Akamai Refinances

The Mortgage Bankers Association says homeowners refinanced more than $2.3 trillion during 2003. On Tuesday, Internet content network provider Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) added $200 million to that total. Well, sort of.

Let me explain. Akamai has announced a plan to buy back up to $101 million of its 5 1/2% convertible notes via what's called a "Modified Dutch Auction." No, the company won't be selling clogs and windmills to raise cash. Despite the funny name, the format is a popular way for companies to cheaply buy back its debt or shares through bids from investors who want to dump their holdings. A number of firms have recently used the practice, including Stocks 2003 pick Cemex (NYSE: CX  ) and PETCO (Nasdaq: PETC  ) .

The buyback offer, which closes March 10, comes barely a month after Akamai raised $200 million in 1% convertible debt. It used $99 million of those proceeds to repurchase roughly one-third of its 5 1/2% notes in January. The twist is that the company should end up exactly where it was in December, with $300 million in convertible notes, but paying a lower rate ($200 million paying 1% and $100 million paying 5 1/2%). That's right, just like millions of Americans, Akamai refinanced.

Was the trouble worth it? I'd say so. By shaving 4 1/2% off roughly $200 million in debt, Akamai will save about $9 million in interest payments annually. That's real money that it needs badly. After all, $300 million is a hefty sum. Post-auction, Akamai will see its $200 million in liquid assets drop to $100 million, with $60 million of it in cash.

That's a pretty deep cut, but it has to be done. Akamai was partying like it was 1999 back in, um, 1999, and piled up huge debts as a result of the dot-com boom. Sometimes tough love (or the occasional early morning beer) is needed to get through a hangover.

Fortunately, the headaches usually aren't permanent, and with the refinancing, Akamai is showing that it's probably old enough to know to avoid guzzling too many $5 beers. I hope so. Investors can't afford another binge.

Are you considering refinancing? How about buying a home? Meet hundreds of other Fools who've been there at the Buying or Selling a Home discussion board. Or check out our Home Center for information and deals on home loans.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers doesn't do the late-night drinking binges anymore, but he loves the occasional breakfast at 2 am. He doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned, and takes invites for rolled-up eggs over toast with a side of bacon here. Just be sure you have a pot of decaf handy.


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