Nextel Communications Inc. has joined a growing list of wireless communications companies that are tapping the bank market for expansion loans.
Chase Manhattan Corp., J.P. Morgan & Co., and Toronto Dominion Bank have scheduled a bank meeting today in Chicago to sell a $1.55 billion loan that the wireless cable company will use to extend its current mobile radio network.
The first syndicated loan for the McLean, Va.-based company comes on the heels of a much-publicized and controversial loan for another wireless company, Sprint Spectrum.
Some bankers said comparisons are likely with the Sprint Spectrum deal, in which Chase Manhattan snagged the lead position away from J.P. Morgan, Toronto Dominion, and Citicorp.
"It's almost inevitable that some people will try to make comparisons," said a cable lender, arguing that the syndicate may be difficult to form.
However, bankers said that, while the Sprint Spectrum deal was enmeshed in the friction among several banks, the Nextel loan may be a more accurate reflection of the market's appetite for wireless deals.
"I don't think you'd see any difficulties with Sprint Spectrum having a major effect on Nextel getting its deal done" because of the different businesses and markets of the two companies, said Jeanine Oburchay, a vice president and wireless analyst at BT Securities Corp., the investment banking arm of Bankers Trust New York Corp.
The Nextel deal is divided into a $250 million, six-and-a-half-year term loan; a $1 billion six-and-a-half-year reducing revolver; and a $300 million term loan for institutional investors, with a six-and-three- quarter-year maturity.
The pricing - which one banker not involved in the deal said was "fair and appropriate" - starts at the London interbank offered rate plus 250 basis points and goes to Libor plus 300 basis points for the nonbank piece.
Information on the amount of the up-front fees was not available at press time.
The banks are offering an agent tier at $75 million.
Each of the three lead banks, to whom separate titles haven't been given, has underwritten $250 million.
The lead positions on the company's first syndicated loan were bid for by a select group of banks, said a market source.
Chase Manhattan has about a $90 million equity commitment to Nextel.
"The only negative about the Nextel deal is that the company has a little bit of a rocky history in the last few years," said a media lender.
But this lender said that investor Craig McCaw, who has a $300 million stake in Nextel, has helped recast the company's business plan and that his involvement carries a lot of weight in the banking community.
"He's done well in the past with these types of companies," the lender said of Mr. McCaw, "and has created a lot of good will among bankers."
Bankers said the Sprint Spectrum deal has built up some momentum, which could benefit Nextel. Market sources said Chase has lined up new commitments from several banks, including a $100 million underwriting from NationsBank Corp.
"The Sprint Spectrum deal has gathered some momentum, which is a positive for this deal," said a syndicated lender.
Separately, Merrill Lynch & Co., BankAmerica Corp., and NationsBank Corp. won the lead role in Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts' winning bid for Spalding & Evenflo Cos.
The Cisneros brothers, owners of the Tampa-based sporting goods and infant product company, had requested bids by the middle of last week.
Market sources said at least 10 strategic and financial buyers were competing for Spalding, with several banks backing competing bidders.
The three banks are expected to lead a senior bank loan that could be as large as $700 million.
Merrill, the adviser to KKR, and NationsBank are also expected to play prominent roles in public bonds.