Monday, June 04, 2007

Chandlers Dump Tribune Stock! Era Ends!

Nikki Finke scoops everyone with the news the Chandler Trust has just sold its stock before the final buyout - taking three dollars a share less than it would have gotten this fall. The question now is - who bought the shares and why?

Sam Zell? Or just someone who wants the three buck bump in November? Well, with today's low interest rates, an over three dollar gain in less than six months on a $31.50 investment - ain't bad.

Or... is it someone counting on a new - and higher - bidder yet appearing - or could it be one of the possible October surprise bidders?

We'll soon know...

It's unofficial, but the Chandler family no longer has any investment ties to the Los Angeles Times or its parent company Tribune Co, I'm told. That's because financial sources say that the Chandler Trusts sold all their stake in Tribune Co after market today, with Goldman Sachs handling the block trade. A tally of 20,351,954 shares, described as being sold "by shareholders, including the Chandler Trusts", were offered at $31.50, priced below today's closing price of $32.24 to entice investors. I'm told that "Goldman did not have a problem finding buyers". So there it is: the end of an era. UPDATE: Tribune Co said on Monday three board members representing the Chandler Trusts have resigned upon completion of a share tender offer, as agreed under the buyout deal with real estate magnate Sam Zell. With the departure of Jeffrey Chandler, Roger Goodan and William Stinehart Jr., the board now has nine members including Zell, who was elected on May 9 and will become chairman after Tribune is taken private. The Chandler Trust representatives were elected to the board in 2000, when Tribune acquired Times Mirror for about $6.5 billion. The Trusts now hold about 17 percent of Tribune's outstanding shares, down from about 20 percent before the tender offer. The Chandler Trusts had agreed to sell all remaining Tribune shares through a block trade underwritten by Goldman Sachs.

In the years following that 2000 sale, Tribune’s stock began to fall, dropping about 50 percent from an all-time high above $60 in 1999. Especially upset was Trib's largest shareholder, the Chandler family trusts, whose avarice knew no bounds. Suddenly there was bitching and moaning and agitate for Tribune to put itself up for sale. The buyer was Zell in a two-stage $8.2 billion deal financed almost entirely by debt. (See my Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.) The Chandler family trusts wound up with a hefty payout, and a hefty tax liability, from the sale in exchange for their $1.6 billion valued stake in Tribune Co. Today's move shouldn't come as a surprise yet the trusts didn't wait for the second-stage of the Zell deal to close in November when they would have received $3 more per share at $34.50. A lot of Tribune Co investors have bailed early like this. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Chandler family "was planning to sell as much stock as it could in the tender offer and then is allowed, under an agreement with Tribune, to sell whatever stock it has left over in the market."

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