Thursday, 12 July 2012

Why have the Glazers changed their strategy on the debt? A theory....

The big news in United's "preliminary prospectus" (the Form F-1 SEC filing) was 1) that the proceeds from the IPO will be used to repay some of the club's enormous debt and 2) that no dividends will be paid "in the foreseeable future".

The big question that stems from this, is "why?". Why after seven years of running a highly leveraged balance sheet and only two and a half years after the bond issue have the Glazers executed a huge u-turn? Why suddenly decide to reduce the club's debt?

I believe it is highly unlikely that the change is due to a sudden realisation that cash wasted on interest should be available for investment, although that may be a positive knock-on effect, but because of the financial pressures the family is under.

What follows is only my theory (and apologies if you don't like speculative articles like this), but one that I think is near the truth....

The amazing disappearing PIKs
Followers of the United financial story will know that out of the blue in November 2010, the Glazer family found £249.1m (around $400m) which they injected into the club as equity and used to repay the infamous "payment in kind securities" (PIKs). These short-term debt instruments had festered on the balance sheet of Red Football Joint Venture Limited for more than four years and had accrued £111m of rolled up interest on top of the original £138m loan.

In August 2010, the PIKs had become even more expensive as the Red Football companies breached a key debt covenant (section 8.2 of this document). The covenant stipulated that total debt in the group (from Red Football Shareholder Limited downwards) should not be more than 5x EBITDA (essentially cash profits before transfers). If debt exceeded this limit (set when the PIKs were issued in 2006), the PIK interest rate would rise from 14.25% pa to 16.25% pa. With debts in August 2010 totalling £773m and EBITDA of £102m the rate duely rose, making the PIKs even more toxic and in need of repayment.

The bond issue of February 2010 had created a "carve out" which allowed the Glazers to take £95m of the club's cash out and it was widely assumed (and mentioned in the bond prospectus as a possibility) that this money would be used to pay off a chunk of the PIKs. But the Glazers didn't use the carve out to repay them in November 2010. The exact source of funds is unknown.

What I do know, from impeccable sources, is that the money was borrowed by the Glazer family. They didn't have £249m in cash, few people do (and the other bits of the family empire are leveraged up already). The money was borrowed by one of their US companies from a single US financial firm.

Throughout the summer of 2010, the family and their advisers were hawking the deal around the market. Amusingly an old college friend working for a private "intelligence company" was retained by an American debt investor (I won't embarrass him by naming the investor) to look at the deal and initially asked me for help. The invitation to meet the potential investor was quickly dropped after they did some due diligence on who I was.

So that's what we know. Since November 2010, the club has been carrying the bond debt, and the Glazers have been stuck with what you might call "PIK2", expensive personal debt secured on their equity in United, presumably costing less than the eye watering 16.25% of the PIKs, but more than the senior bond debt's c. 8.7%.

Could there be another total debt covenant attached to "PIK2"?
Stories about a potential IPO (in Asia) first started to circulate in mid 2011 as the first anniversary of the PIK repayment approached. As we now know, nothing came of the attempts to list in either Hong Kong or Singapore, but the Glazers kept going. Despite terrible market conditions, a moribund IPO market, weak results due to the Champions League etc, they have persisted.

The explanation for this burning desire to IPO the club must be to do with their personal circumstaces, and yet they are not seeking to cash out but to repay debt. I believe that it is highly likely that the PIK2 debt has "total debt to EBITDA" covenants attached to it of a similar sort to those in the original PIKs. Such covenants would be very common for quasi-equity financing of this sort. Breaching these covenants could be very costly for the Glazer family and the existence of such would go a long way in explaining their apparent change of heart on the debt. Under such a scenario there would be a very strong incentive to try to reduce the debt across the Red Football group of companies, and the easiest method is an IPO.

The change of strategy actually dates back to Q4 2010 and PIK repayment
It is worth noting that although the prospectus sets the new strategy down in black and white for the first time, the Glazers have been pursuing deleveraging for a while, using bond buy backs, and that this new approach began as soon as the PIKs were repaid.

The club first bought back bonds in the final quarter of 2010 (when £24m were repurchased) and has now spent a total of £92.3m. No less than two-thirds of the cash the club had at the time of the bond issue (all that Ronaldo and Aon windfall) has been used on bond buy backs. The peculiarity of holding almost £150m of cash when issuing £520m of bonds and then, just a few months later, using that cash to buy back those bonds is striking.

Something has definitely changed...
So since the repayment of the PIKs and their replacement with "PIK2" we have seen a completely new financial strategy. The best part of £100m has been whipped to buy bonds and now we have an IPO being launched into terrible markets to reduce the debt further. None of this proves they are under pressure from debt covenants in PIK2, but it all fits with the theory.

Even fellow "lineal descendants" can fall out
The other chat coming out of the US about the Glazers is that Darcie, Edward and Kevin don't like having wealth tied up in this pesky soccer club that Joel, Avram and Bryan are so fixated with. If the six of them are personally on the hook for $400m of "PIK2" and covenants are in danger of being breached, you can sort of see their point.

Theories and facts
Apologies again for such a speculative post. My theory may ring true to you or may sound like laughable rubbish. It would be lovely to think the Glazers have had a damascene conversion to prudent financial management and eschewed the crippling debts of the last seven years, but you'll forgive me for seeking a baser motive.

Perhaps there are multiple reasons for the change in tack, including fears that becoming uncompetitive on the pitch will hurt the club's value, as well as the sort of direct pressure on the family I have described above, and perhaps the reasons are less important than the fact the burden on the club is being reduced. That won't stop this blog trying to identify the "whys" not just the "whats" of the whole sorry saga.