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After scratching our heads about why MGM would take such a big tax hit to sell TI, we have dug a little deeper. We now believe MGM may be actively buying its deeply discounted bonds back in the open market. While such a strategy triggers another taxable event, it also allows the company to de-lever at the tax affected discount since they are retiring the bonds at par. Strangely, the credit facility and the recent $750 million note agreements place few restrictions on the company from buying back subordinated debt.

The TI transaction will not close until Q2 2009 but MGM maintains undrawn capacity on its revolver that can be used to buy back bonds currently. We’ve spent a lot of time analyzing this situation and there are many moving parts, but we estimate the company could buy back $600 million worth of bonds at 65 through Q2 2009 to escape breaching its leverage covenant. However, the covenant issue could still resurface again in Q3. For this reason, we think there is a decent probability MGM pursues yet another asset sale. Selling its 50% share of Borgata to BYD is high on our likelihood list.

So where does this leave MGM’s equity? Another asset sale would certainly be a near term positive as the company would buy more time through 2009. The perception of covenant/liquidity relief is a big positive for MGM’s equity. The stock is still down 85% on the year despite the recent sector move higher. The long-term problem is that MGM will still face covenant issues in 2010 and still must close on the asset sale. It is in the company’s best interest to enhance the stock price to raise equity. Look for another asset sale in the coming months and a subsequent equity raise. Land sales are also a de-leveraging opportunity although finding buyers has been a struggle.

These actions by MGM could renew focus on the sector. Transactions, activity in the bond market, and improved liquidity are probably good for the entire beaten down gaming sector, bonds included. The bulls may be in charge for a while in this space.


Revised to reflect repurchase of discounted debt