News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Lore Croghan, Daily News, New York
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 12, 2004 - If Scott Butera can complete his assignment, he is never, ever going to hear Donald Trump say, "You're fired."
The former Wall Street investment banker's job is to turn around Trump's troubled Atlantic City casino company -- the one part of Trump's business empire that's visibly out of sync with the image of success projected on the TV hit show "The Apprentice."
Hired last September as executive vice president of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Butera is negotiating a restructuring of the company's $1.8 billion debt with its bondholders. He has lined up a $400 million investment from Credit Suisse First Boston, where he used to work. But he can't have the money unless he convinces bondholders to accept a discount on what they're owed now.
He also can't have the money unless Trump steps down as CEO of the company he founded, though he'll stay on as chairman of the board.
Still, Trump told the Daily News he got rich because he knows how to delegate responsibility. And, he said, Butera's the right man for this mission.
"Nobody has better training," Trump said.
Trump Hotels has hit a crisis point. The firm, whose largest stockholder is Donald Trump, has never turned a profit in its eight years as a publicly traded company. For years, the company has been saddled with enormous debts because Trump took cash out of the casinos to use for other ventures.
A whopping $1.3 billion of the bonds come due in just two years, the rest in 2010.
Last year, the company's annual interest expense of $228.5 million was almost the size of the cash it generated -- and interest rates on its debt were twice as high as other casino companies.
Without enough money to renovate its properties or build a new hotel tower, the company was at a disadvantage when a sleek new rival, the Borgata, opened last summer.
"If they don't get this deal done, the likelihood of a bankruptcy filing is increased," said Merrill Lynch analyst John Maxwell, echoing an earlier warning from auditor Ernst & Young.
At this stage in Butera's talks, bondholders' attitudes are sharply divided, sources said. Some will accept restructuring. Others are ready to take their chances in bankruptcy court.
But in an interview at his Trump Tower office, Butera said he's making progress.
He's had one-on-one meetings with big bondholders, and talked with Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, the advisor recently hired to represent the holders of bonds due in 2006. His goal is to complete the restructuring and get the $400 million from Credit Suisse by mid-summer.
Details of his offer to bondholders are confidential. But he must cut the size of the debt, and lower interest rates by half. That would put rates at 6 percent or 7 percent. To get a restructuring plan okayed, he must win a complex bondholders vote that includes a two-thirds majority. That's a tall order.
But analysts think Butera has a better shot at building a consensus than Trump, who has riled bondholders in the past.
"There isn't anyone who doesn't like Scott Butera," said Banc of America Securities analyst Andrew Susser. "He's doing a lot to build trust between the bondholders and the company."
The 37-year-old financing expert with 15 years on Wall Street has run the casino and lodging practices at UBS Warburg and Credit Suisse. "I speak their language," Butera said of the bondholders.
"I'm gonna make him CEO," Trump vowed. "He'll work it full-time."
-----To see more of the Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.NYDailyNews.com
(c) 2004, Daily News, New York. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. DJT, CSR, MER, BAC, UBS,