NTL-Telewest Merger: Maybe; Yes; No; Next Year, Maybe!

29 January 2003

Speculation, affirmation, prevarication, negation, procrastination.

In five words the history of possible merger between NTL and Telewest, the two debt-beset US cable giants whose operations are primarily based in the UK.

For the first ten months of 2002 a tsunami of leaks, rumour and off-the-record comment – much of it carefully orchestrated – led media observers to believe a merger between the two was simply a matter of time.

Then last November, NTL ceo Barclay Knapp announced the company had no such plans when it emerged from US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection [WAMN: 19-Nov-02] – which it finally did, thanks to a £7 billion ($11.46bn; €10,60bn) debt-for-equity swap, on January 13.

But on Monday bondholders, who now control around 70% of the two groups, let it be known they have ruled out a merger for at least twelve months. According to an unattributed ‘senior cable industry’ source, both management teams will have to meet demanding performance targets before the money-men give their blessing (and yet more megabucks) to any marriage.

“The reality of the capital markets will prevent a merger from happening this year,” opined the masked man. “However, I would be surprised if we didn't see something by spring next year.”

Telewest, unlike its rival, has yet to escape the constraints of its debt burden and is said to be some sixty to ninety days from completing its fiscal restructuring. This is predicted to result in the waiver of around £3.5bn of its £5.3bn debt mountain in return for all but 3% of its equity.

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