Publisher Ralph Ingersoll II, who built one of the largest private newspaper companies in the United States, said yesterday he will give up control of the empire he built using high-risk junk bonds.
Ingersoll yesterday disputed suggestions that his departure from the U.S. newspaper business was a result of pressure from bondholders who have been seeking repayment of about $240 million in junk-bond debt issued by Ingersoll's Community Newspapers Inc.
The Princeton, N.J., company, which has been negotiating with bondholders, missed an interest payment due yesterday on the debt, the latest sign of Ingersoll's mounting troubles. In April, Ingersoll closed his new daily, the St. Louis Sun, after only seven months of operation.
Ingersoll jointly owns companies that publish the New Haven Register and dozens of small daily and weekly newspapers throughout the Midwest, Long Island and elsewhere in New York State, and New England with E.M. Warburg, Pincus & Co., a New York investment bank.
Warburg and Ingersoll have also been partners in several European papers, including the Irish Press, a national newspaper based in Dublin, and the daily Coventry Telegraph and Birmingham Post and Mail in England.
Under a deal with Warburg, Ingersoll will trade all of his equity and debt obligations in the United States in return for Warburg's stake in the European papers.
Ingersoll, the 43-year-old son of the late newspaper publisher Ralph M. Ingersoll, said Europe represented "a better growth market" for newspapers than the United States and the trade was "something we've wanted to do for quite a while."
However, Ingersoll's management company, IPCo., said as recently as February that it intended to concentrate on buying and managing urban newspapers in the United States, as well as Europe.
Newspaper-industry analyst John Morton said the swap with Warburg should relieve the financial pressure on Ingersoll.
"It's a little disingenuous of Ralph to suddenly be expressing a longing to become a European," Morton said. "... One can surmise the bondholders were putting pressure on him."
Morton estimated the U.S. newspapers had a market value of about $1.2 billion, with long-term debt of some $600 million.
He valued the European papers at between $400 million and $500 million, with $100 million in debt.
Ingersoll said the European operation, which includes English weeklies with 500,000 circulation and a magazine publishing company, is smaller than the U.S. group but has a cleaner balance sheet that makes the relative values of the two companies about the same.
Ingersoll was hurt by an overall slump in the newspaper industry that hit particularly hard in some of the markets that Ingersoll published in, said Morton.
Ingersoll inherited a small regional newspaper group consisting of 11 papers in New England from his father, who had helped run Time magazine and the New Yorker and founded PM, a short-lived but memorable New York tabloid, in 1940.
With Warburg, he bought much of the rest of their empire by using high-interest junk bonds issued through Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. for the past seven years.
Ingersoll has run into problems working out repayment terms on a so-called "re-set" note, a risky form of debt devised by Drexel's former junk bond king Michael Milken.
Because of the collapse of the junk-bond market, the bonds are currently trading at a deep discount to their face value.
Ingersoll said negotiations with creditors are expected to continue past July 7, the date on which his company is required to make new guarantees to holders of the bonds.