For months, the financing behind the $2 billion merger of Jefferson- Smurfit Corp. and Stone Container Corp. created headaches for creditors.

Now, a week after shareholders and 70 creditors approved the deal, lead bankers are calling its financing one of the most inventive of the year.

Led by Chase Manhattan Corp. and Bankers Trust Corp., the package includes a restructuring of more than $1 billion in existing debt and $550 million in new loans.

"Despite all the negative publicity that deal received from certain institutions, it went exactly according to plan," said a lead banker in the syndicate. The package could be "the structured deal of the year," the banker added.

Whether the financing wins awards remains to be seen. But clearly, investors are confident that combined, the cash-strapped Stone Container and Jefferson Smurfit have a better chance of success than if left separate companies-even with a combined debt load of $7 billion.

Jefferson-Smurfit, based in Clayton, Mo., and Stone Container, based in Chicago, make cardboard packaging at plants in eight countries. They merged Nov. 18 to create Smurfit Stone Container Corp.

Not only did shareholders approve the financing plan on Nov. 17, but a majority of banks agreed to amend existing debt to give the new company breathing room to ride out lower demand for its products.

The key to that approval was a unanimous vote by Stone Containers' creditors, which lead bankers acknowledged "were the trickier ones" to convince.

Though debt analysts lowered Jefferson-Smurfit's ratings Nov. 2, they applauded the company's statement that it would sell off assets to meet debt obligations. Stone-Smurfit expects to save about $350 million annually as it closes operations during the next two years.

As part of the deal, Stone-Smurfit announced Tuesday that it would close an undisclosed number of cardboard packaging plants, representing 17% of its capacity. The company also said it will lay off 3,600 workers, or about 10% of its work force.

In August, Bankers Trust and Chase had been set to lead a $4.8 billion loan package that restructured the debt of both companies.

A month later, the plan was shelved after the global financial crisis shut down bond markets and drove up pricing for syndicated loans. On Oct. 8, both companies issued what eventually turned out to be the winning proposal to finance the deal.

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