Chandlers Make Last-Minute Bid for Tribune

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Tribune Co. directors prepared to deliberate over the struggling media company’s next step Wednesday as a much-anticipated bidding period for its assets drew to an anticlimactic close.

Tribune remained silent about the results of the bidding for the company or its two primary units, newspapers and broadcast, as an afternoon deadline for submitting proposals passed.

No announcement was made and none was expected, but the widespread view of those watching the review process closely was that no premium bid had been made.

The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported on their Web sites late Wednesday that varying proposals were submitted, but none sought a buyout.

“We’re not going to say anything regarding the details of the process or what the submissions have been,” company spokesman Gary Weitman said earlier.

Thursday morning, however, word emerged that The Chandler Trusts submitted a last-minute bid for media company Tribune Co., offering to buy shares they don’t already own for $31.70 each.

The bid is comprised of $19.30 per share in cash as well as stock in a spinoff, Tribune Broadcasting, which would include the company’s broadcast operations. The Chandlers would keep Tribune’s newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, with Tribune spinning off its television stations.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Chandler Trusts, which own about 20 percent of the company, said their offer represents a premium to the “unaffected market price” of Tribune, which it sees as $27 per share.

Tribune’s stock, which closed Wednesday at $30.34 on the New York Stock Exchange, has risen considerably since the company was forced to put itself on the block last year.

The Chicago-based company also has reportedly received bids from two other groups, including a private equity consortium and Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle.

The Chicago-based company’s outlook has been murky since last June when the Chandler family, then Tribune’s second-largest shareholder, forced it to ultimately put itself up for sale by accusing it of a series of strategic failures and calling for its breakup.

Despite initial hopes the so-called auction might draw a bid from a deep-pocketed private equity firm or another media giant, preliminary bids were at first said to be weak and extending the deadline by two months did not appear to have lured any strong offers by the final few hours.

The Chandlers, whose stake has risen to 20 percent, had been thought to be the likeliest party to make a last-minute offer for the company. But the Los Angeles Times, which the family formerly owned, had reported Wednesday that they were leaning against bidding — which proved not accurate.

Tribune’s stated timetable for a decision on its direction remains sometime between now and the end of March.

Weitman said the independent board committee that was appointed in September to come up with a course of action to improve a sagging stock price will evaluate submitted proposals and make a recommendation to the full board. The board then expects to announce a decision sometime in the first quarter, he said.

Analysts continued to maintain that any offer that did come in would fail to be significantly above the current stock price, leaving the entire company’s sale unlikely. That could prompt Tribune to either undertake more stock buybacks or try to sell individual assets, although that option remains fraught with tax-related obstacles.

Tribune shares slipped to a four-month low before the deadline, reflecting Wall Street’s confidence that no deal is near. The stock declined 18 cents to $30.34 on the New York Stock Exchange after dropping as low as $30.15, the lowest since last Sept. 12.

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