Much interesting news on the iHeartMedia front already in the new year. The wildly overleveraged conglomerate ended 2015 with an announcement that it hoped to convince some of its shareholders to swap debt they hold against the company for stock. It’s assumed iHeart is still on track to try and float this proposal later this spring.
However, it would seem that some shareholders would like to take matters into their own hands. Just days after iHeart announced its swap-plan, the New York Post reported that several large stockholders planned to pressure the company to devote nearly $200 million this month toward debt reduction. This would shave off less than 1% of the $21+ billion the company owes, though it would be a small step toward ameliorating what one unnamed banker calls “clearly not a sustainable capital structure.”
Also earlier this month, iHeartMedia agreed to sell a slice of its outdoor advertising division — more than 5,000 billboards in five primary markets — for a cool $458 million. You can bet the rising group of “dissident” shareholders will pressure the company to make further inroads into paying down its debt (perhaps another 2% if all the sale proceeds were committed).
At least one ratings agency has commented that these cash-infusions will have no effect on the company’s long-term debt classification.
In an interview with FOX Business from the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show, iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman deftly parried questions about the rumbles of restructuring. “I’m not the financial guy, and we have experts on how to handle that,” he commented. But he thinks the conglomerate’s well-poised to make some good money off political advertising this year (even though iHeart is expected to be a net money-loser in 2016).
Meanwhile, iHeart signficantly revised its radio operations just a couple of weeks ago, going back to the Clear Channel model of dividing responsibilities by geographical region into what it calls “trading zones,” or stations covering markets that have the potential to do at least $40 million in annual revenue. This will result in a surge of corporate executives, each with the title of “president,” to oversee each region.
So in many important respects iHeartMedia is already undergoing reorganizations of sorts. But will it be enough to stave off the company’s increasingly restless debt-holders, especially in such a weak economy?