Though apologist analyst were apparently out in force, and though the firm bragged about selling $1 million in Barack Obama knicknacks (whee!), there was no hiding the New York Times Company's financial distress at a bank's media conference in New York Tuesday. The most alarming report in the wake of the event: Word that the Times will try to renegotiate at least some of its more than $1 billion in debt and is preparing to do without much of a $400 million credit line expiring in May.
The company also said it was thinking about selling assets, but it's been making similar noises since at least March and was still talking about the idea, internally at least, in late October. As with the Times' bid to mortgage its pricey headquarters, finding a buyer for, say, the Boston Globe or International Herald-Tribune would be tricky in the present economy. About.com, perennially rumored to be for sale, might be an easier sell, to a hungry tech company like Microsoft, but many natural buyers like Google and Yahoo are retrenching.
Some shareholders — or just worried admirers of the newspaper — are not satisfied. The company has been adding debt (at junk prices, these days) even as it pays out dividends to Sulzberger family members and other shareholders. Via Jeff Bercovici at Portfolio:
One audience member wanted to know why the company, which slashed its dividend by nearly 75 percent a few weeks ago, didn't go further. "Why keep the dividend at all?" he demanded. "The notion that cash is flowing out of the company to equity — it seems like you might not understand the gravity of the situation."