Tribune Media shares are up more than 9% in pre-market trading this morning after Reuters reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group is interested in a merger — and Tribune disclosed Q4 earnings that fell short of Wall Street expectations.
The news service describes the talks with Sinclair as “preliminary” and notes that they may just involve parts of Tribune.
A straight combination would put the surviving company well above the FCC’s ownership caps — although many analysts believe that the agency will raise them. The cap currently limits a company to reaching no more than 39% of the population. Tribune goes to 27% (including an FCC discount applied to UHF stations) and Sinclair goes to 23%.
Still, Sinclair might be able to buy assets such as Tribune’s CW stations, cable’s WGN America, or its 31% ownership stake in Food Network.
A deal for WGN appears “most likely,” Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says. Tribune “hasn’t wanted to part with the Food Network given the dividends, and we don’t see the upside in ‘just’ CW’s [outlets] given lower retrans rates.”
Tribune has a market value of more than $3 billion, and has been exploring what it called “strategic and financial alternatives” for the last year. In January, CEO Peter Liguori said that he will leave this month.
In his final quarterly report, Tribune reported a nearly $19 million net profit, up from a $380.9 million loss in the period last year which included a $385 million impairment charge. Revenues were up 10.8% to $529.6 million.
The top line was well below Wall Street forecasts for $596.8 million. Adjusted earnings, at 85 cents a share, also were short of expectations for 92 cents.
For the full year, though, Liguori says that financial results were “very strong” showing that “our operational strategies continue delivering value for our shareholders. In addition, last year’s monetization of real estate assets for more than $500 million and the recent sale of Gracenote enables Tribune Media to be a more focused television company, uniquely positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a rapidly changing media environment.”