The board of Independent News and Media is set to file its accounts for 2008 on Thursday with an auditor’s caveat pointing to continuing negotiations over a €200m ($260m) bond due 18 days later.
The accounts of Sir Anthony O’Reilly’s international media company will be filed on the last day allowable under European Union law after negotiations between the company and a group of bondholders failed to reach a conclusion, according to people familiar with the situation.
But the same people said that discussions were still very active and all parties would be aiming to reach agreement, or to negotiate a “standstill” position, by May 18, the due date of the bond, to avoid more serious problems for the company, which owns the Independent and Independent on Sunday in the UK.
Although the situation may yet change before Thursday’s deadline, the board is planning to issue 2008 full-year results that will be signed off by the auditors, PwC, but with an “emphasis of matter” clause drawing attention to the outstanding issue of the bond.
“Emphasis of matter” paragraphs in audit reports signal some doubt as to whether that company could continue as a going concern.
The Financial Times has been told that Sir Anthony, who owns 28.1 per cent of INM, and Denis O’Brien, who owns 26 per cent, are prepared to put some of their own cash towards retiring some of the bond, but would draw the line at a combined figure of about €30m.
Discussions are well under way to sell three companies the group owns, a UK-based online bingo company called Cashcade, a price-comparison website called Verivox and Independent News Outdoor, a South African outdoor advertisement business.
Between them, according to people with knowledge of the discussions, the three businesses are expected to net gains of about €150m, with the bulk coming from the South African sale.
Bondholders have been told that they will get some of the proceeds of these sales, with the amount yet to be agreed.
Negotiations between the group of bondholders, who between them own about 29 per cent of the 10-year instrument, and the company also involve raising the interest payable from its current 5.75 per cent, although agreement on the new rate has not been reached, the people said.
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