Will Tronc Vice Chairman Offer $18 a Share?

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There is speculation by the Los Angeles edition of the American Business Journal that Tronc Inc. (NASDAQ: TRNC) Vice Chairman Patrick Soon-Shiong may make a bid for the entire company. In all probability, he would have to match the $18 or so price per share offered by Gannett Co. Inc. (NYSE: GCI) last year. Tronc currently trades near $13.80.

A bid of $18 would be a 33% increase over Tronc’s current share price. Many investors believe that Gannett’s offer was too high. However, Soon-Shiong is an individual who is not tied to a public company, and therefore the pressure of shareholders. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of over $8 billion.

In an article titled “Is Patrick Soon-Shiong Making a Play for Tronc?” the American Business Journal reports:

Just days after reports surfaced that he is being forced out as vice chairman of the tronc board, Patrick Soon-Shiong has increased his stake in the Chicago publishing company to 24 percent.

Already tronc’s second-biggest shareholder, the Los Angeles billionaire now owns within 1 percent of majority shareholder and Non-Executive Chairman Michael Ferro.

A poison pill prevents either Ferro or Soon-Shiong from owning over 25% of the common shares. However, the board could vote to change that.

There are precedents for billionaire ownership of newspaper companies. Hedge fund manager John Henry paid $70 million in cash for the Boston Globe in 2013. Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post in 2013. Minnesota businessman Glen Taylor bought the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2014 for an undisclosed sum. In each of these cases, the buyers are considered more “trophy owners” than publishers previously in the newspaper business with plans to make huge profits.

Tronc would fetch at least $1 billion. Other than the premium at $18, the company has $380 million in debt. Soon-Shiong would not have to pay that much today, because of the stock he already owns.