It may seem like Gannett's attempt to acquire Tronc—the newspaper company formerly known as Tribune Publishing—has been going on forever, but that's probably because it has died and been revived so many times it's difficult to keep track. Now it appears to finally be deceased for good.
Gannett announced early Tuesday that it has officially dropped its bid, and no longer wants to acquire Tronc. In recent days, the two were said to be close to a deal that would have seen the larger newspaper chain acquire the Chicago-based company for $18.75 a share or about $890 million.
Tronc's stock (trnc) plunged by more than 20% on the news, although it is still somewhat higher than it was before Gannett launched its initial bid in April.
A statement from Tronc management said that the company "remained a constructive partner to Gannett as it sought to complete its financing for the agreed upon purchase price, however, Gannett was unable to do so and terminated discussions."
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According to a number of reports, the group of lenders that Gannett had assembled to help finance the acquisition got cold feet and refused to sign off on the arrangement. The proposed offer was 150% more than Tronc was trading for before the first bid was tabled.
Since it launched the original offer, Gannett's stock price (gci) has lost more than 50% of its value, as investors voted with their feet on the chain's proposed merger.
Even before Tuesday's announcement, there were hints that the deal was in jeopardy. The original arrangement was supposed to close last week. But at the final hour it was pulled, and there were rumors that the banks in question had withdrawn their support.
Ken Doctor of Politico, who has been following the back-and-forth between the two companies in detail, reported that there were ongoing attempts to salvage something from the proposed arrangement, but it seemed as though both sides were grasping at straws.
At one point, Doctor said there were plans to have Patrick Soon-Shiong—a billionaire who invested in Tronc earlier this year in return for a significant stake in the company—acquire the Los Angeles Times and let Gannett acquire the rest of the company, including the Chicago Tribune.
This deal has now also been shelved, however. And one of the main reasons appears to be the deteriorating financial status of both Gannett itself and the entire newspaper industry as a whole.
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The strategy behind the original bid was that Gannett would add several landmark properties to its portfolio of papers, including the Tribune and the LA Times, and combined with the rest of the company would provide synergies for Gannett in terms of advertising, etc.
During the six months it has taken for the Tronc deal to come to fruition, however, the newspaper business has gotten even more dire than it was before. Even the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are looking at layoffs as advertising revenue continues to plummet.
According to several reports—including one from a former senior executive at News Corp.—print advertising revenue at the Journal is expected to come in as much as 30% below estimates.
Most of Gannett's papers don't have anything close to the kind of brand value or financial status that the Journal has, but they are likely facing similar pain, if not worse. That means Gannett is going to have to cut costs dramatically, something it is already trying to do.
In that kind of environment, adding the debt and other costs associated with the proposed Tronc deal made less and less sense all the time. And now it appears the company's banks have come to their senses.