US Newspaper Group Sold Up River by Top Investor

03 November 2005

America's second largest newspaper group Knight Ridder on Tuesday had its head forcibly thrust onto the executioner's block by principal shareholder Bruce S Sherman, a Florida-based investment management honcho.

Sherman, whose business tactics emulate the well known military vehicle of the same name, publicly exhorted the KR board to put the company up for grabs. His chosen channel for this broadside was a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission

To quote the filing: "We believe the [KR] board should now aggressively pursue the competitive sale of the company."

KR's stock, like that of many other newspaper publishers across the US and Europe, has lately languished in the doldrums - a situation sparked by weak ad revenues - and not to the liking of Private Capital Management in Naples, Florida, a company of which Sherman is chairman and ceo.

In a letter to Knight Ridder's board dated Tuesday, Sherman disclosed that, at the invitation of Tony Ridder, KR's chairman/ceo, he [Sherman] had addressed the company's board on July 19 "regarding our concerns with the performance of the company's stock."

Since that boardroom harangue, KR has increased its dividend and authorized the repurchase of ten million of its shares. But there's no pleasing some people.

Especially Sherman . . . who noted in his letter that the company's stock price has continued to fall, resulting in a "significant disparity" between the fair value of the company's assets and the trading range of its shares.

At this point Sherman revealed his hand, noting that KR's management had on several occasions stated that the company's breakup value was "substantially in excess of the current share price."

Sherman, whose wealth depend on bucking trends such as the cyclical nature of adspend, now demands that KR's board solicit bids "either from financial buyers willing to pay fair value or industry participants that would realize synergies and increased market presence through acquisition of Knight Ridder's highly desirable local newspaper and online advertising assets."

As one media Cassandra wails: "When, oh, when will family businesses and other wannabe bigtimers learn that the heavenly manna of a stock market listing equates to swimming with sharks."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff