in new debt.
“The bond market has been receptive to just about every offer that’s come at it,” said Robert J. Crowley Jr., managing director of investment banking at Furman Selz. “There’s a sense that even if interest rates aren’t going to rise immediately, they’re probably not going to go too much lower, so people are trying to lock in these very good numbers.”
Mark Leavitt, managing director at investment bankers Oppenheimer & Co., agrees: “Long-term rates are the lowest they’ve been in 15 years; from a refinancing point of view, now looks like a very good time.”
Clearly, Time Warner and News Corp., two debt-laden giants, are dominating the market as they move to chop interest expenses.
In cable, most of the players went into the market last year when rates began their descent, pressured to lock in lower rates earlier. Still, Tele-Communications Inc., which faces a multibillion dollar construction project installing a digital network, is back again, raising $ 2.1 billion since January. And Friday, Jones Intercable filed a shelf offering for $ 500 million of new debt.
Time Warner has restructured more than $ 10 billion of debt in the last six months, retiring some and refinancing the rest. Last week, it priced a convertible debt offering of $ 2.1 billion of Liquid Yield Option Notes, due 2013.
The notes will be convertible in five years at the option of the holder for shares of common stock of the company at the rate of 7.759 Time Warner shares per $ 1,000 principal at maturity. That converts to $ 48 a share for a 5% return , figuring the stock currently trades around $ 38. The notes, bringing in about $ 782 million, will be used to redeem a like amount of Time Warner’s 8.75% convertible subordinated debentures due 2015.
In May, Time Warner’s Warner Communications Inc. called for redemption of all of the $ 117 million 10.875% subordinated debentures due in 1995. The bonds will be cashed out at 100% of their face price, plus accrued interest to the redemption date of June 23, 1993.
Meanwhile, News Corp. issued $ 2.8 billion in new debt, much of it in the first quarter, in its ongoing effort to revitalize its balance sheet and achieve a full investment-grade rating. As a result of the new rates, interest expenses dropped 20% in its fiscal third quarter, ended May 31.
Paramount Communications also made an early call on a portion of its public debt in late May. On July 1, the company will redeem all $ 100 million 8.5% senior notes due 1996. The price is 100% of the principal plus accrued interest.
Sources close to Paramount say that, unlike Time Warner, the company does not wish to further deleverage its balance sheet, which boasts a healthy $ 961 million in cash and just $ 808 million in long-term debt. They say they expect Par to refinance the debt at prevailing lower rates.
And at Viacom Inc. word last week was that it will redeem all outstanding 11. 80% senior subordinated notes due 1998, valued at $ 298 million. The redemption will occur on July 15 at a price equal to 103.37% of the principal amount.
Even upstart Savoy Pictures Entertainment smelled an opportunity. Friday it brought to market a $ 75 million offering of convertible subordinated debentures due in 2003 with a coupon of 7% and an initial conversion price of $ 18.60 per share of common stock. The debt was rated B2 by Moody’s Investor Service.