Nine management not focused on debt

09/11/2011 - 15:29

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Nine Entertainment chief executive David Gyngell says he is focused on running the company and not on the pile of its debt that will soon require refinancing.

Mr Gyngell says he has told staff Nine is a well-run business and the Channel Nine television network is going to stay on air regardless of who ultimately owns the company.

He describes the need to refinance up to $3.66 billion of debt between 2013 and 2014 as a "shareholder issue".

"Clearly, there are some shareholder challenges and shareholders are going to have to sort those challenges out," Mr Gyngell told reporters on the sidelines of the ninemsn digital marketing summit in Sydney.

"We will support them to sort those out wherever possible. It's not a company issue for management to take care of."

Earlier this week, The Australian Financial Review newspaper reported that Nine's auditors, Ernst & Young, said in the company's 2010/11 accounts "a renegotiation of terms, sale waiver, recapitalisation or the sale of assets could be necessary" in the year ahead for Nine to meet one of its debt covenants.

Moreover, a writedown in the value of the company's magazine publishing arm ACP had erased the last of the equity in Nine.

Seven Group Holdings executive chairman Kerry Stokes said he expected the banks would own Nine some time in the next 12 months.

"It's always sad to see a competitor in financial difficulty," Mr Stokes said in a report on The Australian website.

"And obviously they are in financial difficulty.

"As indicated, within the next 12 months the banks will own the company. There is no equity left."

Mr Stokes was speaking to reporters after Seven Group's annual general meeting in Sydney.

Apart from ACP, Nine owns the Channel Nine television network in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and is also a joint-venture partner with Microsoft in the ninemsn network of websites.

Mr Gyngell said Nine Entertainment was targeting $420 million of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) in 2011/12.

Nine posted EBITDA of $400.8 million in 2010/11, according to The Australian Financial Review report.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out Channel Nine will still be going to air in one year, two years, three years time, no matter who are the owners," Mr Gyngell said.

"My role will be to ensure I protect those businesses to the best of my ability."

Nine Entertainment was bought by private equity firm CVC Asia Pacific in 2006 and there was speculation early this year the company was preparing to launch an initial public offer (IPO), which failed to eventuate as global market conditions deteriorated.

Mr Gyngell said it would be tough to get a float away in the current environment "unless it was a float that was because the shareholders decided that that was the best outcome".

"The market is not ready for a float, any float," he said.

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