The bankrupt publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News isn't brooding over the recent collapse of its $135 million sale to a group of secured lenders.
Philadelphia Newspapers LLC aims for a September auction that would allow it to emerge from bankruptcy protection in mid-October.
Bidders from the April auction are said to be weighing their options, about half a year after secured lenders including Angelo, Gordon & Co. LP prevailed with a bid that included $105 million in cash and the papers' $30 million headquarters.
Raymond Perelman and his counsel were in court in Philadelphia earlier in the week, when the debtor announced that it would hold a second auction. Perelman and son Ronald emerged just before the April auction to lead a local bidding group that included the Carpenters Union and Toll Brothers Inc. executive Bruce Toll. Perelman's lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP have filed an appearance with the court on behalf of an entity called Rayco LLC, which has the ring of a potential bidding entity.
Vancouver, British Columbia, firm Stern Partners Inc., which owns the Winnipeg Free Press and other papers in Canada, also participated in the last auction, and is said to be evaluating the upcoming sale.
So what has changed in the nearly six months since the last auction?
Certainly not the outlook for newspapers, and the economy in general.
John Puchalla of Moody's Investors Service calculates that newspaper revenue dropped 9.2% in the first quarter of 2010 and 5.3% in the second quarter.
"We've seen a continued moderation in the declines, but frankly it is still declining in comparison to a pretty weak 2009," he says of newspaper revenues. "By comparison, TV has been up pretty significantly. Radio has been up in the mid to high single digits. Internet advertising is up."
From a macro viewpoint, Puchalla observes, gross domestic product estimates for 2010 and 2011 have been revised lower. Flare-ups in Greece and other parts of Europe raised concerns about the global economy.
"Some of the more fundamental drivers, not related to the business cycle, have not changed a whole lot," Puchalla says. "There is still a lot of concern, long term, about the viability of print and how companies are going to transition their business model to work in a more digital environment."
There is also a strategic factor for the local investor group and Stern to consider. The lending group that won the April auction has had greater insight into the company's operations in the intervening months, as the presumptive owners of the business. While other bidders are logging into the data room, the lenders have had a head start on due diligence.
Potential bidders don't have a great deal of time to make decisions. The auction is slated for Sept. 23. While the economy has darkened since the last auction, there are some constants. Raymond Perelman is a lifelong, and prominent, Philadelphian. His name adorns the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Their value may have declined, but The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News remain important local institutions. They make Philadelphia something of a rarity -- a town with two dailies.
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