A Swiss-born billionaire has become the latest white knight to seek to wrestle control of Tribune Publishing from cost-cutting hedge fund Alden Global Management.
Hansjorg Wyss, former CEO of medical device manufacturer Synthes who resides in Wyoming, told the New York Times he’s teaming up with hotel mogul Stewart Bainum to put in a competing bid for the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Hartford Courant and six other dailies.
Alden, which owns 32 percent of the Tribune and occupies two seats on Tribune’s board, is pursuing its own $630 million takeover in an effort to take the newspaper publisher private.
Meanwhile, Mason Slaine, who owns about 3.4 percent of Tribune’s stock, told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday that he wants to buy the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, saying he would be willing to contribute $100 million to back Bainum’s bid in order to block an Alden takeover.
One source familiar with the process said that Bainum ultimately wants to own the Baltimore Sun with Wyss aiming to own the Chicago Tribune while they peel off other papers to local owners.
Of course, Alden’s bid has already been approved by the board, raising questions about whether more deep-pocketed backers may need to join Bainum/Wyss bid to derail the hedge fund, headed by Heath Freeman and notorious for slashing staff and selling assets at other papers it already owns through its MediaNews Group.
Supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, a billionaire who teased weeks ago that he might take another run at buying the struggling New York Daily News from Tribune, has so far sat on the sidelines, sources said.
An SEC filing by Tribune Publishing last week mentioned a $65 million offer for the Baltimore Sun and other Maryland papers including the Capital Gazette by Bainum and a $30 to $40 million bid by an undisclosed local for the Allentown Morning Call.
No mention was made of any substantive talks revolving around the Daily News, which has deep pension liabilities estimated to be around $100 million and last sold for only $1 in 2017 when real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman unloaded it.
So far, the special committee of outsiders that the Tribune board formed to weigh offers has not budged from its recommendation to shareholders to vote for Alden’s $17.25 a share bid, even though the Wyss/Bainum bid — with each billionaire pledging $100 million of their own money — has offered $18.50 a share in an offer that ups the overall a value to $650 million.
Bainum originally was only interested in the Maryland papers but the board released him from his non-disclosure agreement so he is free to pitch other investors in his new quest to takeover the whole company.
Said one source close to Bainum: “Wyss is in his 80s and flies his own Falcon. Stewart feels he could not have found a better partner, one so committed to objective local news.
“They both know full well that all nine of those storied newspapers could be forced to close or face drastic cuts if Alden is successful,” the sources said. “Both see it as a high-risk investment, but one with a much bigger return for the communities the papers have served so well for so long. It’s a gamble for democracy they feel.”