NEW YORK ( The Deal) -- When money management magazine and website Forbes Media LLC is sold, likely to Fosun International Ltd., the Chinese conglomerate that has taken the front-runner position in the company's auction, sources said, it will be for a much lower price than private equity minority stakeholder Elevation Partners LP was hoping to receive.
Two sources said it is likely Fosun will acquire Forbes, and that it will pay less than $250 million for the magazine. The founding Forbes family is also expected to retain a stake in the business, a source familiar with the situation said. The deal has not been fully hashed out yet, but sources said an agreement should be reached shortly.
Estimates for the company's auction - which Deutsche Bank AG was hired last fall to run - have differed wildly at times. A Wall Street Journal report earlier this year noted hopeful sell-side expectations of a sale in the $400 million to $500 million range.
Though Elevation has already written down the $264 million it invested in 2006 to $120 million, according to a Fortune report, its possible that the private equity firm could still secure a slight internal rate of return bump, and not a loss. Elevation has preferred stock, meaning it will receive virtually all of the sale proceeds, provided it is at or less than $250 million.
"Given the financial performance, I'm not surprised the bids came in below expectations," said one private equity source, which declined to be identified.
Financial performance including 2012 revenue of about $138 million, another source said, about half of what has been reported.
Existing Fosun International media investments include the Chinese business newspaper the 21st Century Business Herald.
In 2010, Forbes sold its New York headquarters to New York University - terms of the transaction were not released at the time, but documents filed with the New York City Department of Finance lists the sales price at $65 million, much less than the $120 million reports had said the company was seeking. Forbes is allowed to continue operating from the Fifth Avenue and 12th Street location until sometime in 2015.
Forbes declined to comment when contacted. Fosun International and Deutsche Bank did not return e-mails seeking comment.
Any loss for Elevation Partners, the private equity firm headed up by a group of investing pros including rock group U2 front man Paul Hewson, better known by his stage name Bono, comes at a tricky time. Over the past two years, there have been rumors that the firm has tried to raise funds to match its 2004 $1.9 billion vehicle, the only fund it has raised to date. But Elevation general partner Roger McNamee said about two years ago at a conference that he wanted the firm to shift its private equity strategy toward seed funding deals. No paperwork for a new Elevation fund has been filed yet.
Much of the company's general partners from 2004 remain with the fund, except John Riccitello, former COO and president of Electronic Arts Inc. Figures from June 2013 for the Washington State Investment Board put the internal rate of return for Elevation's fund at about nine percent.
Lately, print media assets have had a rough go on the auction block. Beltway institution The Washington Post was sold to billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million, but left the paper's parent company holding the bag on its pension obligations. And The New York Times Co. sold its Boston Globe, on which the paper spent $1.1 billion, mostly in stock, in 1993, in late 2013 to Rex Sox owner and billionaire John Henry, for a paltry $70 million. Elsewhere, the Tribune Co., which went into bankruptcy proceedings at the end of 2008 to finally emerge in 2012, hastily announced plans to cut a dividend to the parent company after splitting off its print and broadcast assets. It's a move similar to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which has spun news out from its entertainment company.
Even big media conglomerates are doing what they can do distance themselves from print: Time Warner Inc. is spinning out Time Inc., a basket of print publications - but not before it loads the new entity up with debt for a still-anticipated IPO. And, elsewhere in the sector, sources note, executives from Dow Jones & Co. and Thomson Reuters Inc. have spoken about potentially divesting some print assets.
Thomson Reuters and Dow Jones declined comment when contacted.