Hollinger Debt Faces Ratings Agency Review

03 November 2003

Lord Conrad Black's repeated denials of a looming financial crisis at his media empire appear to have cut no ice with Moody's Investors Services.

The influential credit ratings agency revealed it is reviewing Hollinger Inc, which Black controls, and its subsidiary Hollinger International, owner of newspapers such as Britain's Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times in the US and the Jerusalem Post in Israel. Moody's warned it could downgrade the group's debt.

Despite speculation of a funding shortfall, Black has insisted there will be no problem meeting loan repayments due at the end of the year. Last month he claimed he would soon unveil a restructuring of Hollinger and a new investor [WAMN: 14-Oct-03].

Nevertheless, Moody's said it is reassessing around $730 million (€628.5m; £431.3bn) of debt carried by the group due to "heightened concern regarding the ability of Hollinger to adequately service its debt and preferred stock obligations in the near term."

The ratings firm also cited the "liquidity problems of Hollinger" and the "questionable corporate governance practices" at the boards of both Hollinger International and its parent.

Moody's concern follows criticism of the media mogul's remuneration and the highly complex ownership arrangements that give him control of the company. New York-headquartered investment firm Tweedy Browne, owner of an 18% stake in Hollinger, is suing the group and has forced the board to investigate the payment of around $300m in fees to Black and other senior executives.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff