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商业 - 传媒与文化

福布斯之痛:大交易换来大麻烦

Katie Benner 2011年08月04日

发生信贷违约后,公司必须进行紧急重组,好让放款人满意。

    号称“资本家的工具”的《福布斯》杂志让福布斯家族赔光了老本。

    像许多出版商一样,福布斯传媒(Forbes Media)在经济危机时期也过了一段苦日子。不过据《财富》杂志(Forbes)获得的非公开文件显示,福布斯传媒眼下面临的财务压力要大于外界原先的预期。据摩根大通(J.P. Morgan)发给福布斯传媒的一封信来看,福布斯传媒违反了2006年签订的一项循环信贷条款。福布斯传媒曾进行了一系列交易,允许福布斯家族从公司里支出1亿美元以上的现金,而这项贷款只是交易的一部分。这项贷款明年七月才到期,不过现在有些放款人已经在按票面价值的折扣价甩卖这些贷款了。

    思想守旧的商业大亨马尔科姆•福布斯生前一手将《福布斯》杂志打造成了商业成功故事和商业骄子的大荟萃。正所谓“父债子来偿”,1990年马尔科姆•福布斯去世后,他的孩子们20年来一直靠卖变家产苦苦支撑。福布斯家族在斐济群岛上有座小岛,这座小岛被卖给了红牛(Red Bull)的创始人迪特里希•马特希茨。位于科罗拉多州的一座大农场也被对冲基金高管路易斯•贝肯买走了。另外福布斯家族位于丹吉尔(Tangier)的天价毫宅,以及一架波音727客机、世界上最大的私人收藏的法贝格彩蛋,以及大批维多利亚时期的名贵画作也一一被拍卖。就连福布斯传媒公司在纽约第五大道上的总部大楼也被卖给了纽约大学(New York University)。

    但是福布斯家族还是守住了当初让他们发家致富的资产,也就是福布斯传媒公司。这家公司目前拥有《福布斯》杂志(该公司自称是“资本家的工具”,也是《财富》杂志的一大竞争对手)、《社会名人录》(the Social Register),以及《美国遗产》(American Heritage)杂志的一部分股权。此外还拥有Forbes.com和RealClear两家网站。

    不过,持有这项资产却令福布斯家族头疼不已。福布斯传媒公司已经造成了价值约9,000万美元的循环贷款技术违约。福布斯家族和公司的二股东——高地风险投资公司(Elevation Partners)已经启动了一项紧急计划,重塑公司的业务,并与借款人重修旧好。他们甚至雇佣了一家名为Alvarez & Marsal的公司做帮手,帮助福布斯传媒董事会制订业务计划——Alvarez & Marsal专门为身陷财务困境或濒临破产的公司重塑业务。

    摩根大通和其它六家放款方已经同意在八月份修改贷款条款,降低月还款额度,调整一些福布斯传媒必须要实现的财务指标。不过修改后的条款就Alvarez & Marsal终止其使命设立了一些苛刻的条件,给福布斯传媒的伤口上又撒了一把盐。它规定福布斯传媒必须要做到三件事:首先卖出在线金融辞典Investopedia;其次撤换CEO史蒂夫•福布斯;要么就需实现某些财务指标。当月福布斯传媒以3,960万美元的价格出售Investopedia,史蒂夫•福布斯也于11月份下台,由曾在《花花公子》(Playboy)和Ziff-Davis出版公司任职的媒体投资人麦克•柏利斯接任。福布斯传媒也满足了放款方规定的财务指标。然后Alvarez & Marsal公司也被礼送回府了。

    笔者请福布斯传媒公司对本文作出评论,福布斯传媒的一位女发言人写道:“史蒂夫•福布斯仍任福布斯媒体公司的总编和董事长。蒂姆•福布斯任福布斯数字公司(Forbes Digital)的董事长。福布斯家族仍然是福布斯传媒公司的控股方。”

    这样一个一度富可敌国的家族为何陷入如此绝境?一切还要从2006年说起。那一年福布斯传媒将45%的股份卖给了一家私募股权公司——高地风险投资公司。交易价格一直没有向公众透露。不过《财富》杂志获得了摩根大通的一份备忘录,上面显示这起交易的价格为2.372亿美元,少于之前报道的金额。福布斯传媒还启动了循环贷款,到2010年,贷款额已达9,000万美元。(交易时可以利用的只有7,500万美元)

    2006年的这笔交易对于福布斯家族来说是一场意外之财。福布斯家族自己拿走了1.074亿美元,也就是约三分之一的实收资本。另有3,890万美元用于赎回抵押品;1.018亿美元用来还债;4,140万美元则以现金形式留存在资产负债表里。以外还有2,270万美元用于费用开支,其中包括付给摩根大通的咨询费。

    高地风险投资公司理应为福布斯传媒的业务提供专业的意见。高地是由风投机构银湖合伙公司(Silver Lake Partners)的投资明星罗杰•麦克纳米和U2乐队的摇滚巨星波诺共同创立的,高地称自己通过合作“获得”了新媒体。

    高地基于2006年的乐观预测做出了投资福布斯的决定,但这种预测到了2008年就变得非常荒唐可笑。当年收购福布斯的时候,高地相信,福布斯的股价一定会飙升,但它显然也担心自己在必要时能否退出这桩交易。于是高地在合同中增加了一个“卖出期权”条款。据福布斯传媒公司2010财报的注脚显示,该条款规定在2011年8月4日到2016年8月3日之间的任何时候,高地都有权迫使福布斯以公平的市场价格回购这45%的股权。

    (反过来还有一件事可以证明福布斯的幸运:福布斯还有一个“买入期权”条款,可以强迫高地在2011年8月4号以后,按公平市场价格将它的股权卖回给福布斯传媒公司。如果届时公司的价值没有上升到高地在2006年的交易价以上,则福布斯依然可以买回这些股权,而高地就蒙受了损失。)

    高地还从福布斯传媒那争取到了一个免责条款,这个条款的内容直到今天才曝光——在“卖出期权”条款失效后,高地还有90天的窗口期,在这段时间里,高地可以选择将它的股权以原始价格卖回给福布斯传媒公司。

    麦克纳米2009年退出了福布斯传媒公司的董事会,由高地的合伙人布莱特•柏尔曼接任。柏尔曼一向以热衷削减成本而出名,这一点从公司2010年的财报中就可以看出来。2009年福布斯传媒的运营损失是1,970万美元。到2010年,该公司已经实现了270万美元的运营收入。这2,200万美元的收成中,只有900万是由收入增加贡献的,另外1,300万则是削减成本的成果。

    福布斯传媒表示,赢利能力的提高,意味着该公司已经脱离了险境,这还要归功于它和Alvarez & Marsal公司2010年共同制订的业务计划。该公司还表示,等公司的循环贷款2012年7月6日到期时,公司有信心能募集到资金,还上这笔贷款。福布斯传媒在一份声明中表示:“能不能再筹集到资金,这并不取决于银行,而是取决于福布斯。我们将来还有许许多多的筹资选项。”

    这话在技术上是对的,但我们不应忘记,引发这一串连锁反应的导火索,也就是当年福布斯传媒与高地的交易,完全是个败笔。这笔失败的交易使福布斯传媒承担了大量的债务,超过了福布斯所能消化的水平。交易已经过去五年了,福布斯传媒的赚钱能力暴跌,高地当年预测的投资收益现在看来也成了泡影。福布斯家族当年从账面上拿走了很多钱,这一做法是适时之举,因为时至今日福布斯家族已经没有什么可以变卖的了。去年福布斯家族的汉兰达(Highlander)游艇都被拖到了干船坞里,船员也已被辞退。

    译者:朴成奎

    The Forbes family has poked itself in the eye with its "capitalist tool."

    Like many publishers, Forbes Media has struggled during the financial crisis. But according to nonpublic documents made available to Fortune, the company has been under more financial strain than previously believed. Forbes Media violated covenants on a revolving credit line that it took out in 2006, according to a letter sent to the company by J.P. Morgan. The loan, which was part of a series of transactions that allowed the Forbes family to cash out more than $100 million from the company, is due next July. Some lenders have been selling pieces of it at a discount from face value.

    Since the death in 1990 of Malcolm Forbes -- the unreconstructed tycoon who turned Forbes magazine into a celebration of business victory and its spoils -- his children have held a decades-long yard sale of the family's outré trophy collection. The island in the Fiji archipelago was sold to Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz. A grand ranch in Colorado was picked up by hedge fund executive Louis Bacon. A sultan-worthy palace in Tangier, a custom Boeing 727, helicopters, the world's largest private collection of Fabergé eggs, and stacks of Victorian art have all been auctioned off. Even the publishing company's Fifth Avenue headquarters were sold to New York University.

    But the Forbeses have held on to the asset that made them rich and famous in the first place: Forbes Media, the company that currently owns Forbes magazine (which dubbed itself the "capitalist tool" and has been a fierce competitor of Fortune's), the Social Register, a stake in American Heritage magazine, and the websites Forbes.com and RealClear.

