Reducing $17 bil debt load a Charter priority

Company considering divesting assets

NEW YORK — Charter Communications said Wednesday that it is determined to slash the hefty debt load that has knocked it — and other cablers — out of favor with investors.

“The market is telling us in the very near term, ‘You guys ought to think about reducing debt,’ ” CEO Carl Vogel told investors during a conference at the company’s St. Louis headquarters.

The debt, which stands at well over $17 billion, is a major factor in the dramatic 80% drop in Charter stock this year. The company’s accounting practices are the target of a Justice Dept. inquiry and shareholder lawsuits.

The stock perked up briefly earlier in the summer when Charter’s majority owner and chairman, Paul Allen, disclosed in a Securities & Exchange Commission filing that he may take the company private.

“We have made no decisions or plans that we felt we need to inform the investment community about” since then, said Bill Savoy, president of Allen’s holding company, Vulcan Ventures.

Charter also is considering divesting assets. Execs said they are in preliminary talks to sell rural cable systems with up to 600,000 subscribers. Charter has about 6.8 million subs.

The shares fell 1.01% to $2.95 on Wednesday. On Jan. 2, the shares closed at $16.60.

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