Bankers are sniffing around for a deal that could provide CBS with anywhere from $4B to $6B according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. The company is positioning itself in the catbird seat. It has signaled that it’s willing to listen to offers, but isn’t proactively soliciting them. “There’s definitely a lot of interest in Outdoor,” CFO Joseph Ianniello said last week at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Telecom & Media Conference. “I will always look to maximize value, whether it’s through operations or through an M&A transaction. We’re very excited about the business, so we’re going to continue to operate it. If something comes along that makes some sense, we’ll let everybody know.” The usual suspects among potential buyers include Clear Channel Outdoor, JCDecaux, and private equity groups. But Clear Channel is deeply in debt, and a deal with JCDecaux could run afoul of European antitrust regulators. Investors shouldn’t count the cash yet, Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker warns: “We don’t believe a sale is imminent” she says, dismissing the buzz as mere “speculation.” In Q1 CBS’ outdoor ad unit had an operating loss of $2M, an improvement from the $12M loss a year ago, on revenues of $416M, up 7.3%. Ianniello says that ad growth for Outdoor is rising at a low single digit rate and should accelerate later this year as we approach the elections.
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