Tribune and McClatchy Rally on Takeover Speculation

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Gannett Co. Inc. (NYSE: GCI) announced it will buy Journal Media Group Inc. (NYSE: JMG), which owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for $12 a share. That is about $275 million, and a 40% premium over where the smaller company traded before the offer.

Investors who own the shares of two other newspaper companies, which have had their own troubles, must hope some M&A event will trigger a similar run up in their stock prices, and one which is permanent. Shareholders in McClatchy Co. (NYSE: MNI) and Tribune Publishing Co. (NYSE: TPUB) have taken a bloody beating over the past year.

After the Gannett announcement, the stocks of the two companies rallied sharply, to no one’s surprise

McClatchy is saddled with $1 billion in debt. That is an extraordinary number for a company that had revenue of $262 million last quarter, and barely made enough to cover debt service. McClatchy has occasionally traded below $1 recently, which if this continues for a long period, could cause a New York Stock Exchange warning of delisting. Put simply, the odds that McClatchy can solve its debt problem are long. The company may be sold for a negotiated fraction of its debt as a result. McClatchy shares are down 50% in the past year but have rallied 40% in the past five trading days. Whether or not there is a ready buyer for McClatchy, investors have begun to hope

Tribune Publishing is better off financially. It shares have plunged 46% over the past year but have risen 17% in the past five trading days. In the most recent quarter, Tribune had revenue of $410 million and net income of $3 million. Tribune’s stock has been hurt by weak guidance. After the change in guidance, Tribune began a program to cut employees.

Wall Street has the same question about Tribune and McClatchy, which will force their stocks back down soon. The question is simple. What company could buy them?

The New York Post’s media columnist recently reported that Tribune, McClatchy, Hearst, Advance Communications and Gannett may form a joint venture to sell national adverting. Hearst and Advance Communications are owned by families, who probably do not want to buy further into a shrinking sector. That leaves those two out of the picture as acquirers, and that pushes the list close to zero.

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