They're talking about "Shindler's list" in the syndicated loan community. But this is no Steven Spielberg movie.
The banking version refers to a $3 billion loan for Nextel Communications Inc. that in 1998 earned a thumbs-down from banks and investors. Now that Nextel is back, seeking $4 billion in loans, a new syndicate is trying to live down the lingering effects of what transpired last year.
On the list, named for Nextel chief financial officer Steven J. Shindler (who spells his name without the "c" of the movie title), was a group of banks that for a few months last year were blackballed from participating in the loan to the wireless telecommunications company.
When Reston, Va.-based Nextel went to the syndication market in March 1998, some of its relationship banks refused to participate. Angered by the snub, Mr. Shindler designated 11 institutions to which he did not want the syndicate to sell in the secondary market, among them Bank of Montreal and Fuji Bank.
The move damaged Nextel's relationship with the blacklisted banks and irritated the syndicate members, which were forced to sell off Nextel debt at a discount.
Mr. Shindler rescinded his restrictions in May 1998, but animosity toward his company remained. Things got worse in November 1998 when Nextel took on a $195 million loan priced at nearly twice the spreads of the original credit.
The second deal effectively devalued the earlier loan. As recently as September, Nextel debt was trading at a 3% discount to face value.
The events of 1998 may come back to haunt Nextel. A growing company with its debt constantly in flux, it is now making another visit to lenders. The question is, How many banks or money managers will want to commit to a borrower with a record of playing such hardball with investors?
Soon to find out are Bank of America Corp. and Chase Manhattan Corp., which were members of the original loan management team. Last week those companies joined forces to refinance $4 billion of Nextel bank and bond debt. Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, and Barclays Bank PLC also are joining the effort. Those who attended an Oct. 12 meeting of bankers say the plot in this saga is shifting.
The biggest change, according to sources close to the deal, is that Mr. Shindler, a former Toronto-Dominion banker, has a reduced role. Mr. Shindler, though present at that meeting, reportedly shared the spotlight with Nextel treasurer John S. Brittain and Chase's head of global investment banking, James B. Lee Jr.
Mr. Shindler "does carry a lot of baggage," said Anthony R. Clemente, manager of a $1 billion loan fund for Invesco Inc., "but (the loan) has performed well. So you have to weigh the baggage against the performance issue. They've learned their lesson."
A member of the new debt syndication team said it is no coincidence that Mr. Shindler has been quiet. "This credit has a history we're well aware of," the banker said. "I think it's clear Nextel sought out some expertise this time around."
Mr. Shindler did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
"I think he got a lot of feedback last year," said another banker involved in the deal. "This time around it's a market-driven approach, and part of that is (because) there is a lot of baggage from last year."
The same banker said last year's five-bank deal was disorganized. The fact that Chase's Mr. Lee initiated the meeting this time, he said, "sent a different message" -- that Chase and Bank of America are "orchestrating the deal."
Not everyone, however, said Mr. Shindler is taking a smaller role. Another syndicate source said Mr. Shindler had a strong hand in shaping the new deal. "He's driving the bus again."
Everyone seems to agree that the new transaction is fundamentally different from last year's. Lead bankers said a recent increase of nearly half a percentage point in the annual interest rate was necessary to meet market conditions, not because of Nextel's history. The current deal -- priced at the London interbank offered rate plus 250 basis points for banks and Libor plus 337.5 and 362.5 basis points for institutional buyers -- is as much as a percentage point higher than the original one. The management team's effort appears to be paying off. Within days of the bank meeting, commitments of $4 billion had been made, about half of the usually desired level of 200% of the loan amount. Now, Nextel and its bank team are looking at increasing the overall amount of the loan package to as much as $5 billion.
Bankers also are trying to build in flexibility. They can raise as much as $3 billion from banks, or as little as $1.5 billion. Likewise, the institutional piece can be upped to $2 billion from $1.5 billion. The overall loan total is not expected to change.
Bank of America and Chase also have hedged their bets by making Nextel a "best efforts" syndication. In other words, the loan is not fully underwritten. Nextel will receive only the amount raised in syndication.
Another new factor is that Nextel now has strong cash flow, Mr. Clemente said. "It is hard to find similar companies doing as well as Nextel."
But analysts say the borrower must complete recently announced acquisitions to be able to service its debt.
For example, Nextel agreed in August to buy wireless licenses from NextWave Telecom Inc. for $2.1 billion. Bank debt is helping to fund the purchase. NextWave, which is in bankruptcy protection, is petitioning to retain the license -- putting the Nextel deal and potential revenue in doubt.
"Their leveraged position is potentially in flux," said Michael Coutre, a debt analyst with Duff & Phelps Credit Ratings. If the license deal succeeds "you could be looking for a relatively status quo position" for Nextel, "which would be a positive credit trend."