Cablevision shares are soaring 16.6% in after market trading after The Wall Street Journal reported that it’s in “advanced talks” to sell itself to Luxembourg-based Altice — possibly as early as tomorrow. The New York Times goes farther: It says the companies have reached an agreement valuing Cablevision at $17.7 billion, including about $8.8 billion in debt.
Cablevision had a market value of about $7.9 billion based on its closing price today of $28.54 a share. The Times says Altice will offer $34.90 for each share — adding that BC Partners and the Canada Pension Plan Investment board might help finance it by acquiring 30% of Cablevision’s equity.
Altice’s billionaire founder Patrick Drahi has made it clear that he wanted additional U.S. cable systems after agreeing in May to buy 70% of Suddenlink in a deal that values the No. 7 cable operator at $9.1 billion including debt. Charter later outbid Altice for Time Warner Cable.
Cablevision, which dominates the tri-state area around New York City, is one of the largest companies available with 2.6 million video subscribers. It’s controlled by Charles and James Dolan and their families. The company’s shares have appreciated 38.3% so far this year as investors envisioned a potential take out — especially after Drahi told the Journal that he had his eye on the Long Island-based cable operator.
After losing Time Warner Cable, Drahi said that he’s undaunted: “We’ll buy a second, a third and one day we’ll be able to say: ‘Hello Mr. Comcast!’ or ‘Hello, Mr. Charter!’ ”
Early this month Wunderlich Securities Matthew Harrigan said that Cablevision “could be a very appealing asset” for Altice given its presence in New York, and ambitious plans to spread public WiFi services through the region. But Cablevision and Suddenlink still would leave Altice “subscale” nationally compared to giants led by Comcast and Charter. Altice also is aggressive about cutting costs. Workforce reductions could lead to a “heated NY political reaction.”
In addition to cable systems, Cablevision owns Newsday and am New York.
Cablevision faces intense competition from Verizon’s FiOS. To keep up, the cable company heavily promoted broadband services — which could leave Altice with limited opportunities to grow.
That’s why MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett was skeptical about the odds for a sale. “Paying a high multiple [of earnings] for a company with secularly declining [adjusted operating cash flow], even if costs could be slashed on a one-time basis, is hardly likely to tickle the fancy of the French,” he said last month.
A Cablevision-Altice alliance continues the wave of consolidation in pay TV. The FCC and Justice Department are looking at Charter’s $55 billion deal for TWC. Regulators recently approved AT&T’s $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV.
The Dolan family also controls AMC Networks and the Madison Square Garden Co.