Starboard Value's Jeff Smith recently disclosed a 6.6% stake in Tribune Media (TRCO) , one of the fund's largest positions and an investment that suggests an activist campaign pushing for stock buybacks, asset sales or even an auction of the whole company could be next.
The activist investor's securities filing late on Tuesday disclosing the position provides few details. It does say, however, that Smith may make recommendations to the television station owner involving board structure, capitalization and "potential business combinations."
The stock gained 3.3% Wednesday to $34.81 in the wake of the release of the Schedule 13D securities filing.
Smith often issues an initial activist 13D filing with some vague details that is then followed up weeks or even months later with more specifics, such as a letter to management or even a director-election proxy contest to help drive his share-price-improving agenda. (Smith did not return a request for comment.)
Starboard's track record suggests an escalation down the road -- and even pressure to have the company sold -- is a real possibility. According to FactSet, Starboard Value has launched 133 campaigns, including 62 director-election proxy fights since 1999. Smith often launches director battles to help drive a share price improvement and M&A agenda.
Last April, Smith settled a pending change-of-control proxy contest and got himself a seat on Yahoo!'s (YHOO) strategic review committee, a panel charged with evaluating potential bids to acquire the business. From his position on the panel, Smith was integrally involved in assessing every possible bid and their financing options. Soon afterward, in July, Yahoo! agreed to sell itself to Verizon (VZ) .
More recently, Smith reached a deal to give Starboard Value five director seats on Perrigo's (PRGO) board. Smith also received a spot on two critical strategic review committees and is likely pushing the company to sell noncore assets.
When it comes to Tribune Media, a major spectrum auction and possible relaxation of Federal Communications Commission media ownership rules could be driving factors when it comes to Smith's campaign. The Chicago owner of cable network WGN America also is a large television broadcaster, with 42 TV stations and a market capitalization of more than $3 billion.
A January Morgan Stanley analyst report suggested that Tribune Media is constrained by an FCC ownership rule limiting the size of the national audience one company's broadcast stations can reach. The report added that relaxation of the measure could meaningfully expand the company's strategic options.
In other words, relaxation of the ownership rule could make it easier for Tribune to sell itself or buy another station group, or acquire stations in attractive markets. The deregulatory views of the new Trump administration's pick to chair the FCC, Ajit Pai, soon could result in looser media ownership limits and allow for more broadcaster dealmaking in the coming years.