Thomson Cuts Grass

(Feb. 2, 2009) PARIS: Thomson (NYSE:TMS) is putting Grass Valley up for sale. The Parisian tech giant today said the board approved divesting the division, along with its Premier Retail Networks digital signage business. Thomson has received “expressions of interest” in the business units, wire reports indicate. Thomson announced the move this morning as it warned of breaching loan covenants. Some of the company’s private placements require that debt doesn’t exceed net worth.

“Based on preliminary unaudited data, it is likely that when the 2008 audited consolidated financial statements are completed and available at the latest, by the end of April 2009, this covenant will be breached.” Thomson’s press release stated.

Thomson estimated its debt to be nearly $2.8 billion. It reported having around $1 billion in cash (775 million euros) at the end of the year; money it drew down from the balance remaining on its syndicated credit facility. Market cap in France was around $463 million this morning with shares trading at $1.42 after tumbling 15 percent on the news.

A covenant breach could trigger other creditors to demand early repayment, Thomson said. The company hired financial advisers Perella Weinberg Partners, Ph. Villin Conseil, and the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to help it negotiate with creditors. It’s also seeking assistance from the French government.

“At this stage, it is not possible to predict the outcome of these upcoming discussions,” Thomson’s statement read.

Together, Grass and PRN generated $1.3 billion in sales last year--about 20 percent of Thomson’s revenues.

PRN was acquired by Thomson for $285 million in 2005. The company does digital signage for companies such as Wal-Mart. Thomson purchased Grass from Terry Gooding of San Diego, Calif., in 2002, for an undisclosed sum. Thomson sold the Grass Valley digital film transfer gear business to private equity investors last October, also for an undisclosed price.

Based on preliminary estimates, Thomson said it expects to post revenues of $6.4 billion for the fourth quarter of 2008, a decrease of 12.7 percent compared to the previous year at current exchange rates, and 7.7 on a constant currency basis.