Tribune delays decision on selling

November 29, 2006|By Bloomberg News

Tribune Co., owner of The Sun and Los Angeles Times, delayed until next year a decision on whether to sell all or part of the company.

A board of directors committee reviewing the company's alternatives will make a recommendation to the panel in the first quarter of 2007, Tribune said in a statement yesterday.

Tribune, the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher, had planned to make a decision by the end of the year.

The delay could signal that Chief Executive Officer Dennis J. FitzSimons and other directors are awaiting a higher offer after initial bids from private equity firms came in too low.

"This process has generated strong interest from a number of parties," FitzSimons said in the statement. The company decided to extend the review "to ensure thorough consideration of all proposals," he said.

"This just shows that the review remains a work in progress," said Robert Torray, president of Torray LLC of Bethesda, which owns more than 2.1 million shares of Tribune. "I don't think it means that a sale is imminent or won't happen. If the right offer surfaces, I expect management to pursue it."

FitzSimons and Tribune directors agreed in September to consider a sale after pressure from its largest shareholder, the Chandler family.

Since then the company received offers from several bidders, including California billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad. Music mogul David Geffen expressed interest in buying the Los Angeles Times.

A group of prominent Baltimore business and civic leaders, led by Theodore G. Venetoulis, the former Baltimore County executive, launched an effort last month to buy just the Baltimore Sun Co. Tribune has said it would prefer to sell the entire property, rather than piecemeal.

Boston's Bain and New York's Apollo offered about $32 a share for the entire company, giving no premium to its stock market value. Apollo was joined in its bid by Madison Dearborn Partners LLC and Providence Equity Partners Inc.

Bids also came from Thomas H. Lee Partners LP and Texas Pacific Group.

Tribune, whose stock closed up 32 cents to $32.10 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, also said the Federal Communications Commission approved the sale of television stations in Boston and Albany, N.Y.

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