McClatchy moves to cut debt burden, buy out bondholders

The McClatchy Co. made a bold bid Thursday to reduce its huge debt burden, offering to buy out its bondholders for as little as 18 cents on the dollar.

The move, if successful, could pare down the Sacramento newspaper chain's debt considerably and bring McClatchy some financial breathing space as it tries to fight its way out of a steep slump in profit and revenue.

"We see an opportunity to reduce the amount of public bonds," said Elaine Lintecum, McClatchy's treasurer.

McClatchy, which owns 30 daily newspapers in 29 U.S. markets, wants to buy back up to $1.15 billion in bonds. In exchange, it's offering $60 million in cash and $175 million in new bonds carrying a hefty 15.75 percent interest rate.

The offer might be attractive because McClatchy's bonds already trade at a steep discount.

Wall Street responded enthusiastically, with McClatchy stock jumping 17 cents a share to 80 cents on the New York Stock Exchange.

McClatchy owes a total of about $2 billion in bond and bank debt. Its big drop in profits has left some on Wall Street speculating that the company will default on its bank loans this fall by failing to maintain minimum levels of cash flow required by its lenders. But those bank covenants are based on a formula involving McClatchy's total debt burden — which means a substantial reduction in bond debt would give the publisher more breathing room.