The following is a section from my 2007 letter to partners. It examines the buyout of the Tribune Company, an arbitrage situation we took part in last year. Tomorrow I will post another section that discusses risk arbitrage. (Please note that I have removed some of the non-public information that was included the actual letter). Enjoy!
On April 2, 2007 Tribune Co. announced that Sam Zell prevailed in his bid for the struggling newspaper company. The final $34 per share offer was chosen over another eleventh-hour bid from Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle. Sam “The Grave Dancer” Zell—contrarian real estate magnate—had just completed the sale of Equity Office Properties, his real estate holding company. With the cash he received from the sale (the largest leveraged buyout in history), Zell jumped back into business with his offer for Tribune. The company owns coveted newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Other assets include a string of TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
Under the terms of the agreement, each share of Tribune would eventually be exchanged for $34 in cash. The deal would be subject to shareholder approval and regulatory clearance from the FCC. Sounds simple, right? The end result of the transaction was easy to understand, but the mechanics of the deal were anything but. It was especially unique because the shares would initially be owned not by Zell, but by an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) where Tribune employees would share in the company’s upside.
Immediately after the announcement, the ESOP would purchase $250 million of newly issued stock for $28 a share. Zell’s initial investment consisted of a $200 million promissory note and $50 million in new stock. In May, Tribune would borrow $4.2 billion to finance the purchase of about half of the company from public shareholders.