Newspaper conglomerates are hearing the footsteps.
In recent months, newspaper-driven companies, including the
New York Times
( TRB) and
( KRI), have all faced indignant investors.
Others, such as
, Dallas media big wheel
Wall Street Journal
( DJ), have been spared public discontent, though their shares continue to sulk.
Over two years, New York Times has lost almost half its value, while Gannett and Belo are off around 40% and Dow Jones is down 28%. With little clearing on the horizon, rumbles of discontent are likely to grow louder.
Gabelli & Co. SVP of Research Barry Lucas notes the "huge gulf" between companies like the Times and Dow Jones, where management is protected by a so-called dual-stock structure that puts voting control in the hands of minority shareholders, and companies like Tribune and Gannett that don't have such protections.
"With one class of stock, at least in theory, something could be done," Lucas says of Gannett. By contrast, at family-controlled Belo, "Company management might be responsive and courteous, but they still have voting preference," Lucas says.
New York Times Co. has come under attack from 5% shareholder Morgan Stanley Capital Management to eliminate the dual-stock structure. The company says it looks after its long-term interests.
At Tribune, now subject to internal strife stemming from a big leveraged-buyback plan, Lucas says the single-class stock gives the dissident Chandler family "a certain opportunity to have themselves heard. At least they can speak up." A Gabelli & Co. affiliate owns shares in the companies mentioned.
While the Tribune situation is in flux and change at the New York Times, Dow Jones and Belo Corp. seems unlikely given the nature of the family control, a call to arms paid off this spring for investors at Knight Ridder. Thanks largely to the perseverance of Private Capital Management's Bruce Sherman and partners, the company was put up for sale and eventually sold to
for $6.5 billion.
Private Capital Management is a 6.5% Gannett stakeholder, according to data on Yahoo! Finance. PCM also has a 25% stake in Belo, making it the largest single shareholder outside of controlling family interests.
A Gannett rep says the company has been buying back stock for the last several years. "We think the stock is undervalued," she said, while also noting that the sector is out of favor with Wall Street. She notes Gannett's declines in the market are consistent with its peers.
Belo said in May it would buy back 5 million shares over two years.
In a note Friday, Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine said that leading up to next week's midyear media review, "We do not expect many management teams to express a lot of conviction in the near-term fundamentals of the newspaper business."
She adds that management is likely to face tough questions even in cases where shareholders have little leverage. Merrill does business with the companies it covers.
"Given some of the activity throughout the media sector and poor share performance," Fine says, "we expect questions regarding optimal capital structures, dividend and share-repurchase policies, and M&A activity as methods of surfacing value."
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