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N.S. news: Bidders express interest in SaltWire newspaper business

HALIFAX –


Several bidders have offered to buy all or part of SaltWire Network Inc. and The Halifax Herald Ltd., the two insolvent companies that operate Atlantic Canada’s largest newspaper enterprise, a restructuring firm says.


Toronto-based KSV Restructuring Inc., in a report filed Friday, said some of those non-binding offers, if accepted, would enable the deeply indebted companies to continue operating as viable businesses.


“As of the … bid deadline, several indicative non-binding letters of intent were submitted from interested parties for all or part of the media companies’ business and assets, including offers that, if completed, would see the business continue on a going-concern basis,” KSV’s report says.


The one-page report does not say how many bids were received by Thursday’s initial bidding deadline, and it doesn’t provide any details about who submitted the bids.


More than 250 prospective purchasers and potential investors were sent so-called teaser letters and non-disclosure agreements advising them of the sale process, KSV says.


Former SaltWire president and CEO Mark Lever has said he planned to submit a bid. Court documents show SaltWire and its related companies are owned by Lever and his wife Sarah Dennis through separate family trusts that each have a 50-per-cent stake in the private businesses.


The next step is for KSV to conduct a due diligence process that will determine which bidders will be asked to submit binding offers by May 24 at 5 p.m., which could lead to court approval for a transaction no later than June 28 and an anticipated closing deadline of July 31.


The Halifax-based companies own daily newspapers in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, including Halifax’s Chronicle Herald, the Cape Breton Post in Sydney, N.S., the Telegram in St. John’s and the Guardian in Charlottetown. They also own several digital publications.


The media companies employ about 800 independent contractors and 390 staff, which includes about 108 unionized positions.


Last week, KSV released another report confirming the media companies had met with representatives from the premiers’ offices in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador to discuss the “restructuring proceedings.”


As well, KSV said the media companies have cut some jobs and ended their contract with the international news agency Thomson Reuters. Bids have also been received for certain properties owned by SaltWire, including one building in St. John’s, N.L., two buildings in Nova Scotia — one in Yarmouth, the other in Sydney — and a printing plant in the Halifax area.


On March 11, a private equity firm filed court documents to initiate insolvency proceedings against SaltWire, The Herald and their related companies. Fiera Private Debt claims SaltWire and The Herald owe the firm $32 million after several years of mismanagement.


Two days later, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge granted the media companies and their subsidiaries protection from creditors owed about $90 million. As well, the judge appointed KSV as the monitor overseeing the restructuring process under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.


As the media companies’ senior secured lender, Fiera has supported that process. Fiera loaned $500,000 to the companies on March 13 and then added another $1.5 million on March 22 to keep them operating.


That financial arrangement will continue until May 3, at which point SaltWire and The Herald will likely apply for another extension under CCAA. At that point, KSV says it will ask the court to extend creditor protection until June 28.


“The principal purpose of these CCAA proceedings is to create a stabilized environment to enable the companies, particularly the media companies, to secure financing to continue to operate while (they) pursue a restructuring or sale of their businesses and assets,” KSV says in a report dated April 23.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2024.