by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
By Ray Paulick

Shares in Magna Entertainment (MECA), the debt-ridden racetrack operating company controlled by Frank Stronach, plunged by 56% in Tuesday's trading on the NASDAQ exchange. Closing at $1.75 per share (down from $4.00) under extremely heavy trading (more than 30 times higher than the daily average), MECA was NASDAQ's biggest percentage loser on a day when the Dow and NASDAQ each gained between 5%-6%. 

MECA stock has plummeted by 91% in the last 52 weeks, and its market capitalization has shriveled to less than $10 million.

Magna Entertainment has listed debt of $571 million. The company recently announced 30-day extensions on a loan maturity date from a Canadian bank and an $80-million bridge loan from its affiliated real estate company, MI Developments, that will be due Oct. 15 and Oct. 31, respectively, along with a $100-million payment due MI Developments Oct. 31. Major shareholders in MI Developments have fought extensions of the bridge loan and repayment. On Monday, John Barnett resigned from the board of MI Developments. The company's CEO, John Simonetti, stepped down in August and was replaced by Dennis Mills, a longtime Stronach ally.

The current bank and credit crisis only heightens the gravity of Magna's poor financial health.

Magna Entertainment operates, among other tracks, Santa Anita Park in Southern California, the site of the 2008 and '09 Breeders' Cup world championships. The Oak Tree Racing Association, a separate non-profit entity that leases the Santa Anita racetrack from Magna, is the organization with which Breeders' Cup has contracted to host the championships. Any financial failings or potential bankruptcy by Magna Entertainment will not affect the Breeders' Cup, according to Greg Avioli, president and CEO of Breeders' Cup Ltd.

“Because of Oak Tree's contractual structure, they are fully protected from any possible Magna bankruptcy in terms of their ability to operate the meet in their standard fashion,” Avioli said. “(Oak Tree Racing Association) is a separate legal entity. They have a lease on the facility, and that lease would be maintained.”

Avioli did say that the Breeders' Cup developed contingency plans to move the championships to Hollywood Park, but not because of Magna's financial situation. “We had contingencies in place in the event that there might be problems with the new track,” he said, in reference to the new Pro-Ride synthetic surface recently installed at Santa Anita. According to published reports, horsemen and jockeys generally seem satisfied that the new surface is safe and formful after one week of racing during the Oak Tree meeting.

The pending due dates on loans are not the only question marks concerning Magna Entertainment. A California judge ruled this week that a shopping mall development planned for a section of Santa Anita's parking lot cannot go forward. In Maryland, where Magna owns Laurel and Pimlico racetracks, a referendum is coming up in November on slot machines.

“The stock only trades on option values,” one market analyst observed, “and the option value is declining because the potential options for the company are quickly disappearing.”

Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report

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