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Likely new owners bide their time

Hovering quietly in the background of the WestPoint bankruptcy, and poised to take center stage later this year as the company emerges from Chapter 11, are three big investment firms that bought WestPoint bonds on the cheap and will likely end up as the major mill's new owners as part of a debt-for-equity swap that wipes out most of the company's debt.

The most conspicuous of these bondholders is ESL Investments of Greenwich, CT, headed by Edward Lampert, the largest owner of Kmart and now its chairman, and also the second-largest shareholder in Sears — a dual investment that has given rise to speculation that the two retail companies might ultimately merge. ESL is reported to own about $400 million in WestPoint bonds out of roughly $1 billion outstanding.

Holding other big bond positions are Greenwich Street Capital Partners and Perry Capital Management, both of New York. Combined, Greenwich Street and Perry are said to own another $200 million in WestPoint bonds, giving the three companies a majority ownership of the major mill's bonds, a combined total of roughly $600 million, and a big say in the restructuring process, pitting them against the banks, which have so far been reluctant to take a haircut in any debt-for-equity swap.

"These are pretty much the guys calling the shots," said Chip Fontenot, interim ceo. "And at the end of the process they will own it.

"They don't know us, and we don't know them. As we go along, we will get to know each other a whole lot better, you can be certain of that. They don't own us yet, but they will soon enough."

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