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MCI Hires Advisers For Likely Sale Bid

Legal, Banking Firms Retained

By Christopher Stern
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2004; Page E01

Just five months after emerging from bankruptcy protection, MCI Inc. has hired investment and legal advisers to solicit potential buyers for the telecommunications giant, sources close to the company confirmed.

Ashburn-based MCI declined to comment yesterday on its decision to hire advisers to guide it through a possible sale. The company has already attracted one prospective buyer, Leucadia National Corp., which informed regulators in July that it may acquire more than 50 percent of MCI's stock.

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But after making a brief regulatory filing indicating its interest in the telecommunications company, Leucadia has declined to comment further on its plans for MCI.

In an effort to consider other alternatives, MCI has hired investment bankers Greenhill & Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., a source with knowledge of the company's decision said. In addition, Greenhill & Co. is playing a role in the search for additional buyers, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because terms of the agreements are confidential. Lazard LLC counseled MCI on possible deals while the phone company was working its way through the Chapter 11 process.

MCI's chief bankruptcy law firm of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP is also advising the company along with the recently retained Davis Polk & Wardwell.

The move to hire advisers, reported yesterday in the New York Times, is the first indication that the long-distance giant may be ready to consider putting itself on the auction block. MCI chief executive Michael D. Capellas has said several times since he joined the company two years ago that his goal was to run the telecommunications firm as an ongoing concern, not to sell it. But the company's board would have a fiduciary duty to consider alternatives if Leucadia or some other concern were to make an offer, sources said.

MCI has continued to struggle after emerging from Chapter 11 reorganization in April, having shed $30 billion in debt from its balance sheet. The company reported a $71 million loss in the second quarter, which was an improvement over the first quarter, when it reported a loss of $388 million. Second-quarter revenue was $5.2 billion, a 15 percent decline from the same period a year earlier.

Shares of MCI rose less than 1 percent yesterday, climbing 8 cents to close at $17.28.

MCI is considering a sale at a time when stand-alone long-distance companies are losing millions of customers annually to the regional phone companies that originally were granted rights to provide local phone service. Five months ago, MCI claimed it had 20 million customers. Now the company says its total customer base has shrunk to about 15 million. During the same period, Verizon Communications Inc., BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc. reported dramatic increases in long-distance subscribers.

Regional phone companies have effectively usurped traditional long-distance providers such as MCI and AT&T Corp. by bundling local and long-distance in a single calling package. The long-distance giants say they can no longer compete with their own bundle after a federal court ruling effectively eliminated a requirement that regional phone companies lease lines to competitors at deeply discounted rates.

In July, AT&T announced it would no longer compete for new residential customers and would instead focus on its business customer base. MCI has quietly taken similar steps and is no longer competing in the residential business.

One of the regional phone giants once seemed like a natural acquirer of MCI. But as the long-distance giant's revenue continues to fall, some analysts expect potential buyers to sit on the sidelines, expecting that the assets will only become cheaper.

Although Wall Street has long speculated that MCI would be broken up and sold in parts, sources familiar with the company's plans say there is currently no interest in breaking the company up and selling its parts to the highest bidders.


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