Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that New Media Investment Corp (NEWM) was in talks to purchase Gannett in a cash-and-stock deal. New Media is similar to Gannett, just without the USA Today, they own a bunch of small town newspapers and a couple midsized ones. New Media is externally managed by Fortress Investment Group (now owned by Softbank), NEWM is one of the few operating businesses (non-REIT/BDCs) I know of that is externally managed, it was a spinoff of Newcastle (now Drive Shack) originating as the result of Fortress buying the debt of local newspaper publisher GateHouse Media (the entity WSJ references as the buyer) within Newcastle and later taking control of the post-reorg GateHouse. Fortress has since used New Media as a vehicle to roll-up the distressed local newspaper industry at low single digit EBITDA multiples and then pay an out sized dividend to attract retail investors (standard externally managed playbook type stuff).
This deal has a hint of HPT buying SMTA's master trust to it, Fortress gets paid a management fee of 1.5% off of New Media's equity, Gannett is a low-quality asset but represents a way for Fortress to roughly double their management fee with one of the last large willing sellers (the other publishers are mostly controlled/family owned) at a price that both could claim victory with given the synergies at stake. As an asset gatherer, New Media will be aggressive in pursuing Gannett and will likely get a deal done.
As a little recent background on Gannett, earlier this year they fended off a hostile takeover and later a proxy fight from PE owned MNG Enterprises (dba "Digital First Media"), the owner of the Denver Post and the San Jose Mercury News among other publications. MNG Enterprises offered $12 per share for GCI (currently trades at ~$9.60) but the hostile bid and lack of committed financing led Gannett management to dig in their heels and resist the effort. While this was happening, Gannett's CEO stepped down in May and the company has been without a named successor since.
How could this be a win for all three parties (Fortress, New Media, Gannett)? The Wall Street Journal references $200MM of potential synergies being discussed in the deal, which sounds like a lot compared to Gannett's $290MM EBITDA guidance for 2019, and it is, but there is a lot of overlap between the two's footprint and $200MM is roughly 25% of Gannett's run rate G&A expenses, I think there is some reasonableness to the synergy number that a PE manager could extract from the operations. New Media's stated acquisition criteria is to buy publishing assets at 3.5x-4.5x EBITDA, GCI trades for 5.6x standalone EBITDA of $290MM (mid-point of 2019 management guidance).
New Media can buy Gannett for "4x EBITDA" using a post-synergy number of $490MM and all three parties can claim victory:
- Fortress gets to roughly double their management fee;
- New Media gets a large acquisition within their stated price target to bleed for continued dividend yield, and given NEWM trades at a premium to the industry (due to the high dividend yield) it would be accretive to shareholders;
- Gannett gets a higher price with credible financing than what they turned down earlier this year justifying their actions
So how might a cash-and-stock deal look like? New Media has conventional debt of $450MM against a $180MM LTM EBITDA, or 2.5x levered, if they added the $490MM (let's save EBITDA addback math for another time) and kept leverage roughly the same they could raise enough financing to pay $6-7/share in cash and then issue the rest in NEWM stock. I'm also including Gannett's pension shortfall in EV, NEWM likes to exclude their capital leases and pension liability from their leverage numbers so maybe they could justify paying on the higher side of my back-of-the-envelope estimates. Anyway, I think this deal crosses the finish line as Gannett is floundering and doesn't have a controlling shareholder, New Media wants to gather additional assets for its external manager, it's a win-win for a dying industry.
Disclosure: I own shares GCI (and a few calls as well)