British cinema chain Cineworld files for US bankruptcy

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Britain's Cineworld, the world's second biggest cinema chain, announced Wednesday that it has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States as it seeks to restructure after facing low audience numbers.

The group, which operates hundreds of movie theatres in the United States, said in a statement that it filed for Chapter 11 at a bankruptcy court in Texas.

Chapter 11 of the US bankruptcy code is a court-supervised restructuring process that provides companies time to negotiate with its creditors to reach a settlement on the reduction of debts.

Cineworld said it "will seek to implement a de-leveraging transaction that will significantly reduce the Group's debt, strengthen its balance sheet and provide the financial strength and flexibility to accelerate, and capitalise on, Cineworld's strategy in the cinema industry."

The statement said it hoped to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings in the first quarter of next year, and had $1.94 billion in financing from existing lenders to help it through that period.

The company also warned existing shareholders that their holdings would likely be considerably diluted as part of the bankruptcy process.

Eric Snyder, a bankruptcy expert at Wilk Auslander, said Cineworld's creditors aren't giving them "a lot of time to make the decision between reorganizing or selling it".

A big problem for the company is that "travelling to a movie theatre to watch a movie for two to three hours, and spending $20 to $25, is just not attractive anymore for a lot of people, especially young people," Snyder added.

Cineworld's shares had been sliding since the beginning of the year as the company's position deteriorated when people didn't return to cinemas in droves after Covid lockdowns were eased.

They plummeted last month when the company acknowledged it was considering filing for bankruptcy.

Cineworld shares rose 10 percent on Wednesday to 4.29 pence, but were still down 87 percent from the start of the year.

Analysts argue that Cineworld's 2018 takeover of American peer Regal left it saddled with too much debt, putting it in a poor position to weather the pandemic.

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