Ratings downgrade hits Hollywood investors

Reuters – A largely unnoticed ratings downgrade on a slate of Paramount Pictures movies backed by hedge-fund money offers rare proof that such innovative packages have proved to be wobbly investments.

The Melrose I fund, established in 2004, was cut six grades by Moody’s Investor Service from an investment grade "Baa2" to the speculative "B3" rating. The downgrade, announced October 21, could trigger higher interest payments to lenders, and will surely lower the value of debtholders’ bonds.

The fund is backed by a partial ownership stake in 26 Paramount films released during 2004-05. So, lead underwriter Merrill Lynch and other senior debtholders will maintain a minority hold on those assets until they can secure full repayment on their loans or Paramount buys out their equity positions.

Melrose I was crafted during the regime of Paramount chief Sherry Lansing, whose reign atop the Viacom Inc-owned studio ended in 2004 amid a lengthy commercial dry spell. That year, the studio released such iffy features as "The Stepford Wives," "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and "Alfie," though Paramount has never acknowledged publicly which of its pictures were funded by Melrose I.

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