Talks to save Clear Channel deal continue

From the Associated Press

Clear Channel Communications Inc. and its prospective buyers are negotiating with banks to try to settle a dispute over whether the banks must fund promised loans for the $19.5-billion takeover, the radio and outdoor advertising company said Monday.

Clear Channel shares jumped $2.87, or 9.6%, to $32.87.

The company and its private-equity buyers, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, sued a consortium of six banks, accusing it of trying to undermine the deal by changing the terms. That lawsuit is pending in a Texas court, while the equity firms have a separate suit pending against the banks in a New York court.

Pretrial hearings in San Antonio and the trial in New York were delayed Monday. The trial before a New York Supreme Court judge was rescheduled to start today.

San Antonio-based Clear Channel confirmed the postponement in court proceedings was designed to allow the parties to continue settlement talks, though it would not comment on the terms of a possible settlement or whether one was likely.

A spokesman for the banks declined to comment.

The equity firms have been struggling to close the proposed deal, at $39.20 a share, as the credit markets have faltered and the share price has declined on fears the deal wouldn't close.

An aborted deal would subject the private-equity firms to roughly $500 million in fees.

But funding the loan at the original terms would cost the banks $3 billion to $4 billion in write-downs with fewer institutions looking to buy up the debt.

The buyout of the nation's largest radio station operator and a global powerhouse in outdoor advertising has been tumultuous from the beginning.

Announced initially in November 2006, a group of holdout shareholders twice forced the equity partners to raise their offer and to allow some of them to continue to hold a minority stake in the firm.

The delays in reaching financial terms and getting regulatory approval of the deal kept it pending while the credit markets seized up and banks, once eager to fund ever bigger leveraged buyouts, got skittish.

As deadlines approached for the deal to be completed, the equity firms and Clear Channel accused the banks of trying to sink the buyout by changing the loan terms, a charge the banks have denied.

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