There’s more bad news in store for newspaper-company stockholders following the Knight Ridder sale. McClatchy is bound to find that the multiple it gets for the 12 big-city and no-growth-market papers it plans to sell will be lower than the less-than-steller multiple it paid for KR itself…. if it even manages to sell all of them.
This will raise the effective price McClatchy paid for the papers left, but it lowers the multiple the multiple analysts and stockholders will ascribe to newspapers. McClatchy is all the more committed to a shrinking industry and this will continue to hit its share price. The cutbacks the surviving, adopted KR papers avoided for the moment will come eventually. And the orphans are sure to be doing their imitations of Oliver at dinnertime soon. Bad news and more bad news.
And I’ll argue that the same effect is waiting to haunt other big, one-size-fits-all media companies as they are saddled with big costs while smaller, nimbler, more effective, targeted, and efficient competitors eat at them. Newspapers are the cash cow in the coal mine.
Janet Whitman explains it in the NY Post:
The dearth of bidders for Knight Ridder, which put itself on the block in November amid pressure from large investors unhappy with its weak stock price, reflects the uncertain prospects for the newspaper industry. Newer rivals such as the Internet are snagging readers and advertising dollars.
That could make it tough for McClatchy to fetch attractive multiples for the papers it hopes to sell. McClatchy acquired Knight Ridder for a multiple of less than 10 times expected cash flow, well below historic multiples 12 to 13 times for newspaper deals.
“We think the multiple paid is unlikely to produce much cheer for newspaper investors,” said Lauren Rich Fine, who follows the publishing industry for Merrill Lynch. She added that it “will likely cap multiples in the group for some time unless fundamentals improve.”
What’s the solution? There are no white knights left. What the industry needs now is tough, strategic management that drives the news business away from its dependence on paper to a very different future in any media. You have to shrink to grow.
: I just came across a media stock blog — appropriately shrouded in black — where the analysts are at war over this deal. The oft-quoted John Morton says it’s bad news; another says the big papers will get a higher multiple (can I have what he’s smoking?).