After fending off one legal challenge that would’ve sent the company into default, the nation’s largest radio conglomerate now seeks a spot of revenge.
iHeartMedia is heading back to a Texas courtroom in hopes of getting mega-damages out of a consortium of investors who went after the company, serving a notice of default for playing fast and loose with its $20+ billion worth of debt — a strategy which involves iHeart setting up shell companies to repurchase some of the debt it already owes at lower interest rates, while also working to shield some assets from potential creditors. The conglomerate filed suit to stop the default process, and the Bexar County judge sided with iHeart in May.
According to the new suit filed last week, iHeart claims the tussle with its creditors cost it somewhere between $100-475 million in refinancing costs, primarily by worrying the market that the conglomerate is just steps away from bankruptcy. (During this tussle, iHeartMedia did add two new members to its board of directors with vast experience in corporate bankruptcies and restructuring, but that would seem to be neither here nor there.)
This is but one in a series of legal maneuvers the company now finds itself in: according to other creditors, negotiations to refinance iHeart’s debt have stalemated because they are so lopsided that creditors would rather see the company go bankrupt. Under terms bandied about in talks, investors might be able to recoup ~70 cents on every dollar, but under bankruptcy the return might be closer to 90 cents.
In a late-June filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, iHeartMedia says “There can be no assurance that any [refinancing] agreement will be reached,” and that if one does come about it may draw in “additional debt holders who are not party to the negotiations, and who hold substantial percentages of our debt.”
Billionaire investor Mario Gabelli has also filed a lawsuit against iHeartMedia in a Delaware court, accusing the company of depriving its investors of dividends as part of its debt refinancing tactics. Just last week, the company repurchased nearly $400 million of short-term debt at some 40% off its trading-price using money ginned up by its parent/subsidiary convolutions.
Gabelli requested his trial to begin next month. Meanwhile, two other law firms are now trolling for potential litigants to launch class-actions. And the company still owes a several hundred-million dollar payment on its debt come the end of the year.
In simple terms, the company does actually remain just steps from bankruptcy, and all of this energy is in many respects maneuvering for strategic position for when the game gets called. Has the timetable for the inevitable been pushed forward — and if so, by how much?