Monday, May 18, 2009

Almost Over?

Breaking news from Sports Business Journal on the Cubs sale:

Chicago Cubs buyer Tom Ricketts is close to lining up three banks to arrange the $450 million financing necessary to complete his acquisition of the team, financial sources said, positioning him to clear a substantial hurdle in the long-running sale of the club.

JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America are set to commit to the deal as soon as the end of this week, the sources said. That commitment would allow Ricketts to submit his $900 million bid to the court that’s overseeing the bankruptcy filing of current Cubs owner Tribune Co. The court likely then would take 30 to 45 days to process the offer, one source said, leaving a potential closing ready by July.


According to one finance source, the $450 million financing is split between a loan and a fixed-rate private placement, which represents loans from institutional investors like pension funds. The bank loan portion is roughly $350 million, the source said, and the private placement, which the three banks are arranging, is about $100 million.

The three banks are committed to keeping the entire loan on their balance sheets if they are unable to find other financial institutions to buy pieces of it, a process called syndication. Before the credit crisis last September, banks would have agreed to a deal like this contingent on syndication, but syndications have become much more unreliable since the fall, so a recent trend in finance is for banks to hold onto larger chunks of loans.

Ricketts has been trying to sell preferred notes in the team to raise another $50 million. These so-called "perk notes" would give the individual lenders special access to games, team executives and spring training. The notes would be repaid after 15 years. Sources differed on whether Ricketts would succeed in selling the notes, with some saying there was interest and others describing it as a hopeless cause.

One wonders what the term of these notes are. The longer term, the better. Usually on notes like this the borrower gets up to five years. Given where interest rates are likely headed, and where a few of the lenders that will agent the syndication are headed, short term would be very, very risky for the Ricketts family.

One also wonders if this is tied to a successful syndication of the private placement.

Given the credit market, this is mildly surprising that this deal could come to fruition. May it close and close quickly.

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