Monday, August 05, 2013

Billionaire Oligarchs Buy the Wapo + Boston Globe

American oligarchs buy more of the media! Round up the liberals for a good ol' protest of billionaires buying up our sweet, innocent newspapers. Wait, those are not the headlines I am reading. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post publishing assets. Billionaire John Henry bought the Boston Globe from the NY Times. He spent the same money for 5 years of JD Drew. I've posted on this before, but our media is silent on American oligarchs because our media is owned by them. Controlling institutions is key, and these billionaire 1% men will hold the megaphone. These investors will use their purchases for what it can enhance of their other assets and like a sports team, it adds cachet to their name. Publisher. What is behind this, and what might this mean?

Bezos made a side purchase of the Wapo, and it looks like it is just the media assets. Bezos spent 250 mil, which is 1% of his total worth. Oligarch math. That is funny since that loses money for the company, so Bezos will lose money on Amazon and the Wapo. Sure, Bezos bought the Wapo, not Amazon, but Wapo owned Kaplan for decades and was loose with their conflict of interest there. My guess is the Wapo will be against internet taxation. The Wapo might also link more to Amazon, and likewise, Amazon might advertise a bit more on Wapo (bet that will help ad revenue). Bezos now has a propaganda arm to defend against accusations of running death traps poorly ventilated warehouses and destroying brick and mortar competition. Like Warren Buffet's purchases of newspapers, this will nudge the debate in specific markets on topics that affect his business just by what they choose to or not to report.

The NY Times sold their Boston Globe holdings for $70 mil to John Henry. Henry is the investor whiz with derivatives who bought the Red Sox, turning them into a much more profitable franchise with a much higher valuation. Henry bought the newspaper but did not take on the paper's pension obligations. This is a huge score for Henry and is being called a huge loss for the NY Times. Did politics factor into the NY Times sale, the offer being $70 mil cash, or is it billionaire backscratching? No one will give a straight answer, but we can evaluate the pieces.

The NY Times supposedly passed on an offer in 2011 from right leaning Freedom Communications Inc (now the 2100 Trust) that was substantially higher and would have freed the NYT from their pensions obligations. Maybe the NY Times trusted Henry's group to keep current editorial and reporting policy in place, and didn't want to see the Globe shift a tiny bit right. Does this really matter in a state like Massachusetts? It might but the impact on elections or molding public opinion would be small in such a blue state. It might be for second hand projection into NH and the rest of New England. This seems a bit shaky, but has a sound of truth to it.

The offer in 2013 is $70 mil cash, and a supposed 93% loss. That is a bit off if you look at the initial purchase. The NYT bought the Globe for $160 mil in cash with the rest of the $1.1 bil price tag bought through stock. Acquisitions and investments have wonderful tax incentives. Depreciation over the 20 years of ownership, which was most likely accelerated to help offset earnings in the '90s would have knocked that price tag down. The NYT stock rose and fell with bubbles, dividends have been paid, but keep in mind that the Sulzbergers still control this paper through the dual share situation. The offer of $70 mil cash may have been too good to pass up compared to the 2011 offer with a debt financed deal. The real numbers I'd focus on are the $160 mil cash purchase n '93 vs. the $70 mil sale in '13, and the millions in pension obligations remaining. It is ugly, but not as horrible as the shock 93% loss numbers. Anyway you cut it, they lost a lot of money.

The other bit of CLUE! guesswork is that the Globe's operations sit on seventeen and a half acres of land. Just the land in Boston alone would fetch millions. Main operations are right on the water. Maybe the Red Sox ownership group believes they need a new stadium. They sell 35K tickets consistently, and could sell 45-50K if they wanted. They would also be able to adjust ticket prices and pull back some of that cash that is going to the scalpers and ticket brokers (Sox workers set aside tickets on the 1st day they go on sale for brokers + get big cash in return). Fenway has been fixed up and monetized as much as possible. The fans are right on top of the field, but it is a dump compared to new stadiums. Use the equipment scattered around Boston that the corrupt contractors left from the Big Dig and raze the Globe buildings and start a whole new Fenway. Imagine building a Sox museum and renting space for bars and stores. It would be Baseball Town Boston. A Camden Yards or Cincinnati Great American Ballpark style stadium on the water would be perfect. Screwing over the price gouging assholes currently near Fenway would warm my heart.

There might be another factor in play. John Henry can control the coverage of his Red Sox much better now by buying the Globe, and this has intangible value. Propaganda and breaking stories through the paper would be good for the team and good for the paper. The land has huge value. As does the friendly bond of the mega-rich. Billionaires can be buddies, and the NYT and Henry have been financial bedfellows before this transaction. The NYT bought 750 class B shares of the Red Sox in 2002 for $75 mil total. Since 2002, the NYT has sold off pieces here and there. The most recent sale was a couple years ago, when they sold the remaining bit of their holdings (210 shares) for $63 million. That money was used to pay off the Carlos Slim loan early. The NYT made a bundle on their Red Sox investment. The executives at the NYT and Pinch Sulzberger may have scratched the back of a fellow billionaire who had paid them handsomely for their investment in the Sox.

Plebians will never get the full story as to why the NYT sold the Globe in this manner. We do not really need to know anything beyond the sale happening and whether it complied with regulations. There are shady looking elements to this sale, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to what goes on daily in the mergrs and acquisitions world. The headline numbers for the NYT's loss are what is shocking. The Sulzbergers and the NYT have proven in the last ten years though that they are willing to sell out for their gain and cushy lifestyle or make business decisions with a political view ahead of good business. Bezos and Henry join the ranks of billionaires who are buying assets in a dying industry. There is a reason why, and it has nothing to do with the low return on investment or the small losses these billionaires will absorb.

1 comment:

peterike said...

I suppose it's not worth the trouble to ask about Bezos' or Henry's views on immigration.