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It turns out that one commodity still commands a hefty price: time. For the New York Times, which has $500m in credit facilities and debt due this year and a further $250m next, the sound of the ticking clock is sufficiently disturbing to have compelled it to pay Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim more than 14 per cent on $250m of senior notes. The company will also grant warrants enabling the investor to increase his stake in the group from 6.9 per cent to about 17 per cent.
The terms, including an option to add 300 basis points of the coupon to the debt rather than pay cash, reflect the Times’ financial straits. The environment for raising funds – either through a sale and leaseback of part of its headquarters or disposal of its Boston interests – could hardly be worse. The advertising slump, meanwhile, is hurting even its flagship brand. With part of a $400m 2011 revolving credit facility unexpended, Mr Slim’s funds will see the company through 2009, and help refinance a portion of the notes coming due next year.
Bank financing, in contrast, would probably have come with a coupon in the high teens and without the payment-in-kind feature. In that sense, perhaps, the Times has got itself a good deal. Mr Slim will not get a board seat or the votes to challenge the controlling Sulzberger family. But he now has greater upside should the Times pull off its asset sales and, crucially, moves higher up the capital structure (above the family), with about a fifth to a quarter of its debt, in a worst-case scenario.
He has also strengthened his position should he later opt for a more aggressive stance. The Times must shed assets and cut costs – while also grappling with non-cyclical pressures affecting print advertising and regional media. The Times’ Mexican lender will squeeze far harder should it return a second time.
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