The tragic fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas last Friday may have serious financial implications for the publicity-shy financier who controls the hotel company, 63-year-old Kirk Kerkorian.
Yesterday, the stock of MGM Grand Hotels Inc., which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, opened late and closed at $9 a share, down 1 point. That brought to 4 points the stock's decline since the fire first was reported in the hotel's kitchen on Friday morning.
Kerkorian widely is regarded as a master of leveraging -- that is, using his current assets as collateral for loans to acquire even more assets. And right now his 51 percent interest in MGM Grand and his other holdings are pledged on loans to expand his financial empire.
His problem is that if the value of his approximately 17 million Mgm Grand shares continues to drop, the Bank of America, Kerkorian's longtime lending source, might demand more collateral. If history is any guide, however, Kerkorian does not have much unpledged collateral on hand.
Since just after World War II when he began selling surplus military aircraft, Kerkorian has used leverage to buy and sell a couple of airlines and several Las Vegas hotel-casinos, among other ventures.
Not helping Kerkorian's current credit picture, however, was the action last summer by Standard & Poor's Corp., which lowered the rating on debt financing instruments issued by MGM Grand. That move by the rating organization came after the hotel company, which owns a hotel-casino in Reno as well as one in Las Vegas, was split off from MGM Film Co. Kerkorian also owns 47 percent of the film company.
Among his most costly ventures right now is a court fight with the management of Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. Kerkorian, who owns 2.4 million shares of Columbia, had agreed with management that he would acquire no more than 25 1/2 percent of the company's stock. Then, not long ago, he went to court to argue that the agreement was invalid because management is looking to keep him out of the company which, he claimed, is to the detriment of other shareholders.
Recently Kerkorian won a court motion to get Columbia's annual meeting, which was scheduled for Nov. 12, postponed until his legal fight is resolved.
Besides his battle with Columbia, Kerkorian is looking to finance a $400 million Atlantic City hotel-casino complex with Hilton Inns. The partners planned to begin construction of a 7,000-car garage for the complex in January, but yesterday MGM Grand Chairman Fred Benninger said the Las Vegas fire may cause a "delay of several months."
"Our first priority is to open the MGM Grand-Las Vegas," said the MGM Grand chairman.
Benninger said in a prepared statement that the hotel had suffered "little or no structural damage" and that the company had enough insurance to refurbish the smoke-scarred 26-story tower and 140-yard casino.
With an eye toward Wall Street and the company's plunging stock price, Benninger stated that the company was "financially sound."
Securities analysts found it not surprising that the management announced that MGM Grand's 41-cent annual dividend would not be affected. Aside from appealing to the company's troubled shareholders, the dividend is important to Kerkorian, who uses it to pay the huge financing charges on loans to finance his various ventures.
Yesterday the New York office of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. warned its offices across the country about Kerkorian's potentially stretched finances. But the source of the report, entertainment industry analyst Hal Vogel, said in an interview later that he thinks Mgm Grand "will have enough earnings for this year to cover the dividend."