Cash-poor Adelphia selling cable systems

Subscriber numbers include 800,000 in L.A.

Adelphia Communications officially hung “for sale” signs on cable systems in Southern California, Florida and Virginia as it struggles to raise cash amid a storm of negative news and a plunging stock.

The embattled cabler’s board of directors has authorized financial advisers Salmon Smith Barney, CS First Boston and Banc of America to solicit formal offers for cable systems with a total of 2.75 million subscribers — including a valuable cluster of 800,000 subs in Los Angeles that’s likely to prove a hot property in the media and entertainment world.

Offering memoranda with operational and financial details of the assets for sale, which represent about half of the company’s subs, will be available to potential buyers early next week.

“I am confident that the steps we are taking will enable us to achieve our objectives of reducing debt, de-leveraging our balance sheet, and creating a stronger Adelphia better positioned to build the company’s value for all of our shareholders,” Adelphia chairman-CEO John Rigas said in a statement.

$2.3 billion in loans

The formerly low-profile company grabbed headlines in early April when it disclosed $2.3 billion worth of off-balance sheet loans to related entities controlled by the Rigas family. Wary investors panicked and the stock tanked. It was further battered by news that the SEC is investigating the cabler’s aggressive accounting and shareholders are suing. The stock faces delisting after the company missed several deadlines for filing its 2001 annual report.

Rigas said Adelphia has received numerous “expressions of interest” in the cable systems. Paul Allen of Charter Communications badly wants the Los Angeles properties, which he bid for unsuccessfully against Adelphia in 1999. Despite the steep pricetag (they could be worth $3 billion), a wide range of cablers and showbiz concerns are bound to be in the running as well. The field may be even wider than usual since an appeals court recently overturned regs that forbid ownership of broadcast and cable assets in the same market.