Bally Heads for New Workout, in Chap. 11

Its second filing in 17 months is one of several high-profile bankruptcies this week, and the second to burn private equity investors.
Stephen TaubDecember 3, 2008

As the recession manages to spark more high-profile bankruptcy petitiions this week, one has a familiar profile. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp. filed for Chapter 11 for the second time in 17 months, and also put itself up for sale.

“The burden of Bally’s long-term indebtedness, coupled with the lack of refinancing options in today’s constrained credit markets, have limited our ability to restructure using out-of-court vehicles, leaving Bally with no alternative other than the actions announced today,” said Bally CEO Michael Sheehan.

Bally, which operates 347 fitness centers in the U.S., had filed for bankruptcy protection on July 31, 2007, and emerged as a privately held company in the fall of 2007 in a prepackaged bankruptcy under the control of Harbinger Capital Partners Master Fund I Ltd. and Harbinger Capital Partners Special Situations Fund LP, which invested about $233.6 million in exchange for Bally’s common equity, according to the Associated Press.

It is also the second company backed by a private equity firm to file for bankruptcy this week alone, according to Bloomberg News. Hawaiian Telcom Communications Inc. filed for Chapter 11 on Monday. Buyout firm Carlyle Group owns the largest telephone company in Hawaii. Carlyle bought Hawaiian from Verizon Communications Inc. in 2005 for $1.6 billion, putting up $425 million in equity and using debt to finance the rest, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The paper noted that 67 of the 109 U.S. companies that have filed for bankruptcy this year with assets of $1 million or more have been owned by buyout firms or been spun off by them, citing data provider Capital IQ. They include retailers Linens ‘n Things Inc. and Mervyn’s LLC.

Also on Monday, Pilgrim’s Pride filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11. “Over the past year, Pilgrim’s Pride has faced a number of significant challenges including high feed-ingredient costs, an oversupply of chicken, weak market pricing and softening demand,” said Clint Rivers, president and CEO. “After careful consideration of all available alternatives, the company’s Board of Directors determined that a Chapter 11 filing was a necessary and prudent step and the best way to obtain the financing necessary to maintain regular operations and allow for a successful restructuring.”

In conjunction with the filing, the company said it was seeking approval to enter into a $450 million debtor-in-possession financing facility arranged by Bank of Montreal as lead agent. On Wednesday, the company said it received interim approval to access $365 million of its $450 million debtor-in-possession financing.

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