WORLD> America
NY Times assets up for grabs
Updated: 2008-12-30 07:56

The New York Times Co, facing a $400 million debt repayment and a 60 percent drop in its stock price this year, is pursuing asset sales almost a year after its biggest investor demanded changes to the business.

The New York Times headquarters is seen in February 2008 in New York City.

New York Times is seeking a buyer for its 17.5 percent of the holding company for the Boston Red Sox baseball team, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing two unidentified people familiar with the discussions. That sale could include the Boston Globe newspaper, the Journal said.

A sale may appeal to shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners, which earlier this year challenged New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr for board seats and told him to invest in the company's main business and Internet assets. The Red Sox stake is worth as much as $166.3 million, according to Barclays Capital, and New York Times says a sale-leaseback of its headquarters building would raise $225 million.

"Basically everything's on the table except the New York Times itself," said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst at consulting firm Outsell Inc in Burlingame, California. "The reason that we're seeing the information come out now about these asset sales is simply they don't know how long the depth of this downturn will last."

New York Times sold its broadcast television stations and radio station WQEW-AM in 2007, before Harbinger acquired its stake, company spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said.

"We've been very clear that we were going to rebalance our portfolio and by rebalancing our portfolio that meant both acquisitions and divestitures," Mathis said.

A spokesman for Harbinger wasn't available to comment outside of regular business hours.

Sales needed

New York Times, the third-largest US newspaper publisher, already slashed its dividend by almost three-fourths last month as it confronts declining revenue and repayment on its $400 million credit line in May. November advertising sales tumbled 21 percent to $149.9 million, the company said last week.

"NYT does not have the ability to manage its capital structure organically," Barclays Capital analyst Hale Holden said in a Dec 23 research note.

He predicts the company will most likely negotiate a new credit facility, dispose of a smaller asset, and sell and lease back its headquarters building near Times Square. The 52-story tower, designed by Renzo Piano, has housed the company's corporate offices and flagship newspaper since June 2007.

Asset sales could be used to pay down long-term debt of $672.5 million at the end of the third quarter and may help pare losses in the New York Times stock. The shares surged 17 percent to $7 on Dec 26 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading following reports of the Red Sox sale.

"Selling assets in this market is not an attractive proposition, but the Red Sox stake is both non-core and relatively valuable," Fitch Ratings analyst Mike Simonton said in an e-mail.

Harbinger's demands

Harbinger, working with Firebrand Partners, pressured New York Times this year to reinvest funds to accelerate Internet acquisitions. The company owns 26 floors in the Manhattan skyscraper that houses its headquarters; 16 smaller, regional newspapers and its stake in the Red Sox, Fenway Park and a regional sports network that televises the games.

Harbinger and Firebrand own almost 20 percent of New York Times' Class A stock. The hedge funds ended a proxy campaign in March after New York Times agreed to add two of the four directors they nominated.

Since that time, the advertising environment has worsened and credit markets have tightened. New York Times said this month it is weighing asset sales as well as funding options that include revolving debt, public offerings and private placements.

"There is no doubt that 2009 will be among the most challenging years we have faced and more steps will be needed," New York Times Chief Executive Officer Janet Robinson said in the company's Dec 9 statement about potential asset sales and talks with lenders on financing.