The Rising Debt of the Unsinkable Tribune

How much did the Tribune Co. pay for Times Mirror? I told you I’d look that up for you. It popped up today on the front page of the WSJ. The Trib paid $8.3 billion to buy the chain in 2000. The money and stock includes the LA Times, Hartford Courant and Baltimore Sun. A deal made in heaven for the Chandler family trusts that dumped the LA-based empire before the 9/ll disaster and the dramatic fall in advertising revenue newspapers enjoyed. In a securities filing yesterday, the WSJ reported that the Tribune disclosed that all three directors appointed by the Chandler Trusts to the company's 11-member board had voted against the company's buyback program. That plan, announced last week, means taking on about $2 billion of new debt to buy back up to 25 percent of the company's outstanding shares. How much debt will the Tribune Co. have on the books from this bad decision to invest the whole basket of eggs in newspapers? Calculating in my head, well over 10 billion. By broadcasting the board disagreement, the unusual filing raises new questions about the challenges facing the Tribune. The Chicago-based company, one of the nation's largest newspaper and broadcasting chains, already has faced shareholder pressure for its poor stock performance at a time when newspapers are seeing readership decline and new competition from the Internet.

Some investors see the buyback as an effort to discourage hostile takeovers.  Or to help prevent the kind of investor pressure that pushed Knight-Ridder Inc. into a sale, since taking on substantial new debt would make Tribune less appealing to potential buyers. Look for a Tribune breakup in the coming year. Anybody want to buy a newspaper for a couple of billion dollars?

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2 thoughts on “The Rising Debt of the Unsinkable Tribune

  1. buybacks are popular, when the stocks are not. some of the most successful, and least, have used this simple method for curtailing eroding value.

    for a couple of billion dollars, i’d rather buy myself a country and outsource myself back to it.

    heh

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