ZEEL's Punit Goenka on Oppenheimer transaction, strategic investor, additional stake sale

ZEEL will sell 11% of promoter share to Oppenheimer Fund

MUMBAI: Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) on Wednesday announced what much of the media and entertainment as well as the investor ecosystem had been waiting to hear for a while. ZEEL reached an agreement with US-based Invesco Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund for 11 per cent (around Rs 400 per share) of the promoter stake for Rs 4,224 crore. This essentially means the fund will intensify its shareholding to 18.7 per cent in the company.

This is the second round of good news for the Essel Group promoter family after acing Q1 of FY20 with a 40 per cent jump in its profit at Rs 512 crore on a revenue of Rs 1,789 crore, capping off a 14.5 per cent year-on-year growth.

The infusion of Rs 4,224 crore will give some relief to the group as it races to meet the 30 September deadline to pay off loans to the tune of Rs 11,000 crore to mutual funds, NBFCs and banks.  

ZEEL MD & CEO Punit Goenka expects the Invesco Oppenheimer transaction to get completed by 31 August. He added that the deal will be done through an escrow mechanism wherein “the lenders will have to pool their shares and once the escrow agent confirms that the requisite number of shares have been placed, they will tell Oppenheimer to wire the funds and therefore on that day, the transfer of both will happen.”

Goenka is confident that the promoters will be able to raise the remainder Rs 6,800-odd crore it needs to repay lenders by selling off some of its non-media assets in which it has invested like roads, infrastructure and solar energy. He was speaking to investment analysts late in the evening of 31 July.

Invesco Oppenheimer, which until now owned 7.74 percent stake in ZEEL, is a pure equity shareholder and won’t have a seat on the board, he pointed out.

“There’s no such agreement but I am pretty confident once investor like Invesco Oppenheimer is buying 11 per cent stake at certain price that validates our value. Therefore anybody else who may look at ZEE can’t really question it and that price should be very easily selling through,” said Goenka responding to whether ZEEL would sell rest of the stake below Rs 400 per share.

Notably, Goenka did not rule out selling more promoter stake in the company. He also added that the Essel Group has zeroed in on buyers for some of its non-media assets. However, should the sale of these assets disrupt the repayment timelines, then the company will “step it up with the Zee stake sale,” Goenka revealed.

ZEEL opted against a deal with a strategic partner for it would have taken longer to close the transaction thereby delaying the repayment process. 

“Strategic investor is off the table for now,” Goenka remarked.

He, however, briefly touched upon the possibility of ZEEL partnering some of its other media assets with like-minded strategic partners.

Having consistently delivered profits and maintained a good growth trajectory, ZEEL’s prospect of finding a financial investor or strategic partner was doubted by few. This was despite mutual funds having witnessed their investments in the group turn illiquid of late.

The sentiment was echoed by Invesco-Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund portfolio manager Justin Leverenz who described the transaction as “highly compelling” for investors in the fund due to the “sound fundamentals of Zee.”

The latest development is bound to cheer investors and lenders like mutual funds and insurance companies that had lent considerably to ZEEL’s promoters against collateral.

“After this entire episode, promoters will be left with enough stake in ZEE for them to get motivated and excited to continue running the company with the legacy it has done so far,” Goenka remarked.

With the ZEEL promoters now set to repay the debt to lenders and investors from the proceeds of the stake sale, some of the debt funds that have been under the pump will now also be able to fulfill commitments to their investors.

It has taken ZEEL extended deadlines to get to this point. In a sense, the entire process from taking the tough call to sell promoter stake to striking the right deal amidst back-to-the-wall negotiations has been synonymous with what founder and chairman Subhash Chandra has embodied all his life – living to fight another day.

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