The news that the Bancroft family is considering selling Dow Jones (DJ) to Rupert Murdoch came as a surprise last Friday ... to anyone unfamiliar with the laws of money.
Or who hadn't read the company's public filings.
Almost exactly a month ago, just after Rupert Murdoch had made his $5 billion offer for Dow Jones and been rebuffed, I revealed
here that the bid would be worth an extra $500 million to the Bancrofts.
"There will continue to be protestations about the sanctity of the
independence," I predicted, "but $500 million can soothe some ruffled principles."
The reality? Dow Jones shares were just $36 and change before Murdoch. The value of the Bancrofts' stake was then just over $740 million. It had been sliding grimly, along with the rest of the newspaper world, for years.
Murdoch is prepared to pay them $1.24 billion for the same shares. Not bad.
No wonder they changed their minds. And no wonder attempts to dismiss the offer sparked threats of shareholder lawsuits.
Five hundred million bucks has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind.
But why can't they just admit they want the money? Instead, the Bancrofts sent out representative Michael Elefante to explain they had conducted a "detailedreview of the business" and "the evolving competitive environment." Such contemplation, he said, had led the family to a "consensus that the mission of Dow Jones may be better accomplished in combination or collaboration with another organization, which may include
The Bancrofts aren't the only Dow Jones institutions who will make a fortune if the deal goes ahead.
Take husband and wife team Peter Kann and Karen Elliott House, the legendary power couple at Dow Jones until their retirement in the past year. Kann wascompany chairman and chief executive. House rose to become publisher of the
Company filings show that the couple retired with as many as 944,750 options and contingent stock rights as of Dec. 31, 2006. The only problem? Nearly all of those options were worthless. They had exercise prices over $40, and in some cases over $50.
As the couple walked out the door, they must have thought those days had come and gone.
Today? Those options and stock rights, if they still hold them, will be worth $18 million.
A spokesman for Dow Jones declined to comment.
Take the money and run, folks. Hardly anyone believes Dow Jones will see a $60 share price again.
The giveaway fact? The dog that isn't barking: other newspaper shares.
Dow Jones is up 66% since the end of April, thanks to Murdoch's offer.
New York Times
over the same period:13%.
, publisher of
, is even worse: 4%.
If Murdoch's offer marked the turning of the tide for newspaper stocks, you might expect a more enthusiastic reaction across the board. Wall Street hardly needs any prompting to jump on buyout rumors these days. Where is the private-equity talk?
But in the case of the newspapers, for better or worse, the Street clearly remains skeptical. Which makes Murdoch's $5 billion look more tempting.
And it doesn't bode well for those praying for a white knight to rescue the
from the man whom the British -- who have borne the brunt of Murdoch's journalism for 50 years -- have come to know as "theDirty Digger."
In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Brett Arends doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Arends takes a critical look inside mutual funds and the personal finance industry in a twice-weekly column that ranges from investment advice for the general reader to the industry's latest scoop. Prior to joining TheStreet.com in 2006, he worked for more than two years at the Boston Herald, where he revived the paper's well-known 'On State Street' finance column and was part of a team that won two SABEW awards in 2005. He had previously written for the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail newspapers in London, the magazine Private Eye, and for Global Agenda, the official magazine of the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. Arends has also written a book on sports 'futures' betting.