Corporations seeking financing amid the market's turmoil might find following a simple recipe can significantly improve their chances and lower their costs.

That means presenting a clean balance sheet, lowering expectations and being patient.

Companies modifying that recipe may find their loan chances deflated, not unlike a poorly done souffl & #233;.

"It's a myth that no companies are securing financing in this market," said attorney Jennifer Yount, a partner at the Los Angeles office of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP who represents lenders.

Stender Sweeney, senior vice president and commercial banking director for Wachovia Corp.'s western region, particularly stresses keeping expectations realistic.

Companies seeking more modestly sized loans that lenders are willing to hold on their balance sheets are more likely to get approvals, since banks are finding it difficult to resell large debt packages to other investors. "Banks and the markets are still digesting the past large (transactions)," Sweeney said.

Typical deals for Los Angeles-area companies in recent months include modest extensions of existing credit lines or sales of convertible senior notes, essentially bonds with a stock option hidden inside.

For example, managed care provider Molina Healthcare Inc. in October sold more than $200 million in 3.75 percent convertible senior notes to finance an acquisition and repay some earlier debt.

Restaurant chain Cheesecake Factory Inc. secured a $100 million extension to its revolving credit facility earlier this month money it will use to refinance part of a stock repurchase from an investor group led by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

GE Healthcare Financial Services provided imaging center operator Radnet Inc. $100 million to fund acquisitions in February via a combination of a credit line boost and an outstanding term loan increase.

Officials at all three companies said they were successful because they stuck to the recipe. For example, Los Angeles-based Radnet, which had debt from a prior acquisition, scaled back its original financing request by $10 million and worked with GE to structure the deal differently than first envisioned.

Radnet Chief Executive Howard Berger said the package included a term loan for part of the amount instead of relying entirely on a larger revolving line. Factor in the benefit of recent Federal Reserve interest rate cuts, and the total interest cost was comparable with rates paid for credit in November 2006.

Michael Dixon, Cheesecake's chief financial officer, said the Calabasas Hills casual restaurant chain's solid brand name and conservative balance sheet enabled it to get nearly the same terms for the credit extension as it did for the original line it obtained about a year ago.

"We increased the bank's fee slightly to entice them, but it was very minor," said Dixon, noting that the company was willing to forego the opportunity to repurchase its currently depressed shares if it didn't score a good deal. "We were fortunate to have already had that line in place, and that we hadn't any debt prior to that."

Both Dixon and John Molina, chief financial officer at Long Beach-based Molina Healthcare, said their companies had considered other ways to raise the money, but compromised due to market conditions. For example, Molina could have issued high-yield debt that would not have diluted the company's equity down the road, but there was simply no market for it.

Indeed, Yount said the credit crunch has in many cases made it more of a challenge "in structuring the transactions."

While loans might still be based on the value of the whole business of the company as a going concern, more lenders are adding asset-based components to the financing. The value of foreign collateral is being factored in more often, and banks are bringing in other lenders to syndicate more deals, she said.

An example of a particularly complex deal was one involving Pasadena label maker Avery Dennison Corp. in November. It was able to refinance more than $400 million of a $1.3 billion acquisition, but decided to go with a hybrid equity known as a HiMeds unit.

Each unit gave investors a senior note due in 2020, plus a purchase contract obligating the holder to buy a certain number of shares in 2010. Since the units are not treated strictly as debt they don't weigh down the balance sheet as much. For investors, the fixed bond income of the hybrid is taxed at a rate lower than capital gains.

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