    Holding on to that asset, however, has proved to be a gargantuan headache. The company went into technical default on some $90 million worth of revolving credit. The family and the minority owner, Elevation Partners, began an emergency plan to restructure the business and get back in the good graces of its lenders. They went so far as to hire Alvarez & Marsal -- a firm that works with companies in dire financial straits or in bankruptcy to restructure their businesses -- to bless the plan that Forbes Media's board came up with.

    J.P. Morgan (JPM) and six other lenders agreed to amend the loan in August, lowering the monthly payment and adjusting the financial targets that Forbes Media would have to hit to be in compliance. In a twist of the knife, the amendment also set tough conditions for getting rid of Alvarez & Marsal. It stipulated that one of three things had to happen: the sale of Investopedia, an online financial dictionary; the replacement of Steve Forbes as CEO; or the achievement of certain financial targets. That month Forbes sold Investopedia for $39.6 million. Steve Forbes stepped down in November, replaced by Mike Perlis, a media investor who had worked at Playboy and Ziff-Davis Publishing. Forbes met the stipulated financial targets. Alvarez & Marsal was dismissed.

    When asked to comment for this story, a Forbes Media spokeswoman wrote, "Steve Forbes remains Editor in Chief and Chairman of Forbes Media. Tim Forbes is Chairman of Forbes Digital. The Forbes family remains the controlling shareholder of Forbes Media."

    How did a family that once owned so much find itself in such a corner? It all began in 2006, when Forbes Media sold 45% of itself to private equity firm Elevation Partners. The price was never publicly disclosed, but a J.P. Morgan memo reviewed by Fortune says it was $237.2 million -- which is less than previously reported. Forbes Media also opened up a revolving line of credit, which by 2010 was about $90 million. (Only $75 million could be tapped at the time of the deal.)

    The 2006 deal was a windfall for the family, which took $107.4 million, about a third of the proceeds, for itself. Another $38.9 million went to the redemption of warrants, $101.8 million paid down debt, $41.4 million remained as cash on the balance sheet, and $22.7 million went to expenses and fees, including to J.P. Morgan, the bank that advised on the deal.。

    Elevation was supposed to bring expertise to the table. Co-founded by Roger McNamee, who had been an investing star at tech buyout firm Silver Lake Partners, and rock star Bono of U2 fame, Elevation billed itself as a partnership that "got" new media.

    Elevation invested in Forbes Media based on rosy 2006 projections that looked downright absurd by 2008. When it bought into Forbes, Elevation believed that the value of its stake would rise sharply, but was clearly worried about being able to exit the deal. So Elevation's contract includes a "put" option giving it the right to force Forbes to buy back the 45% stake at fair market value anytime between Aug. 4, 2011, and Aug. 3, 2016, according to a footnote in Forbes's 2010 financial statement.

    (In a twist that could prove lucky for Forbes, it has a "call" option to force Elevation to sell back its stake at fair market value anytime after Aug. 4, 2011. If the company's value does not rise above what Elevation paid in 2006, Forbes could buy back the stake and stick Elevation with a loss.)

    Elevation also got Forbes Media to give it a hitherto-undisclosed escape clause: After the put option expires, Elevation has a 90-day window during which it can sell its stake back to Forbes Media at its original price.

    McNamee quit Forbes Media's board in 2009 and was replaced by Elevation partner Bret Pearlman, who had a reputation as an aggressive cost cutter, which is evident in the company's 2010 financials. In 2009 the company had an operating loss of $19.7 million. By 2010 the company showed operating income of $2.7 million. That $22 million improvement in profitability was driven by a revenue gain of around $9 million and about $13 million in cost cuts.

    Forbes Media says its renewed profitability means that it is out of the woods, thanks to the business plan it worked out with Alvarez & Marsal in 2010. And it says the company is confident that it will be able to refinance its revolving line of credit when it comes due on July 6, 2012. Forbes Media said in a statement: "It is not up to the banks whether to refinance. It is up to Forbes. [We] have numerous financing options as we go forward."

    That is technically true, but what should not be forgotten is that the deal with Elevation that set this chain of events in motion has been a failure. It burdened Forbes Media with debt that it ultimately struggled to pay, so much so that the company had to be gutted. Five years later Forbes Media's earnings power has declined precipitously, and Elevation is nowhere near the return on investment it had predicted. The Forbes family was able to take a lot of money off the table. That's timely because it is running out of trophies to sell. Last year the Forbes family motor yacht, The Highlander, was put into dry dock, its crew laid off.

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