Knapp regrets NTL woes but insists there is no crisis

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The Independent Online

Barclay Knapp, the chief executive of the troubled cable company NTL, yesterday admitted it would be "difficult" to sort out the firm's finances as he confirmed a trio of banks had been appointed to complete that task.

The company, which has £12bn of debt, has hired Credit Suisse First Boston, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley and is hoping to come up with a strategy to cut borrowings within the next six to eight months.

Mr Knapp said: "It is going to be an extraordinarily complex process, very labour intensive and time intensive and that's why we have three advisors."

Of the company's debt, about £5bn is bank debt and involves some 60 banks while the balance is public debt which involves about 300 bondholders.

While Mr Knapp said he regretted having to make such a move, he said he could "see the light at the end of the tunnel."

"You always feel like, gee, there's something you could have done differently and on sleepless nights, you think about what might have transpired. On the other hand, you wake up in the morning and realise you built a solid company," he said.

"A lot of people have lost jobs. A lot of people have lost money in our securities and that hurts. We do take responsibility for that. But we need to keep focussed on going forward and fixing the problems."

NTL tried to play down fears yesterday it would run out of cash in the meantime, saying it had "sufficient liquidity to approach the recapitalisation process in a considered manner".

Analysts had estimated that NTL had as little as about nine months worth of cash in the bank.

"We have the time and the resources to go through this process in an orderly fashion," Mr Knapp said. "This is not a cash crisis. It's a long-term fix."

The company, which will release its 2001 figures in March, also said yesterday it expected to meet its Ebitda targets for the fourth quarter of last year.

NTL said yesterday it would suspend market guidance on its financial and operational outlook while it undertook the recapitalisation process.

While many bankers and analysts predicted the restructuring process would cost Mr Knapp his job, he felt he still had their support. "I believe you have to earn your job every day. So far I believe firmly I have the confidence of the majority of the stakeholders in this enterprise to drive it forward."

He remained tightlipped, however, on how he thought the process would play out.

Speculation has been rife that NTL's bondholders will be forced to swap debt for equity in a move that could see them end up holding as much as 50 to 70 per cent of the company.

There has also been speculation that an outside investor, possibly Liberty, AOL Time Warner or Microsoft, might step in to provide the company with cash in exchange for shares.

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