Charter Still Dealing With Debt

Two days after Cablevision (CVC) announced a major debt refinancing, fellow cable TV system operator Charter (CHTR) is getting into the act.

The St. Louis-based Charter said Wednesday it was refinancing its bank debt in transactions that would consolidate $8 billion of loans now due before 2009.

The transaction represents another step forward in Charter's long struggle to improve its liquidity, following a cash crunch that sent Charter's stock below $1 in late 2002 and early 2003. But the proposed refinancing isn't expected to change the total amount of Charter's indebtedness, and still leaves the highly indebted cable operator with other debt that matures in 2005 through 2007.

Charter's shares rose 16 cents to $4.61 Wednesday.

Charter, one of the nation's four largest operators of cable TV systems, said Wednesday it planned to sell in a private transaction $1.5 billion of senior second lien notes due 2014, and to amend its existing $5.1 billion credit facilities to expand their capacity to $6.5 billion.

The company says it will use the note proceeds and the expanded credit facility to refinance the bank debt of three of its subsidiaries as one concurrent transaction, which it hopes to complete in the next few weeks.

Assuming the refinancing goes through, Charter still has to contend with $1.2 billion in convertible debt and senior notes due to mature in or before 2007, points out UBS analyst Aryeh Bourkoff. Bourkoff, who has a buy rating on Charter's bonds and a neutral rating on its equity, says he expects Charter will address these maturities with a convertible debt or equity deal later this year.

Charter launched tender offers for a portion of that debt last July, but withdrew them one month later, citing material changes in the high-yield bond market that had made the transaction economically unattractive for the company.

Earlier this month, Charter sold cable systems for net proceeds of $735 million, which the company said would be used to repay bank debt and increase liquidity.

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